Peter Goldsworthy: On men and cliches

“I’ll start with a little story of a colony of monkeys on an island near Japan,” says author Peter Goldsworthy launching into his take ‘On Men’.

Goldsworthy’s discussed the fictionalising of men on a panel at the 2004 Sydney Writers Festival with fellow authors Gordon Graham and Aniruddha Bahal. “They were fed from a supply boat which would throw yams and various fruits,” he continues. “The fruit would land in the sand and of course that’s a pretty crunchy and unpleasant eating experience.”

“This went on for generations then one day a young female rhesus monkey discovered that if you wash the sand off in the water and make the experience a much pleasanter one.”

“That cultural practice spread among the other monkeys and soon every one was doing it.

Except the old men, the alpha males. They never changed, they kept crunching.”

Goldsworthy says as a novelist he resists the temptation of relying on pop psychology clichés like, “one mob are from Mars and the other from Venus.”

“You are interested in individuals. I don’t claim to know a lot about men. I know about myself a little bit but I’m sure I’m pretty deluded there.” he says.

“Men are redundant,” claims Aniruddha Bahal. “Biologically they’ll be redundant, in another ten years you won’t need them.” Bahal believes the cult of metrosexuality is a backlash to this reality.

“The straight guy who is obsessed with his beauty, who doesn’t mind being unmanly, who likes sissy clothes, who likes to spend lots of time in beauty parlours.”

“It’s contrary to the image of males we’ve had for so long: the macho Clint Eastwood, the John Rambo, the John Wayne – the sturdy oak kind of people who are the way that males have always wanted to be.” Addressing this ideal is the role of authors, says Gordon Graham, author of Top Blokes.

“That gulf between what everybody else can see a man’s life to be, and what he insists on believing it to be, is the key to writing about men at this moment.”

“How far can you stretch a man’s outer reality from his inner reality before it breaks like a rubber band and what happens then?” “I thank my lucky stars I had the kind of family you could rely on,” reflects one of Graham’s characters. “That mental and emotional stability can be traced right back to here. That’s what home means to me.”

(Originally published in Sydney Writers’ Festival publication Festival News)

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