What inspired you to create an anthology of Jewish writers on sex?
Money. (Laughs) I'm speaking the truth, actually. This is a vulgar, shabby, despicable project, and I only did it to send my kids to college, where they'll subsequently be fascinated by and interested in vulgar, despicable products that people like myself produce.... It literally started as a joke.
About two years ago, my agent told me about some anthology she sold. It sounded sort of dumb -- I didn't mean to be disdainful, but she has to earn a living. But she felt the need to defend herself, and she said, "But anthologies are really popular." She told me that the best-selling anthology in the country at that time was something called "Erotique Noir--Black Erotica." So I said, "Hey! Jews have sex, too. How about that?" She said, "You should do it." I kept joking and said, "Why don't we call it 'Neurotica'?" And she said, "Yes, yes!" I still didn't take it seriously, and she bugged me for months and months to do a proposal. I had never done a proposal before--I write books, not proposals. But finally, I swear, just to shut her up, I knocked out several pages of nonsense one afternoon, and a week later it was sold, and I was in the sex business.
In the introduction to "Neurotica," you write, "Religion and sex are not contradictory modes of human endeavor; in fact, they function analogously; they just situate redemption in different loci. Sex, like religion, is a placating power that dissolves social inequities." Do you really believe this?
Some people write to tell the world what they think. I guess I write to figure out what I think. If it sounds good, if the sentence hops, then I figure it must be true. It sounds good, doesn't it? I guess what I meant by that is that they both take oneself beyond oneself--whether it's to another human being or some idealized deity. I'd actually put redemption in the camp of literature more than anything else.
You've said that this is not the kind of "stuff" you normally do. You're a fiction writer, and now you're perceived as an expert on Jewish sex. Is that strange for you?
(Laughs) Oh, it's been totally bizarre. I think I'm the most chaste writer in the business. I never use curse words. I think I'm the only writer who wouldn't belong in the book. It's been entirely bizarre and not entirely comfortable. I don't really like it. I feel much more comfortable talking about death than sex.
College professors are now interested in using "Neurotica" as part of their syllabi. How do you feel about this?
I feel it's great. I do want the book to be read and purchased, so this is unexpected and delightful. Although, I guess suddenly it seems obvious. I teach, also, at Sarah Lawrence College, and although I teach writing, not literature, teachers want more than anything else for their students to be interested in what they're supposed to be learning. If they can find a hook that doesn't violate the intellectual probity of the course, and yet gathers students' interest, then that's a great thing.
We'll find that out. Once forbidden fruit is available, does it suddenly taste rotten?
Anything else you'd like to tell the American Jewish student community about the book?
Yes. Do as I do, not as I say.