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Bibliographic Data: Pflugfelder, Gregory M. Cartographies of Desire: Male-Male Sexuality in Japanese Discourse, 1600-1950. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

Main Argument: Pflugfelder, like other "constructionists," ascribes to the eminently defensible notion that "desire, sexual or otherwise, is not a constant or a given, but is shaped in crucial ways by the very manner in which we think and speak about it" (3)--in other words, what and who people desire, and how they talk about those desires, varies widely across place, time, and culture. In contrast to Foucault's "orientalizing vision," the construction of male/male sexuality in Japan has changed greatly over the years surveyed in this study. Pflugfelder focuses not on sexual practice (which is to a great extent unrecoverable) but on sexual discourse, namely, "how [people] wrote and spoke about these acts and the meanings that they attached to them" (8). As Pflugfelder notes, "In Japanese as in Western cultures, male-male erotic relations have been a key site over which sexual meanings have been contested, albeit in historically distinct ways" (4), and this book seeks to explore those distinctions.

Historiographical Engagement: Pflugfelder follows to some extent in the footsteps of classicists, who have dealt with a sexual paradigm very comparable to that of Edo Japan, as well as in tandem with more recent theorists and historians of sexuality outside Japan, as his study is one of the first book-length approaches to the topic that does not anachronistically read contemporary gender binaries back onto the past (i.e. Jennifer Robertson, Gary P. Leupp).

Introduction: Argument, Sources, Examples Discourse on male/male sexuality moved from a celebration of male/male sexuality very comparable to that of the ancient world in the Edo period, with a concomitant official focus on disciplining the excesses brought on by this type of sexual desire. In the Meiji period, when male/male sexuality was briefly outlawed entirely, this legal discourse shifted to "civilizing" erotic behavior by focusing on the genital nature of the sexual act itself, thereby inculcating a new paradigm of sexuality. From late Meiji until the 1950s, a medicalized, sexological paradigm held sway that framed male/male sexuality "as a sexual pathology that demanded the attention, above all, of medical and scientific professionals" (21), and sexual desire itself played a central role in this discourse, leading in part to its embrace in popular discourse as a form of "perversion," offering a new realm of pleasure as well as allowing for the construction of new subjectivities.

Chapter 1: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter examines the voluminous print culture of the Edo period, finding that print culture showed a distinct masculine bias in that it divided the realm of sexual desire into a dichotomy between nanshoku, the love of males, and joshoku, the love of females--but this dichotomy "mapped the universe of sexual possibilities from an exclusively male perspective, and neither female-female eroticism nor female sexual agency vis-a-vis males enjoyed any place within its signifying system" (25). Moreover, the Japanese conception of "love" (iro) was essentially comparable to the ancient Greek ἐρος, sharing physical and emotional elements. Nanshoku in particular was elevated to the level of shudô, the "way of youths." Much like the ancient Greek and Roman practice of male/male sexuality, shudô relationships were organized along the principle of an age hierarchy, comprising an adult male who was the sexual initiator (the nenja) and a pre-adult male who was sexually receptive (a wakashu). In ancient Greek discourse on the ἐραστες/ἐρομενος, however, anal penetration was entirely off-limits, and intercrural sex was the limit of acceptable practice in discourse. Ancient Roman discourse does not, in my unsystematic reading, seem to preserve this distinction, or the social coding of ἐραστες/ἐρομενος. What was verboten in Roman discourse was oral sex, with the result that it was a frequent accusation and insult. Japanese discourse on shudô celebrated anal sex, however, even as it constructed anal sex as lacking sexual pleasure for the wakashu (very notably unlike the discourse on vaginal intercourse, which was constructed as intrinsically pleasurable for both parties) with the result that the wakashu in discourse must be wooed by the nenja and is often reluctant. Since the border between adolescence and adulthood was porous, however, it was easy to manipulate these distinctions using clothing and haircuts, with the result that some males such as prostitutes played the wakashu (inserted) role well past what we would think of as biological maturity. Shudô relationships were constructed as monogamous in that a wakashu could have only one nenja, but shudo relationship members were more likely to compare their relationship to brotherhood, which while intimate was necessarily "asymmetric and hierarchical" (41). Sex compromised only one aspect of the shudo relationship, however; it governed a broad range of masculine activities. Ideal wakashu were marked by selfless compassion (in not depriving the nenja of the object of their desires), and the ideal nenja was by definition a connoisseur who was scrutinized not by the wakashu but by other adult males, potential nenja, via the shudô text. Although these texts often staged debates between partisans of shudô and of nyodô (the way of female courtesans), "it was only because [these] existed in close proximity…that their mutual borders required negotiation" (63). Men could and did pursue both, even in the course of a single day (if not of a single encounter, as that would have been tacky). Shudô texts acknowledged differences in male/male sexuality across status lines (samurai versus townsmen versus peasants) and across geographic differences as well, as well as across class lines, arguing for a kind of "romantic egalitarianism" in which eligible wakashu should be available to all the discerning, regardless of status and class divisions. Finally, while writers in the first half of the Edo period were concerned with historicizing shudô (a central point of contention was whether it predated Kukai or not), by the end of the period there was general agreement that it was on the decline. Pflugfelder suggests that, in addition to legal regulation, this is because "there is ample reason to believe, for example, that the misogynistic ethos of the samurai male may have attenuated gradually over the course of the Edo period as warrior and townsman cultures became increasingly integrated in the metropolises" (93).

Chapter 2: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter examines the policing--i.e., the legal regulation of--what Pflugfelder calls "the perisexual," i.e. not sexual desire or sexual acts themselves, but rather "the social context in which male-male sexual acts took place and the cultural infrastructure through which they were articulated" (105). Given that there was no specifically religious prohibition against male/male sexuality, and that Edo period laws were generally inflected by Confucian values emphasizing order and stability, in practice this meant limiting excesses rather than making absolute prohibitions. Pflugfelder begins with his discussion of shogunal law, which governed the three major metropolises, Nagasaki, and approximately one-seventh of the country directly. Regulations on male/male sexuality typically tried to control the supply side of urban shudô culture, the wakashu, which played out in many attempts to regulate kabuki and then the bodies and garb of kabuki actors themselves. Bakufu authorities also tried to drive a wedge between the closely linked worlds of the theater and prostitution, again with limited success. Domainal authorities, by contrast, were more concerned with non commercialized forms of shudô than their bakufu counterparts, and in particular with shudô's threat to the domainal monopoly on violence in particular and with its potential to undermine the hierarchical bonds of loyalty upon which the domain was based. Thus the potential for horizontal links among samurai males was strongly policed around the beginning of the Edo period. Having surveyed these varied branches of law, Pflugfelder concludes that "legislative differences between metropolis, castle town, and countryside were also a function of class dynamics," since Edo legislation was class specific (143).

Chapter 3: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter examines male/male sexuality in Meiji discourse, arguing that an entirely new paradigm--"civilized morality"--was applied to sexuality in general and male/male sexuality in particular, seeing it for the first time as defined by genital acts and requiring punishment. Pflugfelder argues convincingly that "Meiji civilization" and the "civilized" discourse that formed and accompanied it had both Western and indigenous roots, but that Meiji civilization "remained a distinctly Japanese phenomenon" and that much of its legislation "rested solidly on Edo-period precedent" (147). In contrast to Edo law, Meji law was national in scope and much less conscious of class distinction, although gender remained a key site of distinction. For a time, Meiji authors banned anal sex (under the term keikan) entirely, borrowing their legal code almost entirely from Qing China. In its banning of keikan regardless of consent or anything else, it resembled some European sodomy laws. In January 1882 a new penal code, mostly following Napoleonic law, came into effect, making "obscene acts" illegal only under a limited set of circumstances, mostly when they involved minors or violence. At the same time, however, the ambiguity of "obscene acts" brought many more forms of sexual practice under the ambit of the law, including, for the first time, female/female sexual relations. It's important to note that the medical profession tended to assimilate those aspects of medico-scientific knowledge that "fit most closely with indigenous constructions of female-female sexual behavior" (176). Under both of these codes, sexual acts between prisoners were regulated in prisons; in the case of the earlier code, Pflugfelder notes that "the same legal authority that forbade sexual activity among prisoners also forced them to live in close quarters with those of their own sex, so that both the proscriptions and their violation functioned as interrelated aspects of a singe disciplinary mechanism" (186). Under the latter code, "'obscene acts' in jail were treated as an infraction of prison regulations (gokusoku), and hence as a denial of the authority of the institution itself" (191).

Chapter 4: Argument, Sources, Examples In an example of the gap between the "moral suasion" of the bureaucracy and the society the bureaucrats attempted to sway, Pflugfelder finds that "the effectiveness of a 'civilized' regime of sexuality depended in no small measure upon its tenets becoming as much a part of popular as official discourse" (193). Male/male sexuality came to be "routinely represented as 'barbarous,' 'immoral,' or simply 'unspeakable'" (ibid). Popular discourse also marginalized male/male sexuality by associating it with the fringes of civilization: namely, the Japanese past, the southwestern periphery, and the world of adolescence. Censorship helped shift male/male sexuality from a humorous topic to one meriting moral outrage over the course of the Meiji period. The radical break between the Edo and the Meiji periods, as well as the social fading of some the groups most associated with shudô (Buddhist priest, kabuki actors) served to 'museumify' male-male erotic traditions by placing them in history. The double association of male/male sexuality with the southwest (i.e. Satsuma) and with adolescence--and in particular a certain style of adolescent masculinity known as "roughnecks"--served to fix it in discourse as uncivilized and adolescent. The paradigm of the Meiji period also filled out the contours of the "beautiful boy," arguing that he was uniquely suited to the insertee role due to his looks and his temperament.

Chapter 5: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter examines male/male sexuality in medical discourse from the Edo period to the early 20thC. Pflugfelder summarizes that in the Edo period male/male sexuality was viewed "not so much as pathological in itself as an aspect of bodily experience that required proper management in order to preserve, or in some cases even enhance, health" (239). By contrast, in the Meiji period male/male sexual practices were stigmatized as unnatural. Morality and science combined to create this stigmatization, but paradoxically, medical authorities also sought a biological basis for this supposedly "unnatural" behavior: "Embedded in this concept was the implicit assumption that erotic practices and desires between members of the same sex constituted a discrete category of sexual behavior whose essence transcended ages and cultures, and whose phenomenology could be explained according to the laws of science" (248). This category--"homosexuality" in the West, and eventually nativized as "dôseiai" in Japan--became to be categorized as a sexual pathology by the emerging discipline and discourse of sexology. "Same-sex love" was used to define and normalize "cross-sex love," which included aspects of what would not be understood as gender as well as of biology; thus, "male-male and female-female sexuality thus contradicted not only erotic norms, but the integrity of the sex/gender system as a whole" (252). Sexologists, who "shared a common vision of sexuality as a realm of behavior properly understood only through scientific study by professional experts like themselves" (255), relied on several tropes in their writings about "same-sex love:" inversion, locating opposite gender characteristics in males prone to same-sex love; the trope of "chûsei," or an "intermediate gender" to which individuals belonged (thereby preserving the fundamental polarity of the system); the notion of the "compound sex," which argued that all individuals were a mix of the two sexes. All three tropes shared an attempt to make "same-sex love" intelligible in terms of the gender dichotomy, but they also served to create the category of the dôseiaisha, for the first time, and "brought the erotic subjectivity of the male inserted into the foreground" (262), usually as an effeminate and flamboyant man. This paradigm also rendered the psychology of the inserter murky, in many ways setting him in a class apart; sexologists compensated by inventing the distinction between "acquired" and "congenital" tendencies. This distinction also conveniently allowed sexologists to "save" the Japanese historical record by typifying the shudô discourse of the Edo period as acquired, rather than innate. At the same time, this effort and the effort to dissect the historical record rescued same-sex love from the pale of "barbarism" and brought it back into civilization via its survival in the present, albeit as civilization's underside.

Chapter 6: Argument, Sources, Examples This last chapter explores male/male sexuality in early 20thC popular discourse, which naturalized it under the category of the perverse, which was by no means as stigmatized as it was in medical discourse. As Pflugfelder notes, "the proliferation of 'perversions' opened up, at the same time, new possibilities of pleasure" (289). These perversions included not only an expanded inventory of erotic practices but also the practices of knowing, speaking, and seeing, particularly the sexual behavior of others. (Pflugfelder argues in passing that ero guro nansensu continues to characterize Japanese society even today, which is an intriguing notion that must be left here for now.) Writings after the Meiji period were, at least until the rise of fascist repression in the 1930s, free to discuss the erotic as a subject in its own right, and popular discourse rapidly embraced the medico-scientific paradigm, although not always on the sexologists' terms--the category of "dôseiaisha" as a distinct "sexual personality" put focus on the subjectivity of the individual, and allowed individuals to identify themselves as having that personality. The notion of "same-sex love" also embraced a wider range of ages and sexual practices than had shudô, and thereby, according to Pflugfelder, opened up new narrative perspectives. In literature, in particular, the individual who identified as a "dôseiaisha" could often receive a surprisingly positive evaluation. At the same time, "same-sex love" became identified with the urban centers where ero guro nansensu held sway, thus associating it with criminality via the "squalid alleyways" where both were likely to take place. Social morality, alive and well, kept same-sex love to a new urban demimonde that was made visible through the popular press, invisible until then, especially male prostitution and cruising, the lines between which were blurred (and which, interestingly, relied on its own non-perjorative argot to refer to its participants). During the war, although memoirs attest to the military as a site of many first encounters with same-sex love, references to it were banned and ero guro culture was driven underground, if not stamped out entirely, only to re-emerge in the figure of the cross-dressing male prostitute who symbolized the defeated nation. In a brief coda, Pflugfelder argues that the shifts in the discourses surrounding male/male sexuality show that "the apparent materiality of sexual practices and the seeming insubstantiality of erotic discourses are in the end no so easily distinguishable," and that "historians of sexuality mud stove to understand the ways in which it has helped to organize larger systems of cultural knowledge and thus to produce the conditions under which human subjects, with complex desires, created and experienced their own realities" (335).

Critical assessment: This is a really, really excellent book. It's impossible to overstate Pflugfelder's sensitivity to his material, or to the nuances of the gap between discourse and reality, and it was really nice to read a text written by a man which discussed misogyny as such and which was also sensitive to the fact that the history of female/female sexuality cannot simply be equated with the history of male/male sexuality. The history of the former in Japan needs much more explication, but Pflugfelder has done a masterful job of illuminating the history of the latter.

Further reading: David M. Halperin, One Hundred Years of Homosexuality and Other Essays on Greek Love; Eve Kosofosky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire; Graham Robb, Strangers; Pflugfelder, "'S' Is for Sister: Schoolgirl Intimacy and 'Same-Sex Love' in Early 20thC Japan."

Meta notes: If I may be permitted to indulge in a bit of speculation unrelated to my main scholarly interests, reading this book put me in mind of a question that got more than a little ink spilt over it in 2012, when New York legalized gay marriage, namely: in the 1960s, was the concept of "gay marriage" something that people could think about and want, however futilely? My conclusion at the time was yes, and evidence since then, such as interviews with Edith Windsor, has accumulated to bear me out. Readinig Pflugfelder, however, makes me think that the current discourse of gay marriage as possible and as equivalent in every way to straight marriage could not have arisen without earlier changes in the idea of (unmarked, and thus straight) marriage in the 19th and 20thC. As marriage became something more than an economic transaction and the idea of companionate marriage took hold in Euro-America, many of marriage's previous social functions fell by the wayside. When marriage was reduced , by the late 20thC, solely to an expression of emotional bonds, with a side dish of economic benefits, gay marriage became eminently thinkable. I suspect that part of the reason gay culture remains comparatively much less visible in Japan than in the United States or western Europe lies in the much greater strength of more traditional notions of marriage, and in particular the economic and political fetters that are failing to drive women to marriage at the rates which they used to, but which still exist, as well as the continued near-absence of children born out of wedlock.

I saw, at the time that DOMA was struck down, a blog post to the effect that anti-gay marriage laws in the United States were in effect attempts to regulate gender and gender expression. I found the arguments unconvincing, and what Pflugfelder's work brings home to me is how centrally our notions of sexuality are tied to a binary gender continuum in which biological sex is determinative of gender--a marked contrast to early modern Japan or ancient Greece and Rome, which so privileged a phallocentric worldview that gender was immaterial to what constituted the ambit of who and what adult men could desire. I don't know whether the spread of gay marriage will contribute to a loosening of the constrictions of the sex/gender suturing in discourse; one can only hope.

Finally, I spent a good chunk of the last year looking at shunga prints and other erotic material from the Edo period, and scattered comments by Pflugfelder confirm my strong suspicion that the sources contain much more homosexual content than has been republished in art books, facsimile, and translation. Censorship does not befit scholarship, and this deliberate neglect is deplorable.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-01-14 22:15 (UTC)
cathexys: expose yourself to academia (acafan (by mimoletnoe))
From: [personal profile] cathexys
I at least glance at all of your reviews, and I just wanted to thank you for sharing them. This one in particular is marvelous, and I'll have to think some more about your meta notes, but they seem really important!!!

Thank you!

(no subject)

Date: 2014-01-14 22:50 (UTC)
anehan: Elizabeth Bennet with the text "sparkling". (Default)
From: [personal profile] anehan
Thank you for the review! This sounds like an intriguing book, and it has now gone to my to-read pile.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-01-15 20:44 (UTC)
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)
From: [personal profile] oyceter
Pflugfelder! I should reread this sometime; I remember it being very good, and it's nice to have confirmation that the suck fairy probably won't visit.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-02-04 18:47 (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Howdy! Fellow UCB grad student here, I stumbled across your blog when I was looking for other translations of the opening poem in the Heike Monogatari.

I read Cartographies of Desire ages ago and remember liking it, but then, I don't know that I was a particularly discriminating reader then. In the same vein, Gary Leupp's Male Colors: The Construction of Male Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan was also quite excellent, as I recall, but I was unimpressed with Mark McLelland's Queer Japan from the Pacific War to the Internet Age, though I don't remember why.

One REALLY interesting (though potentially problematic, and I'm not in a good position to judge) book about the evolution of how same-sex relationships have been conceptualized throughout history is John Boswell's Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe. I wrote an informal review (http://rassaku.livejournal.com/27897.html) of it at my LJ, which I will probably get this comment spam-filtered for linking.

In any case, if you've read any of those, I'd be keen to hear what you thought of them. :)



ahorbinski: shelves stuffed with books (Default)
Andrea J. Horbinski

August 2017

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