Review of Stefan Horlacher, Masculinities. Konzeptionen Von Mannlichkeit Im Werk Von Thomas Hardy Und D. H. Lawrence

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Review of Stefan Horlacher, Masculinities. Konzeptionen von Mannlichkeit im Werk von Thomas Hardy und D. H. Lawrence [Masculinities: Conceptions of Masculinity in the Works of Thomas Hardy and D. H. Lawrence] (Tubingen: Gunter Narr, 2006), vi + 721 pp.

Stefan Horlacher's magisterial study of conceptions of masculinity in the works of Thomas Hardy and D. H. Lawrence proceeds from two initial observations: first, Horlacher suggests that contemporary social and cultural phenomena such as drug-abuse and violence by and among men, or the success story of Viagra, or, for another example, the co-existence in popular culture of icons of masculinity as divergent as Michael Jackson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, can be traced back to fundamental insecurities regarding traditional masculine role models and identities. However, in his analyses of, centrally, Thomas Hardy's novel Jude the Obscure and D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, Horlacher argues that the authors of these two novels and their contemporaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were as troubled by gender as their late 20th and early 21st century descendants, and that their texts both reflect complex processes of male identity formation, and create spaces in which solutions to problems of identity formation can be imagined. If, as Horlacher, following Stephen Greenblatt and Clifford Geertz, argues, culture can be regarded as textual in nature, and if an individual's experience, including his or her sexual identity, is always and invariably mediated by language, then a literary text can, and does, offer privileged first-hand insight into the human mind.

Horlacher's second observation is less general in nature and serves to situate his own work in the contexts of, on the one hand, traditional literary criticism and, on the other, Men's Studies. While literary scholars have always been interested in male fictional characters, they do not, as yet, consistently read them as historically variable cultural constructs, although, under the twin influences of initially Women's and later Gender Studies, they have learned to do so with regard to female fictional characters; hence, male fictional characters, Horlacher contends, are still often seen as representing universal human norms. In Men's Studies, of course, scholars do not subscribe to this universalistic view, but conceive of the male subject as decentered, and stress the performative aspects of gender; however, they do not, by and large, employ the vocabulary of literary criticism, or draw on literary theory. Horlacher's plea, therefore is for an interdisciplinary approach to literary representations of masculinity, an approach which would integrate components from Men's Studies, Gender Studies, Cultural Studies, history, cultural anthropology, sociology, psychoanalysis, deconstructionism, and New Historicism. His own approach is, indeed, broadly interdisciplinary in nature, though there is a distinct, and perhaps inevitable, bias towards the theoretical frameworks of psychoanalysis and deconstructionism, specifically, towards the theories of Lacan and Derrida. …