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A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis Paperback – January 28, 2003
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David M. Friedman's A Mind of Its Own is a cultural examination of the penis, from ancient Sumer to the present. Friedman convincingly suggests that humankind's various and contradictory attitudes toward the penis have been instrumental in mapping the course of both Western civilization and world history.
Friedman begins with pagan attitudes: ancient Greeks considered the penis a measure of a man's proximity to "divine power," while the Romans, whose generals were known to promote soldiers based on penis size, saw it as an indicator of earthly strength. Thanks to the spread of Christianity, the "sacred staff became the demon rod"--a fearful manifestation of the devil. Theology gave way, grudgingly, to science. In the Renaissance, anatomical discoveries allowed for the possibility that this "agent of death" was, in fact, only a "blameless instrument of reproduction." Subsequent chapters discuss the penis's role as a racial yardstick; its "defining role in human personality" as asserted by Freud; its politicization; and finally, through the likes of Viagra, its objectification as a "thing ... impervious to religious teachings, psychological insights, racial stereotypes and feminist criticism."
Friedman's study of what he calls the "symbolic muscle" is filled with fascinating side trips (castration cults, ancient graffiti, the anti-masturbation "semen-retention movement," aphrodisiacs through the ages, and, to modern eyes, risible medical practices with the likes of monkey glands), as well as a rich cast of characters (Leonardo da Vinci, John Kellogg of cornflake fame, Kate Millet, Clarence Thomas, and Walt Whitman). The book is informal, but well researched (and documented), entertaining but not cute, wide-ranging but not sketchy, and simultaneously irreverent and respectful. --H. O'Billovitch --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
"Over time, the penis has been deified, demonized, secularized, racialized, psychoanalyzed, politicized and, finally, medicalized," declares freelance journalist Friedman in a serious yet entertaining book that weaves together an enormous amount of material. In the Greek and Roman worlds, statues of figures with erections were commonplace, he observes, though by the Christian era, the penis had become a source of evil and weakness. Doctors and scientists from da Vinci onward "deflat[ed] the religious rhetoric" and scrutinized the male organ sometimes with untoward results, as when American "semen science" led to the creation of antimasturbation products such as Graham crackers. Western man's fear of the African phallus undergirded colonialism and slavery, and resonates to this day, Friedman argues, as was evident in the case of Clarence Thomas. If some of Freud's case histories might be questioned, Friedman notes how the psychoanalytic interpretation enduringly places the penis and associated anxieties at the fulcrum of society. The rise of feminism put the penis in its place, as The Hite Report pointed out the limits of conventional intercourse in moving women to orgasm, and as Andrea Dworkin exposed penile pathology though the author concludes that male sexuality arises more out of evolutionary strategy than misogyny. His final and liveliest chapter concerns the medicalization of the penis, culminating in Viagra. Even though Friedman quotes a (female) sex therapist on the limits of such drugs, he concludes optimistically that "the erection industry" has performed a paradigm shift, allowing man to impose his will below his belt. The book has a few gaps -- there's little about the gay penis -- but it should reign as the seminal treatment of this topic (and inspire many more puns).
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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"A man can hold his manhood in his hand, but who is really gripping whom?" The book is worth it for this Big Question alone.
As a retired priest I was a bit surprised that Friedman was spot on with the Roman Catholic theologian, Augustine:
"Augustine, the sainted Bishop of Hippo, found his answer sixteen centuries ago in a man's lack of control. It was a proof of man's alienation from the sacred, and a punishment for Adam's insult of God in Eden that original sin passed from one generation to the next through semen. In a culture where the Virgin symbolized all that was pure, the penis stood for all that was evil. What defined Mary's sanctity was her lack of contact with a penis."
This book seems as much poetry, humor and history as it is a polemic. Are you an all power to the penis type person? Then read this book. I'm glad I bought it.
Friedman presented how the penis was viewed, throughout history, through various lens: historical, social, religious, psychological, medical and feminist. My only problem with this book was that the last half was mostly medical (Freud, psychology, psychoanalysis, penile reconstruction, testicular transplants, impotence, etc.). So, the end became a little dry.
There were a lot of information and tidbits that I didn't know about the penis. I'm sure that we're familiar about the Greek and Roman's view on and culture around the penis. However, there are so much more to know about these people. The pagan and the religious views were interesting as well. It was amazing to see that the early Christians had numerous dialogues on the penis, especially the semen.
I was very interested in reading about the history of the correlation between penis size and race. This wasn't about how a race or an ethnic group have been stereotyped on their penis size. It was more about the white view of the black penis and how they responded to it.
The feminist view on the penis was enlightening. I've always wanted to know exactly how it started and it pretty much made sense. However, it was interesting to see how the penis have divided women among themselves, despite them being avowed feminists.
I think there are so much more that Friedman could have covered in the cultural history of the penis. I wish that Friedman had included the pop cultural view of the penis. I can only think of one example that Friedman did. He mentioned Robert Mapplethorne's (sp?) (who was gay) controversial photo of a semi-erect black penis. Speaking of gay, I'm surprised that Friedman didn't bring up the homosexual view of the penis.
Nonetheless, you're going to read about so many people who have made a contribution or an impact on the penis. Such people are Da Vinci, Thomas Clarence, Freud and so many more. If you've always been curious how the penis have been viewed throughout history, then this book is for you.
From demon rod, to gear shift, to holiest of holies, an interesting look at the male fascination with his own genital organs in all their complexity...lol.
Most recent customer reviews
I am not positive -- but this must be from a dissertation -- it is extensive, beautiful, irreverent, and makes fun of itself a lot.Read more