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Producing Desire

Producing Desire: Changing Sexual Discourse in the Ottoman Middle East, 1500-1900

Dror Ze’evi
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 242
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  • Book Info
    Producing Desire
    Book Description:

    This highly original book brings into focus the sexual discourses manifest in a wealth of little-studied source material-medical texts, legal documents, religious literature, dream interpretation manuals, shadow theater, and travelogues-in a nuanced, wide-ranging, and powerfully analytic exploration of Ottoman sexual thought and practices from the heyday of the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth. Following on the work of Foucault, Gagnon, Laqueur, and others, the premise of the book is that people shape their ideas of what is permissible, define boundaries of right and wrong, and imagine their sexual worlds through the set of discourses available to them. Dror Ze'evi finds that while some of these discourses were restrictive and others more permissive, all treated sex in its many manifestations as a natural human pursuit. And, he further argues that all these discourses were transformed and finally silenced in the last century, leaving very little to inform Middle Eastern societies in sexual matters. With its innovative approach toward the history of sexuality in the Middle East,Producing Desiresheds new light on the history of the Ottoman Empire, on the history of sexuality and gender, and on the Islamic Middle East today.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93898-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Note on the Transliteration of Arabic and Turkish
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. Introduction: Sex as Script
    (pp. 1-15)

    This story is ascribed to al-Shaʿbi, a scholar and legal expert from the city of Kūfa, who was known for, among other things, his fashionable silk attire and his red hair, carefully dyed with henna. Born a few years after the Prophet’s death, he was not one of the Companions but appeared to remember hundreds of the Prophet’s sayings and deeds, which he duly transmitted to his disciples and contemporaries.²

    This was not a well-documented tradition in the early centuries, and many doubted its veracity. Though appreciated as a jurist, al-Shaʿbi did not have a very good reputation as a...

  8. CHAPTER 1 The Body Sexual: Medicine and Physiognomy
    (pp. 16-47)

    Medicine, its conceptions of the human body, and the sexual script it produced provided the scientific basis for most sex-oriented discourses in Muslim Middle Eastern societies. Its injunctions and prohibitions, believed to originate in scientific knowledge, were subsumed by other discursive arenas, from literature to sacred law, almost intuitively, as part of their basic assumptions about the world.¹ This was true as long as these discourses could maintain a common coherent basis, but the changes brought about by new medical knowledge at the end of the eighteenth and throughout the nineteenth centuries created a rift between this and other arenas...

  9. CHAPTER 2 Regulating Desire: Sharīʿa and Kanun
    (pp. 48-76)

    The law is above all an instrument for control and regulation, both in its application and in the standards it upholds. As such it could tell us a great deal about definitions of right and wrong, about what ought not to be done. But as Foucault rightly notes, law does much more than regulate and repress sex. Through its various mechanisms—written codes, courts, judges, and lawyers—it also constitutes desire. In other words, by creating and enforcing the boundaries between licit and illicit, punished and unpunished, law is a major influence shaping the sexual world.¹

    Laws are also cultural...

  10. CHAPTER 3 Morality Wars: Orthodoxy, Sufism, and Beardless Youths
    (pp. 77-98)

    In the pre-nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire, there was no Islamic religious discourse. This may sound surprising, but it becomes obvious if we take into account the near-absence of any secular worldview. This meant that religion was omnipresent, although definitely not omnipotent. Everything that men and women did was outwardly imprinted with the stamp of faith and religiosity. Every book, from sacred law to outright pornography, required the necessary formulas giving thanks to God and His Prophet and asking for their blessing. Discourse in fields as diverse (at least to our minds) as science, medicine, art, and politics assumed the existence of...

  11. CHAPTER 4 Dream Interpretation and the Unconscious
    (pp. 99-124)

    Dream interpretation comprises a vast body of literature in the Islamic Middle East. Many such books have been written and compiled, from the first centuries to our day.¹ Most of these treatises are manuals containing lists of symbols and their interpretation, a kind of handbook for the dream interpreter. Although few records describe the way the system functioned in the Ottoman Empire, we have many indications that people who had dreams that seemed meaningful or enigmatic would go to dream interpreters in their towns or villages to inquire about their meaning. As dreams were often considered predictors of the future,...

  12. CHAPTER 5 Boys in the Hood: Shadow Theater as a Sexual Counter-Script
    (pp. 125-148)

    Previous chapters discussed a number of sexual scripts that, while very different from one another, had one thing in common: legal discussions, dream interpretation manuals, and medical treatises all represented a formal kind of knowledge and, in a sense, high culture. Though not always officially sanctioned, and sometimes even at odds with one another, they embodied authority in its myriad forms: state power, religious influence, hegemonic scientific knowledge, and high social status. The script to which we now turn, that of the Ottoman shadow theater, offers another dimension, a rare excursion into a very different cultural narrative, one that may...

  13. CHAPTER 6 The View from Without: Sexuality in Travel Accounts
    (pp. 149-166)

    Books and manuscripts written by travelers from Europe to the Ottoman Middle East provide us with yet another perspective on sexuality. Compared to the intimate internal scripts examined so far, the travelogue, an external vantage point often replete with bias and ignorance, has significant drawbacks. Yet for all their shortcomings, travel accounts can add a further dimension to our understanding of the sexual world. Things that are transparent to locals, or not deemed worthy of mention, may be new and exciting—or anathema—to strangers. Outsiders would therefore notice phenomena that insiders neglect or gloss over. Bringing their own biases...

  14. Conclusion: Modernity and Sexual Discourse
    (pp. 167-172)

    Looked at from our perspective, premodern Middle Eastern sexual discourse was surprisingly frank and outspoken. To us it may be more akin to latter-day television series such asSex and the CityorWill and Gracethan to most nineteenth-and twentieth-century sexual discourse, with one major difference. Although some of this discourse was attuned to the needs and sexual preferences of women, it was a singularly male voice.

    The set of discourses or “scripts” examined here was congruent with the great variety of male and female sexual preferences. The spectrum was restricted by religion and social regulation, to be sure,...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 173-200)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 201-212)
  17. Index
    (pp. 213-224)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-228)