Aristotle believed semen to be the purest of all bodily secretions, a vehicle for the spirit or psyche that gives form to substance. For Proust’s narrator in Swann’s Way, waking to find he has experienced a nocturnal emission, it is the product of “some misplacing of my thigh.” The heavy metal band Metallica used it to adorn an album cover. Beyond its biological function, semen has been applied with surprising frequency to metaphorical and narratological purposes.
In Images of Bliss, Murat Aydemir undertakes an original and extensive analysis of images of male orgasm and semen. In a series of detailed case studies—Aristotle’s On the Generation of Animals; Andres Serrano’s use of bodily fluids in his art; paintings by Holbein and Leonardo; Proust’s In Search of Lost Time; hard-core pornography (both straight and gay); and key texts from the poststructuralist canon, including Lacan on the phallus, Bataille on expenditure, Barthes on bliss, and Derrida on dissemination—Aydemir traces the complex and often contradictory possibilities for imagination, description, and cognition that both the idea and the reality of semen make available. In particular, he foregrounds the significance of male ejaculation for masculine subjectivity. More often than not, Aydemir argues, the event or object of ejaculation emerges as the instance through which identity, meaning, and gender are not so much affirmed as they are relentlessly and productively questioned, complicated, and displaced.
Combining close readings of diverse works with subtle theoretical elaboration and a keen eye for the cultural ideals and anxieties attached to sexuality, Images of Bliss offers a convincing and long overdue critical exploration of ejaculation in Western culture.
Murat Aydemir is assistant professor of comparative literature at the University of Amsterdam.
The thrills and chills of mountaineering literature have long attracted a devoted audience of serious climbers, adventure-seekers, and armchair enthusiasts. In recent decades, scholars have come to view these tales of prowess and fortitude as texts laden with ideological meaning. In Imperial Ascent, a comparative study of seven such twentieth-century mountaineering narratives, Peter L. Bayers articulates the multiple and varied ways mountaineering and its literature have played in the formation and maintenance of national identity. By examining such works as Belmore Browne's The Conquest of Mount McKinley and Sir John Hunt's The Ascent of Everest, Bayers contends that for American and British climbers, mountaineering is tied to imperial ideology and dominant notions of masculinity.
At the same time, he demonstrates how Tiger of the Snows,, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay's account of climbing Mount Everest, undermines Western conceptions of mountaineering and imperialism. Throughout this theoretically informed critique, Bayers manages to retain the sense of awe and adventure inherent in the original works, making Imperial Ascent a highly engaging read.
In this collection, outstanding historians and theorists explore the representation of heterosexual masculinity embodied in modernist art.
Examining such major European modernists as Cézanne, Caillebotte, Matisse, Wyndham Lewis, and Boccioni, these writings offer a history of how artists sought to shape their sexuality in their work. In turn, the essays also show how the artists were shaped by the historical shifts in the gender order and by the exchanges between sexualities occurring in their social worlds. For example, the piece on Wyndham Lewis shows how he subscribed to an exaggerated masculinism, while the essays on Boccioni and Matisse bring out the efforts by these men to understand feminine sexuality.
In the theoretical essays, Bernard Smith questions modernism itself as a style category. And Richard Shiff and W.J.T. Mitchell trace the consequences for art theory of recognizing the physical presence of modernist artworks and the agency of imagery in our encounter with contemporary art.