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]

and
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]

and
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]

and
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.

2 comments:

Barbara Carrellas said...

Oh, this is wonderful. I especially like "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."

Great job! It feels like this is just the beginning of something even bigger. I'm seeing all sorts of possibilities here to help the non-autistic appreciate the autistic experience.

Karen Lean said...

Thank you Barbara! I would love to write more on it, in between my day job obligations :)

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