A Cultural Biography of the Prostate by Ericka Johnson - Book Review

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$27.95
ISBN: 9780262543040
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Published: The MIT Press - September 7th, 2021

This stimulating study informed by the medical humanities penetrates the cultural and historical associations of the prostate. And it’s written with a real warmth, humor, intellectual sophistication and progressive intersectionality that I wish all medical practitioners could exhibit. Johnson explores the gendered contours of the prostate, what she terms “a gland that haunts,” in sexualities, masculinities, ageing, health, and death. She traces its "discovery" in 1536 through historical treatments (belladonna suppositories, electrical probes, castration, and what can only be described as urethral nightmares) to 18th century wax models to informational YouTube videos. She plunges into how a period’s preconceptions about sexuality and class distort its medical practices (just imagine what Victorian doctors fingered for the culprit of prostate problems). Like Slavoj Žižek throwing in the occasional joke, Johnson's exploration of the prostate's presence in our culture--a presence even greater when absent (think of Philip Roth's Zuckerman in American Pastoral)--reveals much about ideology, identity, and infrastructure. A truly fascinating read (with an inspired cover design!). ~ Reviewed by Dafydd Wood