LectureHop: Fantastic Phallicism

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A curious crowd packed into Schermerhorn yesterday to hear Dr. Ken Corbett talk about “Fantastic Phallicism”. What they got was boyhood stories, the re-emergence of masculinity, Lady Gaga, and a little bit of sex. Bwog’s Psychologically-Constructed Penis Centrism correspondent Megan McGregor reports.

“Has the penis become unthinkable?” asked Dr. Ken Corbett at Thursday’s Embodiments of Science series lecture “Fantastic Phallicism.”  Dr. Corbett, the Clinical Assistant Professor at the NYU Postdoctoral Program in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy and alumnus of Columbia University, is trying to bring the phallus back.  Promoting his new book Boyhoods: Rethinking Masculinities, Dr. Corbett discussed masculinity and its lack of development in psychotherapy due to too much time “re-imagining” femininity since the Freudian era.

Dr. Corbett read excerpts from Boyhoods for the entirety of his lecture, beginning with an anecdote of a beach trip with his seven-year-old nephew.  “This is the life!” exclaimed Dr. Corbett’s nephew after singing along to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” while grabbing his crotch in his most Slim Shady-esque fashion.  As humorous as this image was, Dr. Corbett told us of this to exemplify a key aspect of boyhood and masculinity–phallic narcissism, which he describes as “fantastic.”  This phallic narcissism often appears in play.  “Play lives between our bodies and our minds,” said Dr. Corbett.  “[Bodies] are built, but genders are made.”  Gender, and thus phallic narcissism, aggression, and muscularity, are often learned or exemplified in play scenarios.Dr. Corbett then went on to describe an eight-year-old patient named Robert.  Robert described to Dr. Corbett a snowball fight he had with his brother, and how he longed to play with his brother in the snow, even though both brothers would “pummel” each other because “it’s more fun to pummel brothers than to not.”   He and Robert then went onto play “Crash Car Derby,” a game during which they slammed matchbox cars into each other.  Dr. Corbett was so engrossed in the game that he made Robert’s hand red with his roughness in the “derby”.  As guilty as he felt, he also felt pride. He mocked his own reaction to the victory: “I won!” he exclaimed.  Dr. Corbett, shocked at his own infelicitous reaction, could not help but think back to what Robert had said: “it is better to pummel brothers than not.”

Play in adulthood, however, is expressed through sex. In men specifically, Dr. Corbett discussed “the hope and dread of the erection,” touching on the psychological ambiguity involved in penetration.  Dr. Corbett described how penetration can be “losing oneself as one folds into another” or the opposite. Sex can be mutual or narcissistic.  Sex is an “ever-shifting experience, flickering though heat of sexual passion.”  In response to a question about the desire for mutual recognition, Dr. Corbett stated that “sex… isn’t always built on mutual recognition… sometimes you want to be lost… sometimes you want to be run over.”

Dr. Corbett offered a dark but intriguing view of understanding boys, masculinity, and sexuality.  However, during the Q&A, Dr. Corbett switched gears to femininity, recommending that his audience go watch Lady Gaga and Beyoncé’s music video “Telephone”. “The video itself is really just hot… you’ve got to feel it. You’re left with a different idea of what women are now… who they can be.”

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