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Sex and the Floating World: Erotic Images in Japan, 1700-1820 Paperback – May, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0824822040 ISBN-10: 0824822048

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: University of Hawaii Press (May 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0824822048
  • ISBN-13: 978-0824822040
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,414,113 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"With concern, proportion, wit and a bit of levity, the author of this authoritative and invaluable contribution to scholarship has given us the book for which we have long waited."--Donald Richie, Japan Times

(Donald Richie Japan Times)

"Screech provides a fascinating and informative introduction to the social and sexual habits of pre-modern Japan, copiously illustrated and full of witty anecdotes as well as solid scholarly research. The ideal bedtime read?"--Insight Japan

(Insight Japan) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Timon Screech is Senior Lecturer in the history of Japanese art at SOAS, University of London, and Senior Associate at the Sainsbury Institute for Japanese Arts and Cultures. His books include The Western Scientific Gaze and Popular Imagery in Later Edo Japan (1996).

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Merrily Baird on June 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
Vast numbers of people are already familiar with "shunga," the Edo-period erotic art that is the subject of Timon Screech's "Sex and the Floating World." Few readers, however, will have focused on learning about the context in which this erotic art was produced. Moreover, some of Screech's findings will undoubtedly come as a surprise. Chief among the book's arguments is that the culture of urban Edo which produced the "shunga" was not one of "laxity and freedom, sexual or other." Rather, Screech says, the art served the needs of "auto-eroticism" for a city (Edo, now Tokyo) that, because of political requirements, was overwhelmingly populated by males who had been separated from their families and denied access to females.
Screech's book stands in stark contrast to the many previous volumes on "shunga" that have concentrated on reproducing the erotic prints, and the total space devoted to visual images is rather limited. Still many readers will find this book rewarding, and however iconoclastic some of the findings may be no serious student of Japanese art or early modern history will want to be without it.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By S. Maire on February 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
Can a scholarly work be a fun read? Definitely. Screech advances some rather different thoughts on not only shunga but ukioyo-e prints in general that should leave you thinking. Yet, as firm as Screech's views are and as consistently as he advances them throughout the book, they do not overbear. Thinking through his points and exploring the images offered takes on into new and intriguing territory. It is a fun trip.

The writing suffers from some occasionally very tortured passages. The lack of an index and any sort of cross referencing of the illustrations is a significant detraction. Neither of these is enough to counsel against the book, but are frustrating on occassion.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Robin D. Gill on November 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover
There are larger collections of erotic Japanese pictures usually known as Shunga, literally "spring-prints," but this pays more attention to their relationship to Edo period sexuality, including what the first chapter-heading states plainly "their use." True, they might be used for sex manuals for newly-weds, to keep one safe in battle or keep away fire, moths and silverfish, etc, but, in most cases, they were used for the obvious thing: masturbation. Screech goes into that using evidence from senryu and literature and both the academic press and scholar are to be congratulated for tackling such a sticky subject. Besides "use" (maybe 20% of the total), Screech puts the images into socio-historical space and time while zooming in on symbols without which the subtle pleasure of the pictures might be missed, explores "the scoptic regimes of shunga," that is, the way people looked at others and/or were looked at -- there is much looking going on within the pictures -- and even gives a good overview of devices for looking, the technology of the time. All in all, the book is a real read and full of ideas mostly expressed in terms understandable by lay readers while offering not a few good uncensored prints, a fine selection, and always in context.
This does not mean the edition I read was perfect. A shunga showing a man masturbating at = his spending seems headed right for her kimonoed body = a portrait of a beauty (a woman with a beautiful face), that does not actually prove that men used pornographic prints but that they, or we (I am one)can arouse ourselves without even seeing bodies lacked what I would consider an important point.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By wiredweird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 23, 2013
Format: Paperback
Screech offers a fascinating look at the evolving series of cultural phenomena collectively known as shunga - the enticing and explicit "images of spring" from Japan's tradition of woodcut prints. The purpose of this art comes under scrutiny first: Screech convincingly argues that it was adult entertainment to men. Imperial policy forced retainers to spend significant amounts of time in the capitol, creating a disproportionately male population. Supply and demand being what it is, intimacy for hire was priced out of reach of very many of them, creating a ready audience for affordable imagery.

Having established that basic point, Screech uses it to explain the conventions if the imagery, regarding the people, places, seasons, and furnishings displayed. He examines the visual symbols of clothing, opulence, and nature. Things like the hidden (or not so hidden) observer recur, too, and invite explanation: very possibly a placing of the image's viewer in the image itself, or a reassurance that it's OK to enjoy looking the way the depicted voyeur enjoys it. And, since this is a second edition, Screech uses it to answer many of the objections and misinterpretations that met the first version.

Please note that this is not a showcase of the artworks themselves. A few of them do appear, usually in very small format and without color. These generally serve to illustrate some point of history or style, and rarely appear in a form that allows full enjoyment of the imagery. That's not the purpose - reproductions in this book act as footnotes to the text rather than features in themselves.
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