18 November 2016

Book Review: The Temple of Perfection

Eric Chaline is a sports writer who lives in London.

This book is hardly an academic tome. This is more of a popular social history of the gym. So why is it here on this blog? Much of this history of the gym involves a history of gay men.

The Temple of Perfection is full of a lot of interesting history and details about exercise and the body in Western civilization and now, because of globalization, increasingly the world. Of course, how we see the body is intimately tied to systems of knowledge and the moral economies that those systems of knowledge operate in. So the book is also a history of the epochs of knowledge.

It is a little disorganized and Chaline spends some time on side details that don't see so important to the overall narrative. He posits three broad epochs of the gym. The ancient regime, the enlightenment and the modern period. The modern period history is the most compelling although there are some gaps between the role of sexuality between the enlightenment period and the modern period. He discusses the Foucauldean account of the two epochs but doesn't really analyze or tie the shift from one knowledge regime or the next, sexually, into the modern gym epoch.

Chaline does discuss how the AIDS epidemic and Western medicine's response. Gay men who had been wasting to their death were stabilized and revitalized by anti-retroviral drugs. To help restore these men to bodily health, they were prescribed steroids. And from there, the gay gym bunny was born. The hyper-masculinized/hyper-sexualized male body vaulted into a dominant image. He is able to place this into the rest of the modern history of body.

The version I read was a 272 page cloth published by Reaktion Books on May 15, 2015. ISBN: 978-1780234496. Lowest price seems to be abebooks.com and amazon.com

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