|Behind the fig leaf
God’s Doodle: The Life and Times of the Penis. By Tom Hickman
THE problem with penises, as Richard Rudgley, a British anthropologist, admitted on a television programme some years ago, is that once you start noticing them, you “tend to see willies pretty much everywhere”. They are manifest in skyscrapers, depicted in art and loom large in literature. They pop up on the walls of schoolyards across the world, and on the walls of temples both modern and ancient. The Greeks and Japanese rendered them on statues that stood at street corners. Hindus worship the lingam in temples across the land. Even the cross on which Jesus was hung is considered by some to be a representation of male genitalia.
The story of the penis — a brilliant history of the male member that tells you EVERYTHING you wanted to know but were too shy to ask.
Throughout history man has revered his penis as his ‘most precious ornament’. Yet, ambivalently, his penis has always been the source of man’s deepest neuroses too. Do women find it, in the erect state, inherently ridiculous? Why can’t a man be certain his penis will stand and deliver when he commands? If and when it steadfastly refuses, what can he do to remedy the situation?
And then, of course, there’s the matter of size…
To possess a penis, Sophocles said, is to be ‘chained to a madman’. God’s Doodle examines the schizophrenic relationship between man and this madman — and the joint relationship this odd couple has with the female sex. God’s Doodle is the tale of the penis and the ups and downs of history — the macabre and the bloodcurdling, the funny and the sad, distilled from myth, world cultures, religion, literature, science, medicine and contemporary life — all told with mordant wit.
Yet the penis has also been shamed into hiding through the ages. One night in 415BC, Athens’s street-corner statues were dismembered en masse. Stone penises were still causing anxiety in the late 20th century, when the Victoria and Albert Museum in London pulled out of storage a stone figleaf in case a member of the royal family wanted to see its 18-foot (5.5-metre) replica of Michelangelo’s “David”. Nothing, save the vagina, which is neither as easy nor as childishly satisfying to scrawl on a wall, manages to be so sacred and so profane at once. This paradox makes it an object of fascination. Tom Hickman, a Sussex-based writer and journalist, tells the story of its ups and downs with enthusiasm and a mostly straight face in “God’s Doodle”, a biography of what the dust jacket calls man’s “most precious ornament”.
Mr Hickman examines his subject from various angles: its physical attributes, its role in society, its vulnerabilities and the “violent mechanics” of its fundamental purpose. Referring to sources that range from parliamentary records to Howard Stern, Mr Hickman goes, like so many men have gone before, where the penis takes him, and in the process answers a number of questions. Did Shylock want to castrate Antonio in “The Merchant of Venice”? Possibly. Is ingesting semen harmful? Quite the opposite. Mr Hickman claims it could protect against breast cancer. (In fact, an urban myth.) Where does Viagra get its name? Through the fusion of “virility” and “Niagara”, as in the falls. “God’s Doodle” is a seminal work.