A classic tale of old man-young woman sexual reality
Must-read rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (Must-read ratings (1♥ – 5♥) are based on the contribution to understanding and enjoyment in love, sex & success.
“Stop worrying about growing old. And start growing up.” – The Dying Animal
The strength in Philip Roth’s storytelling in this book is in the narrative because the reader gets the inside story through the protagonist’s pov, the Shakespearean method of direct engagement. And with Roth, it’s everything as it is, not as it should be. No one reveals natural, raw human sexuality better than Roth, exposing the misogynistic, self-indulgent, sexual needs of a man and his need to escape the honesty of what is genetically baked in to all men. Of course, most of it is not what a woman wants to hear and yet, it is what she should hear. Reality, as painted by Roth, isn’t pretty but it can be freeing.
“Because in sex there is no point of absolute stasis. There is no sexual equality and there can be no sexual equality, certainly not one where the allotments are equal, the male quotient and the female quotient in perfect balance. There’s no way to negotiate metrically this wild thing. It’s not fifty-fifty like a business transaction. It’s the chaos of eros we’re talking about, the radical destabilization that is its excitement. You’re back in the woods with sex. You’re back in the bog. What it is is trading dominance, perpetual imbalance … The dominating is the flint, it strikes the spark, it sets it going.” – The Dying Animal
Many critics say Roth’s writing only delivers a superficial portrayal of women, cast in the shadows of a time-worn male perspective that reflects centuries of patriarchal repugnancy. But for those who have also read Darwin and a few essays on modern day genetics, it can be said that Roth’s “raw” is right. Certainly, Darwin’s sexual selection is raw, and right, and the litany of Christian and cultural sins doesn’t cover up the truth of the male population of our species. Nor the female’s evolutionary role in it.
There is nothing wrong with the truth if we recognize it, accept it and deal with it. Roth does.
The Dying Animal is an excellent example of Roth grinding the varnish off political correctness and the confusion between misogyny and MeToo, and opening up the conversation to what it means to be a born-to-inseminate male member of the species. To accept our genetic blueprints and be free, not in a reckless way but in an honest and disciplined way. If only the cultural would accept it.
The protagonist, an aging professor of literature, David Kepesh, at one point refers to John Milton (1608-1674) in his criticism of marriage, which he loathes. He quotes Milton, “Did our Saviour open so to us this hazardous and accidental door of marriage to shut upon us like the gate of death . . . ?” He adds, “No, men don’t know anything—or willingly act as though they don’t—about the tough, tragic side of what they’re getting into.” It would provide excellent content for any prenuptial manual for men.
“To be chaste, to live without sex, well, how will you take the defeats, the compromises, the frustrations? By making more money, by making all the money you can? By making all the children you can? That helps, but it’s nothing like the other thing. Because the other thing is based in your physical being, in the flesh that is born and the flesh that dies. Because only when you fuck is everything that you dislike in life and everything by which you are defeated in life purely, if momentarily, revenged. Only then are you most cleanly alive and most cleanly yourself. It’s not the sex that’s the corruption—it’s the rest. Sex isn’t just friction and shallow fun. Sex is also the revenge on death. – The Dying Animal
Kepesh personifies the angst of a past-his-prime man struggling with his most basic impulses and need to liberate his sexual desires from the shackles of love and attachment. In the story, Kepesh’s psyche is probably closer to his creator’s, Roth, than the latter would admit, but the underlying tension of disrespect, distaste and disregard for the young woman – all women – and her plight, is … well, somewhere between obnoxious and honest. As in, obnoxiously honest.
Roth twists Kepesh’s eternal problem as a lecher and his need to escape sexual truths into self-reflection entanglement with Conseula beautiful breasts and her need to be her sexual-self, not his sexual object. The self-depressing theme and darkly inherent question is encapsulated in the title: Who is the dying animal?
One can ask if Roth is simply telling a tale of how sex and detachment can mitigate and relieve life’s journey to dying, or are men cursed with the chains of love, marriage and jealously? Kepesh asks, “Nonetheless, should a man of seventy still be involved in the carnal aspect of the human comedy?” Does he see life and dying, and his relationship with the young Consuela, as tragedy or comedy?
“Don’t forget death. Don’t ever forget it. Yes, sex too is limited in its power. I know very well how limited. But tell me, what power is greater?” – The Dying Animal
Kepesh anguishes over his attachment to death and at his age it is on the horizon, there, but invisible and unpredictable. He is preoccupied with the youth versus age divide and “haunted by the still-being and its fullness as by the having-already-been, by the pastness.” For him, sex and attachment have been opposing forces, not bed-mates and yet, age has shown their inextricable reliance on each other.
“Can you imagine old age? Of course you can’t. I didn’t. I couldn’t. I had no idea what it was like. Not even a false image—no image. And nobody wants anything else. Nobody wants to face any of this before he has to. How is it all going to turn out? Obtuseness is de rigueur. Understandably, any stage of life more advanced than one’s own is unimaginable.”– The Dying Animal
Young students have always been the professor’s escape, sex from a dominant position and sex without attachment and yet, Consuela, who has come to him in his elder years, has exposed the universal dilemma: Unrelenting, male sexual desire is yoked in a facade of regimented marriage, chastity and attachment, which encumbers all men and all sexual relationships. The desire is inevitable, the attachment unavoidable.
“You see there female flesh, and it is good flesh, abundant—that’s why you see it. So there she was, not openly lying across the sofa but, all the same, with her buttocks sort of half turned to me. A woman as conscious of her body as Consuela and doing that is, I concluded, inviting me to begin. The sexual instinct is still intact—none of the Cuban correctitude has interfered. In that half-turned ass, I see that nothing has gotten in the way of the pure thing. All that we’d talked about, all that I’d had to listen to about her family, none of it has interfered. She knows how to turn her ass despite all that. Turns in the primordial way. In display. And the display is perfect. It tells me that I need no longer suppress the wish to touch.” – The Dying Animal
Men cannot escape the “fertile female of our mammalian species” and so this eternal conflict resides in every virile male of our mammalian species (he’s clear, it’s both heterosexual and homosexual). It’s a choice between arranged attachment and chastity (after marriage) or being a natural, unattached, insemination animal.
This book could be categorized as good “sex education” for those who missed the basics – whether students or aging boomers. It is honest, raw and rooted in the true nature of our evolutionary psyche.
The Dying Animal is available at the Love & Sexcess Bookstore (20% off).
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