Katie Roiphe on the GMNs

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7 January 2010

Katie Roiphe‘s piece in the NY Times Book Review on sex and the Great Male Narcissists (GMNs) — Roth, Mailer, Updike — is popping up on pretty much all the blogs I follow.  Worth reading, I agree.  The subject is endlessly fascinating — sex as “imaginative quest,” an existential bulwark against death (sans irony).  The younger generation of male writers is, according to Roiphe, “too cool for sex,” shaped by liberalism and the (internalized) archetype of the sensitive man.

I tend to share Roiphe’s sense of a “vanished grandeur” when it comes to the dissolution of ardent sexual conquest (“not just the triumphs…but also its loneliness, its failures of connection”) in male literature, maybe in all literature; and I don’t think Roiphe and I are alone (Exhibit A: the popularity of MAD MEN among the literary set).

As I wrote last week, I’m just dipping my toes in to the great narcissistic pool of Roth-Updike-Mailer; but James Salter‘s A Sport and a Pastime comes to mind  as an example of a powerful and haunting work of fiction that understands sex — in all its dimensions, including the physically and sensorially graphic — as an utterly serious human experience; on this side of life, dark and exuberant and mysterious.  Zadie Smith‘s On Beauty comes to mind as an example of a younger writer’s farcical notion — the flip side of the sublime — of male sexual conquest, sympathizing instead with an older woman’s eye-rolling fed-upness vis-a-vis the silly conquesting male.  Enough with the perpetual adolescence, the younger generation seems to be saying.  Our sexual relationships are going to emotionally grown-up.

Some movies come to mind as well: Bertolucci’s LAST TANGO IN PARIS, Ang Lee‘s LUST, CAUTION, Michael Winterbottom‘s 9 SONGS.

Other books and movies — sexually explicit — that you feel harken back to the “grandeur” of the GMNs, in a compelling way?  Me thinks an essay for The Millions is brewing…

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