Robert Bly has died

46 points2
earksiinni6 hours ago

> His most famous, and most controversial, work was “Iron John,” which made the case that American men had grown soft and feminized.

What a bizarre take on Iron John.

First of all, Iron John is a work of amateur folklorology written in a poetic style. It's an extended meditation on a particular folk tale. As any student of folklore knows, the same folk narratives reappear across many time periods and cultures in different guises. That's part of what makes the field so fascinating. There's no direct reference in Iron John to "American men" or anything like that, although there are mentions of America in the same way that he also refers to medieval Norse culture, Polynesians, etc.

Second, if anything, Iron John is about recovering the divine masculine from the toxic wasteland of caricatured and commercialized masculinity. Bly's work is a complement, not a riposte, to the important work feminist writers have done in recovering the divine feminine. To reduce his work to making a case that men have "grown soft and feminized" is to fall into the same farce that Bly was fighting against.

Bly advocated for men to explore their psyches and deep feelings. Iron John connects men to eternal themes of masculinity through the lens of folk tales. Yes, some of those themes have to do with "traditional masculinity," e.g., being a warrior. But he does so with nuance and care, never by denigrating or attempting to confine women, and always while recognizing men's vulnerability.

If I were to summarize Iron John's main theme, it's that the inner child in men must eventually escape the metaphorical mother to discover the "inner hairy wild man" or "Iron John," which Bly describes as the masculine analogue to the feminine "inner hairy wild woman." It's a story about adolescence at its core. It's not even necessarily about biological sex or cisgendered identity, although Bly doesn't go out of his way to accommodate trans people or other gender expressions. (It's not exactly a work that's aged perfectly well.)

There are valid reasons why one could critique Bly's work. Some polemical claim about American men growing "soft" isn't one of them.

RIP, Mr. Bly.

stareblinkstare3 hours ago

>Bly therefore saw today's men as half-adults, trapped between boyhood and maturity, in a state where they find it hard to become responsible in their work as well as leaders in their communities. Eventually they might become weak or absent fathers themselves which will cause this behaviour to be passed down to their children. In his book The Sibling Society (1997), Bly argues that a society formed of such men is inherently problematic as it lacks creativity and a deep sense of empathy. The image of half-adults is further reinforced by popular culture which often portrays fathers as naive, overweight and almost always emotionally co-dependent.

>Historically this represents a recent shift from a traditional patriarchal model and Bly believes that women rushed to fill the gap that was formed through the various youth movements during the 1960s,[21] enhancing men's emotional capacities and helping them to connect with women's age-old pain of repression. It has however also led to the creation of "soft males" who lacked the outwardly directed strength to revitalize the community with assertiveness and a certain warrior strength.

eyelidlessness5 hours ago

I’ll admit, not being familiar with Bly, your comment makes me want to become more familiar if only to see how such contrasting interpretations could exist. I certainly find your take more appealing by far. But I’m also curious whether I’ll find myself with yet another take.

asah5 hours ago

I did read Iron John - came here to repeat OP's comment.

engineer_224 hours ago


glial3 hours ago

Sorry to hear this. There is a lovely documentary about his life available at PBS:

jelling2 days ago

“The Winged Energy of Delight” by Bly is an excellent selection of translations he did of poets from around the world. Rip, Mr Bly.

knob7 hours ago

His work is awesome. I have heard his Iron John audio over a dozen times.

Good stuff he put out there for all of us!

NackerHughes7 hours ago

So how come there isn't a black bar at the top of hackernews despite the fact there's a 'has died' article on the front page? Not important enough? Not in a tech field?

dougmwne4 hours ago

Why would there be? It's an obscure author with a best seller from 30 years ago that has nothing at all to do with HN's usual topics. No idea why this is on HN as it doesn't seem to be relevant to tech or general intellectual curiosity.

engineer_224 hours ago

I think Bly fits with 'general intellectual curiosity'. Bly was the father of a movement that is still going on. Although not politically fashionable, there is a strong desire among young men for discussion about manhood.

missedthecue7 hours ago

I don't think there's a flow chart for it

krapp7 hours ago

It's literally whomever the mods think deserves it, gets it.