Thursday, December 28, 2006

Way of of the Wild Heart: Chapter 1 - Misdirection

Eldredge kicks off chapter one with an anecdote. He tells us of the time he had to do some plumbing work, fixing his sprinklers. He fails. I certainly can't judge him here; I don't know anything about sprinklers myself. The interesting thing about this story is his reaction to his failure, and then his after-the-fact analysis of that reaction.

When he realized he couldn't fix the valve, he became angry. From his description, it's clear this is a bitter, resentful anger. He watches an instructional video and says he is feeling "about ten years old. [Watching] A cartoon for a man who is really a little boy." (p. 3) He discovers that he doesn't have a particular skill, and this indicates a certain immaturity. I give him credit for basically realizing that this isn't entirely rational, but he doesn't really work with that realization enough.

He offers three sources for his anger. First, he says he is angry because there is no one there to help him; he is always forced to figure these things out on his own. He also claims to be angry with God, "because why does it have to be so hard?" (3) Finally, he says he is angry with himself because he needs help.

These three reasons are really collapsable into a single cause. He has this external image of himself as an all-American male, the kind of guy that writes maps for the masculine journey. He comes across an instance in which he cannot fulfill this role. All three of the above reasons spring from his basic inability to be the person he wants to be. Becoming angry at other men, God, even himself are all just expressions of a deepseated alienation and resentment. His anger is a misdirection.

He goes on to speak of "Unfinished men," those men that have not completed their "masculine journey." For this journey, we need "initiation. And, we need a Guide." (4) This journey involves multiple stages. These stages do not belong to specific ages, through they concentrate in particular periods. There are elements of each stage in every other. In other words, they are just like Hegelian moments. Georg Hegel insisted that all of reality was a rational process, advancing towards the goal of the absolute; all elements in the process were particular moments, but each moment existed in all the others.

Anyways, the stages are Boyhood, Cowboy, Warrior, Lover, King, Sage. I won't bother describing them because they all seem pretty self-explanatory. An unfinished man is usually stuck in Boyhood or Cowboy mode.

So, Eldredge has issues with resentment and alienation. His chosen method of dealing with these problems is a standard one - create for yourself a code of behaviour and a priviledged community that will respect that code and by extension yourself. The community he creates here is a masculine one. Every community needs to exclude someone, and if by definition you are including all men, than you also must exclude all women. Hence his claim that this journey is a specifically masculine one.

Exclusion, per se, isn't necassarily bad. Like I said, all communities have to do it. The problem is that Eldredge is assigning qualities to men, thereby denying them to women. Eldredge's man is active and aggressive; this leaves women the role of passivity. I know the Eldreges wrote a book for women as well. Eldredges, plural; the wife didn't do it herself.

So chapter one is a good start. He finds his anger and directs it against others and an alienated part of himself. His cure for his anger is to create a code of behaviour and a community of men that he believes will allow him to take up the role he so wishes. I don't think this cure is bad; in a formal sense it's as good as anything else. The problem is that he misdiagnoses himself. He's trying to cure the wrong thing; the symptoms rather than the root.

It will be interesting to see where he goes from here.


Hattie said...

I came here via Twisty. You might be interested in looking over the offerings about gender in Postmodern Culture online.
I see the dilemma of white men is that they want to be dominant and gender neutral and multicultural at the same time.
Attempts at defining whiteness and maleness are doomed to failure.
That endeavor can only lead to a depressive void. As Gertrude Stein said, "A rose is a rose is a rose."

Mike said...

I googled Postmodern Culture Online, and came up with an academic journal. Is this what you're referring to? It does look interesting, thanks for the heads up.

And yes, I completely agree that the "white male" as a social position isn't definable, but I also think that it follows from this that there is no one problem that white males face.

Hattie said...

Read the piece about "The Sopranos."I am not sure it is possible to say that being a white male is a problem of any kind. We all have personal problems; that is not limited to white males.