End of Men, new novel by C.B. Murphy

 

On the Synchronicity of Titles and Implications Thereof

End of Men by C. B. Murphy (Zoographico Press, 2012)

The End of Men and the Rise of Women by Hanna Rosin (Riverhead Books, 2012)

An interview with author C. B. Murphy

GT: We’re here to discuss the synchronicity of the publication of your novel entitled END OF MEN (EOM) followed closely by the publication of Hanna Rosin’s THE END OF MEN: AND THE RISE OF WOMEN (TEOM). Would you care to start off by commenting on this?

CB: In July 2010, the Atlantic Monthly ran an article of Ms Rosin’s using the working title of my forthcoming book. Even though I had been writing my novel for quite a few years using the EOM title, I considered changing it at that time. I struggled to come up with another title I liked as much and in the end reverted to EOM, in large part due to the fact that the title is used in my plot. The premise is not new and has been kicking around a long time in journalism (see Harper’s forum in 1999 “Who Needs Men?”) and Susan Faludi’s “Stiffed” in 2000. Interestingly, in the September 30, 2012 issue The New York Times featured an article entitled “The Myth of Male Decline” that attempting to debunk many of Ms. Rosin’s sweeping conclusions.

I hate to admit how long I’ve been working on this book with this title, but it seemed like a more outrageous title (and concept) when I initially conceived the original concept and plot. Since then, it has become a far more common phrase and concept, even “cliché” as a friend dared to suggest.

GT: Obviously, since your EOM is a novel and Ms Rosin’s TEOM is a nonfiction investigation of the current state of the genders relative to each other and the economy, what do you have to say to the person who “accidentally” buys your book instead of hers?

CB: (laughs) Well, ideally they’ll be pleased they’ve “accidentally” discovered something to read that isn’t overly topical, highly debatable and fairly dated! No, seriously, I read Ms Rosin’s Atlantic piece and I agree with many of her points about the “decline of men” in our society. I think a well-informed reader enjoys both fiction and non-fiction but read them for different reasons. Fiction, though it can be topical and timely, often addresses the human condition but not the immediate events in the news—even when it uses those events to frame a story, such as “9/11” or World War II.

GT: How does your title EOM relate to that same theme expressed in her book?

CB: The three main characters in EOM offer distinct points-of-view that consider Ms. Rosin’s exploration of gender: Ben, a financier in Chicago, his wife Kay who works at an outsider art gallery and Gordon, an old college friend who runs a film school on an Italian island. There are a number of ways in which my title reverberates in the characters’ lives though within the story there is an actual gallery exhibit Kay is curating, a show of feminist art called “The End of Men.” To bring notoriety to the show, Kay invites Gordon and his more famous collaborator Shiraz (an Iranian filmmaker) to show their film at her relatively small Chicago gallery. Controversy arises from several quarters. Ben is shocked and challenged to find his “buddies” from his old wild life (he had an affair with Shiraz in college) showing up in his new staid life, more or less stripped of his early interest in “avante-garde” film and alternate lifestyles.

Kay is representative of several of the women in Ms Rosin’s TEOM. They are directed, upscale and ambitious. Though feminism brings it own challenges (the urban feminists disparagingly call Kay a “beige”), Kay sees the world as a place where she can make a difference through intelligence and education. Ben struggles with many of the challenges and issues facing contemporary men. He’s worked for his father, an old-fashioned cold tyrant, in a field where he’s made money at the expense of nurturing his soul. His father’s death triggers a kind of spiritual crisis for him, not unlike the “crisis of Western civilization” where the advantages of patriarchy are being challenged by the politics of fairness and economic stratification.

GT: Talk about the different kinds of feminism in your two major characters, Kay and Shiraz.

CB: Shiraz is an unusual character. She is partly based on the Iranian photographer, Shirin Neshat, who takes a complex view of women in Islam. Neshat is considered both a feminist and supportive of traditional Islam. My character, Shiraz, gives out similar “mixed messages” about feminism. Like Ms. Neshat, Shiraz was raised by westernized Iranian parents and sent to American schools in the 1970s. Neshat went to Californian schools, Shiraz to the University of Michigan. Shiraz has been working with Gordon on a complex oeuvre not unlike the work of Matthew Barney—mythopoetic, surreal, controversial. Over the years their partnership has become strained as Gordon’s use of drugs and propensity toward promiscuity has veered him away from her concerns—a thoughtful re-imagining of the coming age where women will dominate the world (not unlike a spiritual interpretation of Rosin’s TEOM).

Like Neshat, Shiraz shows ambivalence about radical Islam and hopes there could be a role for a “liberated” woman like herself who embraces both radical self expression and the movement for a world Caliphate (which she interprets ironically as a return to matriarchy).

Unlike Rosin’s worldview, Shiraz sees the ages in terms of mystical movements or zeitgeists that overshadow any short-term socio-economic “phases” that can easily move one way or another.

 GT: How would your characters react to Ms Rosin’s book?

CB: Great question! Kay would like it and see it as more welcome evidence that the world is shifting, most likely in her favor. However, she has mixed feelings about the way the culture (and feminism) has been evolving. On the one hand, she promotes feminist art but she has to put up with prejudices her female co-workers hold against not only “people with money” (what they’re calling the 1% nowadays) but the implication that a married suburban woman cannot legitimately be feminist especially if her husband “supports her” by working in a traditionally male field like finance.

At the same time, Kay feels she missed out on “the Sixties” that she knows her older husband, Ben, experienced, especially at the University of Michigan (when he ran around with Gordon and Shiraz). She is concerned that the cultural shifts (especially for women) since the Sixties have not been all positive. She romanticizes a more free, fun, and creative time (perhaps when men and women “naturally” got along better) and is not sure the cranky women who surround her have internalized the best lessons of that time. So in some ways, she would be critical of Rosin’s premise that “women wear the pants” now and that is a good thing. She would probably say something like, “Why don’t we all wear skirts, or kilts?”

G: What about the male characters, how would they react to Rosin’s THE END OF MEN?

CB: Ben, at least as his character portrayed in the beginning of the book, would say, “They can have it!” (meaning the world). He feels that the patriarchy hasn’t delivered its elusive promises of happiness to him or those around him. His mother is a strong woman in an old-fashioned, “Bette Davis” way, so the idea that women are repressed is a bit hard for him to understand emotionally, if not intellectually. Like Kay (though in a completely different way), he questions both the cultures and his own direction since the Sixties. Unlike Kay, however, he has experienced the dark side of that time—narcissism, drug abuse, nihilism, and economic stagnation—so doesn’t think of it as a place he’d want to go back to.

For Gordon, the Sixties never ended nor would he want them to. His world remains as it was at that time, a creative place that lives in opposition to (but ironically dependent on) the “mainstream culture” or whatever he would call it. Like many artists who take a classic revolutionary (anti-bourgeoisie) position in their work, Gordon depends on grants from museums and counts of the well-heeled to send their budding artistes to his exotic art school. At the same time, Gordon sees himself as an occultist (indeed, he is a follower of Aleister Crowley) who in the tradition of the Golden Dawn see themselves as responding to “hidden” forces, issues and messages that are not accessible to anyone merely because they see themselves as counter-cultural. There is a certain elitism to occult thought that has been downplayed by the New Age’s embrace of its “healing power.”

GT: What would you say to the person who wanted to read Rosin’s TEOM and ended up buying your EOM instead?

CB: (laughs). That’s hard to say. I’d like to think our shared audience see themselves as people who like to stay informed, critique trend analysis and develop their own ideas about what’s going on in the world today. As such, I could see how someone expecting to receive an academic cultural analysis would be surprised to be holding a work of fiction in his or her hands instead. But, as we know, people by nature want to be entertained, and a great story that mirrors reality (and does it well) is a compliment to any nonfiction counterpart.

Of course, regardless of purchase order, my hope is that readers turn around and buy both books!