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Uses of the Erotic

In her essay Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, Audre Lorde challenges the modern view on eroticism in a patriarchal society, and instead presents an unconventional view on this concept, eroticism-a source of female power. In addition to revealing what "the erotic" means to her, she also discusses how it is misleadingly associated with the pornographic, and how women are taught to doubt this "non-rational knowledge" within themselves. This oppression, according to Lorde, denies the females a true source of power within themselves, as they are taught to touch the surface instead of reaching into the core. What is eroticism as a power according to Lorde? It is the deepest understanding and knowledge of our desires and ourselves; it is the power to feel fully and deeply in everything we do and everything we experience, and then striving to achieve excellence in all of those aspects. She urges the women to reclaim an older more inclusive definition of the erotic, where it is an "assertion of the life force of women" and our "creative energy empowered". Thus, Lorde shows how the erotic may become a great motivating factor in the lives of women, as when women tap this power within themselves, it provides them with a deeply felt sense of satisfaction and completeness.

The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling. Of course, women so empowered are dangerous. So we are taught to separate the erotic from most vital areas of our lives other than sex. The principal horror of any system which defines the good in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need, or which defines human need to exclusion of the psychic and emotional components of that need the principal horror of such a system is that it robs our work of its erotic value, its erotic power and life appeal and fulfillment. Such a system reduces work to a travesty of necessities, a duty by which we earn bread or oblivion for ourselves and those we love. But this is tantamount to blinding a painter and then telling her to improve her work, and to enjoy the act of painting. It is not only next to impossible, it is also profoundly cruel. Lorde proclaims "Once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives".

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This way eroticism can be integrated into all aspects of our lives, it can be a base from which we act and a motivating force behind our actions. One paragraph from the essay struck me as interesting, where Lorde talk about the "importance of the erotic in the development and sustenance of our power". It seems to me that she would be critical of a powerful businesswoman who would choose to have relations with random partners for the sake of sexual satisfaction. In this paragraph, she makes several general statements that to me do not and should not apply as a rule to all women. Some women do not have the need to be "conscious of what they are feeling at any time", nor should they. That, in my opinion does not in any way diminish their power. Some women are no less capable of detaching themselves from a sexual experience emotionally, than men are, which in my opinion, could be a source of power for some as it eliminates guilt and moral repercussion. Perhaps a woman like that does allow her self "to be reduced to the pornographic", but she is no way "abused" or "absurd". Not all women are capable of "making connection with their similarities and differences" and I do not see how that could prevent them from living less fulfilling lives.

I find the erotic such a kernel within myself. When released from its intense and constrained pellet, it flows through and colors my life with a kind of energy that heightens and sensitizes and strengthens all my experience. I believe in the erotic and I believe in it as an enlightening force within our lives as women. I have become clearer about the distinctions between the erotic and other apparently similar forces. We tend to think of the erotic as an easy, tantalizing sexual arousal. I speak of the erotic as the deepest life force, a force which moves us toward living in a fundamental way. And when I say living I mean it as that force which moves us toward what will accomplish real positive change. The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling. In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change. ...
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