This just in from Dr. Nabil al-Tasnimi:
The picture on the right is Kobayashi Kiyochika's (1847-1915) mitate-e of the famed courtesan Eguchi no Kimi seated astride an elephant, in parody of the Fugen Bosatsu. The overlapping of the two figures Eguchi and Fugen is the subject of Ishikawa Jun's essay, "On the Thought Patterns of the People of Edo" 「江戸人の発想法について」 (1942).
Tanizaki Jun'ichirō (1886-1965) too uses the story of Eguchi in his novel The Reed Cutter 『芦刈』 (1932), in which his narrator explains to his companion how courtesans are avatars for Fugen Bodhisattvas, and how sexual ecstacy is not altogether different from religious ecstacy. The above mitate-e, the conversation in Tanizaki's novel, and Ishikawa's essay all force us to reconsider the standard tropes and ask ourselves: Is there any real distinction between the vulgar and the sublime, or are they in fact interchangeable? Can a woman, whether real or mythical, be at once both whore and saint? Do all women possess attributes of both whore and saint?
Willfully confusing the vulgar and the sublime seems to be a technique common to Japanese art in general and to Edo period art in particular. In Western art, however, this technique doesn't seem to feature so prominently. The boundaries for archetypes seem more clearly drawn, and there isn't much crossing over.
Take the New Testament narrative, for instance. Would it not have made for a better story if the Christ's mother had been, like the maid Otake Dainichi, a little less saintly?
Jarvis32 informs me that throughout history many have asserted that the Virgin Mary was in reality far from sinless. According to the second-century polemicist Celsus, for example, the "virginal" Mary in fact "had sex with a Roman soldier and then married Joseph who protected her from the harsh Jewish laws of the time which otherwise would have sentenced her to death by stoning for such an act" (Jane Schaberg, Illegitimacy of Jesus: A Feminist Theological Interpretation of the Infancy Narratives).
I'm getting off track, so now to my point: The next time Elliot Spitzer is caught fooling around with a hooker from Emperor's Club VIP, or your wife finds in your pant pocket a matchbook from an oppai pub in Kabukichō, just remember that these modern-day courtesans are really disguised Bodhisattvas who, having attained enlightment, have returned to this world to console those of us who continue to suffer from the 108 earthly desires.
[To view more online mitate-e of Eguchi no Kimi and others, click here.]