Book review: Men, by Laura Kipnis

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 November, 2014, 8:27pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 November, 2014, 8:40pm

by Laura Kipnis
Metropolitan Books

The subject under her magnifying glass might be men, but Laura Kipnis' exuberant new book is just as interested in women, and in all the ridiculous ways that both sexes keep misunderstanding each other.

Her essays are about real men and fictional men and straw men, organised by genus ( Operators, Neurotics, Sex Fiends and Haters) and species (including Cheaters and Men Who Hate Hillary).

It's an ironic taxonomy, because the root of Kipnis' fascination with men is their freedom not to be sorted, as women are, into reductive categories. Her aim is not to generalise away what makes particular men interesting, even the scumbags, stalkers and conmen, and it's certainly not to lock them up in irredeemable categories.

She explains in the essay Juicers - which yokes together Lance Armstrong, The New Republic critic Leon Wieseltier, fabulist James Frey and Hanna Rosin's The End of Men - that her real problem is her "moral wishy-washiness": her inability to condemn strangers for infractions that derive from the otherwise esteemed quality of ambition.

Kipnis frequently calls herself a "contrarian" - although she takes a good swipe at the late contrarian-in-chief, Christopher Hitchens, in an essay, The Lothario, that is partly about funny women, a category which Hitchens claimed didn't exist.

In the essay Gropers, the Northwestern University professor strides into the fraught arena of campus sexual politics, revisiting Naomi Wolf's 2004 claim that Yale literary critic Harold Bloom had placed a hand on her knee 20 years before. Such testimonies helped to push the policies of universities, including Kipnis' own, towards bans on relationships between faculty and students.

But Kipnis' book is not about monsters, it's about confused, self-deluding, libidinous men, whom we can't just lock up or destroy: Tiger Woods, politicians Anthony Weiner and Larry Craig.

Men is a trip: the road might not be going anywhere really new, but it's a lot of fun.

Guardian News & Media