Wednesday, 31 October 2012

My Alternate Life: November = NaNoWriMo

According to my time zone, my challenge kicks off in little under three hours. I won't be awake until then, since I have to work tomorrow. But I can hardly contain my excitement, and not only for the reason that you might think. I decided not to aim for the 50k words - instead I set my own challenge target of writing a complete novel.
And in case you didn't know, in the fantasy genre that equates to 120k words. Yip, your eyes are not deceiving you. One hundred and twenty thousand words in thirty days. That comes to 4000 each day. It is a real challenge, given work and all the other things that add up to requiring time each day. But I am going to give it my best shot.
According to the word counter you will see here on my blog, I have to reach the 50k target for NaNoWriMo on 13 November.
So why did I post that target here? Foolish? Perhaps, but then it will be more of a motivator I guess as it is now visible to anyone who reads this blog.
Will I make it? I don't know. Last year I easily managed more than 60k, so I know I can do 50k. Yes, 120k is a long way to go, and I have every intention of getting there. One word at a time!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

NaNoWriMo - and so the fun begins!

The Pretoria Region had its launch party this afternoon, and as usual we had lots to eat (thanks everyone), lots to laugh about (we have a funny ML) and loads to look forward to. 

The Speech (with such a scary shirt, we had to listen to our ML!)

The group has grown and it was exciting to meet new people who are taking up the challenge for the first time, as well as seeing the more experienced Wrimos too. Here are some of the evidence :D
The Thinkers aka the Pretoria Wrimos
The Plot Bunnies (Warning - they can be dangerous!)
Our colourful goodie bags

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Today's Lesson: There is nothing new, only new tools

Dear Reader,

Since you have followed my journey through the history of the Kamasutra, you have no doubt reached similar conclusions: that history keep on repeating itself, we only use different tools to do it with.

People often think that authors that publish their own books is something new - as you have seen with the Kamasutra and many other books during the course of my journey - this is not the case. In those days, submissions and query letters were not the way to get published. You approached a publisher, paid your dues, and there you go.

Marketing was especially difficult for the Kamasutra and other books of disreputable standing (:o) with the legislation of the time. So social media marketing was born - yes, back then! They used snail mail (or should I rather call it horse mail) to market their books. Today we have email and Facebook and Twitter and blogs, and ... you got the message. The point - marketing took place via a social network, and that is exactly what we indie authors are doing today. We are linked in social networks across the globe to spread the word - by e-mouth?

Word of mouth is an exceptionally powerful tool. Readers like a book, they say so! With reviews and star ratings, thus telling others in the network what they thought. You know what they say, good news travel fast, but bad news travel at the speed of light! So write good, and many will know about it. Write bad, and the whole world will never buy your books.

The next lesson? Sex sells. And boy, did it sell! The Kamasutra sold hundreds of thousands of copies in its first two printings, and who knows how many are being sold today - in whatever format the book is available. You only have to look at advertising, in any media, and you know what I mean. 'nough said.

The last lesson? And perhaps not the least. The history of the Kamasutra brought social awareness of sex education and the use of contraceptives, that to this day remain an ongoing battle in many parts of the world.

And with that my friend, I wish you a good weekend.

Happy reading,

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

And then we saw the light - Kamasutra part 7

Since its publication in 1883, the Kamasutra lived under the blanket of pornography mostly due to the laws of the time. Even in Europe its French translation hardly had a better reputation. (Because of the clandestine way the Kamasutra was published, Burton and Arbuthnot could not claim any copyright protection, thus a myriad of illegal copies saw the light in record time) But despite the underground way of distribution, word of the English Kamasutra made its way back to India. Before too long the Sanskrit edition was published as India rediscovered its own history. This was the first time that Vatsyayana’s original sutras were published.
A German by the name of Richard Schmidt, published his own version of the Kamasutra in 1897. Only his translation was not in German, but Latin. By doing this, he not only attempted to protect the publication, but now it entered the realm of the scholar. Although it would never reach the heights of the orignal English translation, it managed to cut its own niche in the academic world as the gold standard.
Still its notoriety did not lessen, even as it became more well-known. Even as more sex manuals or erotic books were published, the Kamasutra, along with other publications stayed in the shadows because of the obscenity legislation. When it crossed the Atlantic in 1920, then being published by a few American publishers, it became available to a wider market. It did not signify acceptance, as one publisher was sentenced to a jail term of ninety days, because he dared to mail a copy through the US Postal system.
Tolerance towards the publication, although indirectly, came with an amendment to the US Tariff Act in 1930, when books considered classics, or of literary or scientific importance were allowed to be imported. Not finding a main stream publisher kept the Kamasutra on the limited edition, and exclusive distribution lists for a long time. It might have been considered a classic by many, it was still classified as a dangerous publication.
The breakthrough came in the wake of a court case where a US Federal Judge ruled a book not obscene and actually stated that “the sincerity and purpose of an author as expressed in the manner in which a book is written and in which his theme and ideas are developed had a great deal to do with whether it is of literary and intellectual merit”. The book that was awarded that judgement was DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover. This also signified open season for the publishing houses in the UK when publishing house, Penguin, also won a not guilty verdict for the publication of the DH Lawrence novel under the amended Obscene Publications Act.
It was now more widely read, and amazingly enough, by many scholars as well. Another new English translation was published in 1961 in India, and it was imported with vigour into the UK despite efforts to limit the numbers. The only other version available was the 1883 edition, and it was only in 1987 when another English translation - done by a German Sanskritist Klaus Mylius saw the light. This was not the last translation, as others were also published with each author, like Burton and Arbuthnot, inserting their own commentaries on the text.
The Kamasutra was now fully Westernised and yet continue as only a sex manual, the other sutras from Vatsyayana conveniently disregarded in the face of our Western culture’s obsession with sex. (Linzé’s note - I refrained from using the strong language in the book, although in my opinion, it explained the situation in much clearer terms.)

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Indie Publishing with a Difference - Kamasutra part 6

Translated but not published was the Kamasutra’s fate until August 1882. For seven years Burton looked for his fortune in gold prospecting, while his friend Arbuthnot retired and went back to England to work on other stories under a pseudonym. Once they had taken the decision, risky as it was at the time, they then had to find a publisher. This should sound very familiar to the indie authors of today!

Their problems with finding such a publisher had less to do with price, than it had to do with anonymity. Not only did the publisher have to keep quiet as to who brought the book for publication, but he also couldn’t sell via the normal public channels.

Enter the Kama Shastra Society, the friends had jokingly mentioned all those years ago. Marketing had to be done in the same manner as publication and distribution - with the utmost discretion and secrecy.
Letter were written to friends of friends, and the book had to be distributed by all kinds of creative means. No public reviews, no special offers, no marketing campaign to advertise.
Only to the modern indie author, this would have meant certain blacklisting under those laws of Obscene publications. But not only did they manage to market the Kamasutra, it started a campaign on sex education, especially amongst women, and contraception albeit not in the public voice of the time.

It was a radical time for the Kamasutra, and yet it sold thousands of copies for the two friends. By the printing of the second edition, it was issued in a more luxurious package with Benares as the author on the cover.
Emboldened by their success, and evasion of prosecution, they issued another Indian erotic classic, this time with their initials on the title page. It was an audacious step, that raised eyebrows even amongst their supporters, as it now more than just hinted at who the authors of the English Kamasutra had been.

Burton died on 29 October 1890 after frantically trying to complete the translation of another erotic work, that his wife burned a few weeks after his death. She wrote that she was not afraid of the work that he had done, but of the way it would be received.
She uttered prophetic words, as the Kamasutra spend the next century not as a work of anthropological study, struggling to be recognised for its value in history, but as a pornographic publication spoken of behind closed doors.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

At last, they found it! - Kamasutra part 5

Burton, posted to Trieste, remained unhappy with his fate whilst his friend Foster Arbuthnot was in India searching for the ‘book of Vatsyayana’. Although told that no Sanskrit library was without one, Arbuthnot found that to be an exaggeration. The state of Indian libraries did not make matters easier at all.

It was only in the 1870s that the British study of Sanskrit was to be taken up again after years of neglect. Political aspirations and forcing English as the only education language into Indian schools did not endear the British to the local scholars either.
But Arbuthnot felt that if England did not take the lead there will be others to do so. A German scholar, Johann Bühler sided with the British sentiment but was hampered by lack of funds to obtain Sanskrit manuscripts and by his non-indian status. He was however to be the key that lead Burton to the Kamasutra.
Bühler was given permission to investigate the holdings of the old libraries in India once he realised the huge problem of the lack of preserved manuscripts. Paper were not properly looked after and there was a risk of losing all this valuable information. It was an ambitious task to catalogue every Sanskrit manuscript in India. Fortunately, he was not alone in this undertaking, but it was still a task that could not have been easy no matter how scholars helped.

Bühler’s persistence did produce results and it wasn’t too long before the manuscripts came rolling into his hands by the thousands. But the Kamasutra was nowhere to be found. Another German scholar, Hermann Jacobi did find it, but did not tell anyone about it. And he wasn’t the only one inhibited by his prudish beliefs.

These guys really knew how make a girl growl in frustration. Prudish or not, dammit, couldn’t they just have told someone?

Bühler introduced Arbuthnot to an Indian scholar, Bhagvanlal Indraji who turned out to be ideal guy to help Arbuthnot in his search for the Kamasutra. After an initial awkwardness between the two, the language barrier being the greatest obstacle, Arbuthnot was elated to find out that his new acquaintance owned a copy of the Kamasutra. Although incomplete, it was the best news he had had that day!

Without hesitation he wrote to his friend Burton, who implored his bosses (although carefully) that they send him back to India. They didn’t, but the Burtons went for a visit anyway. The friends concocted the idea of establishing a club for enthusiasts of erotics of the East, under the guise of a publication house. They would call it the Kama Shastra Society!
By now the complete Kamasutra had come to Indraji’s possession. But before it could be brought to the West, the Sanscrit text had to be prepared and then translated. Indraji played the pivotal role in the preparation, from Sanskrit to Gujarati, but he was hampered by his English. That task fell onto the shoulders of Foster Arbuthnot, and a scholar named Shivaram Bhide, to complete the translation.

Burton’s role as a translator is not that clear, since the work was done after he left India, but his contribution was definitely that of the celebrity editor. He received a smuggled copy of the final translation from Arbuthnot and set about polishing it. Limited by Arbuthnot’s requirement that the translation remain true to the original, however dry in style, Burton could only add his comments as footnotes.

Although credit for the translation is to be laid at the doors of Indraji, Arbuthnot and Bhide, it was Burton’s notoriety and drive to find the manuscript, that brought it to the notice of the West.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Light at the End of the Tunnel - Kamasutra part 4

Richard Francis Burton set foot on Indian soil in 1842 after the university expelled him for unacceptable behaviour (gambling, duelling, and the worst charge - independence of mind) and his father bought him a commission in the Bombay Native Infantry, hoping that military discipline would have some positive influence. It didn’t quite happen that way.

Burton, through various circumstances never saw any military action, but it was his extracurricular activities (ie, studying Indian languages with the help of innumerous mistresses) that lead him to a stint in the intelligence service. Although here the kind of information, and seemingly disrespectful attitude towards his superior officers, soon lead to his dismissal from that as well.

He did however document much of what had at the time been unknown to westerners, simply because of their lack of understanding the language. After recovering from cholera, he convinced the doctor to grant him two years’ leave. This was the start of his research into the sexual culture and customs of India. It is believed that Burton came into contact with a later commentary on the Kamasutra, but since most of his notebooks were lost in a fire in 1861, it is impossible to know what he thought about it at that time. The book of love would remain in obscurity for a while longer.

After being looked over for promotion as a translator, an unhappy Burton had to leave India. He travelled to many places including Mecca (in disguise) and wrote about his visit to the Islam holy city. While the resulting books made him famous, it also caused him to be alienated in the Muslim world. His career as a diplomat was always difficult, because people knew that he understood languages and cultures that other westerners didn’t.
His notoriety in British society and his papers on subjects like fertility rituals and peculiar customs of Dahomey, did not grant him any favours with the Royal Geographical Society.

Stints in the diplomatic service in various countries did not satisfy as much as his life in the East either. Through friends Burton came into contact with collections on erotica and sexual customs, later commentaries and transcripts on the subjects, that referred to their reference as the book of the ‘holy sage Vatsyayana Muni.’

If they were to truly dig deeper into the realm of Indian sexuality, Burton and his friend then had to find that reference, the Kamasutra.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Theatre, religion and painting - Kamasutra part 3

The unbridled success of the Kamasutra flowed over into other forms of art. It was the theatre in particular that embraced the new found love for artistic expression, where sensuality found its way to the stage even more than before. Tastes were assigned to human emotion, of which the most fashionable was the taste of the “rapturously erotic”. It is thus thanks to the playwrights of the time, that the Kamasutra was kept alive, where its predecessors did not survive history.
Poems and plays in the centuries to follow show not only remarkable similarities to the Kamasutra, there are sometime direct copying of the behaviours described that the playwrights and writers emulated in their own works.

In later centuries the influence of the Kamasutra extended into religion even more. Only now it was more subtle and kama was brought into the realm of love at a higher level of existence, not the physical. This love was pictured as divine in essence and as such lead poets to abusing this new love in their writing – if sex now had a divine expression, they could use every single chance to exploit it, couldn't they?

Despite all the interest in religion and eroticism, people no longer studied the original text of kama. Until about the twelfth century when a Buddhist monk (anyone else notice the irony here?) took up the baton by studying the ancient text of the Kamasutra, For by this time it was ancient. Like the writer of the Kamasutra who studied its ancient predecessor, so did Padmasri . He considered the Kamasutra to be the authoritative text on the subject, even though at that time it was far outdated for its social context.

The monk may have used the Kamasutra as the reference, but he updated its psychological approach and added a magical touch mostly influenced by the Tantric theologies of traditional medicines. Remember the aphrodisiacs? Padmasri's recipes now included the more rustic ingredients of a hyena's eye, or coating the genitals with red arsenic, sulphur and honey, not to mention an ingredient or two that had to have made even the hardiest believer cringe.

There were others to follow doing the same thing as Padmasri, but then added their own interpretation to some aspects of the Kamasutra. Kokkoka classified women into four categories, and thus adapted the text accordingly. (Good thing he is long dead, or he would not have lived very long in this era!)

More and more sex manuals saw the light, but each became more obsessed with sex to the point that kama became equated with sex, instead of pleasure that originally included other activities as well. As time passed the Kamasutra became more obscured, eventually becoming relegated to the religious libraries.
But as the Kamasutra became more forgotten so grew the visual arts of the erotic, thanks to the Persian influence of painting. There are no surviving manuscripts before the twelfth century, thanks to the lack of concern for preservation of such texts and paintings, although it seemed unlikely that there would have been illustrated versions of the Kamasutra anyway. The visual representations of the erotic can mainly be ascribed to the late fifteenth century, because of Persian predilection for miniature painting.

It was however a British scholar, Sir William Jones, who found the ancient relic almost by accident. And it was thanks to two unusual amateur enthusiasts in the Victorian period, that not only brought the Kamasutra to the attention of the West, but also managed to let India rediscover its own erotic classic.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Where did it begin? The Kamasutra - Part 2

Let's start with the name itself: Kamasutra. Its made up of two different words kama and sutra. Kama was sexual desire, the urge to create or procreate if you like. Sutra is a scholarly treatise, something that is used to impart pearls of knowledge or wisdom. So in essence the Kamasutra was written to be the “condensed version of the teaching of sex”.

It was written by a man called Vatsyayana, of whom little is known, except what he writes about himself in the text of the Kamasutra. The exact date when it was written is unknown, but from other writings, it is believed that the author lived in Pataliputra (modern day Patna in the north-east of India) and he wrote the Kamasutra during the early to middle part of the third century AD.

The book itself comprises seven books, or sections. The first describes kama in a context of the man - playboy if you prefer - preparing himself for a life of pleasure. The second section explains how he should actually go about doing it. This is also the most detailed of the books, for it seems that having sex can be quite a complicated thing. Of course, to be respected amongst his peers, the man had to be accomplished in all the techniques. They are not “just tools for successful love making, then: they lie at the heart of what constitutes an educated man”.

Once the man has achieved the necessary skills, he could now turn to the next four books that explained the types of women that he may pursue. Clearly this could get many modern men into trouble - for various reasons - as details were given on how to woo or seduce (depending on your point of view I suppose) virgins to prostitutes. Married women were not excluded from that equation either!

The last section is about aphrodisiacs, and even the author himself seemed sceptical about some of the recipes, recommending that readers should be careful when using them.

The Kamasutra is not the first book of this nature, but rather a summary - a condensed version - of earlier, more extensive works, one of which was described as comprising thousands of chapters. The author thus believed that he did his peers a favour by providing them with the knowledge, but without the need for a whole library. Even in its time, it was controversial as seeking to promote physical and social pleasure, instead of aspiring towards the higher goals of dharma (duty, sacrifice, religion) and artha (material things and knowledge).

Next time we move forward in time a little to find more of the Kamasutra's journey into our world today.