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Shame, Masculinity and Desire of Belonging

Reading Contemporary Male Writers

Aneta Stępień

This study considers male shame in contemporary writing by men, examining why shame is often considered a female emotion and therefore denied in men. The author’s comparative approach to the private experience of shame in novels by Hanif Kureishi, Philip Roth and Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki demonstrates the extent to which shame conditions male behaviour, protecting the powerful hierarchies existing between different kinds of masculinities. Using different conceptual analyses, the author exposes the damaging nature of the culturally sanctioned demand that men be «real men», which is often simply a call for violence. The book also examines shame more broadly as a means of social control, whether of women in patriarchal cultures or of people of different ethnic, sexual and class identities. Treating shame as both an individual and a social emotion, the author draws on perspectives from scholarship on shame in postcolonial, gender and feminist studies.

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Chapter 3: Exposing and Uncovering Shame in Hanif Kureishi’s Intimacy


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Exposing and Uncovering Shame in Hanif Kureishi’s Intimacy

This chapter focuses on issues of shame, intimacy and sexual desires in the novel Intimacy by Hanif Kureishi. The confessions of the main protagonist, Jay, centre on exploring questions, such as how discourses of class, race and gender condition shame in this male protagonist. To answer the question of whether shame is axiomatic of gender, race or class appears a complex task, and the chapter starts out by acknowledging this difficulty. However, as is also apparent from the reading of Kureishi’s novel, the social politics of shame as related to race and class interrelate and further translate into a certain idea of gender. Various discourses on class introduced here, shed light on the relationship between class and emotions or, as psychologist refer to the patters of feeling, affects. Also discussed earlier in the book, Sally Munt’s ideas about the social politics of race and class in Britain form a background to the discussion in this chapter. For more detailed analysis of shame and class, I refer to Rita Felski’s study of the lower middle class as well as Pierre Bourdieu’s insights on bourgeois tastes and resentment, which both suggest that the emotions are generated collectively as a result of various forms of social positioning.1 This positioning relates further to the notion of gaze; that is internalised ideas of how others see us. From the first pages of Intimacy, it is evident that...

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