I took this photo in a cave on one of the islands in HaLong Bay, Vietnam. It is quite graphic and needs no interpretation on my part in terms of what it represents. It was likely the most photographed natural stone formation in the huge cavern that meandered through much of the mountain. Most stopped at this point in the large circle that wandered through various chambers and openings for a longer period of time than at all the other structures that were a photographer’s dream. The fascination was there. Many left the path in order to get the image from different angles. I noticed that women were also among those who stopped for a moment, especially if they carried a camera. As I looked over the gathered crowd taking photographs of the structure, I noticed that it wasn’t just the young adults who were present; also gathered and studying the structure were those who were well into midlife in not into old age. It made me wonder about the fascination with phallos, phallus, the phallic.
The title of today’s post is a variation of Eugene Monick’s book, Phallos: Sacred Image of the Masculine. My copy of this book is sitting on my bookshelf back in Canada, so I am borrowing from Google Books for today’s post. I bought this book a number of years ago, read it and then set it aside. For a while, I thought it might be just a “male” thing, this attention to the human penis. I thought that my interest in the image and the reality of the penis might be somehow an aberration, a signal that I have sex too much on my brain. But then I thought of the images of little boys “playing,” or should I say “discovering” their penis. It is there right in front of our eyes and somehow draws our attention to it over the years. Males are often both proud and ashamed of their penis. We hide the penis and pretend it doesn’t exist; yet at the same time we proudly want to flaunt it, especially for the female that has captured our attention.
This phallic structure was carved out of nature, by nature. The play of light on the structure is all of man’s work. Of course one would have to say that the forces of nature were not intentional in having this structure be phallic in appearance; it is simply an outcropping of stone that has formed over the years. The lights as seen in this image are intentional. But what was the intention? Was it a way to capitalize on the sexual curiousity of humans, a bit of sexual exploitation that would help keep the money rolling in from tourists? Or is there more to it than that? I can’t even begin to guess on the motivation or the intention, but I can see the results and the symbolism that emerges. In my opinion, there is more being said here of unconsciousness guiding consciousness. Religion, art in all forms, and relationships – all respond to phallos, either embracing or rejecting the masculine principle that it symbolizes.
Yet, though we find a way to celebrate phallos collectively in our advertising, in our buildings, in our art; there is a rejection of the physicalness of phallos. Who dares expose their penis in the modern world. Making the presence of the penis obvious via clothing choices is more symbolic of perversion in the public mind than symbolic of energy, virility and the masculine. So we hide the penis behind layers of cloth, the baggier the clothing, the better. And in the process, men become guilty and that guilt is passed down to the young men, the adolescents who become more and more confused about what it is to be a male.
So, am I a pervert, a dirty old man for finding this image and posting it here? Would it not be better to find a more neutral image? Is this simply the fretting of getting older and the fear of losing the energy and vitality of being a “man?”