Friday, April 16, 2021


The Best Part of a Man

I once worked in a warehouse, loading and unloading trucks. Two co-workers got in a row, and one called the other a prick. The reply: "You think that's an insult? A prick's the best part of a man." I remembered this incident when I read Raymond B. Waddington, Aretino's Satyr: Sexuality, Satire, and Self-Projection in Sixteenth-Century Literature and Art (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), p. 3 (material in square brackets added by me):
In a famous letter [to Battista Zatti, December 11, 1537] to which we shall return more than once, Aretino .... advances a radical paradox: a praise of the penis as the most worthy part of the (male) body. Not only does it perpetuate the human race, it creates the best in life — notably, artists and writers — and everything beautiful, true, or holy. Aretino argues that the hands ought to be hidden 'because they wager money, sign false testimony, lend usuriously, gesture obscenely, rend, destroy, strike blows, wound, and kill. And what do you think of the mouth, which blasphemes, spits in your face, gorges, boozes, and vomits?' [perché quelle giuocano i danari, giurano il falso, prestano a usura, ti fan le fica, stracciano, tirano, dan de le pugna, feriscono e amazzano. Che vi par de la bocca, che bestemmia, sputa nel viso, divora, imbriaca e rece?] By this neat logical reversal, if the mouth and hands are the real shameful parts, the true pudenda (literally, that of which one ought to be ashamed), then it follows that the phallus deserves to be displayed 'as a medal in one's hat' [ne la beretta per medaglia] or 'worn as a pendant round one's neck' [portare al collo come pendente]. The hat badge, along with syphilis, was a fashion brought to Italy in 1494 by the French army, and still current in the 1520s and thirties; the phallic pendant, however, was a custom not realized until the late twentieth century. Aretino once again switches from signifier to signified: 'we should allocate to it its own ferial-days and consecrate special vigils and feast-days in its honour, and not enclose it in a scrap of cloth or silk' [Onde se gli doverebbe ordinar ferie e sacrar vigilie e feste, e non rinchiuderlo in un poco di panno o di seta].

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