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The East, the West, and Sex: A History of Erotic Encounters

de Richard Bernstein

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812253,974 (2.3)3
A rich and seductive narrative of the powerful erotic pull the East has always had for the West—a pervasive yet often ignored aspect of their long historical relationship—and a deep exploration of the intimate connection between sex and power. Richard Bernstein defines the East widely—northern Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific Islands—and frames it as a place where sexual pleasure was not commonly associated with sin, as it was in the West, and where a different sexual culture offered the Western men who came as conquerers and traders thrilling but morally ambiguous opportunities that were mostly unavailable at home. Bernstein maps this erotic history through a chronology of notable personalities. Here are some of Europe’s greatest literary personalities and explorers: Marco Polo, writing on the harem of Kublai Khan; Gustave Flaubert, describing his dalliances with Egyptian prostitutes (and the diseases he picked up along the way); and Richard Francis Burton, adventurer, lothario, anthropologist—and translator ofThe Arabian Nights. Here also are those figures less well-known but with stories no less captivating or surprising:Europeans whose “temporary marriages” to Japanese women might have inspired Puccini’sMadama Butterfly; rare visitors to the boudoirs of Chinese emperors in the Forbidden City; American G.I.s and journalists in Vietnam discovering the sexual emoluments of postcolonial power; men attracted to the sex bazaars of yesterday’s North Africa and the Thailand of today. And throughout, Bernstein explores the lives of those women who suffered for or profited from the fantasies of Western men. A remarkable work of history: as unexpected as it is lucid, and as provocative as it is brilliantly illuminating.… (més)
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Creepy justification I would have never picked up this book except the author, Richard Bernstein, got into a tiff with his former employer, 'The New York Times,' over a feature piece the NYT published on nail salons. An investigative report spanning over several months had the NYT look at the conditions and pay for nail salons in the city. It was fairly eye-opening, and showed people what it was like for recent female (I don't think they had a male employee interviewed, I don't know if nail salons really employ men since I don't go) immigrants to work in these salons.
 
Bernstein posted a response objecting to the piece, claiming the ad the NYT said existed didn't. There were back and forths on social media, the NYT posted a reply to Bernstein, etc. It died down. What was of particular interest to me (and pointed out by other people online) was that Bernstein did not disclose that he and his wife (who is Chinese) own two salons (not investigated by the NYT) and therefore might have a conflict of interest.
 
But the author noted he spoke Chinese and since he had a Chinese wife (and also worked in China), I thought this might be an interesting read. I saw the reviews but wanted to look at it anyway, because why not?
 
Well...yes, it's that bad. I always have trouble with books written by current/former journalists and this is no exception. I knew this was trouble when he goes on and on right from the start about a blogger who brags about having sex with various Chinese women (blogger is presumably not Chinese). Bernstein talks about some of the cultural attitudes (people got angry at the blogger and at the women for "debasing" themselves by having sex with a foreigner) and customs.
 
But that's it. The book reads like one long justification for some of the really creepy and racist memes, fetishes, themes, stories, etc. of Western colonialism to have sex with the women in the lands they conquered. And while a lot of this has carried into the modern day (I had heard that private English teaching schools for Japan tended to look for candidates who "looked" a certain way, ie blond hair and blue eyes), Bernstein doesn't seem to connect the dots.
 
As noted in other reviews, he doesn't seem to talk to any of the women. It could be argued he's just presenting the views and experiences of the men who undertook various forms of sexual experiences in Asia and he's just a reporter. But without the further context of the women (or men), it's very lopsided. This actually reminded me of Bernstein's response to the NYT: at least one commentator noted he didn't talk to any of the women and simply uses his own experiences as an owner as his guide. That is terrible journalism and it makes me side-eye his book here. I'm not saying he did exactly the same thing here for his book, but it DOES make me question his research methods and approach.
 
Double checking the index shows there are only 3 pages that mention rape, there is no entry for "human trafficking" (or any "trafficking") although there are mentions of child prostitution. I'm not saying the author HAD to address these topics, but again, it feels like the author had a particular view to show and unfortunately he's not able (or willing) to see the broader picture for the women (and some of the men) that suffered in the history of colonialism and conquering.
 
Really don't recommend it. I really only wanted to see if there were any connections, parallels, similarities in methodology to his recent article. Don't recommend it even if you're interested in the topic. I'm sure there are better works out there. ( )
  HoldMyBook | Feb 11, 2018 |
The Occident is from Mars, the Orient is from Venus

Less than a week into my first trip east of Vienna I was on a houseboat on Srinagar’s Dal Lake, sometimes admiring the graciously moving daughter of the Indian family on the boat next to mine. After two days the son of the family wanted to invite me over to get more acquainted. I kindly declined. It was my first experience that the lure between West and East went beyond temples and democratic institutions.

The images that the West holds of the East dates back from Antiquity. After Titus’ victory over the Israelis, coins were minted showing a victorious male in Roman military uniform standing against a palm tree, and a weeping female, sitting in a gesture of submission. It is the oldest image of the East as weak and feminine and the West as strong and masculine. That image has pertained well into the the third millennium, not in the least because it matched nicely with the developing political and economic disparities between the two sides of the Eurasian landmass.

Exoticism, as much as power and money, has a sexual component. In this book Mr. Bernstein chronicles the “history of erotic encounters” between West and East. As a definition for the East, he takes the Orient, an area that ranges from Morocco to Japan; countries that the West managed to colonise almost completely since the 15th century. And whereas monogamy was the norm in the West since the rise of Christianity, in the East polygamy, the “culture of the harem”, reigned for whoever had the means to enjoy it. The East set aside a group of women for men’s sexual enjoyment, and Western traders and colonisers had few qualms about enjoying that privilege also.

The author concentrates on this “culture of the harem”, and therefore mainly on relationships between Western man and Asian women. As a reason Mr. Bernstein claims that this is the most common form. This may be right, but if you look a bit more carefully, you can find plenty of examples of relationships between Western women and Asian men. Lady Ellenborough comes to mind, who lived with a Syrian sheikh for 30 years. Marguerite Duras wrote about her own relationship as a young woman in colonial Vietnam with a Chinese in her novel l’Amant. Or Indonesia’s first prime minister Soetan Sjahrir, who was married to Maria Duchateau. She was one of the (few) women that supported their husbands in the anti-colonial struggle. Most Indonesian men that went to live in the Netherlands married local women, creating a largely multi-racial offspring.

Mr. Bernstein shows only limited interest for the female side of the relationship. In Thailand, he rates that interest as mainly financial. Nowhere does he mention the Southeast Asian fascination for mixed-racial babies, as mixed-racial people are considered so much more pretty than white or Asian people. In his book about concubinage in the Dutch East Indies De Njai Reggie Baaij’s does look at this subject from a female side. He concludes that the relationships were very often asymmetric. The men were in charge, leaving their concubines and often their children whenever it suited him. The former concubines and their children then often led a marginal life in the native society. The level of understanding between the man and the often illiterate woman could be too limited to develop any real level of intimacy. And if the men did not take concubines but visited prostitutes, the treatment for shanker with mercury was painful and expensive.

Although flawed, the book contains a good description of sexuality in British India, and how Richard Burton’s discovery of an ancient sexual culture greatly influenced the West in a time that India was copying the West, as well as a chapter about how Japan handled the influx of American soldiers after its defeat in the Second World War. ( )
1 vota mercure | Aug 28, 2010 |
Es mostren totes 2
Although Bernstein’s coverage is wide-ranging, he doesn’t provide enough detail to make the work exemplary to someone already familiar with these figures. But for your average layperson picking it up at Borders because of the naked lady reclining on the cover, the first half of the book is fun.
Unfortunately, the second half is a bit harder to swallow.... Bernstein seems very intent on making sure readers don’t judge the Americans too harshly for partaking in a little female flesh during their foreign tours.
 
As an epigraph to his depressing mishmash, Bernstein quotes from Rudyard Kipling's poem "Mandalay"...Bernstein writes.. that this poem "is all you need to understand the heart-racing allure that the East had for tens of thousands of adventurous Europeans, eager to hear the temple bell at dawn (which 'comes up like thunder') and see the nut-brown girl who's waitin'." By the end, the main message is that he agrees with Kipling.
 
To his credit, Bernstein has managed to carry out this sober examination while still evoking the romance and adventure inherent in his subject. Occasionally, though, he comes off as just a bit too enchanted, rhapsodizing about Asian women’s “nut-brown skin” at least three times, confessing that he finds it “impossible not to feel the pull of fantasy” in Bangkok’s red light district, etc.
 
Bernstein comes to our aid with his accessible, much-researched and far-reaching book — though his subject is so complex that he provides only a bare introduction, a kind of hybrid of history, interview and anecdote.
 
Bernstein deserves credit for raising a tortured subject from which it is easy to avert our gaze. And yet, and yet … there is something deeply uncomfortable about a book that seems at times so complicit in the very exploitation it aims to scrutinize. It's not just the tone...It is the fetid attitude toward women.
afegit per Shortride | editaSlate, Johann Hari (Jun 20, 2009)
 
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A rich and seductive narrative of the powerful erotic pull the East has always had for the West—a pervasive yet often ignored aspect of their long historical relationship—and a deep exploration of the intimate connection between sex and power. Richard Bernstein defines the East widely—northern Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific Islands—and frames it as a place where sexual pleasure was not commonly associated with sin, as it was in the West, and where a different sexual culture offered the Western men who came as conquerers and traders thrilling but morally ambiguous opportunities that were mostly unavailable at home. Bernstein maps this erotic history through a chronology of notable personalities. Here are some of Europe’s greatest literary personalities and explorers: Marco Polo, writing on the harem of Kublai Khan; Gustave Flaubert, describing his dalliances with Egyptian prostitutes (and the diseases he picked up along the way); and Richard Francis Burton, adventurer, lothario, anthropologist—and translator ofThe Arabian Nights. Here also are those figures less well-known but with stories no less captivating or surprising:Europeans whose “temporary marriages” to Japanese women might have inspired Puccini’sMadama Butterfly; rare visitors to the boudoirs of Chinese emperors in the Forbidden City; American G.I.s and journalists in Vietnam discovering the sexual emoluments of postcolonial power; men attracted to the sex bazaars of yesterday’s North Africa and the Thailand of today. And throughout, Bernstein explores the lives of those women who suffered for or profited from the fantasies of Western men. A remarkable work of history: as unexpected as it is lucid, and as provocative as it is brilliantly illuminating.

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