The Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade

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University of Chicago Press, 2000 - Religion - 598 pages
"Somehow I woke up one day and found myself in bed with a stranger." Meant literally or figuratively, this statement describes one of the best-known plots in world mythology and popular storytelling. In a tour that runs from Shakespeare to Hollywood and from Abraham Lincoln to Casanova, the erudite and irrepressible Wendy Doniger shows us the variety, danger, and allure of the "bedtrick," or what it means to wake up with a stranger.

The Bedtrick brings together hundreds of stories from all over the world, from the earliest recorded Hindu and Hebrew texts to the latest item in the Weekly World News, to show the hilariously convoluted sexual scrapes that people manage to get themselves into and out of. Here you will find wives who accidentally commit adultery with their own husbands. You will read Lincoln's truly terrible poem about a bedtrick. You will learn that in Hong Kong the film The Crying Game was retitled Oh No! My Girlfriend Has a Penis. And that President Clinton was not the first man to be identified by an idiosyncratic organ.

At the bottom of these wonderful stories, ancient myths, and historical anecdotes lie the dynamics of sex and gender, power and identity. Why can't people tell the difference in the dark? Can love always tell the difference between one lover and another? And what kind of truth does sex tell? Funny, sexy, and engaging, The Bedtrick is a masterful work of energetic storytelling and dazzling scholarship. Give it to your spouse and your lover.

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This is an easy read with an engagingly retro naughty-but-nice fan dance of literary and mythological references which, coyly stopping short of revealing what all the fuss is about, also prohibits- like the bed-trick itself- any sort of legitimate conception.
The great paradox of lust is that it cheats itself of its object precisely by its self-calcifying pursuit of it. Love, on the other hand, exists by an inter-change of identities. There is an old joke in the Rg Veda- the honeymoon couple are woken up by the clanging of the watch-man's alarm- thieves are abroad in the village. Quickly, the young couple rise and, in darkness, dress themselves. However, by accident, the bride puts on the groom's clothes and vice versa. Once they have emerged from the house, they see- by the light of the villagers' flambeaus- their own costume. The bride, thinking herself to be the groom, pushes herself forward in manly fashion crying out for sword and horse. The groom, glimpsing his flowery attire, thinking himself the bride, shrinks back with a fainting cry.
Actually, the villagers had arranged the whole thing as a prank.
The poetic idea here is that, in love, the two lovers loose their socially constructed identities, they exchange their very selves.
Prof. Doniger, however, would see this cute little Vedic jeu d' esprit in a very different- hilariously 1960's- way, mixing naive anthropology-as-magic with a crude Feminist gender essentialism uneasily co-existing with a recursive, Cybernetic, notion of Identity as a Social Construct.
This doesn't really get anyone anywhere.
But there will always be a market for books by Academics- at least, in fields not germane to our own proper interest- that flatter our intelligence while, for the duration of our reading, relieving us of the necessity to think- indeed, permitting us to forget that thought is necessary to life.
In Indian hermeneutics, apoorvata- novelty, something paradigm changing- is a necessary condition for meaning.
It is here, not in point of spriteliness of style or irreverence of approach, that Prof. Doniger disappoints.
Or perhaps, I should say, runs true to form. Mircea Eliade, too, Gandhian Nazi, sham Scholar, sham Shaman and vaunted exegete of his own coprolalia- buggered by his own bedtrick, his successor might say- was quite unintentionally hilarious.


Sex Text and Masquerade
Telling the Difference 5 Sexual Lies and Sexual
Philosophy or LoveSex MindBody?
Body and Soul and Mind 57 Sex and Love 63 Desire
The Abandoning Mother and Lover
Waking Up in Bed with an Animal
Snakes and Mermaids 114 The Fatal
The LovelyLoathly Lady
of Deception
A Lover by Any Other Name
Just a Kiss 420 Penis Envy 424 The Womens Room 427
The Return of the Return of Martin Guerre 428 Sexual
Splitting Hares 466 Minimal and Other Pairs 467
Carnal Ignorance 475 Carnal Knowledge 482 False
Bedtricks in Stith Thompsons

The Silent Woman 188 Night Blindness 190 The Mouth
on His Collar
man Blindness and Divine Invisibility
Color Class and Clout
CrossCultural CrossDressing

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About the author (2000)

Wendy Doniger is the Mircea Eliade Professor of the History of Religions in the Divinity School and a professor in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations and the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. Her most recent books are The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth and Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India, the latter published by the University of Chicago Press.

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