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Eroticism (from the Greek ἔρως, eros—"desire") is a philosophical contemplation with a focus on the aesthetics of sexual desire, sensuality and romantic love: 'the very word "erotic" implies superior value, fine art, an aesthetic which elevates the mind and incidentally stimulates the body'. Unlike sensuality, which concentrates on the pleasures of the senses, eroticism is concerned with heightening those pleasures, and may involve a delay in sexual gratification to intensify the satisfaction level by extending the period of yearning desire.
Eroticism is conceived as sensual or romantic love or the human sex drive (libido) and is personified in Eros, the Greek god of love: "erotic" 'is an epithet which is applied to everything with a connection to the love of the sexes; one employs it particularly to characterize...a dissoluteness, an excess'.
History: the classical world
'It might seem at first that eroticism is a virtually tranhistorical notion, for the erotic has existed at all times and places known to us'. For Western society, however, Ancient Greek philosophy’s overturning of mythology defines in many ways our understanding of the heightened aesthetic sense in eroticism and the question of sexuality. Eros was after all the primordial god of unhinged sexual desire in addition to heteroeroticism, which is the yearning of sexual desire from the opposite sex. In the Platonic ordered system of ideal forms, Eros corresponds to the subject's yearning for ideal beauty and finality. It is the harmonious unification not only between bodies, but between knowledge and pleasure. Eros takes an almost transcendent manifestation when the subject seeks to go beyond itself and form a communion with the objectival other: 'the true order of going...to the things of love, is to use the beauties of earth as steps...to all fair forms, and from fair forms to fair actions, and from fair actions to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute beauty'.
Modern conceptions of eroticism can be traced to The Enlightenment, when 'in the eighteenth century, dictionaries defined the erotic as that which concerned love...eroticism was the intrusion into the public sphere of something that was at base private'. The theme of intrusion or transgression was taken up in the twentieth century by the French philosopher Georges Bataille, who argued in an influential work of that name that eroticism performs a function of dissolving boundaries between human subjectivity and humanity, a transgression that dissolves the rational world but is always temporary. It is something disruptive and disorderly. 'Desire in eroticism is the desire that triumphs over the taboo. It presupposes man in conflict with himself'. For Bataille, 'Eroticism, unlike simple sexual activity, is a psychological quest...eroticism is assenting to life even in death'.
Bataille's (dissident) twist on 'the surrealist...emphasis on eros - on love conceived in the broadest sense as life affirmation and creativity...erotic in the large sense or eros as opposed to thanatos' was to prove very influential for subsequent critical theory, with its 'revival of Bataille and the dissident surrealists among a host of French and American critics'. Thus for example 'the sinister eroticism of Georges Bataille...is in its turn not without influence on Lacan's views on female sexuality' - Lacan married Bataille's first wife, and 'indeed, reading Lacan's early seminars one often feels that they are written in continuous dialogue with Bataille'.
'For Kristeva, the importance of Bataille is his awareness of the interdependency between systems of power and the limits of the body', which the erotic experience exposes.
An objection to eros and erotic representation is that it fosters a subject/object relationship in which the object of desire is a mere projection of the needs of the desiring subject, so that women 'were still more often the object of the artist's or writer's gaze than they were the subjects of their own representing processes'. Love as eros is considered more base than philia (friendship) or agape (self-sacrificing love). But female complicity in the male gaze cannot be ignored - 'some profound, masochistic will to self-objectification (evident, at a superficial level, in a woman's desire to make herself into a sex object)...doll-like affectations, narcissistic displays of isolated parts of the body, and the faked orgasm are just so many modalities of this essentially artificial sexuality'. Erotic engagement paradoxically individuates and de-individuates the desirer; and 'eroticism itself remains ambiguous: it is at once the domain of women's mastery by men and...the domain of women's mastery over men'.
The third kind of love, physio, is directly related with the amount of sex drive that the brain feels upon encountering an erotic moment.
Problems of definition
Some believe defining eroticism may be difficult since perceptions of what is erotic fluctuate. For example, a voluptuous nude painting by Peter Paul Rubens could have been considered erotic when it was created for a private patron in the 17th century. Similarly in the United Kingdom and United States, and many other nations, D. H. Lawrence's sexually explicit novel Lady Chatterley's Lover was considered obscene and unfit for publication and circulation thirty years after it was completed in 1928, but may now be part of standard literary school texts in some areas. In a different context, a sculpture of a phallus in Africa may be considered a traditional symbol of potency though not overtly erotic. Such examples 'demonstrate the difficulty of drawing...a clear generic demarcation between the erotic and the pornographic': indeed arguably 'the history of the separation of pornography from eroticism...remains to be written'.
Shakespeare's sonnets have been seen by some as incorporating the 'invention of an erotic religion...an aesthetic Platonism' - as being 'much more like an erotic liturgy than a series of erotic confidences'. Perhaps not inappropriately, 'the fruit of erotic experience here is greater self-knowledge': in Shakespeare as writer, 'it provokes a bitterly shaming acknowledgement of one's own least acceptable sexual proclivities'.
It has been suggested that Simenon used 'eroticism...as a desperate attempt to connect with life and the very sources of existence'.