Saturday, March 18, 2006

Manly Man Mansfield

Walter Kirn in the NYTimes has an awesome review of the book "Manliness" by Harvey C. "Manly" Mansfield
After a section on the history of "the great explosion of manliness that took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries"(an image that gives even me, a straight man, erotic chills), it's time for Mansfield to stop preheating the oven and cook up the geese he's already got trussed and cleaned: the feminists. Remember the feminists? These would be the late Betty Friedan and the even later Simone de Beauvoir, along with the somewhat more recent, but not very recent, Kate Millet, Germaine Greer and so on.

These thinkers are all somewhat different from one another, Mansfield carefully shows, but they also have something profound in common: they stole their best ideas, by and large, from two great men. From Marx they pilfered their economic theories. From Nietzsche they swiped their "nihilism." For Mansfield, nihilism is the idea that in a godless universe people are free to invent their own identities. At least I think that's what he means. Next to "manly," "nihilism" is Mansfield's favorite word, and it shows up in such a variety of contexts, attached to so many names and objects, that he might as well have rendered it as "X," as in: Simone de Beauvoir + all those other gals + the fact that they're female + the notion that "becoming manlike is a strange way of proving you are independent of men (ladylike would seem to be a better way)" = X.