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?