Daisy Dunn

Unmastered: A book on desire, most difficult to tell (…or read)

Among the new words which entered the English Dictionary last year was ‘overshare’, def: ‘to reveal an inappropriate amount of detail about one’s personal life’. If that detail pertains to common experience, though, is it inappropriate to share it, or just unnecessary?

Unmastered, I think, will divide on that question. It will divide readers, in fact, quite generally. It presents itself as something more than a book, as a corporeal embodiment of an experience that, while common to most, is presented as peculiarly the author’s own. Katherine Angel essentially seeks to re-create in book form the sex she shared with a lover (‘The Man’). In it, she also discusses the aftermath of an abortion.

The layout of the book is bizarre, some pages are blank, some contain merely a couplet, others a longer stanza, each piece numbered and affected to read like a fragment of poetry or an adage or the miscellaneous leaf of a private diary. At times one is reminded of a twentieth-century Vorticist publication, in which seemingly disjointed words are set in a sequence to which all manner of meanings could be attached. Angel’s writing often hankers for the reader to impinge an interpretation upon it. Reflecting on pornography, for example, she writes:

‘Stylized bodies, full of knowing and play; highly aestheticized, even down to the disavowal of that aesthetic. Talented, witty photographers – playful, full of Postmodern intertextuality!’

Writing like this doesn’t do a lot for me.

The points the author raises about gender are slightly more interesting. Among the intellectual topics she broaches (she is an academic at Warwick University) are the role of words in defining masculinity, the degree to which female desire can intimidate men, and most centrally, the role a woman plays in defining a man’s masculinity.

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