Transforming the Male Body: Sam Keen’s Mythopoetic Myth-Body and Dan Millman’s Embodied Zen

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Department of English, NTNU


Dan Millman’s Way of the Peaceful Warrior and Sam Keen’s Learning to Fly: Reflections on Fear, Trust, and the Joy of Letting Go constitute a special variety of sports literature by focusing on a minor sport, the flying trapeze, and a singular mixing of Western gymnastics and Eastern martial arts. What’s more significant is that they propose innovative views of the male body, reflecting multiple cultural trends since the 1980s. These trends include the emergence of the mythopoetic men’s movement, New Age spirituality movement, the reinventing of American religions, the Easternization of the West expressed for instance by the vogue of martial arts and Eastern religious and philosophical thoughts, and an increasingly prevalent view of sports as secular religion. In Millman’s and Keen’s works, the sporting male body is viewed as a sanctuary of New Age spirituality or religiosity in a broader sense, as a site for convergence of Western and Eastern body cultures, as a medium for embodiment of “personal mythology,” and as a way of living out “the New Man.” Their works redress the relative underemphasis on the male bodily experiences in sociological investigation and the often one-dimensional, either disembodied or over-phallusized picture of man in literary representation. Their redefinition of masculinity and the renewed imaginations about the male body enrich the often unitary, biased and unbalanced depiction of the male bodily experience. Also, their works illustrate the idea of “inclusive masculinity” by depicting the male body as opening itself to and assimilating multiple thoughts, practices and ideologies from different cultures and the opposite sex.