On Two Contrasting Explorations of Masculinity and What They Tell Us of the Sad Plight of the United States

28Oct07

In a profile included in this month’s Poets & Writers Magazine, Benjamin Percy — a young American genius said to have written the “story of the year” in 2006 — tells us: “I am interested in this new masculinity in today’s society, what distinguishes us as men and as women besides our biology. No longer do men head off into the wilderness to slaughter large animals. No longer do women stay home and tend to the fire and the vittles. It’s more about, I don’t know, going to the gym and lifting so many weights that your veins rip out of your skin like pencils and your muscles are the size of softballs. It’s not earned muscle in that way but why are you doing it? You do it to sort of remember what it used to be to be a man.”

By way of contrast we next turn to an extract from Alan Hollinghurst, the British author of the The Swimming Pool Library: “[Bill, a boxing instructor] was looking forward then, building up his body like a store, a guarantee of his place in the future. Now [twenty or thirty years later] the future had come [and] he still hoarded and packed it. It sat opposite me, massive, gathering bullishly at the shoulders, the open shirt showing a broad V of black hair, the thighs splayed ponderously on the slashed and stitched upholstery of the banquette. I knew I could never love it or want it, but it was an achievement, this armor of useless masculinity.”

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