I wish I liked Richard Bernstein’s THE EAST, THE WEST, AND SEX: A History of Erotic Encounters. I wish I knew what he was getting at and why he wrote it. Strangled by sodden prose, apparently a way of being polite about what runs the risk of prurience, Bernstein is instead boring in the extreme.
He states: “For centuries, the East broadly defined to include most of the world’s territory from North and East Africa to South, Southeast, East Asia, represented a domain of special erotic fascination and fulfillment for Western men.” This territory covers a multitude of men—and of sins.
He begins with a “Chinabounder”’s bragging about trysting with Chinese women and moves over to what Western men can do and want to do with women of the East. From Cleopatra to Colonialism and “ harem culture”, Bernstein slogs though the possible relationships.
The reader loses interest quickly never to regain it again in what Bernstein refers to as “the world as it was and is, “ which is, he adds, “testimony to the raw power of the urge that has populated the globe, that drives some men crazy and makes other men wise…free from the judgment of an unsympathetic God and far from the domain of restriction and repression that is home.”
Bernstein’s eroticism is, then, a lost cause –for Western men, Asian women, and longing readers.