Erin O'daniel is a writer, artist and gender expansive womxn living in Duluth, Minnesota

The Ultimate Union and Uses of the Erotic

On this day before mid-term elections, I made time for early morning study with my longest running artistic+feminist mentors- Audre and Frida. I’ve posted/typed out their work here to feel the erotic brilliance and power of both of these womxn. Enjoy!

FK ultimate union.jpg

The Ultimate Union image by Frida Kahlo is imbued with dynamic tension of two forces drawn together and apart. Kahlo’s Union “discovers and loves what has been discovered but with a tinge of grief for what must eventually be lost. The Ultimate Union arms you against everything that does not set you free.”

 Excerpt from Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power by Audre Lorde delivered August 25, 1978 at the 4th History of Women conference at Mount Holyoke College.

 “The erotic functions for me in several ways, and the first is providing the power that comes when sharing any pursuit with another person. The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, builds a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis of understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessons the threat of their difference.

 Another important way the erotic connection functions is the open and fearless understanding of my capacity for joy. The self connection shared is a measure of the joy which I know myself to be capable of feeling, a reminder of my capacity for feeling. And that deep and irreplaceable knowledge of my capacity for joy comes to demand from all my life that it be lived within the knowledge that each satisfaction is possible, and does not have to be called ‘marriage’, nor ‘god’, nor an ‘afterlife’.

This is one reason why the erotic is so feared, and so often relegated to the bedroom alone, when it is recognized at all. For once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy that 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 relative meaning in our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the  convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected or the merely safe.

 We have been raised to fear the yes within ourselves, our deepest cravings. But once recognized, those that do not enhance our future lose their power and can be altered. The fear of our desires keeps them suspect and indiscriminately powerful, for to suppress any truth is to give it strength beyond endurance. The fear that we cannot grow beyond whatever distortions we  may find within ourselves, may keep us docile and loyal and obedient, externally defined, and lead us to accept many facets of our oppression as women.

 When we live outside ourselves, and by that I mean by external directives only rather than from our internal knowledge and needs, when we live away from those erotic guides within ourselves, than our lives are limited by external and alien forms, and we conform to the needs of a system that is not based on human need, let alone an individual’s. But when we begin to live within outward, in touch with the power of the erotic within ourselves, and allowing that power to illuminate and inform our actions upon the world around us, then we begin to be responsible for ourselves in the deepest sense. In touch with the erotic, I become less willing to accept powerlessness, or those other supplied states of being which are not native to me like resignation, despair, self denial, depression, self effacement.

 In order to be utilized, our erotic feelings must be recognized. The need for sharing deep feeling is a human need. When we look away from the importance of the erotic in the development and sustenance of our power, or when we look away from ourselves when we satisfy our erotic needs in concert with others, we use each other as objects of satisfaction rather than share our joy in the satisfying, rather than make connections in our similarities and differences. To refuse to be conscious of what we are feeling at any time, however comfortable that may seem, is to deny a large part of the experience.

 The erotic cannot be felt secondhand. As a Black lesbian feminist, I have a particular feeling, knowledge and understanding for those sisters with whom I have danced hard, played, even fought. This deep participation has often been the forerunner for joint concerted actions not possible before.

 But this erotic charge is not easily shared by women who continue to operate under an exclusively European-American male tradition. I know it was not available to me when I was trying to adapt my consciousness to this mode of living and sensation.

 Only now, I find more and more women identified women brave enough to risk sharing the erotic’s electrical charge without having to look away, and without distorting the enormously powerful and creative nature of that exchange. Recognizing the power of the erotic within our lives can give us the energy to pursue genuine change in our world, rather than merely settling for a shift of characters in the same weary drama.

 For not only do we touch our most profoundly creative source, but we do that which is female and self-affirming in the face of racist, patriarchal, and anti-erotic society.”


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