Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mathew Kuefler's "History of Sexuality Sourcebook": Review

Naturally fascinating, this anthology deserves use beyond classrooms. A first of its kind, ranging over all of history and every region, it offers legal, erotic, religious, political, and poetic texts. More than two thousand years of resources, a few visual as well as print, enrich this collection.

Looking up medieval and Buddhist sources, I found myself engrossed beyond my initial inquiry. It balances pre-modern with recent resources, and its cross-cultural scope juxtaposes novel entries otherwise likely never to have been found by a researcher or student wanting a specific range or region to investigate. This perspective widens and fits the editor's determination to expand one's "range of vision in the history of sexuality."

For instance, Part III, "Sexuality as Identity," begins with Luther, moves on through such as Sade to a Chinese erotic album, and then shifts to Marx & Engels and Communist tirades before ending with a Nazi poster and letters from a anti-colonialist Javanese daughter of a governor 1899-1904. Preceded by Part I, "Sexuality as Social Custom," and ""Sexuality as Ideology," these in turn are also sub-divided into topical categories.

Briefly, patriarchy, marriage, varieties of expression, and public & private forms comprise ancient sources for Part I. Part II ranges over ancient and medieval periods as questions of sex regarding human existence, renunciation, tradition & elaboration in religious texts, and dissenting voices in turn contend. Part III continues into modern times, first with Puritans & Libertines (the chapter summarized above); The Other; 20c. scientific studies; social factors from more recent centuries.

Also in Part III, "Speaking Sex" covers abortion, prostitution, censorship, lynching, birth control-- a debate between Margaret Sanger & Gandhi-- VD, drag, gay rights, AIDS, and female circumcision. "Sex & Self-Fulfillment" explores the more intimate expressions of desire ranging from a ode by a 19c. fiancé about his betrothed's breasts to Wilhelm Reich to Picasso to Helen Gurley Brown to S/M. Finally, historical paradigms and globalizing tendencies earn attention.

Notes follow every chapter, carefully directing you to more sources, and often Kuefler suggests which are best and which may be found wanting. One minor drawback to a field where the appeal to the eye counts emerges within. Many monochromatic reproductions appear too small to make out details or, as in a 1920s halitosis ad that popularized "always the bridesmaid never the bride," the ad copy itself, which might have benefited from being then transcribed alongside the headline. The visuals are rather few compared to a massive amount of text, and perhaps in a future edition, this graphic presentation can be clarified, so to speak.

Kuefler certainly appears to have read widely and closely in an enormous range of primary and secondary material. The 183 entries start with the "So-Called Venus of Willendorf" and conclude with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick the "Queen of Queer," a testament to the panorama within these packed pages. It's a compendium that I hope will find a wider audience than a world history seminar, on a subject I doubt that any reader, even if given this as an assigned text, will fall asleep over. (Posted to Amazon US 12-15-09.)

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