Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Review of Dr. Bud Harris’s Resurrecting the Unicorn: Masculinity in the 21st Century

(Fisher King Press, 2008, ISBN: 978-0-981034-40-9)

By Joey Madia

There is little doubt that in the nearly 20 years between the publication of Robert Bly’s Iron John and the re-publication/re-vision of Resurrecting the Unicorn by Fisher King Press (it was previously published under the title Emasculation of the Unicorn: The Loss and Rebuilding of Masculinity in America) that the dilemmas faced by the postmodern man have only grown more complex.

Notice the change from “Emasculation” to “Resurrecting” in the title. It certainly makes the book more PC and less potentially off-putting, and this bears out in the text. This is not a radical manifesto on the loss of the masculine but a thought-provoking examination of just where the true essence of Manhood went off the rails. There is an excellent case made for journeying through the Feminine Principle in order to arrive at the Masculine, an idea championed by Carl Jung and countless Eastern mystics. This is about Balance and Inclusion, not machismo and misogyny.

Working in a way very similar to Bly, Dr. Harris has substituted Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Tinder Box” for the Grimm tale “Iron John” used in the book by the same title. Far from being a mere “knock-off” or homage of someone else’s way of exploring this subject, there is a strong case here for more exercises where Masculinity/Manhood are deconstructed and dialogued through the use of fairy tales.

Mythologists and critical thinkers from Bruno Bettelheim to Joseph Campbell have made a compelling case for the relevance of fairy tales to all of us, male or female, and Dr. Harris makes a substantial contribution to this field of study by illuminating many symbols and rendering readings through his deconstruction of “The Tinder Box” that were new to this reader.

Although the bulk of the book is devoted to in-depth work with “The Tinder Box,” there is much more going on. It is appropriate in this time of questionable wars and the mis-use of the masculine around the globe that Dr. Harris raises the ghost of John Wayne (the quintessential male for my grandfathers’ generation) and dispels many of the misunderstandings about this complex model of manhood.

Picking up from the fairy tale thread established in the first three-thirds of the book, the ending chapters look closely at the symbolism of the Unicorn and Lion and what men must do to make the most of these totem powers living within us. The section on Eros and Logos is thought-provoking and situates the text squarely in the realm of science rather than pure emotion. Rites of passage and the necessity of mothers and fathers better fulfilling their complementary roles when raising their sons (and daughters) bring to mind another of Bly’s books, The Sibling Society.

In closing, Resurrecting the Unicorn is essential reading for college-age young men and fathers. It’s an excellent companion to Iron John and a renewed call to revisit the Men’s Movement that rose up suddenly and died just as quickly in the 1990s. This time, perhaps, armed with both books and twenty more years of experience, we will do a little better.

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