The Courtesan's Arts: Cross-Cultural Perspectives by Martha Feldman, Bonnie Gordon

By Martha Feldman, Bonnie Gordon

Courtesans, hetaeras, tawaif-s, ji-s--these ladies have exchanged creative graces, increased dialog, and sexual favors with male buyers all through heritage and around the globe. In Ming dynasty China and early glossy Italy, trade was once made via poetry, speech, and tune; in pre-colonial India via magic, song, chemistry, and different arts. but just like the artwork of courtesanry itself, these arts have frequently thrived outdoors present-day canons and modes of transmission, and feature typically vanished with no hint. The Courtesan's Arts delves into this hidden legacy, whereas pertaining to its equivocal dating to geisha. instantaneously interdisciplinary, empirical, and theoretical, the booklet is the 1st to invite how arts have figured within the survival or loss of life of courtesan cultures by way of juxtaposing study from assorted fields. between instances studied through writers on classics, ethnomusicology, anthropology, and numerous histories of artwork, track, literature, and political tradition are Ming dynasty China, twentieth-century Korea, Edo and smooth Japan, historic Greece, early glossy Italy, and India, prior and current. Refusing a common version, the authors however percentage a belief that courtesans hover within the crevices of house, time, and practice--between presents and funds, courts and towns, subtlety and flamboyance, female attract and masculine strength, as wifely surrogates yet keepers of tradition. What such a lot binds them to their arts in our post-industrialized international of worldwide providers and commodities, they locate, is courtesans' fragility, as their cultures, as soon as very important to civilizations based in rest and enjoyment, at the moment are mostly forgotten, reworking courtesans into nationwide icons or ancient curiosities, or decreasing them to prostitution.

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Indeed, not just who can be called a courtesan and why, but who has the authority to define her have turned out to be among our central, ongoing questions. In the end what constitutes the courtesan and the culture in which she exists seems to consist less of a set of shared epithets or a priori definable things than a relatively commensurate set of phenomena. That said, we should add that we do not intend this volume to serve as any kind of definitive study of the courtesan. We have intentionally, and inevitably, omitted important historical instances of courtesans that some might regard as falling within our broad purview—the widely studied courtesans of nineteenth-century France, for example (whose fame seems less contingent on intellectual and artistic prowess than does that of the women on whom we focus)3—in favor of concentrating on a limited cluster of cases.

The Korean case might be considered parallel in some respects. As Joshua Pilzer shows, gisaeng have played crucial roles in the institutionalization of art forms in South Korea. Trained in colonial-era gisaeng schools, gisaeng were retitled "researchers" or "performers" in the postcolonial era, working both at national cultural centers and private institutions of art. But the symbolism has not always worked to their advantage. The 19605 saw the emergence of a sex tourism industry modeled on gisaeng parties that attracted to Korea hundreds of thousands of primarily lower- and middle-class Japanese men who bought sex-tour packages at travel agencies in Japan.

In fact, with the first waning of Italian court culture, which took place concurrently with the rise of commercial opera in the mid-seventeenth century, skilled female performers were pushed toward the public stage. In India, to the contrary, the postcolonial, modernizing process did not take place until the mid-twentieth century. When it did, the quasi-feudal patronage system for courtesans entered a phase of rapid demise. But a new kind of postmodern court, created through the global market of grassroots cassette industries and the festivalization phenomenon of which Maciszewski writes, has now emerged for those descendants of courtesans who still make their traditional art, allowing at least some tawa'if to speak in the public sphere to an extraordinarily wide audience.

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