Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Reading from Behind: A Cultural Analysis of the Anus

Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Reading from Behind: A Cultural Analysis of the Anus

Article excerpt

Reading from Behind: A Cultural Analysis of the Anus, by Jonathan A. Allan. University of Regina Press, 2016. 288 pp. ISBN: 9780889773844

In writing Reading from Behind: A Cultural Analysis of the Anus, Jonathan Allan has approached a subject having a range of possibilities for puns, snickers and blushed faces, and yet he has created an insightful and intellectually rich cultural tour through one of the most maligned and often neglected parts of our bodies. The anus serves as a common reference in such varied discussions as health and medicine, pornography and sexual positions. It has worked its way into our everyday language, from saying one pulled an idea out of my ass or referring to someone as an asshole to the more threatening use of such language as up yours or the more violent, fuck you! In literature and popular media, the forbidden body part appears in sensual, even erotic, as well as in violent forms such as male-on-male rape or in straight male brag-a-thons about getting one's female partner to submit to doing anal. Yet the experience of anal sexuality also takes place in the context of an expression of tenderness, acceptance, and erotic adventure between lovers, male or female or with oneself. The anus is complex.

In his analysis, Allan suggests implications not just for that anus, but for the way we think and talk about, as well as act upon, our bodies overall. He explores the language, images in literature, art and film, as well as psychanalytical interpretations of the anus and its functions in a way that creates 288 pages of provocative of insight. Allan's writing is filled with "aha" moments as he introduces "anal theory" and provides what amounts to an "anal history" drawing from both historical sources on such topics as the meaning of virginity as applied to the anus, and Freud's near obsession with the anus, which led to his creation of a typology of the anal personality. Allan walks the reader through understanding the place of the anus beyond the body as it shows up as part of our public discourse and, indeed, public policy (think of the U.S. history of laws forbidding anal intercourse, even between a male and female, let alone two males). This book is about the meaningmaking we do concerning our bodies overall, the body sexual, the body social and the body politic.

Allan's gift as a writer and scholar is that he knows how to invite the reader into a story about the anus that is highly approachable and at times intensely theoretical. He draws from an exceptional range of cultural analysis, critical theory and psychoanalytical sources, and still manages to make this just plain fun to read. Topics in Reading from Behind range from an explanation of why theorizing the anus is important and yet so under-represented in the literature, to understanding the anus in relationship to virginity, men's fears of penetration, and its representation as the basis for gay male oppression (and straight male fears) and how the anus informs misogyny, homophobia and femiphobia.

After reading this work one comes to realize the anus has been hidden in full view - seldom truly analyzed but always present how we talk (and fail to talk) about the body. The anus and its representation has a lot to say about sexuality and power. It is used (the anus) to invite forbidden pleasure, represented in reference to dirtiness and sin assigned to that body part, as well as displaying positions of dominance and submission in relationships. …

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