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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 5: Shame and Degradation in Raz. Dwa. Trzy


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Shame and Degradation in Raz. Dwa. Trzy

Klimko-Dobrzaniecki’s novel Raz. Dwa. Trzy consists of the narratives of the three coming-of-age male protagonists, who ‘differ in almost every aspect’; however, they are all preoccupied with being manly: ‘they all try to fulfil their role as a man’.1 This chapter explores the experiences of shame, which, in the boys’ narratives, revolves around issues of sexuality, sexual performance and the body, but it is also indicated symbolically, through such bodily symptoms as mutation, dirt and disease, which are the embodiments of the emotion. The first-person narrative and the language in Raz. Dwa. Trzy, stylised as the characters’ ‘live speech’, create an immediacy that is also found in Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint.2 As they talk about masturbation, ejaculation, arousal, intercourse, disfigurement, illness, pain and pleasure, a detailed map of their male bodies emerges from the text. Yet, the author often presents those bodies in a context that ridicules them or disturbs the normative understanding of the male body; the body becomes the abject, as in Kristeva’s understanding of something ← 197 | 198 → that ‘disturbs identity, system, order’.3 In the following narrative, one of the characters expresses his despair at his growing breasts:

Something strange is happening to my body. The skin on my chest aches. I feel something growing in there, it’s unpleasant, my nipples are swelling, they are getting bigger … I think I’m dying … This isn’t normal and I’m beginning to look like...

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