The Erotics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Abstract of talk: The Erotics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In spring 2016, my book, The Doubled Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, appeared. As I thought about the kind of counter-narrative of Bonheoffer’s life I presented, I recognized that it aligned strongly with Audre Lorde’s concept of the erotic in her essay “The Uses of the Erotic.” In this essay, Lorde writes of the erotic as love, creative energy, harmony, knowledge and power. It expresses itself in “sharing deeply any pursuit” with another person. This genuine sharing “forms a bridge between the sharers.”

Eroticism expresses itself as a capacity for joy. It reminds and reveals to us that the capacity for joy and deep satisfaction is possible. As we feel deeply, this erotic knowledge empowers us and causes us to examine the rest of life to make sure it is living up to this standard, so that it is not shoddy, conventional, convenient or “merely” safe.

“In touch with the erotic,” Lorde writes, “I become less willing to accept powerlessness, or those other supplied states of being which are not native to me, such as resignation, despair, self-effacement, depression, self-denial.” The erotic gives us energy, Lorde asserts, to pursue genuine change in the world.

My talk will explore the erotic Bonhoeffer in three areas that have been threatening to the standard heroic narrative about this man: Bonhoeffer as same-sex oriented , Bonhoeffer as pacifist and Bonhoeffer as trying, especially in his prison years, to understand theology through an artistic, embodied, incarnate or what we might call theopoetic, lens.