Life as an Extreme Sport

Erotic Faith

In Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song the murderer Gary Gilmore writes from death row to his incarcerated girlfriend, “What is to become of us Nicole? I know you wonder. And the answer is simple: By love… we can become more than the situation.” That assertion of the power of passionate love by a despicable wretch exemplifies what I call erotic faith: an emotional conviction, ultimately religious in nature, that meaning, value, hope, and even transcendence can be found through love – erotically focused love, the kind of love we mean when we say that people are in love. (I use the term “erotic” not in its narrow sexual connotation but to indicate broadly libidinous desire and a passionate, sometimes romantic, relationship with, affection for, or attachment to another person.) Men and women in the hold of erotic faith feel that love can redeem personal life and offer a reason for being.

Because doubt about the value of love has always been a human constant, historically people have always needed some kind of faith. And with the spread of secularism since the eighteenth century, erotic faith, diverse and informal though it may be, has given to some a center and sometimes a solace that were traditionally offered by organized religion and God. By love we canchange the situation – that sentiment moves people: love relationships have had the highest priority in the real lives of millions as they have had for innumerable characters in fiction.

Erotic faith is not a new thing, a single thing, or a local phenomenon; but, long suppressed or expropriated by Christian and other religious orthodoxies, it has swept the world in modern times as never before. Gilmore’s words mark its popular appeal. “Despite the flood of poems, novels and plays on the themes of romantic appeal and sexual love,” says one historian, “they played little or no part in the daily lives of men and women of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.” This is no longer so. Erotic love became an important basis of everyday faith in the nineteenth centurey, and – for good or ill – the evidence of erotic faith is all around.

-Robert M. Polhemus, Erotic Faith, “Faith, Love and the Art of the Novel: ‘The Feather Plucked from Cupid’s Wing'” pp 1-2