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dogma in doggerel
on 23 April 2014
Is it genius or is it psychobabble? A bit of both. The general ideas, about the problems of defining male roles and the male psyche in the modern world, are good; I'm pleased that, in reacting against the Soft Male, it doesn't go running all the way back to Captain Caveman. When it tries to get too much out of the Iron John story, though, it does veer towards New Age cobblers. There's the mixture of over-interpretation, dubious factoids and pat psychology you expect in self-help books (which is essentially what this is), plus a lot of neo-pagan flotsam thrown in. And what are Bly's practical suggestions? Shout out in the middle of a conversation, or do a little dance. Un-pre-dictable! (Like Vector in Despicable Me.)
Actually I think Bly goes wrong right at the start of his fable. The 'golden ball', the secret of a whole life, is not found in the world of grown-up masculinity or femininity; those are only substitutes and distractions, albeit necessary ones for the continuation of the species. Mistaking them for the goal is like thinking your day job is your entire life. No, it's in something we already have before all that, lose sight of (most of us) in puberty, and may have a chance to recover in later life. It follows that, for the menopausal men who are likely to read this book, 'getting in touch with the Wild Man' is not the answer; they should be looking for something far beyond that. Bly mentions Enkidu in the Gilgamesh story - but doesn't seem to notice that his role is not to stay a Wild Man in the woods, but to go to the City and join Gilgamesh in his quest for meaning.
In fact the main value of this is maybe not so much to help grownups evaluate their own lives, as to make them think about how they deal with any young lads they may be responsible for. Liberal parents (of the type who would rather buy their son tin pacifists than tin soldiers) could do worse than bear its ideas in mind. It's an interesting read for those intrigued by the collective unconscious and all that jazz; just don't take the detail too seriously. Did Bly in fact write it as an excuse to publicise some of his bloody awful poetry? There's so much of it in some passages, it really is off-putting. Anyway, poetry is more the territory of that soppy Soft Male than the Wild Man, isn't it?