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A review of “the philosophy of viagra: bioethical responses to the viagrification of the modern world”
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Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy
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A Review of “The Philosophy of
Viagra: Bioethical Responses to the
Viagrification of the Modern World”
Leonore Tiefer PhD a
a Clinical Psychologist and Activist, New York, New York, USA
To cite this article:
Leonore Tiefer PhD (2012): A Review of “The Philosophy of Viagra: Bioethical
Responses to the Viagrification of the Modern World”, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 38:2, 218-219
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The Philosophy of Viagra: Bioethical Responses to the Viagrification
of the Modern World, edited by Thorsten Botz-Bornstein
. New York, NY:
Rodopi, 2011. 227 pages, $69.00 (paperback).
I am a sucker for any book with “Viagra” in the title, especially one in thehumanities or social sciences that promises to examine the effect of thissexual game-changer on contemporary culture, so I was excited to see thisvolume of 15 original essays by European, North American, African, andAsian philosophers.
In fact, and this is probably predictable, this is a wildly eclectic col-
lection, in topics and quality of argument. Although the introduction pre-dicts that all the contributions will approach erotic experience from aphenomenological-existential point of view, I found a mixture of psycho-analysis, history, speculation, theory, and cultural criticism, all with an over-lay of philosophical argument. It’s always hard to summarize an eclecticcollection, so I focus on four selections, hoping this will whet your curiosityregarding the other 11 chapters. You can see the entire table of contents onthe publisher’s website.
Chapter 5 is by Robert Redeker, translated from French to English by
the editor, and titled “Viagra and the Utopia of Immortality.” Redeker arguesthat Viagra represents an “anthropological rupture” and must be understood“in the context of a collective fantasy of a new body and of a new idea of thehuman being” (p. 71). He awards Viagra tremendous power to reconfigureour collective imagination, allowing the human to become “invincible,” anentity he calls “appliance-man” (p. 71). Nothing too new here, but he goeson to argue that “appliance-man” has no soul, has no self, and has no freewill. Whew! Replacing these is a “psyche” that defies mortality. As withfeminine cosmetics, Redeker argues that Viagra no longer “masks” time anddeath, but rather provides the illusion that “it can repair those effects thatdeath, wrinkles, the dryness of cells, etc. have left on the body” (p. 74).
Viagra offers a new utopia, “the utopia of immortality” (p. 75). There’s notenough detail in Redeker’s brief chapter, though, for the reader to examinethis provocative vision of a new way to be human. Perhaps the author couldspell out his utopian/dystopian views a bit better via science fiction.
In Chapter 9, “Erecting New Goals for Medicine: Viagra and Med-
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icalization,” Irish philosopher-bioethicist D ´onal O’Mah ´una trods someterritory familiar to JSMT
readers, reviewing shifts over the past few decadesin how “lifestyle medicine” has “allowed market forces to determine thegoals of medicine” (p. 123). This overgeneralization is not without truth, butO’Mah ´una doesn’t provide the kind of journalistic or historical detail thatwould persuade those not already in agreement. He ends with a more tradi-tional philosophical topic—justice
—in discussing how allocation of medicaltreatment and research resources should require greater moral justification
than we have at present, and that putting so much effort into Viagra whilepeople around the world still suffer from treatable devastations is immoral.
The editor, Botz-Bornstein, born in Germany, with a doctoral degree
from Oxford University, currently works in Paris though he has done researchin Japan, China, and the United States. He has written books dealing cross-culturally with films, dreams, and aesthetics. In Chapter 11, Botz-Bornsteingives a fascinating analysis of “cool” versus “machismo” sexualities in anessay titled, “America and Viagra or How the White Negro Became a LittleWhiter: Viagra as an Afro-Disiac.” After touching on the White-centric adhistory of Viagra, the complex sociology of Black male sexuality, and a bitof Whiteness studies, he argues that “Viagra is a little like gangsta rap, whichinvites the White audience to participate vicariously in a world that is bothalluring and inaccessible” (p 149). Through Viagra, he proposes, White mencould gain access to a “cool” style of sexual virility they normally lack, butthat all evidence (and, admittedly, there is pitifully little relevant information)suggests that they practice a more typical competitive or compulsive machostyle.
Bassam Romaya, an American philosopher, offers an examination of
the relation of Viagra to transsexualism and specifically to “transerections”(p. 194) in Chapter 15, “Erectus Interruptus: All Erections Are Not Equal.”He reviews the landscape of transmen and penises and shows how Viagraseems to conservatively reinforce the centrality of penetration to masculineidentity, privilege, and pride. However, after describing how transmen copewith their “deficient” sexual status whether using an “unnatural” phallusor their embodied microphallus, he concludes that “we are living in thefictional future once widely feared . . . inhabited by cyborgs, genderqueers,transpeople, and cisgendered [i.e., born male] impotents” (p. 202). In otherwords, Viagra, as a paradox, has ended up participating in the queering ofsex!
Well, there’s much more, for example, about quality of life measures in
Viagra science and how they, perhaps intentionally, created a moral burdenon men with erection problems, but you get the point about the variety inthis book and the plenitude of the new and the familiar, the well-arguedand the weak. It reminded me of an edited collection I read almost 20 yearsago, Solitary Pleasures: The Historical, Literary, and Artistic Discourses of
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(Bennett and Rosario, 1995). I don’t think I understood halfof what I read in that book, but it helped me understand how humanitiesprofessors have an important place in sexuality studies and taught me neverto forget there are always multiple meanings, contexts, and ways of lookingat sexual topics.
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