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Castration: An Abbreviated History of Western Manhood [Paperback]

Gary Taylor
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 25 2002 0415938813 978-0415938815 1
Castration is a lively history of the meaning, function, and act of castration from its place in the early church to its secular reinvention in the Renaissance as a spiritualized form of masculinity in its 20th century position at the core of psychoanalysis.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Early in this absorbing treatise on the changing nature of manhood in Western culture, English professor Taylor remarks, "This is a specter that has haunted men for centuries: the fear that manhood will become, or has already become, obsolete, superfluous, ridiculous, at best quaint, at worst disgusting." Nowhere, he contends, is this specter more obvious than in the cringing reaction most men have to the word "castration." In this book, Taylor uses an imaginative analysis of the history and purposes of castration to examine the cultural construct of masculinityDspecifically in relation to reproduction. Equally comfortable discussing the implications of pop singer Tori Amos's lyrics as he is reinterpreting the antisexual writings of church fathers Justin Martyr, Clement and Tertullian or Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Taylor gracefully guides the reader through carefully constructed arguments that go so far as to declare that, in some times and cultures, being a eunuch is a social advantage. In a feat of bravura literary criticism, he uses a detailed explication of Thomas Middleton's obscure but important 1624 play A Game of Chess (a metaphysical commentary on the Reformation) as the centerpiece of his many-pronged cultural investigationDa move that is both audacious and illuminating. But while Taylor's expertise as a Renaissance scholar shines here, he shrewdly and subtly links the play's concerns to such varied historical events as the history of psychoanalysis and sexual racism toward blacks and Jews. Though of primary interest to literary scholars and historians of sexuality, this work will also reward sophisticated general readers with its wit (including a cover depicting the upper torso and wincing head of a Greek male statue) and insight. (Nov. 30)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

...the good news is that Taylor is riveting on Middleton. ...Taylor knows his stuff... -- Rowan Pelling, New Statesman
The journey is entertaining and informativie... -- Rowan Pelling, New Statesman
...Taylor seems as cheerily loony as his title. His prose style springs from the groovy prof school of writing, so Abelard and Foucault are quoted alongside Christina Aguilera and Tori Amos... -- Rowan Pelling, New Statesman
Not for purists; great fun for anyone else. -- Choice, M.J. Emery, Cottey College
An absorbing treatise on the changing nature of manhood in Western culture. that uses a wide range of literature to explore male fears. It will reward sophisticated general readers with its wit and insight. -- Publishers Weekly
[An] absorbing treatise on the changing nature of manhood in Western culture. In this book, Taylor uses an imaginative analysis of the history and purposes of castration to examine the cultural construct of masculinity -specifically in relation to reproduction. Equally comfortable discussing the implications of pop singer Tori Amos's lyrics as he is reinterpreting the anti-sexual writings of church fathers Justin Martyr, Clement and Tertullian or Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Taylor gracefully guides the reader through carefully constructed arguments that go so far as to declare that, in some times and cultures, being a eunich is a social advantage. -- Publishers Weekly
(continued) In a feat of bravura literary criticism, he uses a detailed explication of Thomas Middleton's obscure but important 1624 play A Game of Chess. as the centerpiece of his many-pronged cultural investigation - a move that is both audacious and illuminating. But while Taylor's expertise as a Renaissance scholar shines here, he shrewdly and subtly links the play's concerns to such varied historical events as the history of psychoanalysis and sexual racism toward blacks and Jews. Though of primary interest to literary scholars and historians of sexuality, this work will also reward sophisticated general readers with its wit. and insight. -- Publishers Weekly
This dense, scholarly yet thoroughly entertaining book examines the uses of castration... along with thousands of years' worth of popular attitudes about the male genitals. Taylor posits that understanding what it means to be biologically unmanned is an excellent way to understand what it means to be a man. You don't need to be enthusiastic about this thesis -- or even to be male -- to find Castration terrific reading. -- Salon
A passionate, provocative history of ideas about male sexuality--and the best account of castration you're ever likely to read. -- Maggie Paley, author of The Book of the Penis
Gary Taylor's Castration is learned, provocative, and surprisingly persuasive. It is entirely characteristic of its author, at once polemical and reasonable, historically detailedand wildly imaginative. I found it endlessly informative and compulsively readable. -- Stephen Orgel
Taylor's writing is academic in the best sense -- well-researched and unapologetically informed (and opinionated) about both high and popular culture. This isn't USA Today-style speculation about trends and people. Taylor's ideas are so well-reasoned that the reader is gladly seduced into following each argument as far as it goes. Taylor's uxtaposition of history, culture, and psychology, along with his comfort about sexuality, breaks new ground here. The reader's relationship to genitalia -- his/her own and others' -- is forever changed after reading this excellent book. By examining sexuality in its historical context, crucial for understanding other civilizations, he makes the arbitrariness of our own erotic beliefs startlingly visible. - Marty Klein, Ph.D Libido: the Journal of Sex and Sensibility.
Taylor has written a thoroughly engaging and witty account of the history and misconceptions of castration... Castration provides a useful, original, lively, and long overdue look at one of mankind;s most essential physical and cultural components. -Virginia Quarterly Review.

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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
3.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Unique History of Eunuchs Dec 25 2000
Format:Hardcover
According to Gary Taylor in _Castration: An Abbreviated History of Western Manhood_ (Routledge) a castrated man is just what some women would want, and have wanted for centuries. This is bound to sound peculiar to those in the twentieth century raised on Freud, or more recently those who have followed the follies of John and Lorena Bobbitt, but before Freud, castration always meant removal of the testicles, never removal of the penis. It was reproduction that was important then, and the "stones" were what mattered. Now that we have reproduced entirely enough, the "scepter" is more important. Sex for pleasure is now more vital than sex for reproduction.
Eunuchs, just like oxen, were useful. They guarded the harems, for one job, but power in the bedchamber within some societies became legal or military power. A eunuch had no testicles, but had enough genitalia left to play games in the harem. Jesus spoke highly of eunuchs, and Taylor makes the case that he was speaking literally. Augustine, however, insisted that Jesus's words were an allegory to promote priestly celibacy.
Taylor is a Shakespearean scholar (the editor of the Oxford Shakespeare), and in a show of scholarly breadth cites plenty of the Bard, but cites also other Elizabethan playwrights as well as Tori Amos and Christina Aguilera. Funny, provocative, scholarly, and decidedly offbeat, _Castration_ is a witty tour-de-force.
Was this review helpful to you?
1.0 out of 5 stars What a real Eunuch has to say. Aug. 2 2001
Format:Hardcover
I have not read this book but I am a real life Eunuch. I had my testicles surgically removed. In an Interview on Salon.com the author says "Castration does not get rid of the sexual drive, get rid of erections or any amount of sexual activity." WRONG!!! How would he know any way? He is NOT a Eunuch. He has had a vasectomy but that is totally different. I can speak from experience; when a man becomes a eunuch his sex drive drops to absolute zero. I had a very strong sex drive prior to castration but it is now completely gone. The only way for a Eunuch to regain his sex drive is to take some form of testosterone replacement. I have never heard of any real life Eunuch who was not on testosterone replacement therapy that had a sex drive. Don't waste your time on this book; the author obviously didn't do enough, if any research. If you want to learn about Eunuchs then search the web. There are a lot of us out there, and our numbers are growing.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars True Testimony: "Castration" is a Great Book April 2 2002
By Mannix
Format:Hardcover
Gary Taylor's "Castration" is an endlessly fascinating, provocative, and highly entertaining exploration not only of the history of the unkindest cut but of the evolving meaning of manhood from ancient times to the present, and even into the future. Scrupulously scholarly and challenging, the book is nevertheless actually fun to read. Drawing extensively on literature, religion, and psychology, Taylor methodically examines the evolution of castration and its relationship to agriculture, faith, race, gender, and science. I found his analysis of the passage from Matthew's Gospel where Jesus addresses the topic of eunuchs to be especially enlightening. Did Christ really salute self-made eunuchs? Was he really anti-family? This book will not fail to teach you, provoke you, and force you to reconsider your ideas about what manhood means.
Was this review helpful to you?
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Funny Nor History June 29 2003
Format:Paperback
If you wish to read something for entertainment's sake, then this book will suffice. Written by an English Professor, this book lacks the sort of critical thought those of us in the science deptartments want for. Purportedly an 'Abbreviated History Of Western Manhood,' it is rather an exercise in academic arcana - an attempt to think of something through its opposite or, in this case, its abuse. One is hardly compelled to reconsider ideas about what manhood means. There is nothing in Taylor's "treatise" to support such nonsense as, "This is a specter that has haunted men for centuries: the fear that manhood will become, or has already become, obsolete, superfluous, ridiculous, at best quaint, at worst disgusting." Really? In whose misandrist manifesto? The concept "Western Man" is, after all, just that - a concept. There is no such unified and homogeneous group and no such "specter" has haunted it for so long. That men should cringe at the word castration is less a mystery than than why women should fear rape. Taylor's analysis of the history and purposes of castration shed less light on the "cultural construct of masculinity" than on the sadistic sexual abuse and humiliation with which males can be threatened and subjugated. Taylor's treatment of castration is typically immature so his readers may think him funny or witty. Today's attitudes toward manhood and males are best understood in terms of our lacking moral sympathies toward them. Taylor's book is no exception. We are not a generation influenced by Freud so much as by feminism. The historical abuse and mutilation of women is a subject deadly serious and pertinent to us while the sexual abuse and humiliation of men is treated like something that never happened - a fictional interpretation - something to be mocked and made light of. Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.0 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
23 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Unique History of Eunuchs Dec 25 2000
By R. Hardy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
According to Gary Taylor in _Castration: An Abbreviated History of Western Manhood_ (Routledge) a castrated man is just what some women would want, and have wanted for centuries. This is bound to sound peculiar to those in the twentieth century raised on Freud, or more recently those who have followed the follies of John and Lorena Bobbitt, but before Freud, castration always meant removal of the testicles, never removal of the penis. It was reproduction that was important then, and the "stones" were what mattered. Now that we have reproduced entirely enough, the "scepter" is more important. Sex for pleasure is now more vital than sex for reproduction.
Eunuchs, just like oxen, were useful. They guarded the harems, for one job, but power in the bedchamber within some societies became legal or military power. A eunuch had no testicles, but had enough genitalia left to play games in the harem. Jesus spoke highly of eunuchs, and Taylor makes the case that he was speaking literally. Augustine, however, insisted that Jesus's words were an allegory to promote priestly celibacy.
Taylor is a Shakespearean scholar (the editor of the Oxford Shakespeare), and in a show of scholarly breadth cites plenty of the Bard, but cites also other Elizabethan playwrights as well as Tori Amos and Christina Aguilera. Funny, provocative, scholarly, and decidedly offbeat, _Castration_ is a witty tour-de-force.
2.0 out of 5 stars A different kind of topic Aug. 14 2013
By Tall Paul - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I found it a rather useless book. Didn't catch what it was rellay trying to portray. Not worth bothering with.
39 of 61 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What a real Eunuch has to say. Aug. 2 2001
By The Real Eunuch - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I have not read this book but I am a real life Eunuch. I had my testicles surgically removed. In an Interview on Salon.com the author says "Castration does not get rid of the sexual drive, get rid of erections or any amount of sexual activity." WRONG!!! How would he know any way? He is NOT a Eunuch. He has had a vasectomy but that is totally different. I can speak from experience; when a man becomes a eunuch his sex drive drops to absolute zero. I had a very strong sex drive prior to castration but it is now completely gone. The only way for a Eunuch to regain his sex drive is to take some form of testosterone replacement. I have never heard of any real life Eunuch who was not on testosterone replacement therapy that had a sex drive. Don't waste your time on this book; the author obviously didn't do enough, if any research. If you want to learn about Eunuchs then search the web. There are a lot of us out there, and our numbers are growing.
13 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly nonsense June 29 2003
By Martin L. Bring - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you wish to read something for entertainment's sake, then this book will suffice. Written by an English Professor, this book lacks the sort of critical thought those of us in the science deptartments want for. Purportedly an 'Abbreviated History Of Western Manhood,' it is rather an exercise in academic arcana - an attempt to think of something through its opposite or, in this case, its abuse. One is hardly compelled to reconsider ideas about what manhood means. There is nothing in Taylor's "treatise" to support such nonsense as, "This is a specter that has haunted men for centuries: the fear that manhood will become, or has already become, obsolete, superfluous, ridiculous, at best quaint, at worst disgusting." Really? In whose misandrist manifesto? The concept "Western Man" is, after all, just that - a concept. There is no such unified and homogeneous group and no such "specter" has haunted it for so long. That men should cringe at the word castration is less a mystery than than why women should fear rape. In short, Taylor's analysis of the history and purposes of castration sheds less light on the "cultural construct of masculinity" than on the sadistic sexual abuse and humiliation with which males can be threatened and subjugated. That some of his readers find him witty or funny at times is only because Taylor's treatment of his subject is often sophmoric.

In my view, today's attitudes toward manhood and males are best understood in terms of our lacking moral sympathies toward them. Taylor's book is no exception. We are not a generation influenced by Freud so much as by feminism. Thus, the historical abuse and mutilation of women is a subject deadly serious and pertinent to us while the sexual abuse and humiliation of men is treated like something that never happened - that is, something we've misconstured, or, in Tayor's case, given a fictional reinterpretation, mocked and trivalized. Taylor's ignorant belief (not first person, of course) about the sexual prowess of eunuchs is one case in point. Another case in point is Tayor's view that for most of western history castration was a mark of power and divinity and, as the ultimate abrogation of sexual desire, had wide spread currency among Christian metaphysicians. This is nonsense. Taylor is arguing anecdotally to his own foregone conclusions. He wasn't there to take any polls. No doubt, some Christian cults managed to appropriate practices of sexual mutilation already in place - just as Christian nihilism helped to make slavery seem worthy. This did not, however, make such practices any more agreeable as hardly anyone wanted to suffer either condition themselves. In any case, the spiritualized feelings attained by some Christian monks through self mutilation would have appalled the Greeks - the paragons of western civilization - as it has most men throughout all of human history.

Taylor's book about castration will score a few points for the concept of cultural relativism on a subject that now seems, at best, uncontroversial or, at worst, comic to the immature. Should he chose to write volumes exploring the gamut of humanity's attitudes regarding every other form of sexual nastiness, he will no doubt find endless tolerance to be feted as well. Would he dare?
7 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True Testimony: "Castration" is a Great Book April 2 2002
By Mannix - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Gary Taylor's "Castration" is an endlessly fascinating, provocative, and highly entertaining exploration not only of the history of the unkindest cut but of the evolving meaning of manhood from ancient times to the present, and even into the future. Scrupulously scholarly and challenging, the book is nevertheless actually fun to read. Drawing extensively on literature, religion, and psychology, Taylor methodically examines the evolution of castration and its relationship to agriculture, faith, race, gender, and science. I found his analysis of the passage from Matthew's Gospel where Jesus addresses the topic of eunuchs to be especially enlightening. Did Christ really salute self-made eunuchs? Was he really anti-family? This book will not fail to teach you, provoke you, and force you to reconsider your ideas about what manhood means.
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