Peri Rossi does not delve into the moral aspects of Eros, but rather explores the role of the erotic in the creative process. She explains that desire stimulates the imagination, which results in the victory of art over nature, of fantasy over reality. Peri Rossi writes: "Eroticism is to sexuality what gastronomy is to hunger: the triumph of culture over instinct, culture being the long, diverse, complex process by which human beings have attempted, since the beginning, to dominate, transform and guide primitive instinct." Although diverse societies have produced treatises and manuals on the art of making love, eroticism cannot be reduced to mere technique, for it derives from the generative impulse that alchemizes desire into a personal, subjective and symbolic creation.
The author contends that eroticism is the source of art, for art originates in fantasy. Art, like desire, transforms, embellishes or idealizes reality. Our desires tell us more about ourselves than about the loved-one, for each of us personalizes the object of our desires according to our own special needs. Like the artist, the lover "sees" the object in a unique way that may or may not correspond to reality, but does define his own particular perspective.
In erotic love, as in art and in dreams, says Perri Rossi, individuals express desires that they are required to suppress by society. In order to exist harmoniously and prevent anarchy, societies invent rules; they prohibit certain practices, such as incest, homosexuality, public nudity, for example, that are deemed harmful to the common good. Religions reinforce social convention by designating unacceptable practices sinful. But the individual evades these restrictions in his erotic fantasies, in his dreams, and in art. Indeed, prohibitions are routinely dropped in the name of artistic expression.
Peri Rossi points out that Freud held that human beings need art, just as they need erotic love, as an outlet for "repressed psychological material." For the author, all art is erotic, whether or not the subject matter is sexual, because all art springs from the hidden wells of fantasy that are nourished by the senses. Perhaps our age has produced little great art because modern life is, in essence, anti-erotic. Today's men and women, suggests Peri Rossi, are so oppressed by the demands of work and family that they have little time for fantasy.
Although Peri Rossi's essays are occasionally rich in ideas, her research is shoddy. In order to prove the durability of the slave-master fantasy, for example, she jumps from the brothels of ancient Rome to those of nineteenth century France in one sentence. She asserts the psychological relationship between love and death, but fails to discuss the impact on Western civilization of courtly love, one of the richest sources of love-death mythology. In her essay on erotic marine symbolism she mentions the mermaid, asserting that this was a favorite icon of Spanish Golden Age writers. However, the only proof she presents is the title of one play by Calderon, El golfo de las sirenas (The Gulf of Mermaids). She quotes Freud frequently, but her analyses are superficial and she often lapses into psycho-babble.
Peri Rossi's prose is endlessly repetitive. Furthermore, she is given to the kind of trite, hyperbolic, meaningless epithets that composition teachers routinely take their students to task for: "J.W. Goethe, one of the great geniuses of humanity"; "Michel Foucault, one of the most important philosophers of the century"; "Ramon Gomez de la Serna, the innovative Spanish writer."
Cristina Peri Rossi is one of Latin America's best known women writers, distinguished for both her fiction and her poetry. It is doubtful, however, that Fantasias eroticas will add much to her stature.