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    Desire and representation in

    Japanese shunga

    Amaury A. Garca Rodrguez

    Nihon Burajiru Bunka kry

    . International

    Research Center for Japanese Studies,

    Kioto, 2009, pp.: 221-226.

    El uso de este archivo indica su aceptacin de las condiciones y trminos dependientes de

    los derechos de propiedad intelectual del autor. Para cualquier uso total o parcial de este

    material, se deber contar con los permisos correspondientes. Estos pueden solicitarse

    directamente a sus propietarios.

    Se solicita referencia a la fuente en caso de cita o empleo en materiales acadmicos.

    Amaury A. Garca

    amaury@colmex.mx

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    Desire and Representation in JapaneseShungaAmaury A. Garcia Rodrguez

    Translated by Mauricy de Oliveira Marcondes

    Essential to the development of what today we call shunga or makura-e are the differentprocesses of comm odification and singularity that they have undergone from the Edo period (1603-1868) through the present. Even more than their unique identity, we should be attentive to theirconstant mutation (and, therefore, the multiplicity of senses which follows upon that), which wasdependent on their "biographies," including changes in their status, in their channels of circulationand consumption, and in the categories into which they were classified by the authorities, besidesmany other factors. In spite of the time they were produced, the Edo penod , severa1 of the com plexfaces of these images originated in estimates and recent discourses which try to present as beinggenerally sectors of partial sceneries of the shunga history, which has also contributed to the genera-tion of strong polemics.

    It is clear that many of these discourses result from practices that we call "appropriation mo-dalities," following Roger Chartier, who also explains:

    The works, really, don't have a steady, universal or fixed meaning. They areinvested with plural and variable meanings, built at the m oment there is a newmeeting between a proposition and a reception, between the forms and the rea-sons which give them their structure, and the competences and e~ pe ct at io ns fthe publics who appropriate them. In the instance of shunga, this production ofmeanings, and, mainly, usages, is also marked by the supposed part taken bythese images that would be sexual stimulants.

    As part of the mythology of shunga, the stories, anecdotes and discussions about its possiblefunctions and use s occupy a detached place in practically each of the recent texts dedicated to itsstudy. Besides its being declared that one of the oldest applications of shunga was educative, andthat it had its origin on the continent with the Chinesefangzhong-shu, other legendary uses are alsofrequently mentioned: for protection of warriors (hidden in the a m or) , fo r protection aga-inst fire,tremors and disasters, and for attracting good fortune, etc. These "miraculous" properties that theancient sources-and others not so distant in tim e-a ttnbu te to shunga have something in comm on:every one has remote ties with the situations generally represented in these im ages, centered on sex.

    Independently of the absolu tist and restrictive tendencies regarding to the shunga uses, if were-examine some sources of the Edo period, we will notice that the situations are more varied thanit is intended to present them in certain occasions:

    . . Otherwise, there are images of sex between men and women that are calledshunga and warai-e, among other narnes. There are many types of printedbooks; every year new titles with very lively colo rs are ordered, even with g iltand silver prints. It is said they are in the entrance to the shops. Besides, these

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    AmauryA. Garca Rodrguezimages exhibition seems not to irritate the parents and brothers, who see themas an entertainment. Women and girls who collect them say they are am uletsthat will bnn g them more clothes, and keep them in the furniture and garmentchests, and, inclusively, there are mothers who passes such images by heritanceto their daughters (Extract from the book Seiji kenbun-roku, by Buyo Inshi,1816).

    . . . The contents of this chest belongs to the m istress of our da imio. There arehand tools made to order, and erotic books supplies. Even if it is registeredher name on these sex ual utensils. . . . (Extract from the kabuki theater book-let Kanadehon Ch shingura,by Takeda Izumo, Miyoshi Shoraku and NamikiSetuyi, 1748).

    It is certain it would be completely irrational to try to d ivest the shunga of its evident sexualimplications. The evidences are very incisive (from the written references and its very manifesta-tion) for not taking into account the shunga decisive role as a sexua l stimulant. However, in spiteof having contrary opinions to these legendary uses, asserting that it is very probable that some ofthem have appeared as lyric recreations, or that they have tang ential ustifications, a lienated from itsconsume (which, maybe, with the passage o f time and the repetition, would have firmed, fixed andoriginated real uses), and that con sider that certainly such ones were not the most diw lge d func-tions, 1 consider that they are important factors to take into account, for it is im possib le to restrictthe complexity of the uses that an ob ject or image can have only to those the creators had intended,or we consider more pertinent, or which seem more evident to us.

    Standing back from the originated polemics related to the shunga functions, with which 1agree only partly, and making allowance for the imp ossibility of generalizing these uses aposteriori(or even apriori), we can affirm that some of them were more ex tensive than the others. From thisangle, and leaving from this section topic "Express6es do Erotismo Japones" (Expressions of theJapanese Eroticism), it would interest us here to analyze the relations between the sexual repre-sentation and gratification. This s timulation could be accomplished by two b asic fields that wou lddepend on the consum er needs and desires: by the planes of the fantasy and the physical act (in theform of auto-eroticism or a combination between a couple or group). From these two, 1 considerthat the most dynamical, interesting, and, possibly, most developed field is the mental recreationsone. In this plane, as Elizabeth Co,wie shows, the image builds a fantasies scenery where certaindesires are represente4 sublimed in the spectator mind. Thus, 1believe that only from this imagi-nary remodeling of the levels that en noble its operation on spectator, it is possible to originate somephysiological answer or simply stay in the m ental man ipulation of a fantasy. Although 1 share withthe argurnent for the necessity of pondering on th is production as a sex ual stimulant, it seems to methat we should not be exclusive to its uses.

    It means that, reducing the utilities (and answ ers) that the shunga could and can originatefrom the intellectuals, being for them symbolic or physical, not only a principie that nobody canpredict becomes partial (as it is the use), but also it lasts homogenizing the own name shunga.

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    Desire and Representation in Japanese ShungaWould al1 this amalgam of examples called shunga really have imposed itself in the same way?Would it not be better to consider that each one of the kinds in that production generalized asshungaforesaw markets and, therefore, different functions? Distant from the uses, would it be possibleto discover witnesses in the makura-e itself, whose structures are drawn expressly for unleashingparticular reactions? Could we anchor part of the causes of these more divulged uses (particirlarlythe sexual stimulation) only in the creator, or also in the consurner, or fh the r, in the object itself? Ifit was so, which would be the m echanisms and strategies?

    We must revise, then, some observations concem ing the relations among desire, images, andthe shunga.

    We will start by acknowledging that historically visuality has been marked by the prevalenceof a male gaze. The history of images in Japan, of course, has not been h e rom the politics ofvision, which have had a very particular space of materialization in the representation of sex, andin the different visions that traditionally were built by the m ale spectator, and which not only haveevocated meanings but also have differed in the final act of the consumption, and have equally var-iegated the im age elaboration process.

    If we also take account of the image importance in the con guration processes of what wecal1 "reality" or "world," and in the proper consistence of the memory and experiences evocation,the necessity of the act of gazing acquires a strong relevance in our own hum an condition. We arecreatures eager "to look." This act, which is maybe one of the most pow erful desires, helps us todefine ourselves, in the same way we assum e what we are. Then, this looking act will also work asa remembrance to the desire.For strengihening the role of desire in this act of looking, it is important to have the imagepresent, permanently at the ready. It must always be there, ready for the eye, disposed to revealal1 its secrets. Therefore, the importance of the object possession, which adds itself as anothercomponent in the structural looking net, and particularly (as we men tioned before) of the gaze parexcellence, the male gaze. The image has been assumed not only as a property and consumptiongoods, but also as a catalysis of desires that recreate in the m