I have talked about erotics for probably my whole adult life. It is probably because I read a lot of greek philosophy as an undergraduate at university.
But I was unclear about the meaning. Erotics for me was about love, sexual love in a particular sense, or love that gives rise to passion. But I never really thought about it.
I used to describe my feeling towards programming as erotic- that I found programming erotic. What did I mean? Did I mean it was embodied? Yes, yes but his would be somatic. Did I find it arousing? Perhaps, I do find find programming exciting in this visceral (somatic) way.
Then I came across that famous Sontag quote “We need an erotics of art.” What the hell does that mean?
This week I watched the 4th episode of the meaning crises by John Vervaeke, and there was a brief discussion of erotics that began to unlock this question for me.
The discussion mentioned that erotics was related to care. There is an ethics of care that arose out of feminist thought. It is a form of normative ethical theory (ie value ethics) that prioritizes interpersonal relationships and the specifics of individuals. This is not what is meant by erotics and care. Care here is what you care about, a person or thing.
This jailbroke erotics for me. We need a care of art – like people need to actually care about art, not use it for virtue/cultural signaling… But lets move even further.
But care is not enough to understand erotics. Erotics for me is something connected to physical love, to embodiment/somatics, and to passion. I think this is key to understanding erotics – it is an embodied care.
What is passion? I always think of the Passion of Jesus, which is Jesus’ anguish on the cross. And then I think of limerence, that feeling when you are (or think you are) falling in love and cant stop thinking about the beloved. But lets talk about the Passion of Jesus. The word passion, from latin ‘passio’, has connotations with emotion, and perhaps comes from the greek pathos. Pathos is related to suffering and death, but also any strong feeling. To think about this psychologically, passion is to be in the grips of an emotion. It was first used in relation to sexual desire I think by Shakespeare in Titus Andronicus, a very gruesome story involving rape.
I don’t know if we can connect passion to eros. These are in conflict, and from googling on the internet Socrates/Plato does discuss this in dialogues I have read and I have since forgotten.
There is also the notion of libido, that Freud introduced for psychology. libido is more of a sex drive, and eros is more of a life force – vitality. In order to have vitality, to create, sex (biologically for humans) is involved.
Erotics is a vital caring, it is a generative caring, it is a participatory caring. I care with my whole self, not just with my mind. The passion of jesus is reinacted during the easter as a participatory ritual. Erotics as I imagine it is participatory.
When I write code, I am participating in the code, I feel what it is to care about one thing verses another, it is more than just a product of my mind. Part of that has to do with my body (somatics), because participation involves the body, but it is not only the body. For an erotics of art, it is about participating in an artwork, and feeling what it is to care.
These videos I am watching with a group are about a so called “meaning crises.” I can translate this as not knowing what to care about, which I definitely struggle with. And if care is about eros, then that is something we need to reintroduce back into society. Perhaps an impossible to do in world experienced through zoom.