Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Man: Psychoanalysis and Masculinity

By Kennedy, David | The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE, June 28, 2012 | Go to article overview

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Man: Psychoanalysis and Masculinity


Kennedy, David, The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE


Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Man: Psychoanalysis and Masculinity. By Donald Moss. Routledge, 176pp, Pounds 80.00 and Pounds 22.99. ISBN 9780415604918 and 4925. Published 22 May 2012

The title of this important book echoes both Wallace Stevens' poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird and Henry Louis Gates Jr's Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man. Like Stevens and Gates, Donald Moss offers multiple perspectives: being a man is not simply a choice to be more or less like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Liberace. Each man has internalised an ideal (which Moss calls "my guy") based on disavowals and refusals of other male bodies and behaviours. Each man's "my guy" is, Moss argues, a "private, personal unconscious fantasy ... derived from elements that are in conscious public circulation". The fact that he arrives at this point on page 18 demonstrates just how far his book intends to travel from familiar arguments about masculinity in crisis or a continuum of masculinities. Indeed, much of this book's importance rests on its implied argument that such ideas are part of an orthodoxy that may now hinder understanding as much as it once assisted it.

Men are surrounded by potential "me"s and "not-me"s. Andrew Spicer's Typical Men: The Representation of Masculinity in Popular British Cinema has shown how cinematic representations of men reproduce categories such as action adventurers, professionals, fools, rebel males and damaged men. These representations go on doing cultural work because everyone knows what these categories' defining characteristics are "supposed" to look like. This, in turn, suggests that each man's masculinity derives from the posing and answering of two related questions: what body and behaviour do I want and need? Which of the publicly available categories are useful to me?

Moss' view of masculinity as a private fantasy constructed from public elements means answers to those questions can never be absolute, and not just because "me, here, now" can only ever be a temporary resting place.

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