Over at PopMatters’s Re:Print, I’ve begun what I hope will be a series of reviews and interviews highlighting work from university presses that might interest general readers.
The first such post, about Angus McLaren’s splendid new book, Impotence: A Cultural History (U of Chicago P, 2007), went up last night. McLaren shows how even the most basic questions of the male body–am I hard? can I get it up?–have been construed very differently in Western history.
From the interview:
To say that â€œimpotence has a historyâ€ means that every age has had its own ideas about what caused and cured male sexual dysfunctions. Fiascos in the bedroom have been attributed at one time or another to witchcraft, masturbation, homosexual desires, shell-shock, sexual excesses, feminism, and the Oedipal complex. In recovering this history we not only learn about other cultures, more importantly we find that what it meant to be a man differed in each epoch. Countless studies have tracked the ways in which womenâ€™s sexuality was â€œconstructedâ€ or repressed or policed but next to nothing has as yet been said about how normative standards of male performance were established.
And, from the review:
Despite the presence of a blurb from Dr. Ruth on the back cover, McLaren is a refreshingly low-key guide to the vicissitudes of impotence. The book is almost unmissable for its extensive cataloging of tests (“fifteenth-century English courts sometimes employed â€˜honest womenâ€™ to examine the man”) and treatments (ranging from the implantation of monkey and goat glands, to the construction of mechanical scaffolding, to various forms of pastes, salves, and unguents, applied topically, orally, or anally).