Manhood, according to Jonathan Rutherford, is all about denying the claims of intimacy and emotional dependency, of the needs and desires of women. Unable to reflect on their lives in the absence of women, men mistakenly connect freedom from vulnerability to freedom from need, self-possession to protection from betrayal and mistrust. Impoverished and bereft, they remain strangers both to themselves and one another, solemn and inert in the ancient postures of manly solitude. Only by being released from the confinement of themselves can they find new hope, new life, a new language of love yet to be spoken.
As a story about men and their often-diminished relations with women, I Am No Longer Myself Without You aspires to reanimate the above platitudes by telling the paradoxical story of men's love: "desire and need, escape and no escape". This is the predicament of manhood: the need to be loved while fearful of any dependency - a predicament whose outcome is either loss and mourning or the shameful knowledge that one has ceased to be a solitary actor. A man in love is no longer himself but a performer in someone else's story about himself. "Men want love," Rutherford writes, "because we long to be offered a semblance of ourselves." In love with the idea of being loved, men are obstructed and poisoned by their own inadequacy to proclaim themselves. Having inherited the deadening inadequacy of their fathers, and erected self-protecting walls between themselves and their mothers, men, it seems, have no one (not even themselves) to respect their claims that they ought to be unconditionally loved. If the only possible alternatives for heterosexual men are love or desire, adult narcissism or perpetual mourning for their "inner" childhoods, then how can they escape this fear of being abandoned? For Rutherford, coming to terms with loss - of mothers, fathers, and themselves - can help men redeem and verify their present lives.
But who, among us, are truly men? Rutherford's tale of middle-class family life and a lonely, boarding-school education in England, offers only a glimpse into the sexual and emotional predicaments of middle-class, heterosexual men. As such, this book rarely touches on the violence and mayhem defining the behaviour of many men, especially those men relegated to the margins of any vested claim to manhood. If men speak first to the loss of themselves, then defensively to others, not all men share the same language of dispossession. This is a truism, but its immediacy is obscured by Rutherford's evocative, but sometimes pious insistence on the inarticulate lives men lead, and their fraught, internal relations with buried remnants of themselves. My question relates to how some men are born dispossessed with an entire culture arrayed against them. Rather than experience what is missing as something lost, as something "men have denied in themselves", such men have been systematically usurped by the contagious languages - not only of pain and denial, but of a dispossessing culture. While this book attempts to move beyond a simple concern with men's feelings onto the broader territory of culture and masculinity, appropriating many insights from psychoanalysis and cultural studies along the way, it fails to engage with more than a limited version of masculinity. If all men are confusingly searching for their identities in a world changed by feminism, as Rutherford maintains, this book makes no attempt to speak to the various ethnic, racial and class conversations men have with one another.
David Marriott is lecturer in English, School of English and Drama, Queen Mary and Westfield College, London.
I Am No Longer Myself Without
Author - Jonathan Rutherford
ISBN - 0 00 255917 X
Publisher - Flamingo
Price - £12.99
Pages - 184