Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

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“Macho’s Just Not In Style Right Now”

with 4 comments

Maybe I am just posting this because I enjoy anything casting an even slightly negative light on Dave Eggers’ brand of innocence and whimsy (which I detest):

The current sexual style is more childlike; innocence is more fashionable than virility, the cuddle preferable to sex. Prototypical is a scene in Dave Eggers’s road trip novel, “You Shall Know Our Velocity,” where the hero leaves a disco with a woman and she undresses and climbs on top of him, and they just lie there: “Her weight was the ideal weight and I was warm and wanted her to be warm”; or the relationship in Benjamin Kunkel’s “Indecision”: “We were sleeping together brother-sister style and mostly refraining from outright sex.”

… Rather than an interest in conquest or consummation, there is an obsessive fascination with trepidation, and with a convoluted, postfeminist second-guessing.

Or maybe Kate Roiphe has a point. I haven’t read enough Mailer and Roth and all the rest to know. Perhaps today’s youngish male novelists just feel more comfortable expressing anxiousness about sexual conquest and masculinity, a comfort not allowed in the 1950s and 60s from our Hemingway-descendant men?

But what about F. Scott? He’s surely more an ancestor of the Eggers/Kunkel/Chabon line than the others. I can’t think of any particular passages – perhaps if I were a better blogger, I would look – but Fitzgerald was surely never a paragon of sexual conquest and bravado. Maybe there were always two templates. Yes/no?

My first impulse is to also disagree with this:

The younger writers are so self-­conscious, so steeped in a certain kind of liberal education, that their characters can’t condone even their own sexual impulses; they are, in short, too cool for sex. Even the mildest display of male aggression is a sign of being overly hopeful, overly earnest or politically un­toward.

There must be some younger male writers not writing about sex in this whimsical, anxious, navel-gazing way? But I can’t think of any (straight male writers, that is; gay male writers, or women writers are a different story). Help me out? I asked my boyfriend, just now. “South American writers,” he said (there are some lovely sex scenes in our beloved Alejandro Zambra’s Bonsai). “But not here. Writing about sex will always be macho, and macho’s just not in style right now.”

I agree with (and lament?) the latter part of that sentence, not necessarily the middle.


Written by Elizabeth

January 9, 2010 at 12:20 pm

4 Responses

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  1. This was one of those essays that was just so high-minded and just so literary pretentious that it was hard to care, and I like Katie Roiphe. I’m not well enough versed in 1950s and 1960s literature to compare, though I’m familiar with most of the contemporary stuff. I’m inclined to agree with you on the two templates and the fact that the culture has shifted so that those who aren’t macho are able to express themselves fully; then again, that Michael Cera-y style is in vogue. So whatever.


    January 10, 2010 at 1:59 am

  2. Haha. I like your ending there (So whatever). That’s kind of how I felt about the whole thing. Like, this is kind of interesting, but everybody’s taking it very seriously and blog arguing about it and, you know, it’s just Katie Roiphe being Katie Roiphe ..


    January 11, 2010 at 1:11 pm

  3. The rundown is that our choices lie between an old guard of male writers who wrote macho, conquest-minded sex scenes, and the younger generation who wring their hands in guilt about even broaching the subject, as if sex were always synonymous with exploitation. The charts in this article are devoid of any words like “pleasure,” & that shouldn’t be glossed over. I don’t think the problem lies between generations as it does with American culture and how it frames sex. In this article, we’re stuck with a definition of sex as something done TO someone rather than WITH someone. And that kind of sex is not only subject to the tired old puritanical sin/transgression/guilt trope, it’s also very boring. In other words, it’s a very Anglo-Saxon way of looking at sex. Oh, how we’ve strayed from the brave example of Whitman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calamus_%28poem%29)!


    January 11, 2010 at 3:44 pm

  4. I’ve been a feminist since I was aware of the very notion of gender difference. Yet I can’t help but feel that there simply isn’t a satisfactory middle ground for many women that men can occupy, when it comes to romantic and sexual aggression. This really may be one of those mythical situations where men just can’t win. And I can imagine the howls were I to say such a thing on a ladyblog, the immediate insistence that I am not a feminist. But, honestly, I think many, many men just don’t know how the fuck to proceed anymore.


    January 12, 2010 at 3:32 pm

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