“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” Henry David Thoreau
Audre Lorde is attempting to describe the erotic in a way similar to Thoreau. The erotic is a lifestyle. Throughout her essay, “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” Lorde is attempting to uncover untapped potentiality of women through the harnessing of the erotic within all women. The erotic is spiritual, cultural, political, social, sensual, sexual–it should be present in everything we do. The erotic should not mistakenly be limited or contained to the bedroom. Lorde claims that western society has successfully shamed the harnessing of the erotic in order to make women feel shameful and inferior as it is “fashioned within the context of male models of power” (53). Not only does Lorde uncover the repression of the erotic, but she also unveils its potentially within our everyday lives.
Lorde situates the repression of the erotic by dissecting the power structure in western culture (Hello, Foucault). She dissects this repression by looking at the dichotomy present between power and information. The male model of power has misconstrued and equated the erotic with pornography. The use of the word ‘erotic’ has been used as a synonym, but this is a mistake. Erotic is a derivative of the Greek word eros, “…the personification of love in all its aspects– born of Chaos, and personifying creative power and harmony” (55). Thus, the erotic is a life-force, not to be mistaken with pornography.
The potentiality that lorde discusses can be broken down into two areas: (1) self-awareness that comes from “sharing deeply any pursuit with another person” and (2) spiritual expansion. The second aspect of the erotic that she outlines functions more as an all-encompassing rule that permeates into everything we do. Lorde argues that everything is erotic and should experienced that way. While she acknowledges a hierarchy to daily tasks (painting a fence to writing a poem), she also believes that our bodies and souls are capable of feeling deeply in each of our life-pursuits (56-57).
If you are still struggling with trying to understand how the erotic’s potentiality can permeate into everyday life, I would suggest rereading her use of the margarine (57). Lorde, rather romantically and beautifully, uses the erotic to liberate women’s souls which have been suppressed through the western power structure. She also connects our personal liberation with the liberation of all women. “Of course, women so empowered are dangerous” (55). She realizes that there is an enormous amount of untapped potential. She uses this essay as an attempt to tear down the social and political hierarchy to initiate change. Our ability to harness the erotic is a personal decision that we make everyday.
1. How does Lorde’s discussion of the erotic relate to queerness? Why is this important?
2. Does Lorde uses the erotic to challenge our notions of race/sexism?
I am intrigued by your connection to Thoreau — not one I would have thought of because of the intense critique of white male power that Lorde makes! Do you think that Lorde’s analytics can give us new ways of approaching the work of those in power as well as those on its underside?
I do. I think when Thoreau speaks about venturing out into the woods he is attempting to “other” himself. This attempt to separate himself from the rest of society and live his life on his own terms is metaphorically what Lorde is saying, don’t you think? I would also argue that Cohen makes a similar argument in regards to transforming the hierarchy. The National Organization for Men Against Sexism is another great example of men, possibly white, who are attempting to subvert the power structure.