- Reviewed by
In Love Stories, Paul Manning effectively explores the distinctive traditional sexual practices of the Khevsurs, a group living in the mountains of the country of Georgia. Their traditions could have easily been lost after their forced resettlement by Stalin in 1952, but their love poetry and the literature it inspired have kept the Khevsurs in the minds of the people of Georgia.
Khevsur youth were expected to engage in clandestine expressions of heterosexual desire not leading to sexual intercourse with distant relatives and others from their home community. Tradition as well as a code of honor and shame set strict parameters for physical contact. Interestingly enough, those encountered in the process would not be marital candidates, since the Khevsurs traditionally married outside of their own communities.
Rather than consider sexuality as an expression of identity, Manning follows Deborah Cameron and Don Kulick's approach to sexuality as an expression of desire in Language and Sexuality (Cambridge University Press, 2003). He organizes the first three chapters, which describe the sexual lifeway for Khevsur youth, by linking a verbal genre with a nonverbal genre for each chapter. He argues that "nonlinguistic erotic genres are not merely expressed or described in linguistic genres; they are created by them" (p. xxviii). Half of the book is spent exploring the sexual lifeway of Khevsur youth, from the point of arranging the first one-night encounter to entering into a steady, secret relationship.
In chapter 1, Manning describes the process of negotiating the first encounter, which is facilitated by a young, female elchi ambassador. This mediator meets with the boy and girl separately, negotiating a visit by the girl to the boy's home. Here, the dialogue between the ambassador and the two candidates arranges the possible encounter. Both the boy and the girl are expected to show restraint in their expressed interest during the initial encounter. Manning explains that this idea of restrained desire is connected with a Khevsur myth that God established their specific sexual lifeway to address the strength of desire present between the sexes from creation.
Chapter 2 delves into girls' clandestine nighttime visits to boys. This encounter involves what the Khevsurs call sts'orproba (lying down and getting up). Here, casual conversation leads to casual sexuality. The night consists primarily of playful, flirtatious discourse. This free exchange among equals involves joking and efforts to determine whether the encounter is being pursued out of individual interest or duty. Physical interaction is strictly delimited, with the boy as well as the girl expected to act with restraint; physical interaction during this first encounter might consist of only a slight embrace and kiss.
Chapter 3 considers the process of having a steady boyfriend-girlfriend (dzmobili) relationship. Khevsur youth are expected to have multiple one-time encounters (sts'orproba). More durable relationships develop in the course of multiple encounters with the same person. The girl confirms the lasting nature of the relationship by making homemade vodka of exceptional quality for her boy. Her decision about the relationship is decisive. She keeps this vodka for months, waiting for the occasion to give it secretly. Then, the boy enjoys the vodka with friends to celebrate his stable relationship. However, if the boy proves unfaithful, then the girl drinks the vodka with a girlfriend and laments her situation. Manning examines love poetry related to the vodka used to confirm the durable relationship. I found this chapter the [End Page 358] least convincing of the three in terms of illustrating Manning's argument that specific verbal genres are constitutive of nonlinguistic erotic genres.
Manning considers Khevsur love poetry more broadly in chapter 4, examining the poetic expression of ideals of love. Manning argues that since the sexual lifeway for Khevsur youth is hidden, the circulation of love poetry about the process makes the tradition a community of practice. The women authors of such poetry show that they are honorable, self-restrained people through effective use of poetic genres and by not disclosing their names.