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Sex and the Floating World: Erotic Images in Japan, 1700-1820 Paperback – May, 1999
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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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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. Readers interested in the imagery for its own sake will be better served by collections like Hayakawa's,Calza's,Uhlenbeck's, or any of many others.
But, if you want to learn more about the society and artistic environment that let these beautiful images flourish, Screech's book is the best I know.
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.
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. It was also a visual pun on aimed-masturbation (atezuri, a term not properly defined elsewhere) which meant that focused on a particular person, typically as a substitute for sex, i.e., for men saving themselves (not wasting money and risking disease) while biding one's time to get married to the target. My reading, based upon reading hundreds of thousands of dirty senryu re this and some other items, may be in found in the latest reprint of Sex and the Floating World (a year or two ago), as the author wrote he incorporated some of my criticism and cites my work.