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Messing about with maleness

by
17 June 2016

Adrian Thatcher reads a ‘playful’ failure

The Gift of Sublimation: A psychoanalytic study of multiple masculinities
Nathan Carlin and Donald Capps

Lutterworth Press £15.25
(978-0-7188-9414-6)

THE authors warn their readers several times that they write play­fully, as exuberant children. This is at least a novel and provocative authorial strategy.

”Sublimation”, the authors ex­­plain, is a Freudian term that “refers to the process of sexual desires con­sidered unacceptable or unworthy becoming redirected toward what are considered acceptable and worthy interests”. “Multiple mascu­lin­ities” implies “that there is no single masculinity that is normative, and that conceptions of masculinity are not uniform across time periods or cultures, or even with a given society”.

Chapter 2, “King James and the Sublimation of Aggression”, argues that King James’s “enlightened understanding of male companion­ship was itself a form of religious sublimation and that this expression of religious sublimation played a central role in the commissioning of the translation of the Bible”.

Chapter 3 uses the story of Methuselah to argue that “the exag­gerated ages of men in the Bible are a case of male envy of women’s longevity.” It is proposed that “these feelings of envy may be sublimated through their own assumption of maternal roles toward infants and children.”

Chapter 4 endorses Thomas Szasz’s view “that the sexual revolu­tion of the 1960s dealt a crippling blow to the moral disapproval of masturbation”, and that the effect of this blow “was the displacement of this moral disapproval onto homo­sexuality”.

Chapter 5 examines a study of 11 gay men which advocates “conver­sion” from exclusive homosexuality to exclusive heterosexuality. A final chapter asserts that men, and the Church, are confused about gender because “God is gender confused. . . If God were able to accept a wider range of masculinities, he would be much better off.”

The playful authorial strategy is a failure. Critics will be accused of being po-faced if they do not enjoy the authors’ game. Why make the effort to distinguish between serious analysis, humour, and sheer im­­plausibility? Other questions loom. Is sublimation always a gift? Two chapters, on displacement and God’s confusions, are not about sub­­­limation. Multiple assorted chapters do not give rise to a discus­sion of “multiple mascu­linities” which the subtitle promises.

The connection between the fabrication of male longevity in Genesis and male envy is unlikely to convince. Men are more likely to become more at ease with their masculinity by reflecting on the crucified Christ — and less by ask­ing “playful” questions such as “Was Jesus’s crucifixion a successful suicide attempt by God?”

 

Dr Thatcher is Visiting Professor in the Department of Theo­logy and Religion at the Univers­ity of Exeter.

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