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!).
What contemporary prostate angst tells us about how we understand masculinity, aging, and sexuality.
We are all suffering an acute case of prostate angst. Men worry about their own prostates and those of others close to them; women worry about the prostates of the men they love. The prostate--a gland located directly under the bladder--lurks on the periphery of many men's health issues, but as an object of anxiety it goes beyond the medical, affecting how we understand masculinity, aging, and sexuality. In A Cultural Biography of the Prostate, Ericka Johnson investigates what we think the prostate is and what we use the prostate to think about, examining it in historical, cultural, social, and medical contexts.
Johnson shows that our ways of talking about, writing about, imagining, and imaging the prostate are a mess of entangled relationships. She describes current biomedical approaches, reports on the "discovery" of the prostate in the sixteenth century and its later appearance as both medical object and discursive trope, and explores present-day diagnostic practices for benign prostate hyperplasia--which transform a process (urination) into a thing (the prostate). Turning to the most anxiety-provoking prostate worry, prostate cancer, Johnson discusses PSA screening and the vulnerabilities it awakens (or sometimes silences) and then considers the presence of the absent prostate--how the prostate continues to affect lives after it has been removed in the name of health.
About the Author
Ericka Johnson is Professor of Gender and Society at Linköping University in Sweden. She is the author of Dreaming of a Mail-Order Husband: Russian-American Internet Romance, Refracting through Technologies: Bodies, Medical Technologies and Norms, and other books.