Brandon University professor’s book on the anus makes most-anticipated list

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A forthcoming book from Brandon University (BU) professor Dr. Jonathan A. Allan has been named one of “Sixteen for ’16” to watch for this spring by a prominent Canadian literary critic.

Allan’s book, “Reading from Behind: A Cultural History of the Anus,” is a study of the anus, the ass, the rear in literary and cultural theory. Taking the anus beyond the butt of jokes, Allan examines why people squirm when it is mentioned, since we all have one and use it every day.

“It was 2014 that was called ‘the year of the booty,’ and 2015 was called ‘a banner year for the male butt,’ but it is both desirable and yet shameful, pejorative,” said Allan, the Canada Research Chair in Queer Theory and an Assistant Professor in Gender and Women’s Studies as well as English and Creative Writing at BU. “We all have one, and it seemed an interesting topic to study.”

"Reading From Behind" Canadian cover art.
“Reading From Behind” Canadian cover art.

In a playful yet scholarly way, Allan democratises the anus as a site of necessity and as a location of pleasure. Although the ass clearly draws much attention (Kim Kardashian’s famously ‘broke’ the internet), until now it has been largely ignored by literary scholars and cultural theorists. Allan’s theory of close reading enables readers to “read from behind,” and explore the other side of texts.

“Certain concepts and attitudes toward the anus, such as scatology, coprology, and coprophilia have attracted serious attention and have been part of the western imagination’s geography from Aristophanes to Chaucer, Shakespeare, Swift, Dryden, Joyce and so on,” said BU Dean of Arts Demetres Tryphonopoulos. “However, the role of the anus as a space/topos of meaning has not been adequately surveyed, scrutinized, or theorized.”

Allan’s new book begins an overdue cultural re-examination of the anus.

“The anus has now found its ‘muse’,” Tryphonopoulos said. “Jonathan’s Allan radical, ingenious, elegant ‘Reading from Behind’ brings together the author’s impressive mastery of literary and theoretical culture in order to present to us the anus for the intricate and evocative organ, symbol, and sign that it has always been. By reorienting and even inventing the anus as a site of significance and playful ambiguity, Allan succeeds in theorizing but also overcoming our anxiety with things anal.

Reading From Behind UK cover art.
“Reading From Behind” UK cover art.

“Reading from Behind” will be published on March 4, 2016 by the University of Regina Press as the debut volume in their “Exquisite Corpse” series, each focusing on what is left unsaid about the body. European rights for “Reading from Behind” have been secured by Zed Books, and it will be published overseas at the same time. As well, the American Men’s Studies Association is hosting a special forum later this year, which will include discussion of the book by a past president of the association through to a current graduate student. And, the book will be officially launched at Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Calgary in May.

Pre-publication reviews are very positive, and it is already attracting media attention, including an upcoming interview with VICE.

“Reading from Behind” was also featured as one of Steven Beattie’s “Sixteen for ’16” titles to watch for this spring. Beattie, the Reviews Editor for Canadian book trade magazine Quill & Quire, wrote on his personal literary website that Allan’s book “does just what it says on the tin, exploring the meaning and significance of the anus in western culture, from Freud to porn to ‘Brokeback Mountain’.”

Allan is currently at work on his second book, “Uncut: The Foreskin Archive,” which will also be part of the “Exquisite Corpse” series, as will a book that he has edited, “Virgin Envy: Beyond the Hymen.”


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