Biology, History, Reviews

Review: McLaren, Impotence

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The July 5 London Review of Books contains a great review of Angus McLaren’s Impotence: A Cultural History penned by celebrity shrink Adam Phillips. Noting the significant cultural implications of McLaren’s historical study of male sexual impotence Phillips writes:

Like most of the cures for impotence that Angus McLaren describes in his panoramic study, there was very little ‘evidence’ that they worked. And yet it was, and still is, difficult to staunch the flow of more or less magical solutions for the perennial problem. ‘The market is flooded with various appliances which are guaranteed to be sure cures,’ a progressive physician grumbled in 1912. ‘It goes without saying that most of them are worthless frauds.’ What has also gone without saying, McLaren shows, is that the untold history of impotence is a history of many things, most obviously of gender relations, but less obviously— and this is implicit in his book, rather than spelled out—of our will to believe. Impotence raises the question of what wanting to believe something is a solution to, as well as making us wonder what counts as a solution. Erection on demand is a strange cultural ideal but a persistent one, and it tells us a lot about what we want to be.

Read a special feature drawn from the book: “Two Millennia of Impotence Cures.”