Lands of Erotic Fantasy and Their Complex Reality
Books and Literature,Sex,Far East, South and Southeast Asia and Pacific Areas
By SIMON WINCHESTER writing in The New York Times.
Published: June 7, 2009
Richard Bernstein, pic left by Zhongmei Li
A History of Erotic Encounters
By Richard Bernstein
Illustrated. 325 pages. Alfred A. Knopf. $27.95.
She lifted her head slightly, and was just able to see why: portions of her body had become suddenly covered with thousands upon thousands of brilliantly colored captive butterflies. All of them were engaged in licking away the ointment with what felt, as she later said dreamily, like a million tiny tongues.
Things like this just don’t seem to happen in Dubuque or Stow-on-the-Wold. And as Richard Bernstein suggests in his provocative and intriguing book “The East, the West, and Sex,” it is tales like this that over the years have helped construct today’s notion of the East as a sensual and sexual paradise. Tales of the odalisque, the harem, the seraglio, the concubine, the geisha and the Kama Sutra have all become combined in the past century or so into a sweetly perfumed mélange of exoticism and eroticism, presenting “the Orient” as a realm of languor and loucheness, where concupiscent curds run in the streets and nostalgie de la boue is perfectly de rigueur.