By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly
People interested in gender theory — and perhaps willing to have some of their most treasured beliefs about gender challenged — should head down to CounterMedia on Aug. 10 to hear the influential and controversial local author Jack Donovan read from his new book, “The Way of Men.”
Donovan first found notoriety amongst queers with his treatise “Androphilia: Rejecting the Gay Identity, Reclaiming Masculinity,” a manifesto published under his pen name Jack Malebranche in which he posits that modern gay culture robs gay men of their ability to identify with an essential male nature. However, writing “Androphilia” made Donovan aware that a working understanding of what constituted masculinity, and the virtues to be found therein, still needed articulation.
“In ‘Androphilia,’” he explained to PQ, “near the end you can see me trying to define masculinity, and one of the things that I was criticized for when the book came out was that it wasn’t really well-formed. My definition was still a bit folksy. My project since ‘Androphilia’ has been to understand masculinity better, and I came up with a system that I think works in ‘The Way of Men.’”
Donovan’s system asserts that masculinity is intrinsically related to gangs — groupings in which hierarchies based on competence, courage, and value to the group’s survival emerge naturally. In Donovan’s view, this is diametrically opposed to the culture we now find ourselves in, which he calls a “bonobo masturbation society.” This culture, in which men face great social pressure to be concerned about being “good men” rather than being “good at being a man,” prevents all people from manifesting both their true nature as individuals as well as their worth for the culture at large.
“‘The Way of Men’ is forceful and direct in a way that modern people would consider feral,” Brett Stevens wrote in his review for the blog Amerika. “It is not apologetic, or evasive. It is not indirect or passive. Like a boxer, it walks right to its objective and begins the pummeling. It is not a tantrum, or a rant, or any of the other artifacts of the democratization of language. It is Jack London-style writing, words applied with intent and unrelenting pressure, yet with an inner soul and attention to detail. Nothing is unnecessary. This alone lifts it from the cloud of frustrated impotence that is most writing about masculinity and manliness.”
For those perhaps uncomfortable with the concept of engaging with a treatise on masculinity, Donovan suggests that a more in-depth consideration of masculinity could help people understand all gender identities more fully.
“If you’re considering a whole bunch of parts, understanding one is better than understanding none,” he said. “Understanding and considering masculinity and femininity as historically polar concepts can help you extrapolate a lot of things about the differences between genders.”
Speaking of polarization, Donovan’s assertions about the nature of masculinity have been met with very vocal praise and loud criticism alike. However, he sees this as another natural expression of how power works.
“If you’re going to exclude people, people are going to dislike you,” he said. “Masculinity is an exclusive concept. If you define something, you’re defining it against something else, because all definitions are exclusive. Everything can’t be everything. If I define masculinity, there are people on the bottom of that hierarchy — and from a Nietzschean perspective, people will resent it. If you put forth this idea that there’s a way to be better at masculinity, the people at the bottom will have anger, jealousy, and hatred towards those at the top. People today would starve the eagles to save the hares. … If our culture cares so much about those who identify as victims rather than those who could be the best of the best — the strong — culture is inverted. I’m not saying that I’m an eagle by any means — I’d just rather see the actual eagles at the top.”
Jack Donovan will read from “The Way of Men” on Aug. 10 at 6:30 p.m. at CounterMedia (927 SW Oak St., Portland). Learn more at Jack-donovan.com/.