Thursday, February 09, 2006

A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis, by David Friedman

The title of this book suggests it’s one of those novelty books that you buy as a gag for someone. The title, I presume, comes from Da Vinci’s ruminations that the penis behaves independently of its owner. An entire book devoted to the penis? This is a kind of interesting book, but not really a compelling read.

There were sections, like on the discovery of sperm, that I felt my eyes glazing over. Plus the long last chapter on Viagra and the goal of creating erections on demand I found a bit dull. If you had a scientific mind you might find these sections of interest. For me, I preferred the bits on Freud, Da Vinci and racism.

In short, I guess you might shout ‘sex’ to grab everyone’s attention, but once you talk about it for too long, and in such detail, it’s bound to get boring. Maybe pornographer Larry Flynt is right, the only way to get people’s minds off sex is to give them more than they could possibly want, then they’ll be begging off soon enough.

Here’s my quick chapter summary:

The Demon Rod.

This chapter describes the religious, mainly Christian view, of the penis as the work of the devil. Most witches often testified to having seen the devil’s penis – and what a whopper it usually was.

The Gear Shift

Da Vinci here rules the day. His scientific approach, cutting up bodies to find nature’s secrets, brings a breakthrough. Not air, or wind causes erections, but blood. Nice drawings too from Da Vinci, although he botched it slightly by drawing two tubes within the penis – one for urine, one for semen.

The Measuring Stick

This is all about the African penis. Is it the longest? The superior length of the coloured man’s penis was thought evidence, by the white man, of his moral depravity. African man was closer to animal than human. I liked how the author also took photographer Robert Mapplethorpe to task for his photographs of black men, saying he was no better than whites of a hundred years ago.

The Cigar

Freud and the penis. Perhaps enough said. He underwent a vasectomy because he believed it gave you a more potent sexuality. Nuts.

The Battering Ram

The second wave of feminism, and its opinion of the penis as a violent battering ram. You probably know enough about this too. Here are the key writers: Andrea Dworkin, Kate Millett, Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, Shere Hite. Oh, and their arch nemesis, Normal Mailer. Remember the famous debate between Mailer and Greer? I wish we could get that on DVD.

The Puncture Proof Balloon.

Viagra, Viagra, Viagra. Apparently, scientists aren’t fully aware of the drug's possible side effects later down the track. Personally, I can’t think of anything more ridiculous than an old man, way past his prime, taking Viagra. Look at Hugh Heffner, in his seventies with all those young girlfriends. Well, I guess he seems happy enough.

Hmmm. This book kind of left me with an empty feeling. Don’t bother with it, unless you are penis obsessed. Read Freud and Da Vinci instead. And study the history of racism. Your time would be spent more profitably I think.

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