In this article we’re going to unpack the notion of the erotic to see if and how it is conceptually related to the visionary. In defining the term ‘the erotic’ I will focus mainly on the thinking of Georges Bataille and to a lesser extent Audre Lourde and Marc Gafni (a philosopher who often draws on the Jewish mystical tradition in his thinking).
The erotic as a concept has been substantially diminished in its contemporary understanding by being conflated solely with the sexual. Though the sexual is a metanym for the erotic principle, it by no means limited to the sexual. Furthermore by realising that the essential element to making something erotic is the potent addition of the imagination we can rediscover the erotic as a visionary force.
The erotic as a transformation of the discontinuous into the continuous
In his definition of the erotic Bataille makes the distinction between discontinous and continuous selves. The Discontinuous subject is the one that recognise themselves as a self that is distinct from other phenomena in the word which is understood as not part of that self. The discontinuous subject lives in a universe composed of distinct things and phenomena, that are neatly dispersed, well delineated and interacting in ways defined by rational principles. The continuous subject on the other hand, is no longer a subject but an energy, a exuberant and chaotic flow of immanence, coming into being without end. The ‘continuous subjectivity’ (oxymoron though that is – it is the only way language will allow us access to the idea) does not contain within in it limits or distinction, it is thus non rational and inherently violent. According to Bataille the erotic is the force the transformation of the dicontinous into the continuous- a transformation it might be added that relies on their being a discontinous subject in the first place. What does this look like in practice? Any moment, in sex, or making music, or drawing, or meditating or smoking a ciggarette when you become, according to your sensation, one with the thing you are interacting with. The lover fusing with their partner, the musician becoming their sound, the artist the line etc. Its also clear at this point why this is called a violent act because it transgresses a subjects boundaries, it unleashes irrational forces that act in all kinds of incoherent, exuberant and purposeless ways and cannot be held accountable. The subject who employs the erotic force is ascenting to their own death, the death of their subjectivity but only to be rebeorn into the unknown on the other side. It is in this unknown that we glimpse the visionary potential of the erotic.
The Visonary Potential of the Erotic
To imagine the world on the other side of a death is the key componant in the erotic. The death does not have to be a literal death it can be a symbolic one, the key is that it happens at the point of transition from an experience of the self as discontinuous to one in which the notion of self is dissolved into a flow of undifferentiated energy. To imagine what is on the other side of the transition from discontinuous to continuous is hard because it involves imagining oneself as a different ontological category, its not the difference of apples and pears it is the difference between apples and the infinity of life force. Meaning that the imaginative act required asks you to travel beyond the bounds of the possible, to a place in which new language, new political structures, new morality will be needed. These erotic acts of imagination take the form of prophesy, wisdoms that come fully formed and unrelated to present realities. There is a beautiful symmetry in the use of the term ‘the promised land’ made so famous in the 20th century by Martin Luther King when he referred to a place beyond the known landscape of racial segregation. In that speech MLK makes two biblical reference to the exodus out of ancient Egypt of the enslaved Jewish people, the first is in the famous line “I have a dream’ which was what the slave Nun woke up declaring to his fellow slaves in their compound in Egypt. Im that dream Nun had seen a vision of the promised land and it was the faith in that dream that was to eventually lead to the enslaved peoples exodus out of Canaan. This act of faith in prophetic imagination is what is celebrated each year at the festival of passover. In this uniquely mythic ritual the faithful are invited to imagine themselves journeying out of biblical Egypt, out of the ‘narrow places’ of bondage and into a new self. This is a two step process, first it’s necessary to locate the boundaries that define what you are and then you are invited to step beyond them into what you are not…yet. The erotic reimagining of oneself in the bounds of the unknown is dangerous for any political systems of oppression or economic orthodoxies that rely on having stable, predictable and docile subjects. This would explain why the erotic is so deeply repressed in our culture.
The repression of the Erotic
One gets a sense of how potent the intertwined concepts of the erotic and the imaginative if we look at their contemporary association. For the erotic the association is almost soely the sexual and for the imaginative it is the infantile, the fanciful, the ungrounded. It is also relevant to observe that the real crises of our time are crises of the imagination, neatly summed up in the aphorism: people could imagine the end of the world more easily than an end to capitalism. In the suppression of the erotic and the marginalisation of the imagination we see the both the will of power and the tools to defeat it. In an effort to avoid change the oppressive system must corrupt our connection with the erotica and by insiting on the power of the imagination and the engagement of feeling we can resist it.