Learning from Being Down to Earth

Posted in Books by NAN on 2009/02/18

Late Medieval ink drawing of a Woodwose or Wildman of the Woods, the same figure in the Grimm fairy tale retold by Robert Bly in Iron John: A Book About Men (1990).

I am easily distracted when on the desk but, strangely, I can concentrate on reading books when on the go. Travel time actually adds up to my reading time. It’s like my social shield, I guess, like an iPod, only paper. As part of my list for a Read Your Own Books challenge this year, I finished Iron John by Robert Bly who I first encountered as a poet. And that’s also where he’s coming from. To show what it is to be a man, he returns to old stories and goes to poems.

One amazing thing that I realized while reading this book is that it’s probably the same figure of The Wild Man that we see in some primitive Pinoy rituals. It is the same as the frenzied abandon of men during the feast of St. John the Baptist in Nick Joaquin’s Summer Solstice. It is the same energy of Tatarin‘s straw-wearing men carrying the statue of the saint who wore hide when he baptized Christ. It is the same enchanting muddy procession-goers that scare Kris Aquino in Chito Roño’s Sukob. It is the same spirited rapture of ati-atihan in our common festivals.

What Bly saw in this Wild Man figure is its efficacy as an initiator. He spends the entire book on an anthropological-cultural-psychological explanation of masculine anxieties. To appreciate this, though, is also to accept that one is also part of the myth. Like the poet that he is, he feels through the crevices of the old story to define the healthy alternative to macho. He’s like asking—what are you angry about?—and sometimes, you feel like he’s actually talking about himself. Then you look at the cover side by side with his photo to see the initiator look-alike. And it is true—we see how important it is to be welcomed into manhood. How to handle sexual energy, to restore the masculine emotion not as an inner vagina, we meet the wild man who is down to earth. Literally.


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