In the first post in this series, I discussed the “discovery” of the Kamasutra by Richard Burton and its publication in the nineteenth century, and in the second post the western reception of Kamasutra and its incorporation into sexological discourse throughout the twentieth century. These two posts were useful for me to write, in that they enabled me to think about some future directions for exploring the relationship between representations of tantra and sexology/sex-therapy, which I may return to at later date, but in doing so, I realised some months later, that I hadn’t paid much attention to the actual content of the Kamasutra. So, for this third post, I’m going to take a cue from Daud Ali’s (2011) suggestion that, in examining the Kamasutra (and related texts) it is useful to move beyond the limited frame of viewing these texts as simply books about sex, and instead, approach them from a wider perspective – what Ali terms a “kama world” – wherein kama (sensual pleasure) “was not abstracted into a special, sui generis category in and of itself, but instead formed part of wider practices of aesthetic, material and ethical transformation.” Continue reading »
How do we approach the sex lives of our forebears? In much of contemporary esoteric literature, there’s a tendency to assume that the identity categories we are so familiar with nowadays are universal and can be applied unreflexively to premodern cultures in Europe and beyond. Indeed, there is a trend towards looking for evidence for the existence of those same sexual identities in the past, in order to legitimise them – and to argue that “the ancients” for example, were really, just like us. There has been a considerable amount of scholarship contesting such assumptions of course, but its not always accessible to a non-academic reader. Sex before sexuality: A Premodern History (Polity Press, 2011, 200pp, p/bk) provides a useful introduction to contemporary theories on the interpretation of attitudes to sex in the premodern period. Continue reading »
Having discussed the “discovery” and publication of the Kamasutra, I will now examine some aspects of its history and influence beyond the confines of Burton’s closed circle of gentleman erotophiles. For this post, I will discuss the some of changes in representation of the Kamasutra in the West throughout the twentieth century. Continue reading »
Following on from the last post in this series in which I examined William Ward and his contribution to the assciation between tantra and sex, I now want to turn to the second of the three texts I examined in my Treadwells lecture – the Kamasutra. I selected the Kamasutra specifically because it is so frequently assumed to be a “tantric” text, and because I wanted to use it as a “lens” through which to examine the period it was first published in – the late nineteenth century and in addition, its later influence in the 1960s and beyond. For this first post, I will discuss the Kamasutra and the cultural context in which it was published, and follow up with a discussion of the Kamasutra’s wider reception in the twentieth century. Continue reading »
In the previous post on Edward Sellon I took a look at Sellon’s pornographic writings within the wider of context of nineteenth century attitudes to India & sexuality. For this post, I’m going to take a look at some of Sellon’s scholarly work, it’s reception, and its role in the representation of tantra. Continue reading »
When I’m researching material for lectures, I often find myself poking into a variety of fascinating areas and characters, which unfortunately time often precludes me from doing anything more than briefly summarising their relationship to the main topic at hand. So a lot of material ends up on “the cutting room floor” as it were. What follows is the first of two posts (expanded from the preparation for my forthcoming Treadwells lecture) focusing on Edward Sellon (1816-66). Sellon is noteworthy as his his writings can be located as emerging out of the blurred zone between “serious scholarship” and erotica (sometimes referred to as “ethnopornography”). Sellon wrote both pornographic books and more sober, scholarly works, both of which provide a window into the period’s attitudes to India, sexuality, and Tantra. This first post will look at Sellon’s pornographic writing in the context of the nineteenth-century demand for pornography and Imperial attitudes to India & sexuality, and I will follow up with an examination of his “scholarly” works – the papers he delivered to the Anthropological Society of London and his book Annotation to the Sacred Writings of the Hindus. Continue reading »
On Tuesday 10th of July I will be giving a lecture at Treadwells Bookshop entitled “Tantra, Sex and the Orientalist Imagination”.
Say Tantra and most people think sex. Whether it’s sacred sexuality, sexual magic or ‘tantric massages’, the word evokes an exotic or liberating sexual experience – but how did this idea come about? In this lecture, I’ll be rummaging through the works of a wide variety of authors – ranging from Orientalist scholars, Christian missionaries, to travel writers and pornographers, and exploring the relationship between between sex and empire. I’ll be taking a look at the influence of the Kama Sutra and its publication by Richard Burton, then onwards through to the psychedelic sixties and Omar Garrison’s Tantra: The Yoga of Sex. I’ll discuss how, almost as soon as the notion of “tantra” emerged it became associated with dark deeds, night-time orgies and sexual depravity, and examine how the various representations of tantra reflected wider cultural trends and anxieties throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century.
Directions & Contact Details for Treadwells.