The oldest (sex) trick in the book.
| November 11, 2000 | KADAR, MARLENE | COPYRIGHT 2000 CanWest Interactive Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group.
The Bedrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade
By Wendy Doniger
Wendy Doniger’s The Bedtrick is a unique anatomy of sex stories. It is about the mythology of sex, but more precisely, it is about going to bed with someone whom you have mistaken for another. The mix of ancient myths and contemporary stories is fiercely entertaining, as are Doniger’s interpretations of them. Doniger’s commentaries are both lewd and learned and, as one might expect, often funny.
The Hindu god Shiva sets Doniger’s argument in motion. Shiva’s masquerading wife, Parvati, seduces him in a complex bedtrick in the first story, “Shiva and the Mountain Woman,” by taking on the mask of a low-caste person with dark skin. By tricking him, Parvati disperses the power of a husband, the power of a god and the power of caste.
Variants of the tale of Shiva and Parvati provide a blueprint for the book — a way to investigate identity from the point of view of gender, vernacular or religious taboos, as well as the privileges of class, race and age. The bedtricks shared by Shiva and Parvati introduce us to the creative lengths human beings will go to satisfy a bounteous and intractable sexual urge to both diverge and merge simultaneously. How does one assume an identity at the same time as one longs to lose it in the intimate union with another? This is Doniger’s question, and her answers do not judge us harshly.
Doniger’s knowledge of religious tales and myths is humbling, but her style is so fluid that the scholarship does not get in the way of the sheer entertainment of reading a book about sex tricks. The 10 chapters are each arranged on a pattern. First, Doniger usually gives us a presentation of the Shiva-Parvati blueprint story. Then she compares like stories across centuries and nations, moving from stories about gods to stories about humans. Finally, in a section called “Approaches” (which is really about interpretation), Doniger unravels the tales, careful to get at the political subtextual fuel of each story’s history. Doniger’s material is often humorous and tragic at the same time. Take, for example, “Fertility Doctor Gets Five Years,” a 1992 article in The New York Times: