The Courtesan's Arts: Cross-Cultural Perspectives Includes CD

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Courtesans, hetaeras, tawaif-s, ji-s—these women have exchanged artistic graces, elevated conversation, and sexual favors with male patrons throughout history and around the world. Of a different world than common prostitutes, courtesans deal in artistic and intellectual pleasures in ways that are wholly interdependent with their commerce in sex. In pre-colonial India, courtesans cultivated a wide variety of artistic skills, including magic, music, and chemistry. In Ming dynasty China, courtesans communicated with their patrons through poetry and music. Yet because these cultural practices have existed primarily outside our present-day canons of art and have often occurred through oral transmission, courtesans' arts have vanished almost without trace.

The Courtesan's Arts delves into this hidden legacy, unveiling the artistic practices and cultural production of courtesan cultures with a sideways glance at the partly-related geisha. Balancing theoretical and empirical research, this interdisciplinary collection is the first of its kind to explore courtesan cultures through diverse case studies—the Edo period and modern Japan, 20th-century Korea, Ming dynasty China, ancient Greece, early modern Italy, and India, past and present. Each essay puts forward new perspectives on how the arts have figured in the courtesan's survival or demise.

Though performative and often flamboyant, courtesans have been enigmatic and elusive to their beholders—including scholars. They have shaped cultures through art, yet their arts, often intangible, have all but faded from view. Often courtesans have hovered in the crevices of space, time, and practice—between gifts and money, courts and cities, feminine allure and masculine power, as substitutes for wives but keepers of culture. Reproductively irrelevant, they have tended to be ambiguous figures, thriving on social distinction while operating outside official familial relations. They have symbolized desirability and sophistication yet often been reviled as decadent.

The Courtesan's Arts shows that while courtesans cultures have appeared regularly in various times and places, they are universal neither as a phenomenon nor as a type. To the contrary, when they do crop up, wide variations exist. What binds together courtesans and their arts in the present-day post-industrialized world of global services and commodities is their fragility. Once vital to cultures of leisure and pleasure, courtesans are now largely forgotten, transformed into national icons or historical curiosities, or reduced to prostitution.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The Courtesan's Arts: Cross-cultural Perspectives presents a remarkably rich and wide-ranging view of the social significance and cultural resonance of that most ambivalent yet seductive of women, the courtesan. Without forcing parallels among the various cultures and periods they consider, the essays in this volume illuminate one another in fascinating ways. Moving from the more familiar realm of sixteenth-century Italy back to the world of ancient Greece and forward to modern India and Japan, they reveal both universal and culturally specific aspects of courtesanship."—Ellen Rosand, Professor of Music, Yale University, author of Opera in Seventeenth-Century Venice: The Creation of a Genre, Monteverdi's Last Operas: A Venetian Trilogy (forthcoming), and authority on the seventeenth-century Venetian singer and composer Barbara Strozzi

"Feldman and Gordon take a daring leap to consider the courtesan less for her sexuality than for her creativity. In this sumptuous collection of essays, illustrations, and musical examples on CD, the courtesan's beauty is no longer dangerous but expressive. Like the courtier, she crafted herself as 'many things to many men' and integrated multiple arts in her craft. From ancient Greece to Italy and India, this book features fascinating discussions not only of music, but also of dance, costume, and verse."—James Grantham Turner, author of Schooling Sex (OUP, 2003)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195170290
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/23/2006
  • Edition description: BK&CD-ROM
  • Pages: 424
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Martha Feldman is Professor of Music and the Humanities at The University of Chicago. She is author of City Culture and the Madrigal at Venice (1995), Opera and Sovereignty: Sentiment, Myth, and Modernity in Eighteenth-Century Italy (forthcoming, 2006), and is currently at work on The Castrato as Myth: Symbolic Economy and Life Writing in Early Modern Italy. She was also a volume editor in the series Sixteenth-century Madrigal (1989-91) and general editor of the series Critical and Cultural Musicology (2000-2002). In 1998-99 she was appointed a Getty Scholar and in 2001, the Dent Medal was conferred on her by the Royal Musical Association, in collaboration with the International Musicological Society.
Bonnie Gordon is Assistant Professor of Music at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She has published on the female voice in early modern Italy and on contemporary female singer/songwriters and her book Monteverdi's Unruly Women: The Power of Song in Early Modern Europe was published in 2004. She has received awards from the American Association of University Women, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and the Mellon Foundation.

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Table of Contents

Introduction, Bonnie Gordon and Martha Feldman
PART ONE: Spectacle and Performance
1. Making a Spectacle of Her(self): The Greek Courtesan and the Art of the Present, James Davidson
2. Cutting a Good Figure: The Fashions of Venetian Courtesans in the Illustrated Albums of Early Modern Travelers, Margaret F. Rosenthal
3. "Notes of Flesh" and the Courtesan's Song in Seventeenth-Century China, Judith T. Zeitlin
PART TWO: A Case Study: The Courtesan's Voice in Early Modern Italy
Introduction, Martha Feldman
4. The Courtesan's Voice: Petrarchan Lovers, Pop Philosophy, and Oral Traditions, Martha Feldman
5. On Hearing the Courtesan in a Gift of Song: The Venetian Case of Gaspara Stampa, Dawn De Rycke
6. On Locating the Courtesan in Italian Lyric: Distance and the Madrigal Texts of Costanzo Festa, Justin Flosi
7. On Music Fit for a Courtesan: Representations of the Courtesan and Her Music in Sixteenth-Century Italy, Drew Edward Davies
PART THREE: Power, Gender, and the Body
8. Royalty's Courtesans and Gods' Mortal Wives: Keepers of Culture in Precolonial India, Doris M. Srinivasan
9. The Courtesan's Singing Body as Cultural Capital in Seventeenth-Century Italy, Bonnie Gordon
10. Defaming the Courtesan: Satire and Invective in Sixteenth-Century Italy, Courtney Quaintance
11. The Masculine Arts of the Ancient Greek Courtesan: Male Fantasy or Female Self-representation?, Christopher A. Faraone
PART FOUR: Excursus: Geisha Dialogues
12. The City Geisha and Their Role in Modern Japan: Anomaly or Artiste?, Lesley Downer
13. In the Service of the Nation: Geisha and Kawabata Yasunari's Snow Country, Miho Matsugu
PART FIVE: Fantasies of the Courtesan
14. Going to the Courtesans: Transit to the Pleasure District of Edo Japan, Timon Screech
15. Who's Afraid of Giulia Napolitana? Pleasure, Fear, and Imagining the Arts of the Renaissance Courtesan, Guido Ruggiero
PART SIX: Courtesans in the Postcolony
16. The Twentieth-Century "Disappearance" of the Gisaeng during the Rise of Korea's Modern Sex-and-Entertainment Industry, Joshua D. Pilzer
17. Female Agency and Patrilineal Constraints: Situating Courtesans in Twentieth-Century India, Regula Burckhardt Qureshi
18. Tawa'if, Tourism, and Tales: The Problematics of Twenty-First-Century Musical Patronage for North India's Courtesans, Amelia Maciszewski
Appendix: CD Notes and Texts
Selected Bibliography

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