Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context
Issue 2, May 1999
Spurning Alphonso Lingis' Thai 'Lust':
The Perils of a Philosopher at Large

Peter A. Jackson

  1. In writing on the history of male homoeroticism in Thailand[1] I have often felt constrained by the required forms of academic discourse, a highly recalcitrant genre which in many of its varieties objectifies the people one wants to talk about while creating a god-like aura of omniscience around the author. I have experimented with writing fiction on cross-cultural same-sex issues[2] in order to try and insert myself and my 'non-academic' opinions into my writing and to represent homosexually active Thai men as living, breathing people, not mere constructs of discourses or effects of cultural patterns. I am far from being alone in experiencing academic-speak as a distorting and often imprisoning form of expression. In his 1994 book, A Bit of the Side: East-West Topographies of Desire,[3] Chris Berry also explores different forms of writing in order to deal with the complex intersections of subjective and theoretical issues involved in cross-cultural studies of human eroticisms. However, in my own work I regret that I have not been successful in bringing together the disparate personalised novelaic and object-focussed academic genres. I have not yet succeeded in talking about myself and the people I study in both human and theoretical terms, representing both myself (and so my analyses) and my informants as equally flawed products of the different societies and cultures we have each negotiated.
  2. In discussing these issues with colleagues at academic conferences and over numerous café latte at weekend get togethers, the work of the American philosopher Alphonso Lingis has often been cited as an example of someone who pushes the bounds of the academic genre in order to insert himself into the narrative of analytical reflection. Several colleagues have spoken highly of Lingis's books Excesses[4] and Abuse[5] and the following introductory comments to a 1997 interview with the philosopher published in the Melbourne Journal of Politics reflect his generally positive reception in Australia,

      Professor Lingis' stories were captivating and often illustrative of the limits of academic language.... Lingis works from the idea that the world is not a spectacle that is to be absorbed and known, but that the speaker (or author) is in the world and a living part of it.... Lingis recognises our responsibilities as a living being within the world, rather than merely an observer of the world .... [In this interview] [h]e exposes his notion of responsibility to speak for those who cannot speak, those who are spoken for as interchangeable units, 'Third World' statistics consumed by our colonising cultures and languages.[6]

  3. When I was told that Lingis had also written on Thai kathoey, transgendered and transsexual males, in a chapter called 'Lust'[7] in his book Abuses, I approached his work with excitement and high expectations. This essay is an attempt to express my highly ambivalent responses to what I found in Lingis's 'Lust.' For in reading this text I was both delighted and horrified, finding myself simultaneously entranced by the engaging lyricism of his highly personal style yet repulsed by the shoddy scholarship and uncritiqued Orientalism of his analysis of gender/sex issues in Thailand. The expression 'gender/sex' used here inverts Gayle Rubin's[8] influential notion of 'sex/gender system' and marks what I believe to be the continuing priority of gender over sexuality in all Thai identities. The inversion of Rubin's sequence of terms also signals my disagreement with the contention that gender and sexuality can be considered independent constructs requiring distinctive theories and modes of inquiry. I am exploring these issues in detail in current research.[9]
  4. Lest the reader mistakenly think that this review is a disinterested critique, I must at the outset confess a sense of personal slight. Towards the end of Lingis's account of Thai kathoey I found my own previously published words included but uncited, seamlessly inserted into the text as if they reflected the philosopher's own research and reflective analysis (see below). In the work of a man whose book I had been advised to read as a possible model of how to improve my own writing I found parts of one of my own texts reflected back to me.
  5. For some time after reading 'Lust,' I decided not to bother about having a few sentences lifted from one of my books, or to engage the often outrageous claims Lingis makes about Thailand. Lingis's work is not taken seriously, or even known, amongst most scholars working in Thai area studies and the failure of 'Lust' to have an impact within my own field meant that I treated it as just another of the many largely misguided travelogues about Thai eroticism that regularly appear in the press and elsewhere. However, in several conversations over the past year or so I have continued to find Lingis's chapter on Thailand in Abuses referred to in positive terms, and so I have decided that it is time that Alphonso Lingis's Thai 'Lust' is subjected to a rigorous critique in case colleagues should misinterpret my silence on this man's work as indicating that I agree with his analyses.
  6. Before beginning the critique I must acknowledge that there is an attractive yet also disturbing seductiveness to Lingis's writing. This ambiguous allure emerges from the intersection of his lucid style and the immediacy of his interest in First World responsibility for those who are silenced and disempowered within a glaringly unequal global disorder. One cannot but side with Lingis in his efforts to write beyond the objectifying limits of academic-speak, to insert himself as Western author as a desiring (and at times desired) human being into discourses about cultural 'others,' and to make theory a domain of ethical responsibility as much as of intellectual inquiry.
  7. At times the reader of the essays collected in Excesses and Abuses may feel like rejecting Lingis's reflections from Guatemala, Thailand, Antarctica, Bali and other locales as voyeurism, even exploitation, and throw the volumes down in disgust or dismay. Yet a few paragraphs further into the text one is just as likely to feel disgusted or dismayed with oneself as with Lingis. He succeeds in implicating the privileged reader of his texts in the human horrors that the twentieth century has produced. Lingis makes one constantly aware that to be a reader of his books one must indeed be among the most privileged people on the planet, those with access to enough plastic money to buy his books produced from felled trees, and not to have to burn those trees to cook one's evening meal.
  8. The strength of Excesses and Abuses is that they implicate the author, and the reader, in all that is observed. Lingis invokes and practices a discursive variant of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. According to this principle from quantum physics, the act of observing subatomic particles impinges on what can be known about the constituents of matter, with the observing scientific investigator and the observed electrons, quarks and other exotic factors of our material form becoming part of a single process. But unlike physicists who are concerned with how the act of observing impacts on our ability to know the object under scrutiny, Lingis reflects on a reverse process: namely, how observing and desiring another human being impacts on the observer, who is altered and rendered different by that engagement. In Heisenberg's principle the uncertainty induced by the act of observing is in the object. In Lingis's work the uncertainty induced by observing others is in the subject themself.
  9. The essay 'Lust' in the collection Abuses is a meditation on the power of erotic drives, incited by watching a transgendered stage performance, to liquefy and dissolve the apparent certainties of the observer's gender and sexual identities,

      The eyes of lust idolise and fetishise ... there is radioactive leakage; the castes, classes, cultures, nations, economies collapse in intercontinental meltdown. Wanton hands liquefy the dyadic oppositions, vaporise all the markers of difference into a sodden and electric atmosphere.[10]

    'Lust' has three sections: an opening description of a performance of the Calypso transvestite or kathoey revue in Bangkok in 1990; an account of the unsettling effect that viewing this performance had on Lingis; and a final theoretical reflection on the instability of identity. While sections of the chapter are potentially useful in analysing gender and eroticism cross-culturally, the text is based on misrepresentations of Thai gender/sex culture and a fundamental misreading of Thai cultural history. I here highlight some of the most productive reflections as well as the more glaring failings of Lingis's text.
  10. The most evocative and challenging section of 'Lust' is where Lingis recounts that in observing Thai transvestites perform he was incited to imagine his own body engaged in an erotic play that moved beyond the bounds of his Western-constituted gender/sex identity and to consider the possible pleasures that might lie beyond those limits. In talking about the liquefying power of lust experienced and expressed within a different erotic culture, Lingis documents how sexual interaction, whether in fantasy or in fact, with someone from that other culture may initiate a dissolution of culturally delimited self-imaginings which forces those involved to think themselves anew.
  11. Lingis's choice of the word 'Lust,' rather than say 'desire' or 'libido,' in his essay on Thai kathoey is important. 'Desire' and 'libido' are terms with a considerable theoretical burden, often connoting forms of eroticism constituted by and channelled within the parameters of a given culture or libidinal economy. 'Lust' does not carry these theoretical associations, retaining a sense of raw energy, of pure and impure pleasure seeking, of the pornographic, of an unruly and perhaps even ungovernable transgressive force that does not recognise norms of erotic propriety. However, Lingis uses 'Lust' in a slightly more technical way. While not providing a definition, in his text the term 'Lust' is used to describe the simultaneous confusion and liberation of one culturally constituted libido when it meets another, differently constituted form of eroticism. For Lingis 'desire' is a form of libido linked to the affirmation and solidification of identity within a given culture, while 'lust' is libido beyond cultural limits and norms which can undermine and liquefy the apparent certainties of who we are as men and women as well as the genders of those we desire.
  12. In the contemporary era of globalising technologies and markets, cultural intersection and hybridity have become major topics of inquiry. In such studies a new vocabulary needs to be forged in order first to describe and then to analyse those sites where languages, symbolic systems, discourses and entire cultures intersect like colliding galaxies. The intersection of libidinal economies and erotic orders is just as much a phenomenon of globalisation as the interpenetration of markets and financial systems. Lingis's work contributes to the study of sites of erotic intersection in two ways. Firstly, he explores a language within which this phenomenon may be described. Secondly, he foregrounds the fact that in order to study the intersection of one's own libidinal economy with another one must be prepared both to confront and to enjoy the simultaneously unsettling and exciting incitements of one's own desire and gender/sex identity.
  13. In the text 'Lust,' and indeed throughout the book Abuses, Lingis recounts episodes of sexual intercourse and erotic fascination with people from cultures different from his own. While Lingis does not say so, Abuses also reveals that underlying the Western fascination with cross-cultural patterns of eroticism is the Western subject's fascination with the possibility of experiencing new pleasures and new enjoyments. Academic inquiry is revealed as a concomitant of personal sexual explorations, indeed as the denatured residue of those highly charged engagements once they are contained and rendered safe within an academic-speak that erases the desire of the author.
  14. This is academically dangerous territory. The Western academy, like the rest of contemporary Western culture, is a sexually fraught and erotically anxious place. Concerns about sexual harassment, gender equity, rules forbidding staff-student sexual involvement, and so on create a regime of self-surveillance and other-monitoring. Furthermore, critiques of the gendering of the Western imperialist project, first world sex tourism in developing countries, child prostitution, not to mention university rules on the ethics of ethnographic research make the reporting and analysis of the researcher's personal involvement in a foreign erotic culture something of a taboo. Lingis ignores these anxieties and concerns, and in doing so leaves himself open to critique. There is a fine line between, on the one hand, pushing the prudish boundaries of academic research and discourse and, on the other hand, becoming complicit in reproducing forms of sexual exploitation and cultural domination. Lingis does not manage to balance these concerns. He is to be lauded for his efforts at transgressive writing and self-reimagining, but he is to be critiqued for his apparent ignorance, or at least disregard, of the power relations in East-West erotic contact and the uncritiqued Orientalism that underpins this lacuna in his work. While Lingis may have titled his books Excesses and Abuses in order to signal his interest in critiquing Western knowledges and forms of power over non-Western societies, he ends up becoming just another angst-ridden coloniser feeling guilty about his power rather than a liberator.
  15. For a man who represents his work as an attempt to provide voice to those who are denied a voice in the new world disorder Lingis is disturbingly insensitive to cross-cultural issues. In reflecting on an episode of heterosexual prostitution in Thailand, and betraying more than a little disappointment with an anticlimactic experience of supposedly titillating Thai sex, he says, 'To tell the truth, the lay will not be very good; the bodies are too mismatched, and in the end you will do a kind of pathetic reciprocal masturbation in the dark.'[11] I found this one of the most objectionable statements in 'Lust,' not only demeaning the sexuality of Thai people but also seeming to rule out the possibility of loving erotic relationships between Caucasians and Thais.
  16. Lingis opens his account of the Calypso kathoey revue in Bangkok by describing it as,

      Antifeminist theater: transvestites are more sensual, more charming, more tantalising, more seductive than one has ever seen debutantes, fashion models, starlets or British princesses.... These are not males pathetically trying to look and act like women; they try harder than women, dare more, outdo women. These twenty-year-old guys emanating, delighting in, flaunting one-night-stand sexual identities which we in the audience have known as destinies and obligations.[12]

  17. The view that kathoey perform femininity better than 'women' reflects a naïve view of gender, but the most questionable aspect of the above account is the inaccurate statement that kathoey have 'one-night-stand sexual identities.' In a misguided voluntarist account of Thai kathoey, Lingis suggests that the gender/sex identities of these people are as vaporous as the looks they assume as performers on the stage. My research has revealed that Thai men who identify as kathoey, like many transsexuals and transvestites in the West, often have long histories of cross-dressing and feeling different, of wanting to be women. The cross-genderism and transsexualism of kathoey are not mere affectations that are assumed temporarily in order to perform for tourists at late night cabarets and which are then discarded the moment the performer leaves the dressing room to catch the taxi home. Large numbers of Thai kathoey view what they call their 'second type of womanhood' (phu-ying praphet sorng) as a destiny beyond their choice and an obligation that fate or karma has ordained.
  18. In attempting to locate kathoey within Thai culture, Lingis claims, 'One hardly ever notices transvestism in the streets of Bangkok; the cabaret is its space.'[13] One wonders which Bangkok streets he has walked along and how long he has spent in the country. Transvestism is in fact often highly visible on the streets of Thai towns and cities. Kathoey vendors may be found selling fruit and vegetables at markets; kathoey beauticians are common in women's hairdressing salons; and cross-dressing sales assistants are found in the makeup and women's clothing sections of city department stores. Despite Lingis's claim, in Thailand transvestism is far from being isolated to the cabaret. It is just as much a phenomenon of quotidian daytime spaces throughout the city and the countryside. Indeed, it is the prevalence of cross-dressing, by both women and men in Thailand, that many Western visitors and researchers notice, not its isolation within the sequestered commercial space of the revue. One is left to wonder whether Lingis was able to tell the difference between a kathoey and a Thai woman.
  19. Lingis has done some reading on Thai culture and history, but he has not grasped some key concepts of cultural analysis. For example, he confuses the phenomenon of matrilineal descent -- where inherited property is passed down through the female line -- for matriarchy. There is no question that in terms of religious authority, political power and social prestige men have held dominant positions throughout recorded Thai history and that the society, like others in Southeast Asia, is fundamentally patriarchal. However, Lingis claims that,

      The T'ai people are profoundly matriarchal, and rural Thailand, Laos, and parts of Myanmar are to this day. Patriarchal culture entered Siam late, through the royal family, which, though to this day Buddhist, in the late Sukhothai period - as Angkor long before it - imported brahmanical priests and with them Vedic patriarchal culture.... today a third of Bangkok is Chinese. They are the second entry of patriarchal culture into Siam.[14]

  20. After exoticising Thailand as a 'matriarchal Garden of Eden,' Lingis goes on to make the outrageous assertion that it is a country populated by 'men without the apparatus of virility.'[15] What permits him to make such a claim? It is the mistaken belief that the entrancing kathoey performers he watched at the Calypso revue were 'selected for their looks from among laborers trucked in from the provinces to work on construction gangs in Bangkok.'[16] One wonders what Lingis's source was for this hogwash. Is he here repeating a passing comment made by another tourist who sat beside him at the revue? No self-respecting kathoey performer would want to work in a construction gang because heavy manual labour would destroy their carefully constructed feminine presentation by developing unwanted masculine biceps and pectoral muscles. Kathoey performers are not routinely recruited from Bangkok construction sites. They often appear sequinned and made up at the doors of revue managers asking to be auditioned after having spent considerable time laboriously perfecting their femininity.
  21. Lingis repeats the view that kathoey performers are representative of all Thai men in several places. For example, in describing a kathoey lip-synching a Janis Joplin song, Lingis remarks, 'What makes the number the more wanton and suggestive is that he [the Thai performer] is there as a representative male ...'[17] The use of the masculine pronoun 'he' here reflects Lingis's misconstrual of kathoeys' attempts to reconstruct themselves as feminine and ignores the widespread use of feminine personal pronouns, 'she'/'her,' within the kathoey subculture. Thai first person pronouns, 'I,' are gendered, with kathoey systematically using female self-reference terms such as chan (informal) and dichan (formal) and eschewing male first person pronouns such as phom. Elsewhere, Lingis says,

      They make it look so easy ... these twenty-year old farm boys from the rocky Himalayan foothills of the Isaan who just got to Bangkok last year. The added gender confusion they put into the creations that Michael Jackson, Madonna and Grace Jones have made of themselves.[18]

    Here Lingis assumes that kathoey make the change from 'farm boy' to transvestite diva with ease and almost overnight. He ignores the fact that these 'farm boys' were often playing at being 'farm girls' long before they ever left the village to come to gay Bangkok.
  22. In claiming that transvestites are 'representative' of Thai males, Lingis presumes that all Thai men are potentially kathoey. In seeing all Thai men as lacking 'the apparatus of virility' he represents them as effete, even homosexual, reproducing an uncritiqued imperialist view of Asian masculinities as inferior forms beside Western expressions of manhood. Mrinalini Sinha[19] has analysed the ways in which British colonisers in India perceived Indian males as effeminate, effete and weak and how these representations were used to bolster claims about the validity of imperial domination.
  23. What leads Lingis to construct his fairy tale account of Thailand, describing a myth of a place that exists nowhere except on the pages of his book? It is because this myth fulfils his theoretical fantasies. For Lingis this mock-Thailand, this pseudo-Siam, becomes a supposed instantiation of the insights of French authors and theoreticians such as Baudelaire, Lacan, Deleuze and Guattari, Lyotard and Baudrillard - all of whom are cited in the final theoretical section of the chapter.[20] However, the work of a student of Thai forms of homoeroticism and transgenderism that Lingis has clearly read, namely my own research, is present only as an absence. Lingis has used almost the precise form of my words plus part of a quotation from Daniel Wit[21] contained in my 1989 book Male Homosexuality in Thailand: An Interpretation of Contemporary Thai Sources, without citing their source.[22] I have wondered why Baudelaire, Lacan, Lyotard and Baudrillard received citations in the bibliography to Lingis's chapter but not Jackson. Is it merely an accidental oversight or could it be that if the reader had been directed to an actual study of Thailand he or she would soon see that Lingis had created a mythical society for the purpose of justifying Western theories? Was Lingis anxious that aspects of French critical theory might be revealed as not working so well, or even at all, if contrasted against boring data derived from years of ethnographic fieldwork or long afternoons spent in the humid, dusty rooms of Southeast Asian libraries?
  24. After the first few pages Thailand disappears from Lingis's text, which becomes a theoretical reflection of, among other things, 'psychoanalytic pansexualism.' By prefiguring this discussion with an account of kathoey theatre in Thailand, Lingis in effect argues that Thai erotic culture represents an instance of 'pansexualism.' He would have the reader believe that he has found in Thailand a living cultural example of the theoretical suppositions of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. Thailand becomes important in this pseudo-scholarship because of a supposed absence of the rules that bind sexuality and gender identities in the West. The view of Thai gender/sex as unstructured is reflected in statements such as the following,

      Something in you would like to know how it feels to be that bare mass of indeterminate carnality being stuck in spike heels, sheathed in metallised dress, strapped to a crackling fibreglass wig, become phosphorescent in a pool of blazing light. Something which is the stirrings of lust.[23]

  25. Here Thai men as transvestite performers are labelled 'a bare mass of indeterminate carnality.' Their eroticism is represented as structureless and with no discernible pattern. Yet here Lingis has fallen into an ethnocentric fallacy which does not demonstrate an absence of structure in Thai gender and eroticism but rather a blindness to non-Western cultural patterns. In Alphonso Lingis's Thai 'Lust' we find an evocatively expressed contemporary version of the long-standing Orientalist myth of the East as a zone of liberated carnality. However, my own research, and that of many others such as Nerida Cook, Andrea Whittaker and Penny Van Esterik,[24] has revealed the multiplicity and intense structuring of the rules that govern Thai gender and eroticism. It is only the untrained eye of an outsider that imperiously sees the eroticism of cultural others as ruleless or pansexual. Only this fundamental failure of Western discourses permits Thai men to be represented as indeterminate carnal masses. It is Lingis's failure to see or acknowledge the local, different rules of the erotic that permits him to project onto Thai men's bodies his theoretical fantasies of psychoanalytic pansexuality.
  26. Alphonso Lingis reveals the perils of a theory-driven study of Asia, in which knowledge of local languages and discourses (except French) is considered irrelevant to the ethnographic and historiographical enterprise. I am not arguing for a return to any raw empiricism, or throwing the theoretical baby out with the bath water. Foucault, Baudrillard, Lacan and many others are continuing sources of insight for my research on Thailand and Asian-Western cultural intersections. In critiquing Lingis I am not presenting an anti-theory position. Rather, I am calling for the localising of Western theory, for keeping in mind at all times the limits of Western thought.
  27. Despite its failings, this text may still be of some value in understanding eroticisms in a cross-cultural frame. However, what is important in 'Lust' is not Lingis's mistaken musings on Thai sexuality, but rather his description of the impact upon a Western subject of libidinal contact with Thai men and women. The extent of both heterosexual and homosexual sex tourism in Thailand suggests that Thai libidinality is capable of exciting many Western men. And as Cleo Odzer describes in her book Patpong Sisters[25] it also excites many Western women. However, I disagree with Lingis in locating the source of this cross-cultural erotic frisson in the supposedly 'vaporous' or 'amorphous' character of Thai sexuality. It is not the indeterminacy of Thai forms of gender and eroticism that incites, rather it is their specificity. It is not an absence of rules in Thai sexuality that energises Western libidos, but rather the presence of an altogether different libidinal economy. In the end Lingis tells us little about Thai sexuality other than its capacity to arouse Western men like himself, for the supposed travelogue and analysis of Thailand is ultimately not about that country at all but about the West and the culturally determined patterns of Western men's erotic arousal.
  28. In her book Volatile Bodies Elizabeth Grosz has a somewhat similar attitude to Lingis's problematic exoticisations of the East. While not excusing him for his Eurocentrism and masculinism, in her account of tattooing and other forms of bodily inscription Grosz nevertheless attempts to salvage from Lingis's work a basis for a general model of cross-cultural understanding,

      [Lingis's] work can be used not as a truthful depiction of the 'savage' other but as a symptomatic expression of a certain Western anxiety about and risking of the borders which Western society shares with its various others. While this does not justify or validate his analysis, it does mean that his text can be used for purposes other than those for which it was written, in this case, for revealing what may be at stake in specifying a general, cross-culturally valid notion of body writing and for distinguishing our culture from its others and from its own past.[26]

  29. I do not deny that something may be salvaged from Lingis's work in terms of exploring novel approaches to academic writing. However, I disagree with Grosz in seeing in his analysis the seeds of cross-cultural knowledges that transcend the limits of Western modes of inquiry. On the contrary, Lingis's texts are rich sources for those interested in locating the persistent ethnocentrism of Western philosophy. That Grosz should seek insights for general theories of the body and desire in the work of a man who distorts non-Western cultures and misinterprets the writings of ethnographers and historians of Asia reflects the great divide between Asian area studies and cultural studies in the Western academy. While in many universities the offices of academics from these two camps are located in the same building, they often exist as all but hermeneutically sealed non-communicating domains, to the detriment of both.
  30. Lingis undertakes his study with the opposite of the attitude that the Western ethnographer, historian of culture or philosopher should adopt when studying Asian eroticisms. We cannot resort to the myth of theory-free empiricism, but neither should we assume that Western theories or subjectivities will emerge from the attempt to understand cultural others in the same form in which they began. Lingis is prepared to admit subjective transformation in cross-cultural interactions, but resists a parallel theoretical or discursive transformation as also emerging from such engagements. He looks only for confirmations of Western theory in the Thai other and distorts the Thai data to make it fit his view, erasing from his narrative authors whose research presents evidence contrary to his own account. In our use of Western-derived theory - and we cannot avoid drawing on this theory as a starting point in our studies of Asia - we need to be open to the possibility of finding its limits. We should acknowledge that in being derived from a limited body of historical and cultural experience which until now has not included the other we are about to approach, that theory will almost certainly be transformed by the inclusion of new data that we uncover. Lingis's greatest failure is his inability to imagine Thai kathoey as genuinely different and not merely as instantiations of Western theory.


    [1] Peter A. Jackson, Dear Uncle Go: Male Homosexuality in Thailand, Bangkok, Bua Luang Books, 1995; Jackson, 'Kathoey - Gay - Man: The Historical Emergence of Gay Male Identity in Thailand,' in Sites of Desire/Economies of Pleasure: Sexualities in Asia and the Pacific, ed. Lenore Manderson & Margaret Jolly, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, pp. 166-90.

    [2] Jackson, The Intrinsic Quality of Skin, Bangkok, Floating Lotus Books, 1994.

    [3] Chris Berry, 'A Bit on the Side: Thoughts After Seeing Dennis O'Rourke's 'Documentary Fiction,' The Good Woman of Bangkok,' in A Bit on the Side: East-West Topographies of Desire, ed. Chris Berry, Sydney: EmPress, 1994, pp. 59-67.

    [4] Alphonso Lingis, Excesses: Eros and Culture, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983.

    [5] Lingis, Abuses, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

    [6] D.J. Huppatz, Ananda Rubens & Sarah Tutton, 'Travelling with Lingis: An Interview with Alphonso Lingis,' Melbourne Journal of Politics, no. 24, (1997):26-7.

    [7] Lingis, 'Lust,' in Abuses, pp.105-28.

    [8] Gayle Rubin, 'The Traffic of Women: Notes on the Political Economy of Sex,' in Toward an Anthropology of Women, ed. R. Reiter, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975, pp. 157-210; also Rubin, 'Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality,' in Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, ed. C. Vance, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984, pp. 267-319.

    [9] See Jackson, 'An Explosion of Thai Identities: Peripheral Genders and the Limits of Queer Theory,' Critical InQueeries, vol. 2, no. 2 (forthcoming). In questioning the gender/sexuality distinction I am indebted to Michael Connors for his comments on the above paper and for the insights in his article 'Missing Gender and the Fetishism of Sex: "Gay" Responses to the Sexuality Debates,' Thamyris, vol. 2, no. 2, (1995):207-28.

    [10] Lingis, Abuses, pp. 120-1.

    [11] Lingis, Abuses, p. 111.

    [12] Lingis, Abuses, p. 107.

    [13] Lingis, Abuses, p. 108.

    [14] Lingis, Abuses, p. 109.

    [15] Lingis, Abuses, p. 113.

    [16] Lingis, Abuses, p. 113.

    [17] Lingis, Abuses, p. 114.

    [18] Lingis, Abuses, p. 112.

    [19] Mrinalini Sinha, Colonial Masculinity: The 'Manly Englishman' and the 'Effeminate Bengali' in the Late Nineteenth Century, Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1995.

    [20] Lingis lists ten sources for his text, which the endnotes tell us was written in Bangkok in 1990. These noted sources are: Charles Baudelaire's Complete Works, Jacques Lacan's Ecrits, Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus, Lyotard's Libidinal Economy, an article by Shirley Lindenbaum called 'Variations on a Sociosexual Theme in Melanesia,' Baudrillard's Seduction, Michel Tournier's Friday, Daniel Wit's Thailand - Another Vietnam?, plus novels by Gabriel Garcia Maquez, In Evil Hour, and J. G. Ballard, Crash.

    [21] Daniel Wit, Thailand - Another Vietnam?, New York: Charles Scriber's Sons, 1968.

    [22] Compare the following sections, first from Lingis and then from my own work.

    Lingis, Abuses, p. 125:

      To lose face for a Thai is not simply to feel embarrassment, it is to feel loss of one's defining membership in overlapping groups and loss of the social attributes of position. The importance of keeping up appearances, and of the presentation of respectfulness, unobtrusiveness, calmness, of avoiding saying things in opposition to what is expected not only organises social interaction but penetrates even into the psychological attitudes of Thais toward themselves. 'This attitude may go so far as his not wanting to engage in a private self-analysis whose result might be inimical to his own self-image.'(10)

    The citation (10) above is to Daniel Wit, Thailand - Another Vietnam?, 1968.

    Jackson, in Male Homosexuality in Thailand, p. 30:

      To lose face is therefore a much more devastating experience for a Thai than a Westerner because it is much more than an embarrassment. To lose face is to feel to have been judged inappropriate, whether in action, appearance or word, and so to lose both self-esteem and the esteem of others. The importance of keeping up appearances, and the presentation of politeness, unobtrusiveness, calmness, respectfulness and so on is, as Daniel Wit suggests, not just a phenomenon of social interaction, but penetrates even into the psychological attitudes many Thais have towards themselves: A Thai does not wish to lose 'face' - be obviously embarrassed or otherwise have his dignity or status impaired. This attitude may go so far as his not wanting to engage in a private self-analysis whose result might be inimical to his own self-image. Daniel Wit, 1968, Thailand - Another Vietnam?, pp. 61-2.

    [23] Lingis, Abuses, p. 118.

    [24] See Nerida Cook & Peter A. Jackson, 'Desiring Constructs: Transforming Sex/Gender Orders in Twentieth Century Thailand,' in Genders and Sexualities in Modern Thailand, ed. Nerida Cook & Peter A. Jackson, Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books (in press).

    [25] Cleo Odzer, Patpong Sisters: An American Woman's View of the Bangkok Sex World, New York: Blue Moon Books, Arcane Publishers, 1994.

    [26] Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies: Towards a Corporeal Feminism, St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1994. p. 138.


This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

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