Audre Lorde’s Erotic as Epistemic and Political Practice

Hypatia 38 (4) (2023)
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Audre Lorde’s account of the erotic is one of her most widely celebrated contributions to political theory and feminist activism, but her explanation of the term in her brief essay “Uses of the Erotic” is famously oblique and ambiguous. This article develops a detailed, textually grounded interpretation of Lorde’s erotic, based on an analysis of how Lorde’s essay brings together commitments expressed across her work. I describe four integral elements of Lorde’s erotic: feeling, knowledge, power, and concerted action. The erotic is a way of feeling in the work a person does, which makes possible new knowledge about the self and the social environment— particularly to counteract epistemic oppression imposed by an unjust society. The erotic is a source of power by providing vision and energy for actions integrating a person’s multiple commitments and political interests. It facilitates concerted action and coalition by enhancing a person’s appreciation of their interests and values, while fostering embodied, personal connections that build trust on the basis of shared vulnerability. Thus, the erotic helps build coalitions where genuine differences of perspective and experience can be examined, in resistance against an oppressive society’s epistemic distortions.

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Caleb Ward
Universität Hamburg


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