Bookworm award/meme: Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

So, Lori tagged me with a Bookworm award.

She obviously did not read the post in which I indicate that meme participation is one of the Ten Things I Never Do Online.

Here’s how it works. Open the book closest to you, not your favorite or most intellectual book, but the book closest to you at the moment, to page 56. Write out the fifth sentence, as well as two to five sentences following there.  Then send it along to five other people.

In the interest of not being an ingrate, I decided to follow half the rules. Hence this entry.

Unless I am in my bedroom, and not just there, but actually either in my closet, or in my bed, the closest book to me will be nonfiction, and that is true at this moment. It’s Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde (1934-1992), who described herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”.

Sister Outsider, a collection of essays and speeches, was actually reissued last year, but I have the 1984 version (see image), and page 56 is amazingly appropriate for a romance blog.

It is from a speech Lorde gave in 1978 at Mount Holyoke, “The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic As Power”. She defines the erotic as a feminine, spiritual power that women have been taught to devalue, except in a superficial sense.

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

Another important way in which the erotic connection functions is the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy. In the way my body stretches to music and opens in response, hearkening to its deepest rhythms, so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience, whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, examining an idea.

The self-connection shared is also 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 of my life that it be lived within the knowledge that such 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 of all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand for 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.  And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.

I wonder whether Lorde’s definition of the erotic is really captured in the lingo of weeping pussies, penis barbs and explosive orgasms. That’s the central question of this blog, actually, but I’m not even close to trying to answer it directly.

5 responses

  1. …the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy. In the way my body stretches to music and opens in response, hearkening to its deepest rhythms, so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience, whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, examining an idea.

    What a beautiful passage.

    And I guess that I missed that post. But obviously you didn’t mean it! *sticking tongue out at Jessica*

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  2. I wonder whether Lorde’s definition of the erotic is really captured in the lingo of weeping pussies, penis barbs and explosive orgasms.

    One tries. Sometimes a writer *koff me koff* just can’t capture that in words. Sometimes you just want to go outside and howl at the moon until you’re hoarse because you’re so overloaded with the intensity of your passion (for whatever).

    I don’t separate my passion for handcrafts from my passion for sex from my passion for fine art and music. It’s *all* erotic.

    And I simply can’t put it into words.

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  3. What a lovely excerpt, Jessica. I’d only read about Lorde, not any of her work. So, were you hearing June Jordan all through the U.S. presidential election too?

    I wonder whether Lorde’s definition of the erotic is really captured in the lingo of weeping pussies, penis barbs and explosive orgasms.

    What, you don’t think the quantum of eros is expressed in the de rigeur emoto-gasm passage in which “it” has never been this way before? ;)

    No, of course it’s not, but isn’t Lorde’s point that that isn’t the sum total of the erotic? You’d have to look more broadly at romance’s lingo of shared pursuits and understandings to answer your question. E.g. using Lorde’s idea, perhaps the “opposites attract” plot creates tension by at first frustrating the reader’s wish for eros through shared joys. Then there’s the genre’s love of “emotional healing” plots… perhaps a way to integrate the “physical, psychic, emotional” sides of the relationship? Are repartee and shared intellectual pursuits (spying, investments, sleuthing) a signal that the couple share intellectual eros? Or a mutual love of adrenaline and conflict a signal of a different sort of eros? Am I way far off from the kind of thing you’re interested in?

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  4. Lorde is saying that eroticism gets narrowly defined as sex, and as a type of sex that’s superficial … that doesn’t get at this deep joy. But you’re all right, that she is not EXCLUDING the weeping pussies, by any means.

    @RfP: I was definitely thinking about your June Jordan post when I wrote this. (Although the Lorde happened to be next to me because I am writing an encyclopedia entry). Sister Outsider is not poetry, but it’s poetic. I’m glad you posted the link!

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  5. I wonder whether Lorde’s definition of the erotic is really captured in the lingo of weeping pussies, penis barbs and explosive orgasms.

    Maybe not in the lingo, but in the attempt. not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe. The very act of reading/writing erotica is something not conventionally expected of women. We’re expected to fear our own desires, to hide them. We readers of romance and erotica may not have achieved the freedom Lorde hopes for, but we’ve taken a step towards it by admitting that we have desires, and that those desires can be sexual, and that we need not be ashamed if our desires aren’t decorous.

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