The Erotic and the Sacred

           Lubbock, Texas is no place to hide. The thunderstorms are violent, the fundamentalists are virulent, dust blows in spring, there are ice storms in winter, and the summers scorch. The city also boasts one of the most spectacular and well-documented UFO sightings on record. It's too small for a "scene" and too big for peace and quiet. But somehow it's produced more fine musicians and artists per capita than any city I've ever heard of. The musicians tend to roam and stay gone; the visual artists seem to roam and return. They make their stand far from the galleries and art journals of New York and Los Angeles, but their work speaks for itself, on its own terms, and finds its own way to those whom it feeds.

           One of those artists is a woman named Future Akins. She was named after a Lubbock-born aunt named Wanda May, who left town at 18 and changed her name to "Future." It's said that Aunt Future--"the aunt that everyone needs," as her namesake describes her--went to New York and studied acting with Lee Strasberg. She was a wild, 6-foot redhead who, before her death in 1972, "danced on rooftops" and would send her niece "books of poetry and candles that floated." Her niece has since danced on some rooftops herself, and her art has the quality of flames on the water.

           The last time I passed through Lubbock, Future wanted to interview me about the erotic and the sacred. She explained that she'd been taking a workshop in which "everybody kept talking about the sexual, or gender, or pornography, but nobody wanted to touch the erotic. And no one wanted to talk about the sacred. I assure you, nobody even thought that creativity had to do with the erotic and sacred. I started researching the connection between the two, but all I found were books on how to do sex and books on how to be creative, and both were limited--and limiting. But I thought, I have friends who are experts on the erotic and the sacred. So I decided to just interview my friends."

           Future: Define "erotic."

           Michael: We're designed to be erotic. The elements we're made of, and our great irrational drives as individuals and as a culture, all go back to being erotic. The erotic is the creative, in the most fundamental sense, because human beings were given the erotic in order to reproduce in a violent and unpredictable environment. The erotic governs. The erotic is the organizing principle. That's what this society really doesn't want to admit. Most of our customs, institutions, and taboos, at their core are concerned with the erotic--are constellated around its demands and our anxieties about its power.

           Future: Are you equating the erotic strictly with sex?

           Michael: Not exactly. With other species, sex is an irresistible drive but the actual act is usually very quick and often violent. With human beings, sex is designed to be pleasurable. And pleasure always involves aesthetics. Different shapes, sizes, textures, colors, give different people different pleasures. If human sex were merely reproductive, anybody could be satisfied sleeping with anybody as long as they reproduced. But there are people you'd never sleep with no matter how horny you are, and people you can't help but sleep with no matter how irrational the situation. And if you're gay, you're not using sex to reproduce at all. We can speak about that in psychological, social, or genetic terms, but aren't the differences in who people sleep with essentially aesthetic? People with a wide spectrum of the erotic are people with a wide spectrum of aesthetics.

           If I were to boil all that down to a definition of the erotic... I'd need a cigarette. (After lighting up.) The erotic is where our sense of beauty and our sexual drive weave in with our fears, our hopes, and our sense of survival, to become an outlook, a vision, that is often unconscious--a vision with which we meet the world.

           Future: Now define "sacred."

           Michael: Human beings are possessed by the sacred, but the sacred is not human. The way I would explain that is... every human culture has found a word for something that we call in English a "soul." And almost every culture envisions the soul as something that existed before we were born and will go on after we die. That says: The soul isn't human--for humans are born and die. It also implies that, since the soul is not human, it doesn't have human values. When your soul is really hungry for something or someone, it doesn't care what it puts you through, it doesn't care about values like happiness and comfort. Which says to me that the soul is here for its own reasons, its own journey.

           It's as though the soul needs to occupy a human being for its education--in order to get things that can only be gotten through us. But at the same time it seems to need to go beyond us, for the soul demands extremes of human experience. I don't just mean esoteric or romantic extremes. It may demand extremes of security, in some instances, or extremes of money--even extremes of violence. So: What is the sacred? The sacred is that which demands more of human life than is rationally necessary.

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