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The Elision in Meaning

ladyinwhite's picture

Link to first draft -- /oneworld/changing-our-story-2015/titillation-meaning-terminology-exotic-and-erotic

The Elision in Meaning

The separation and hybridization of meaning cannot be seen independently from the structures that enforce the model of power in which we live. No word is defined without another, no meaning is without relation to value, no value is without a source of power. This power tells women that the erotic involves no transcendence of sexual, and that they must fear and devalue its essence.

 The confusion of meaning emerges within the fabric of western ideology, which was built in the framework of the male figure. Women are constantly being warned by this dominant presence, told that they cannot attach themselves to the erotic without shame.

 Further speculation into the meaning and usage of the erotic has augmented my understanding of the context in which this word has the potential to enrich and empower. In the classical Greek tradition, the god Eros is a personification of love in all its aspects, borne of chaos – though also embodying “life energy” (Wikipedia). This meaning is encompassing though not exclusively attached to the sexual.

 Why the erotic is equated with the pornographic?

 The abandonment of feeling beyond the sexual is a result of the terms of male power. Words are often stripped of their history and, as they do not serve the needs of the people, the people do not benefit from their meanings. The erotic stands exposed, without a bridge to the love that could possibly imbue all aspects of life.

 Women specifically, have been raised to fear that which empowers them—as this empowerment becomes a threat to the system which instills their oppression. And so, the fullness to which they can feel is often not achieved. Words are misnamed, and confused—forced to cooperate in a dissonance that we have been trained to tolerate, and even admire.  

 In All Over Creation, Ozeki utilizes the erotic in a way that instills the preexisting relation of this concept to the pornographic, the strange, the lesser, the trivial. Such an event is elucidated as Elliot stares at the “pictures of Lilith as Mother Earth. Her body was unenhanced, full and natural, which seemed like an erotic novelty. Naked, she reminded him of the earnest hippie girls who’d danced topless in grassy fields” (185). This imagery of Mother Earth, of Gaia, is awfully hyper sexualized; it employs the very appropriation of the erotic, which has already implanted its façade of a definition at the tips of our minds.

 One could argue that though viewed by the majority as a source of pornography, Lilith’s intention for this website teeters between an encompassing and yet dismissing usage of the erotic. While discussing the motives of the Earthly delights with Frank, Greek describes Lilith’s reasoning for The Garden of Earthy Delights:

 “The Internet is so full of porno for men, she wanted to create an erotic site for women…she envisioned a women only space where sec could be both fun and sacred. Where women could lon on and look at empowering images and exchange stories and get turned on” (151-152).

From a certain perspective, Lilith’s endeavors are amenable – she is doing something which she thinks empowers women, and this empowers her. In her “women-only” space, she attempts to create a harmony between sex and the sacred, but relegates the part of eroticism that transcends merely getting “turned on”. This is in no way incorrect, for Lilith to feel empowered by sex; she ventures into a society fraught with danger and fear, and seeks to strengthen the women within it. But the usage of the sexual is not the only means by which to accomplish this satisfaction within oneself.

We are trained to be repulsed by the singularity of usage of erotic nature, as manifested in Lilith’s website. Most people in All Over Creation seem to respond in such a way – as it is basically pornography. Nonetheless, by all within this book, the potential, complexity, and mutifacetedness of the erotic is unseen. The sexual facet of the erotic is condemned by people like Lloyd, who shame the women who seek empowerment through this gateway.

In both instances, the term erotic is contrived in the mind of a man, employed for his own conception of the word. However pure Lilith may be in her intention in making her erotic videos, she is never seen as the “empowered” women she thinks herself to be. No matter what Ozeki presents to the reader of the erotic, the interpretation is condemned to less than the possibility brimming within this term. It is doomed to sexualization, though it is our duty to see beyond the sensual.



Ozeki, Ruth. All Over Creation. New York, New York: Penguin, 2004. IBooks. Penguin Books, 2004. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.

“Eros (concept).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2015.


ladyinwhite's picture

It was very difficult for me to choose whether women should be referenced to as “we” or “they” within this essay—as I am a woman, and so are the students in my class, and these essays are written for my class. I decided not to use “we” for women, because it felt better that way.   

Anne Dalke's picture

So, ladyinwhite, of course my initial question is in response to your comment: why does "they" "feel better," if you, and your classmates and audience, are "we"?

And (while we're on pronouns), why do you say that "one could argue"? (Are you not making this argument? Who is speaking here?) Likewise w/ your conclusion about "our duty." (Who is the "we"? Can you speak both to-and-for us all?)

I begin with these grammatical questions because you, too, begin with the semiotic, the system of signs that we call language. You might be interested in looking @ an article bluish shared with me a few weeks ago: Timo Maran's “Towards an integrated methodology of ecosemiotics: The concept of nature-text.Sign Systems Studies 35.1/2  (2007), which argues that ecology and semiotics emerged as two different types of 20th c. scientific, systemic thinking; both are disciplines of relation. And both attend closely to context, “the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and asserted.” Words, like organisms, have no meaning, cannot express themselves, outside the larger system in which they appear and are apprehended and understood.

I see you going way beyond the semantics and ecologists, though, in your attention to the question of power: who gets to name what is, and assign it meaning? And how do those of us so named push back? It seems clear here how you answered the question I asked in my initial response--do you  want to focus on etymological questions (how words become entangled in one another, how meanings morph) or in political ones? You decisively turn your focus to the latter: "Words are misnamed, and confused—forced to cooperate in a dissonance that we have been trained to tolerate, and even admire"; "the term erotic is contrived in the mind of a man, employed for his own conception of the word." You here anticipate our focus in tomorrow's class on the political dimensions of our existence and language use, on the ways in which power is used and abused by means of words.

How then might we women (to return to my first question!) reclaim such words? This was an important question in the heyday of second wave feminism; to learn more about the movement, you could start with the work of the radical feminist philosopher and theologian, Mary Daly, whose Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language introduced and explored an alternative language to explain the process of exorcism and ecstasy. In Wickedary Daly provided definitions and chants for women to use, in order to free themselves from patriarchal oppression. She also explored the labels placed by patriarchal society on women to prolong male domination. Daly said it is the role of women to unveil the liberatory nature of labels such as “Hag,” “Witch,” and “Lunatic." (This summary is from wikipedia, just you give you a taste...but I also have a very funny story to tell you, about Daly's speaking in Goodhart, during my first semester @ Bryn Mawr, in 1982.)

P.S. Just want to appreciate your creating a hotlink in your title--very environmentally-minded, evoking connections in this virtual ecosystem that is Serendip.