Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation
Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation
Laura Kipnis
Metropolitan Books, 2014
224 pp., $25.00

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Andrea Palpant Dilley

Juicers, Cheaters, and Men Who Hate Hillary

Manhood anatomized.

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When Wolf insists that Bloom has power over her, what she doesn't get is that it's because she's in thrall to his power, not because he exercises it; in thrall to the phallic mythos she's also so deeply offended by. I fully agree that men have too much power, though what we glimpse here is the degree to which that power continues to be propped up by women's fantasies about masculine icons.

Bloom is granted power by Wolf, who then turns around and excoriates him for using (and abusing) that power, and in that sense his own stature is partly dependent, even frail. He needs her to need him. "The trouble really starts," Kipnis says, "when the icons turn out to be damaged and insecure themselves," when "Big Men also want validation from those they're supposed to validate."

In this and every other profile in Men, Kipnis circles a larger enigma—male identity in the modern age. Rather than offer a solution, which is not her goal, and maybe not her purview, she essays. She explores, she experiments. As in her previous book, Against Love, we find in Men her ongoing doubts about marriage and fidelity. She plays the incendiary polemicist who doesn't set fire to monogamy, exactly, but wants to scratch a few matches here and there to light up the dull face of social convention. "Everyone should be ambivalent about commitment," says Kipnis. But when she treats infidelity as an (intellectual or actual) experiment, she's not only making light of sin (a word that's not in her vocabulary) but also indulging herself in an expensive, classist luxury. Infidelity disproportionately impacts poor women and children and, one could argue, only compounds the instability of men.

At her best, Kipnis is careful and thoughtful. While journalists like Faludi and Rosin have focused primarily on the plight of middle-class men, Kipnis looks at the insecurities of powerful icons, and in that sense her analysis is even more striking. She takes the least sympathetic public figures—the kind pundits like to lacerate with their manicured claws—and somehow finds humanity underneath their hubris. "When is enough ever enough when it comes to these bottomless wells of yearning for love and recognition?" she writes. Kipnis' great gift is her ability to see in such larger-than-life figures what Faludi and Rosin see in ordinary men, and what we all see in ourselves, if we're honest: the tender need to belong.

1. The Atlantic, July/August 2010.

Andrea Palpant Dilley is the author of Faith and Other Flat Tires: Searching for God on the Rough Road of Doubt (Zondervan).

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