In The Erotic Phenomenon, Jean-Luc Marion addresses the erotic from the standpoint of the “erotic reduction” that seeks, Descartes-like, an assurance of the ego’s being loved. It asks the question “Does anyone out there love me?” (He repeats the question innumerably, along with the similar, opposite question: “What’s the use?” – the one expressing the hope, if that’s the word, for “assurance” that the other question’s proposal of vanity will be shown false. The Cartesianism of this is powerfully expressed throughout. It’s one of the things I don’t like about it.)
One way to look at the erotic, that I draw from Marion, is that it is something we await, that we dwell in fruitless anticipation for. It is not a self-creation. I cannot be my own erotic counterpart, on my own – that is, self-sufficiently as a Being-for-self or a solus ipse. Just can’t be done.
Let’s use this as an account of the erotic of sensation: sensation asks “Does anyone out there love me?” of what it senses, and we can describe the relation to the sensible and sensed as an erotic love. Our flesh loves flesh, loves to be touched and to touch, to taste, to be tasted?, to smell, to hear, etc., etc. Rather than an aesthetic approach to perception – “toward what shall I turn my (sovereign, voluntary) attention? What pleases me?” – we’d start with an erotic approach to sensation – “how can I be? how can I be loved by flesh, such that flesh sustains me?” Just like in Marion’s approach to human love relationships, this erotic attachment to flesh, to the visible and the invisible-visible (the visceral, per Drew Leder) represents our non-self-sufficiency, our need as well as our desire. Pleasure and pain are erotic entanglements of flesh. This pain happening now in my left ankle, following a couple miles’ walk to and from the farmers’ market, assures me of my fleshly being, of my fleshly non-self-sufficiency (“I need that ankle to persist in its being, for me to still have an ankle and the possibility of walking, whether it hurts me or not”; “I need the flesh of me to be, and to be sustained by the flesh of being, and this pain expresses this need”; “I desire to walk, I desire peaches, I desire sun and air”).
This can all be (all of this is) anticipated, analyzed, scrutinized, regimented, surveilled, and disciplined by scientific and social practices of all sorts. But it can’t be replaced, and it can’t be made by me. It made me. It continues to make me. I continue to await its arrival. I live always in anticipation of the arrival of flesh, and upon its arrival, I continue to await its (next) arrival. We could call this erotic anticipation something like “protention,” but that would be to treat it as the directed, self-determined, egoistic act of consciousness. Even “anticipation” is saying something distorting, but mere “openness” doesn’t provide enough of a sense of direction.
I live in the subjunctive case, with its hint of the passive voice: I would touch, I would be touched, I would enter, I would be entered… Our erotic connection to one another: we are flesh that would touch, that would be touched, that would enter, that would be entered – everyone, by everyone, by everything. To acknowledge this, is to acknowledge every way we suffer or inflict pain, every way we receive or give pleasure. Which is every way we sense anything at all.
So it’s not just that any pleasure or pain can be anticipated. If I pour a glass of whisky and set it on the table in front of me, I can begin already to have sensory responses to my anticipation. My mouth may already tingle a bit from recalling drinking this whisky in the past, or, if it’s a new one to me, in some combination recalling and searching out. My mouth prepares the way for this new visitor, whom we hope will please us. My mouth is for this whisky; it would taste it, it would encounter the whisky’s flesh with its own flesh. It awaits the erotic entanglement of drinking the whisky; it is the mouth of desire.