Saturday, March 28, 2015

Autism and The Erotic as Power

Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power by Audre Lorde has been a seminal essay in my growth. It struck a particular chord with me in my 20s and continues to inform some of the ways I think about the world.

In order to understand where I'm coming from with this, I think it's important to delve into what the word erotic means for Audre Lorde. The link above contains the full PDF and I strongly encourage reading the entire thing. However here are some quotes to begin:

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. [53]

But the erotic offers a well of replenishing and provocative force to the woman who does not fear its revelation, nor succumb to the belief that sensation is enough. [54]

The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves. [54]

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 into 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.
That 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. [56-57]

The quotes above do not capture what Lorde means in entirety. However it's a decent starting point. The erotic is not pornographic - Lorde writes of it as in the realm of women but also a dimension not explored enough in men (as it is in the realm of women); it is devalued, but kept around because it is powerful; its power is subdued by the contortions of a culture(s) that fear(s) this power. Do people fear the erotic because it is in the realm of women-power, or because as a kind of power it is one that women are particularly good at embodying (if they let it)? I hesitate myself to gender the erotic, however I understand the particular place Lorde was writing from here.

The reason this captured my attention so much and resonated with me was in the lines like, "..every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience..."[56]

I can relate to the erotic connection with building a bookcase. The erotic is connection to self and others. So at a very surface level, if one does not attempt to really understand aut-istic - the connection is as simple as aut-o-erotic. But "autistic", despite the propaganda, is not "jailed inside ones own world and not really human", as much as eroticism isn't the one-dimensional masturbatory fantasy of much pornography. The erotic is life-force. This connection exists on every dimension of being. It is what artists tap into when they create, and also what mathematicians tap into when they work out a new equation.

It is, with respect, perhaps what some people only experience during sex, and why the erotic is often equated with sex and nothing more. Sex is great - and sex is so many things, and many of those things don't involve orgasm, or things we would think of as sex. There are no delineations -- as Foucault wrote, (roughly), before there was homosexuality (first) and then heterosexuality (second), there used to be bodies and pleasure. We've certainly categorized things in ways that divide up the erotic ever so much that it is not easy to grasp the entirety of what it means to live in the power of one's experience.

Back to those dimensions of being -- autistic spaces within me are dimensions of my being. The entirety of what it means to be autistic isn't exclusively the purview of the autistic. I could describe one aspect of my joyful experience with light and dust motes and this dimension is highly relatable to a cinematographer, even if he isn't autistic -- because his uses of the erotic, his power, includes this capacity.

If autistic capacity is undervalued, I believe it is for some of these same ways that the erotic spaces are undervalued -- however they have been around all the time, forever. Some writings on meditation and mindfulness touch on the kind of connective presence I'm talking about. However I don't mean to say autists are closer to enlightenment -- I mean that for each, our capacities are different. The capacity for kinetic resonance within space and light and sound is a particular capacity -- and less valued, in our world, than the capacity to understand office politics. But both are, I would argue, just as important to our humanity.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Voice of [Their] Anger

I grew up witnessing anger being silenced, including my own. I have also started to learn about my anger as a tool which can focus me toward what needs to change, and have the energy to change it. The silencing of anger, then, can be a particular kind of power against me.

Black people are angry. Disabled people are angry. Fuck your politics. Listen.

I have done a lot of privilege work since the 90s and while there is utility to that framework, I could not continue to look at the world through such a framework. In my experience it was used as a tool for silencing when it became the main framework for discourse. Power is complex and if we explore it along this one axis -- even through "intersectionality" (an attempt, perhaps, to introduce mathematics in an erroneous fashion as if we could ever quantify qualitative experience of oppression).

I cannot think about race without remembering how the legacy of Jews (exile, genocide, diaspora) permeated the everyday experience of my [family] culture. I cannot think of race without imagining similarly, a legacy of Black people (slavery, colonisation, scientific racism) permeates the experience of their cultures. No, we are not a monolith (And I blame American solipsism and exceptionalism for some of the odd political stances I see). We inherit the trauma we didn't ourselves experience -- a Republican from Wisconsin talked to me about his work around historical trauma and I admit to being surprised his politics allowed that. Shows what I know.

At the same time, it doesn't diminish that we haven't just experienced second- or third- or N-generation trauma, we can also experience it in the daily ways that still exist. People still throw pennies at jewish people, and target black people as thieves, and on and on. We can use the language of microaggressions as a way to capture the chipping away of trust and safety one can feel going around the in the world, and we diminish the right anger at the macro aggressions - the acts without plausible deniability. The egregious acts of coercion being done because of an unchecked and toxic and repugnant orthodoxy to beliefs that should have been obliterated by science and freedom-fighting.

There is power, there is resistance. There is privilege, there is coercion, there is hegemony. There are many lenses, and many filters to apply to those lenses. Often, it seems common to assert a view through a particular filtered lens, then argue with others who employ a different filtered lens about who has reached the wrong conclusion -- without ever working alongside one another to even reveal what lenses we are employing. This seems like a great waste of fine minds. For if we allowed those revelations perhaps we would have a language for philosophical argument of the deeper issues, rather than building our skills for internet trolling.

When I read the arguments between people that ultimately devolve into silencing, hate speech, because of unchecked racism or ableism or any other ism -- I don't see the value in undermining the "-ism" because it is a left-wing idea of oppression, and I don't see the value in shutting down the hate speech when it so very clearly comes from a place of misunderstanding. Hold up a mirror. Listen. Be willing to hold the anger of the other. But let me be clear -- it is not so much on the people who are angry -- legitimately angry from an unrelenting legacy of receiving hate -- to do this work. No, there is a difference between losing many peers to race- and poverty-related violence and being angry about that, and the anger of rich white people at "their" resources, earned on the backs of those very people, being used to address systemic problems. No, anger at being fucked over by a world you want to change is NOT the same as the hate borne of a perceived loss of privilege. I use privilege in that sense very earnestly.

In other words, patriarchal/misogynist butthurt is NOT equal to the rage at a system that murders women and trans people. Got butthurt? I have toys for that.

But to those who would turn away from us who are angry -- legitimately angry -- because race may have no scientific meaning but it is culturally salient and it MATTERS in the sense that it materially affects a person's experiences, opportunities, and safety in the world, and because of that, being colorblind is at best a copout -- then that angry must matter. Not only must it matter, it is the path to freedom. Not only must we listen to the anger of black people, woman people, disabled people, trans people, first nations people, those in poverty, those who witnessed genocide, those who are being enslaved, etc -- we must understand that anger is like an arrow at the heart of coercion and evil and we must amplify these voices and distill their meaning and behold their power with the tenderness it deserves; without ownership, destruction of authorship, or compromise of message.

The more uncomfortable we feel about those voices, the more it's on US to work that through and pay even closer attention. There is no solution until those voices aren't just a part of the conversation: they are the conversation.

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