Castration is a lively history of the meaning, function, and act of castration from its place in the early church to its secular reinvention in the Renaissance as a spiritualized form of masculinity in its 20th century position at the core of psychoanalysis.
Early in this absorbing treatise on the changing nature of manhood in Western culture, English professor Taylor remarks, "This is a specter that has haunted men for centuries: the fear that manhood will become, or has already become, obsolete, superfluous, ridiculous, at best quaint, at worst disgusting." Nowhere, he contends, is this specter more obvious than in the cringing reaction most men have to the word "castration." In this book, Taylor uses an imaginative analysis of the history and purposes of castration to examine the cultural construct of masculinityDspecifically in relation to reproduction. Equally comfortable discussing the implications of pop singer Tori Amos's lyrics as he is reinterpreting the antisexual writings of church fathers Justin Martyr, Clement and Tertullian or Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Taylor gracefully guides the reader through carefully constructed arguments that go so far as to declare that, in some times and cultures, being a eunuch is a social advantage. In a feat of bravura literary criticism, he uses a detailed explication of Thomas Middleton's obscure but important 1624 play A Game of Chess (a metaphysical commentary on the Reformation) as the centerpiece of his many-pronged cultural investigationDa move that is both audacious and illuminating. But while Taylor's expertise as a Renaissance scholar shines here, he shrewdly and subtly links the play's concerns to such varied historical events as the history of psychoanalysis and sexual racism toward blacks and Jews. Though of primary interest to literary scholars and historians of sexuality, this work will also reward sophisticated general readers with its wit (including a cover depicting the upper torso and wincing head of a Greek male statue) and insight.