Impotence: A Cultural History

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University of Chicago Press, Sep 15, 2008 - Medical - 350 pages
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As anyone who has watched television in recent years can attest, we live in the age of Viagra. From Bob Dole to Mike Ditka to late-night comedians, our culture has been engaged in one long, frank, and very public talk about impotence—and our newfound pharmaceutical solutions. But as Angus McLaren shows us in Impotence, the first cultural history of the subject, the failure of men to rise to the occasion has been a recurrent topic since the dawn of human culture.

Drawing on a dazzling range of sources from across centuries, McLaren demonstrates how male sexuality was constructed around the idea of potency, from times past when it was essential for the purpose of siring children, to today, when successful sex is viewed as a component of a healthy emotional life. Along the way, Impotence enlightens and fascinates with tales of sexual failure and its remedies—for example, had Ditka lived in ancient Mesopotamia, he might have recited spells while eating roots and plants rather than pills—and explanations, which over the years have included witchcraft, shell-shock, masturbation, feminism, and the Oedipal complex. McLaren also explores the surprising political and social effects of impotence, from the revolutionary unrest fueled by Louis XVI’s failure to consummate his marriage to the boost given the fledgling American republic by George Washington’s failure to found a dynasty. Each age, McLaren shows, turns impotence to its own purposes, using it to help define what is normal and healthy for men, their relationships, and society.

From marraige manuals to metrosexuals, from Renaissance Italy to Hollywood movies, Impotence is a serious but highly entertaining examination of a problem that humanity has simultaneously regarded as life’s greatest tragedy and its greatest joke.

 

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Impotence: a cultural history

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McLaren (history, Univ. of Victoria, B.C;The Trials of Masculinity: Studies in the Policing of Sexual Boundaries, 1870-1930 ) follows up his earlier studies on human fertility with this lively ... Read full review

Contents

The Impenetrable Penetrator
1
When Desire Refuses Service
25
The Infirmity of Others
50
Shameful to Wives Ridiculous for Husbands and Unworthy of Tribunals
77
Neurasthenia Decadence and NineteenthCentury Manhood
101
Marketing Manly Vigor
126
Sigmund Freud Marie Stopes and The Love of Civilized Man
149
Sex Glands Rejuvenation and Eugenics Between the Wars
181
The Impotence Boom
208
Viagra
235
Conclusion
263
Notes
267
Index
319
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About the author (2008)

Angus McLaren is professor of history at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, and the author of several books, including The Trials of Masculinity: Studies in the Policing of Sexual Boundaries, 1870–1930 and Sexual Blackmail: A Modern History, the former published by the University of Chicago Press.

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