Academic journal article Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality

Review of David M. Friedman, A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis

Academic journal article Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality

Review of David M. Friedman, A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis

Article excerpt

Review of David M. Friedman, A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis. (London: Robert Hale, 2003), 282 pp.

Friedman's A Mind of Its Own traces Western man's perception of the penis through different historical periods. In a scholarly manner coupled with a sense of humor, Friedman follows the penis's odyssey through paganism, Judaism and Christianity. The book delves into the etymologies of various daily terms and attributes them to the penis and its peripherals. In "The Demon Rod," the first chapter, Friedman provides an informative account of the cultural history of the penis grounded in myths, tales, legends, literature and language constructs. The reader learns, for instance, that the word "fascination" is derived from "fascinum," a miniature erect penis worn around the neck by teenage Roman children to protect them from the sexual advances of adult males. The reader may be surprised to learn that during the First World War, the Italian prime minister, Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, "wore a fascinum on a bracelet to ensure victory by the Allies" (p. 20).

After the first chapter, the book loses some of its initial immediacy as the focus of the narrative in the second chapter shifts from the penis to particular individuals associated with it. Though the aim is to trace the transformation of the penis from divine and demon rod to a mechanical device "colonized by anatomists" (p. 55), the chapter focuses more on the personal histories and achievements of figures such as da Vinci, Vaselius, Gabriello Fallopio, Regnier Graaf and Roberto Dandelero. In the end, however, the narrative regains its immediacy and sense of humor as Friedman repositions the penis in Melville's narratives and Whitman's poetry.

"The Measuring Stick," the third chapter, is devoted to penis size among white and black men. It ostensibly argues that the large black penis has shaken the white man's ego and sense of manhood. As a result, the white man has demonized the black man's penis, exacting vengeance upon the slightest provocation. The chapter is replete with reports about black men who suffered castration or other genital mutilation at the hands of angry white men.

In spite of the wordiness and repetitions of "The Cigar," the fourth chapter provides insights into the signification of erection, flaccidity, masturbation and circumcision. …

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