The Gift of Sublimation: A psychoanalytic study of multiple masculinities
Nathan Carlin and Donald Capps
Lutterworth Press £15.25
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.