The Meaning of “Erotica”

Erotica: Women’s Writing from Sappho to Margaret Atwood, edited by Margaret Reynolds. This book expanded my definition of “erotic.” It’s not just about sexuality. It’s about our relationship to pleasure, about the pleasure of interaction — interaction with others, with the world, with our interior world.

Jane Austen, Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker, Virginia Woolf, Stevie Smith, Dorothy Wordsworth … and many, many more.

I kept making note of authors new to me, or names of works that opened my eyes by authors I thought I knew. My favorites among the more esoteric (to me, anyway) were excerpts from…

“Putting the Great Mother Together Again, or How the Cunt Lost its Tongue,” by Sarah Murphy: 

Eros – I think – Eros. Still there, moving through our world. And I get up quickly, startling my friend. -Back in a moment-I say and she nods, sure I have finally gone off, why didn’t 1 do it before we sat down, I can hear the crack as my legs come apart, feel it too, to hunt the missing machine, and I hurry out after him, looking around, I know he must be here somewhere, a beginning for my quest: the Eros for our civilisation. But where has he gone, I know I saw him just a moment ago. (p. 127).

“The Sex Which is not One,” by Luce Irigaray: 

The rejection, the exclusion of a female imaginary undoubtedly places woman in a position where she can experience herself only fragmentarily as waste or as excess in the little structured margins of a dominant ideology, this mirror entrusted by the (masculine) ‘subject’ with the task of reflecting and redoubling himself.  The role of ‘femininity’ is prescribed moreover by this masculine specula(risa)tion and corresponds only slightly to woman’s desire, which is recuperated only secretly, in hiding, and in a disturbing and unpardonable manner. (p.316)

[Ooh, that “secretly, in hiding, and in a disturbing and unpardonable manner” gives me a thrill, makes me realize I had been thinking I should share my fantasies with my spouse — but now I think maybe not.]

“The Laugh of the Medusa,” by Helene Cixous: 

Almost everything is yet to be written by women about femininity, about their sexuality, that is, its infinite and mobile complexity, about how their eroticisation sudden turn-ons of a minuscule-immense area of their bodies; not about destiny, but about the adventure of such and such a drive, about trips, crossings, trudges, abrupt and gradual awakenings, discoveries of a zone at one time timorous and soon to be forthright.  A woman’s body, with its thousand and one thresholds of ardour — once, by smashing yokes and censors she lets it articulate the profusion of meanings that run through it in every direction — will make the old single-grooved mother tongue reverberate with more than one language. (p. 311)

French Kiss, or A Pang’s Progress, by Nicole Brossard: 

The curious lapping sound of tongues before they find each other in the dark spaces over Adam’s apples that bob as if in warning. Mouths touch and salivate beyond control, venture blindly toward each other. Toward the dark. Each to lose itself inside the other’s geography. (p.277)

Reynolds says “Female sexuality is rehabilitated in these texts. It is given back its variety, its beauty, its pride, its infinite possibilities. … The women writing here make their bodies speak. They write out their desire. They claim their original rights; to their own bodies, their own selves, to their own voices.”

And not just recently, either: I’m awed to learn that women have been writing this consciousness-expanding stuff throughout history