"When he meets another man, the first thought of 99 out of 100 men is: Can I take this guy in a fight?"

So said Todd, a friendly young Marine, a few months ago as he explained his theory of male human nature to KLC and me. We got into the subject via an anecdote Todd was telling about what he would do if he were out running an errand and chanced, in passing by an alley, to see a woman struggling with a man. Todd said that he would intervene --- "Of course!" --- to rescue her, the clear assumption being that the man was the aggressor.

I asked Todd what his reaction would be if, in a similar situation, he saw two males in hand-to-hand combat? Todd thought about it and decided that, if the match seemed relatively even, he would probably ignore them and continue on his way. If one man were beating up on the other perhaps he would try to break things up.

"And what if it were two women fighting?" I then asked. That thought-experiment brought a smile to Todd's face. He told us that he would watch, or maybe take his clothes off and try to join in. Hmmmm was the reaction of KLC (a woman) and me.

I remembered that conversation with Todd when I saw Gary Shteyngart's review (in the 8 June 2003 New York Times Sunday book section) of a new collection of short stories by Benjamin Cavell. Shteyngart begins tongue-in-cheek:

Why do men hit each other? As someone who has never thrown a punch in his life, I am probably the last person to ask. But as a great deal of fist-happy recent literature can attest (not to mention our country's muscular forays abroad), I am clearly in the sissified New York minority, cowering beneath my writing desk on the wrong side of the Hudson. To the array of extreme male-on-male American violence we can now add Benjamin Cavell's collection of short stories, Rumble, Young Man, Rumble.

Then Shteyngart goes on to critique the lesser works in Cavell's anthology and to praise the better ones, in particular "Blue Yonder" and "The Ropes". Along the way he summarizes the edgy essence of one of my favorite books/movies:

... grand satire on the order of Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club is needed; that was a novel whose cast of homicidal men concocted a testosterone-driven Newspeak out of self-mutilation, cancer support groups and, when necessary, explosives.

As a vegetarian/pacifist I find Todd's philosophy of life fascinating yet alien, distasteful yet attractive in a hypnotic fantasy fashion. The insane dark anarchy of Fight Club similarly appeals to deeply buried parts of my psyche. Why? I don't know --- but I need to work to understand it. The simple answers --- e.g., "evolution" or "id" --- don't suffice ...

TopicLiterature - TopicSociety - 2003-06-15

(correlates: PresentTension, ForestDialect, ChivalrousReasoning, ...)