Home > Lessons for the Modern Man, Men's Movements > Comments on “Numen, Old Men” – Part 5: Sexual Difference, Spirituality and Space

Comments on “Numen, Old Men” – Part 5: Sexual Difference, Spirituality and Space

Time flies! I had meant to post this comment on Friday. However, my Goddess, Rosemary, hosted a weekend-long workshop/playshop here in Colorado Springs and I got all wrapped up in supporting her project. I was the sound-engineer, videographer, caterer, chief go-for, and incidental participant! And it was a great weekend – I had a wonderful time! (And, hey, I was the only male in this wonderful group of Goddesses, so of course I had a wonderful time!)

Now a commercial: Dr. Joseph Gelfer has begun a new project which he brought to my attention through a comment on “Part 1” of this series of posts on his book. The new project sound terrific and may be considered (by me at first glance) a follow-on to Numen/Old Men. The project is called The Masculinity Conspiracy and you can find it at http://masculinityconspiracy.com/. I am looking forward to reading this “blog/book” as it unfolds (is revealed) and from my reading and enjoying Numen/Old Men I’m sure Dr. Gelfer will be at his best, both thorough in his research and challenging in his thought provoking and critical style. And perhaps I’ll post some comments on his new effort here, time permitting.

And now on with my review: Chapter 7 (the last before his concluding chapter) of Dr. Gelfer’s book: Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy is titled: Sexual Difference, Spirituality and Space. In some ways I wish I had read this chapter first because it gave me a more complete grounding in the deeper meaning of “masculinities” which is driving this whole exploration. Yes, Dr. Gelfer does touch on this in his introductory chapter where he defines his use of the term “masculine.” And there he touches on the subjects of  “sex role theory”, the confusion of terms like “masculine spirituality”, “men’s spirituality”, and “male spirituality.” In fact the whole subject of biological sex and sociological gender while touched on in the introduction is more thoroughly explored in this chapter and hence provides even stronger background material for earlier arguments. Of course, the amplifying material in Chapter 7 strengthens the  book’s arguments so may be better placed where it is as a building block toward the conclusion (which I’ll review tomorrow).

All that said, Chapter 7 provided me an excellent survey of a lot of material in this fascinating area of “sex/gender” research which has largely escaped this heterosexual’s attention. While I have been working with Rosemary to formulate what it means to balance the “masculine” and “feminine” spirits within each of us with the goal of becoming “better” and “more balanced” individuals, I did not stop to even think about what it means to have a “masculine inner spirit” and a “feminine inner spirit.” Perhaps I took for granted that everyone would understand these terms. But what I am learning is that there is much confusion, even in the academic world, as to how these terms are defined and used in the literature.  Dr. Gelfer sites several researchers, and I was drawn in particular to some of the citations of Judith Butler’s from Gender Trouble in which she highlights “the tenuousness of gender ‘reality'”. Dr. Gelfer states: “Butler questions the presumption of a binary gender system in which there is some obvious connection between sex and gender, arguing instead for an appreciation of gender in which ‘man and masculine might just as easily signify a female body as a male one, and woman and feminine a male body as easily as a female one'”.  He concludes: “At an absolute level it becomes problematic to use the words masculine and feminine at all, even the words man and woman, in both their gender-implied meaning and also physically”. It becomes more appropriate to explore sexual differences not across men/women, male/female, masculine/feminine but from person to person. Rather than examine the polarities it is far more appropriate to examine the continuum of what it means to be human.

In this case the whole notion of “masculine spiritualities” begins to break down. Dr. Gelfer explores this in the section of this chapter titled “Sexual Differences and Spirituality.” Revisiting the earlier chapters points out the confusion in the use of the various terms masculine, male, men in the spiritual context. But to discard the examination of “masculine spirituality” would naturally lead to the discard of “feminine spirituality”; yet, here I agree with Dr. Gelfer that this would be “counter-intuitive.” I like the compromise he reaches whereby we can examine “‘men and spirituality’ and ‘women and spirituality’.” This makes any such study unambiguous and inclusive.

The last section of the chapter is a fascinating examination of “Masculine Spirituality and Space.” Here the distinction is the space/direction of ‘up and out’ as masculine and ‘down and in’ as feminine. This section is a fairly deep exploration of this spatial and directional bias which for me doesn’t have to be biased at all. The argument is that up/out is somehow “better” than down/in. This is like saying north is better than south. But, as one of my teachers, Martín Prechtel, has pointed out: all the maps and globes of the earth have north as up and south as down! Why? In relationship to the sun and within the solar system and galaxy there is no up or down to the earth’s position! So, why this cultural bias? In this section I particularly liked an expanded view of this spatial concept by employing terms like “borderlands, webs, partial objects and partial subjects” and especially “rhizomes” as “a different kind of orienting metaphor.” The rhizome analogy is explored by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari; rhizomatic space “‘is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo‘”. Yes! This is the vision I have of “spiritual space.” Interestingly Deleuze and Guattari “have a soft spot for shamanism, ‘the most beautiful and most spiritual’…This is not because they romanticize shamanism as pre-Capitalist space, but because there is something essentially schizoid about the shaman, dwelling in between worlds, simultaneously in different worlds.” This clearly characterizes the deep spirituality of someone like Martín Prechtel!

So, just as we can think of gender as a continuum, so we can think of space and direction as a continuum, (which it really is!) with no beginning or end, no center, no balance point, but rather an “interbeingness” which is at once a borderland area, immanent and transcendent, a non-local “residence” of the numinous. Here there is no up/out/down/in but just an isness where we find the Holy.

How many of us men are there who “simply drift by without ever giving the matter [sex and gender] any serious thought and rarely face any impetus to change as the status quo ensures [our] continued privilege”? This is an important question; thanks to Dr. Gelfer who asks it pointedly and demonstrates the need to give this matter some serious thought; and provides us excellent resources to consider. He concludes in his final chapter with an offer of “how the relationship between men and spirituality might begin to change”. I’ll explore this in a final “Part 6” post tomorrow.

  1. April 26, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    The spirituality and space section is the part of the book I like best. It moves from religious/cultural/gender studies into philosophy and the nature of being.

    I still think directionality is useful, I would just rather not gender it. But, yes, the Deleuzian space seems more intuitive to me. As does the kind of pre-individuated space (probably more post-individuated within spirit) of the Lacanian Real: alas, I don’t yet have a firm enough grasp on psychoanalysis to do it justice. (I also wonder if what is probably post-linguistic is even worth trying to articulate: might be best just to keep quiet about it!)

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: