"During World War II, we bought sealed plastic packets of white, uncolored margarine, with a tiny, intense pellet of yellow coloring perched like a topaz just inside the clear skin of the bag. We would leave the margarine out for a while to soften, and then we would pinch the little pellet to break it inside the bag, releasing the rich yellowness into the soft pale mass of margarine. Then taking it carefully between our fingers, we would knead it gently back and forth, over and over, until the color had spread throughout the whole pound bag of margarine, thoroughly coloring it. I find the erotic such a kernel within myself."
-Lorde, Audre. "The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power." ('Paper delivered at the Fourth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Mount Holyoke College, August 25, 1978'). The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. Henry Abelove, Ed. New York: Routledge, 1993. p. 342.
Node your homework.
This short essay by Audre Lorde is an angry piece that is nonetheless very delightful to read for reasons I'll explain below. What seems at first like a feminist rant is probably much more complex than my undergraduate comprehension level allows. Of course, it's often tough to decide the difference between BS and profundity, and this problem is a common one for humanities students, I suppose. The piece is difficult for me to make complete sense of, and I'm quite sure that even though I think I have it figured out, I don't, since it's clear to me that I just don't understand what Lorde means by the word "erotic". It seems that she has something very different in mind than I do when she uses the word, writing that, "we have often turned away from the exploration and consideration of the erotic as a source of power and information, confusing it with its opposite, the pornographic" (Ibid).
What is clear about her use of the word "erotic" is that a woman's embracing of it is key to her realizing full power and knowledge. Lorde complains that "the erotic,"--using it as a noun, as she does throughout the essay--is relegated to the bedroom. Of course, she is not complaining that sexuality is relegated to the bedroom, rather, that "the erotic" is. Grasping the difference between these two words, "erotic," and "sexual,"--no more than a nuance in my understanding but clearly much more in hers--is very likely crucial to transforming this piece from babble to brilliant. Unfortunately, the piece's deepest meaning -- if there is in fact some deep meaning here -- will have to remain lost on me for the time being. I don't know where it's going.
And yet, there's still so much more to say! I included a quote above because I just must point out that Lorde's writing style is, well, delicious. My mouth literally watered and my nostrils filled with the scent of fresh-baked bread and margarine as I read the above passage. Audre Lorde has a way with words and I hope she's gone on to write some poetry along the way in her career (since this piece was published, in 1978). It would be a shame to see her knack for metaphor and setting be wasted on pieces like this.*
Now, don't get me wrong. This piece is not crap. Not even minus the very poetic nuggets of absolute brilliance interspersed evenly with angry spittle. The problem might just be me.
Of course, it's worth keeping in mind that being written in 1978, this piece may reflect a prevailing attitude of women of the day that those of a later generation might not understand. Perhaps this was the radical feminism that was needed to bring about the modest change that has nudged Americans in the right direction since the 1970s. Then again, the struggle is by no means yet won.
*fuzzy and blue says "holy gods. go get yourself a book of audre lorde's poetry now. you didn't know she was a poet? please! go read her poems now! seriously. i am not getting over this. didn't your course reader include even a one-line bio of Audre Lorde in it? this is basic! if they left it out they should be smacked!"
And as I replied to fuzzy and blue, it is I who should be smacked--Audre Lorde IS a poet, which I would have known if I'd read either the brief Intro to the piece, or even the Audre Lorde node on E2. Mea Culpa!