The Erotic as Power
A brief summary of Audre Lorde’s essay Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.
1- There are many kinds of power within each of us, whether acknowledged or unacknowledged. The erotic (which Lorde defines as our deepest desires, rooted in the feminine) is one of these powers.
2- Oppressive structures operate by ‘corrupting’ these energy sources which would otherwise provided the oppressed with the potential for change.
3- In this way, the erotic power of women (which can be explained as our deep and non-rational knowledge) has been suppressed, vilified and devalued within Western society.
4- This abuse of the erotic is for the service of men, who exercise it for their own benefit.
5- The erotic must not be confused with its opposite: the pornographic, which places emphasis on simple physical sensation.
6- Instead, the erotic pertains to our strongest feelings and sense of self- and is a deep, internal sense of satisfaction. After experiencing this satisfaction we demand excellence across other aspects of our lives.
7- In other words, once we experience the extent to which we can feel satisfaction, we can sense which of our pursuits in life (such as our work) most closely replicate this feeling.
8- We are taught to separate erotic power from areas of our lives other than sex. As areas such as work are viewed as simply a necessity dissatisfaction and a lack of fulfilment in our work is felt.
9- Despite widespread belief on the contrary, the spiritual and political are not at odds with each other; the phrase “it feels right to me” shows that the erotic serves as a form of knowledge, true knowledge, which precedes any conscious understanding.
10- For Lorde, the erotic functions via the channel of sharing joy with others, forming a bridge between people. It also serves to highlight the potential to experience joy away from traditional means of satisfaction (for example marriage, God, the afterlife), whether it be “dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, examining an idea.”
11- The erotic is so feared because of its empowerment. Once we find how capable we are of experiencing joy, and begin to examine all aspects of our existence through this lens, we can truly evaluate our lives and begin to not settle for “the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected , nor the merely safe.”
12- The erotic serves to flow through and colour one’s life with energy, and strengthens all experiences.
13- The fear that we women cannot grow beyond the constraints of our situation leads us to accept many facets of our oppression, and conform to external structure. However once we recognise our deepest feelings we become dissatisfied with suffering, self-negation, numbness, and powerlessness.
14- Human nature demands the need for the sharing of deep feelings; but in the Western tradition instances of erotic feeling are not named as such, and are described as otherwise. These instances can take the form of comings-together such as religious experiences, mob violence or children engaging in ‘playing doctor’. This misnaming and abuse of feeling gives rise to the distortion and obscenity found in the likes of pornography.
15- When we neglect the erotic in ourselves, or when we satisfy our erotic needs only through others, we are using each other and reducing ourselves to the abused.
16- Recognising the power of the erotic within our selves and how it is applicable to all facets of our lives can be a forerunner to social change and provide the energy necessary for such shifts.
17- In this process we are reaching into our most creative reserves, in a female and self-affirming manner, “in the face of a racist, patriarchal and anti-erotic society.”