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Anne Elizabeth Hardgrove
University of Texas, San Antonio (San Antonio, TX 78249-1644)

Faculty Research Awards
Research Programs

$24,000 (approved)
$24,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
7/1/2005 – 12/31/2005

A History of the Burton Translation

My project situates the translation and popularization of the Kama Sutra in light of contemporary debates about sexuality, race, nationalism, gender, and imperialism, and charts the history of the global fascination with the Kama Sutra. I wish to explore the implications-and ironies-that a text originally written from an upper-caste urban male point of view about the availability of women has become a hallmark of sexual enlightenment and liberation, particularly in the western imagination. My study begins with a preliminary chapter discussing the Kama Sutra itself, by analyzing its contents and situating the text within the class, caste, gender, and sexuality dimensions within the historical and cultural context it was written. I then explore the Orientalist "discovery" and translation of the Kama Sutra in the late 19th century by British explorer Richard F. Burton, whose translation, until recently, has been the definitive edition of the text all over the globe. I situate Burton's translation in light of his wider research on global sexuality and erotica, and consider why Burton's project represented a threat to British ideas of racial superiority. I go on to explore the nationalist response to the Kama Sutra in India, and focus on how nationalist leaders, such as Gahdhi, initially disavow traditions of Indian erotica in their fight against colonialism. Later, in post-1947 independent India, translators and writers newly return to the Kama Sutra, derived from an ancient Hindu tradition. My project then traces the trajectory of 19th and 20th century legal debates over censorship about the publication of "obscene" literature on both sides of the Atlantic, where the Kama Sutra was specifically singled out as the "filthiest" piece of literature in world history. Finally, I discuss the West's construction of gender and sexuality through the Kama Sutra, by examining the still-present assumption that the book contains ancient Hindu sexual wisdom, and discuss how Alex Comfort's Joy of Sex derives from this text.