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Titillation of Meaning in Terminology: The Exotic and The Erotic

ladyinwhite's picture

Titillation of Meaning in Terminology: The Exotic and The Erotic

 An immense blurriness pulsates at the source of confusion of a crowd. This haze swirls in a continuum that flows within and without our minds, with words riding at the forefront of human obtuseness. How is it that words become so severely entangled with one another—ensnared into sameness? Two specific terms that often fall prey to unification within confusion are the exotic and the erotic.

From where does the depth of this mass misleading arise? The morphing of terminology will never cease, though I intend to investigate where, when, and how the mutation of meaning occurs.

The definite distinction in meaning is most evident within Greeks roots: exotic is derived from the Greek word exō, meaning “outside”, and also exōtikos, literally meaning “from the outside” or “foreign”. Erotic is rooted in the Greek erōs, which refers to the god of “sexual love” (Online Etymology Dictionary). These two words exist in their own planes—maybe closely, but never intersecting. The tendency of some, but not others, is to overlap and even equate these two separate concepts. Urban Dictionary defines exotic as:

 “Basically anything that is not white; anyone with tan skin, black shiny hair, big luscious lips, can dance and gyrate, curvy and smart. Exotic people have mysterious, alluring and sensual eyes; Anyone that is foreign and different, but beautiful at the same time; Often refers to erotic dancing but can refer to anything that seems foreign or unusual to the observer, something/someone beautiful that's rarely seen.”

 Otherness teeters on a scale ranging from being either sexualized or demonized—sometimes both. While the representation of otherness is a symbol of evil and danger, this horror of the prodigious ripens to become a means of seduction.

 Ruth Ozeki writes to incite imagery of the exotic as erotic and transgressive. Yumi’s childhood narrative is the epitome of being other – she is the only Asian American in her High school in Idaho, though nothing particular distinguishes her besides this fact. It is peculiar for Mr. Rhodes to take an interest in her; he takes an interest in the abnormality of her presence, because of the rarity—the exoticness. Yumi’s presence as the exotic one in Idaho is eroticized by Mr. Rhodes, and Yumi is unaware. She doesn’t know the reason why Mr. Rhodes wants her; she has nothing to share intellectually and “keeps asking why he likes you (Yumi)” (25). Mr. Rhodes almost gets to the crux of it, he almost tells Yumi why, though he cuts himself off when he almost does. “he had a thing for—” (21) Asians. “He admired Asian culture” (21), and Yumi was the means by which Mr. Rhodes could explore his curiosity.

Yumi’s children are also exotic, though the otherness of Phoenix is perceived differently when he is in the same high school as Yumi. In his contrasting experience, Phoenix is feared rather than eroticized; his otherness is despised and attacked. A treacherous dance ensues between love and hate in being the exotic other, blurring together and apart continuously.

 The commodity of flesh is neglected by Mr. Rhodes. He repudiates “crappy materialism of middle-American capitalist culture” saying he “doesn’t need stuff” (25), but Mr. Rhodes is incredibly materialistic. The metaphor of Mr. Rhodes dipping his toe into the river resembles

an attempt to obtain the earth. He embodies that aspect of American culture which he so sternly denounces. The very landscape upon which this narrative occurs serves as a means of eroticizing the exotic. America resembles the virgin space to be dominated, and in this text, the conquest of women is parallel to conquest of land. Mr. Rhodes epitomizes the duality of ‘conquering territory’.

 Do these words—erotic and exotic— exist independently, or indistinguishably, within the swirling continuum called experience? Does any word and its meaning exist independently? How do the lines between words become blurred in the first place? Those who face the perilous dichotomy of being eroticized in being ‘exotic’ should not be made to serve to quench the curiosity of those who are on the inside. What is to be done about the misleading terminology? The burden of the word cannot be deflected. 


Anne Dalke's picture

lady in white--
For an answer to the question in your first paragraph--"How is it that words become so severely entangled with one another—ensnared into sameness?" you might look @ my notes about punning @ the end of /oneworld/changing-our-story-2015/towards-day-15-tues-1027-re-creating --which suggest that the notion of words existing not-in-relation, not-entangled, is a misleading one...

You've already done a very nice job here of showing how the exotic is eroticized, both in Urban Dictionary and in All Over Creation. Along these lines, you might be interested in looking @ a classic work of feminist eco-criticism about ways in which the conquest of American land was metaphorized as the conquest of women: Annette Kolodnay's The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters (1975).

I guess the question I'll lob back @ you, to help guide your revision process this week, is whether you want to focus on etymological questions (how words become entangled in one another, how meanings morph) or in political ones (how certain populations become exoticized and eroticized)? Ozeki's given you plenty of material to pursue either line of questioning. Which interests you more? Which is means, which ends?