Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Phallus Impudicus: The Shameless Phallus

With Gay American History, Jonathan Ned Katz published the first book of documents relating to homosexuality in American history. This fascinating and compendious source ranges from the sixteenth century up to present times; its texts include everything from denunciations of sodomy in colonial America to modern protests against homosexual persecution.  By demonstrating the important presence of same-sex desires, friendships, and sexual practices throughout Western history, this book was crucial in opening up new fields for investigation.

Jonathan Katz's Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. uses this illustration drawn by Henry David Thoreau of "Phallus impudicus" (the shameless phallus), among excerpts from Thoreau's letters about his reaction after reading Whitman's Leaves of Grass: "It is as if the beasts spoke. I think that men have not been ashamed of themselves without reason."

I would love to be able to see this document myself and analyze it's content; however, this picture of the "Phallus impudicus" drawing is not clear enough to tell much about it. This same drawing does appear in Thoreau's Garden by H. Peter Loewer. In this volume, we can learn more about ferns and berries, goldenrods and grasses. More relevant to this post, readers can even get a glimpse of the "disgusting ... yet very suggestive" fungus (Phallus impudicus) that Thoreau railed about in October 1856, pondering "Pray, what was Nature thinking of when she made this? She almost puts herself on a level with those who draw in privies." Loewer used as his reference the index in the Dover two-volume reprint of Thoreau's Journals, which is somewhat incomplete.

The question I pose is this:  Is Thoreau chronicling the plants in his garden, or is he presenting a critique of Whitman's Leaves of Grass?  It is a question I would love to ponder further along with the relevant documents.


Daniel Marshall, Editor said...

Great to see a fellow gay blog coming at gay culture from an intelligent perspective. I'd certainly be interested to discover how you feel about the slump in political gay theatre in recent years.

Visit The Gay Stage to find more discussions on gay theatre and politics.

becca said...

how interesting i would love to see what you find out i'm learning alot from you as i read your blog

silvereagle said...

For some, I am guessing he is discussing the flora in the garden...but on the other hand.....for some, a somewhat hidden critique of the Leaves Of Grass...and likely there is no concrete evidence of either...

Uncutplus said...

I couldn't help but wonder if the "fungus" might relate to "jock itch" -- that is, a "disgusting ... yet very suggestive fungus of the Phallus."

Living in the woods without adequate hygiene could certainly lead to a disgusting fungus around the genitals.

JoeBlow said...

Great blog, Daniel. I look forward to delving more into it.

Becca, when I get a chance to conduct more research in this matter, I will let you know what I find out.

I think you are right, silvereagle. He was probably purposefully vague.

Very true, Uncutplus.