Sunday, February 26, 2012


The Way of All Flesh was brought to mind because it was mentioned in a play I am reading in.  (It will be reader's theater, local playwright - I am the mild early dementia 65 y/o dad who was a rake in youth and blurts out somewhat sexually inappropriate comments now.  He is also a bit aphasic.  Rather a natural for me, and I have the playwright's permission to make the comic bits broad and the pathos fairly obvious. Set in 1992.

To suggest his character, a visitor is browsing his bookcase and lists titles he sees - a common theatrical device - reminiscing how important it was that such liberating works were available to him when he visited as a teenager:  Coming of Age in Samoa, The Kinsey Report, The Way of All Flesh... I had chuckled at first, thinking that my friend the playwright (my age) was trying to communicate the hollowness and vaguely fraudulent nature of my affable character.  On reflection I doubt that interpretation.  Those three books may be the All-Star list of influential works that turned out to be somewhat fraudulent, yet I think most boomer intellectuals still think of them as true, and culturally important. 

The controversy over the Margaret Mead book. Notice how Wikipedia skirts the issue of whether her story is true in favor of "larger" truth issues, plus calling her critic's motives into question.  Not her motives, though.

Ditto Kinsey. Where do we think data about how quickly prepubescent children are brought to orgasm might come from?

Looking for someone besides myself who had problems with Butler, Theodore Dalrymple (Anthony Daniels), who I greatly admire, has a review that says much of what I did, only more and much better.

Disclaimer:  I am not saying that Mead, Kinsey, and Butler have no truth in them or nothing of importance to say.  Other cultures do have different sexual development patterns and mores than ours; American sexual practice is/was more varied than was politely admitted at the time; many respectable Victorian clergymen might well have been bastards to their family and the whole enterprise deserving to be taken down a few pegs. But there seems to be a great deal of telling people what they want to hear, then congratulating yourself for your courage in saying it.

Which brings up a further cultural point.  Did these writers lead the culture, or did the culture call forth their message?  If Kinsey had not told people that more Americans were doing things only mentioned in hushed tones, would some other work - fictional, scientific, political - have been drawn to the fore to take its place?  If not Mead, would we have found another to indirectly tell ourselves that American sexual values for young people were entirely optional?  I suspect so, as people drew many conclusions from Mead that she did not put forward, as an earlier generation had found things in Freud he was very careful not to have said.

Hmm.  So by my own reasoning, I am being too harsh on them.


Sam L. said...

I knew of the title, but not the book.

I think Butler would have been an avid and perfect supporter at any OWSer encampment.

james said...

No, by your own reasoning you merely suspect you might be being too hard on them.

AFIGrass was on my list of "books I've heard I'm supposed to have read and should probably get around to sometime," but I think I'll shorten the list a little.