What does a wooden penis mean?

Two phallic postings from November:

on 11/5/17, “Alpine news for penises”, about a giant wooden penis on an Austrian mountaintop

on 11/6/17, “Revisiting 11: news for wooden penises”, about Finnish military “camp cocks” carved from wood and serving as talismans for the soldiers

Then from my friend K to me:

The mountain penis is fun. [The camp cocks one] unfortunately brings to mind too many instances of rape used as a weapon of war.

I went on to question her interpretation and to riff some on what a wooden penis might “mean”.

Finnish camp cock: you can appreciate why K might have been concerned.

— AZ: Psychologically, that’s not the way camp cocks work. It’s not that men are being encouraged to see their penises as weapons, but the reverse: they’re being encouraged to see their rifles as extensions of their own bodies, to identify with their weapons, as in the Rifleman’s Creed, in which the soldier’s dependence on and reverence for his rifle — so great that it’s like a part a part of his body — is explicit. Soldiers are trained to identify with their weapons and care for them as they would parts of their own bodies, because that attitude is literally life-saving for them. If we’re going to send young men to risk their lives for us in war, customs that foster this attitude are a good thing. (Note: yes, this is all about men, because until recently essentially all soldiers were men; military customs arose in that context.)

— AZ: Another note: if a mountain penis is viewed as a symbol, then like any symbolic object, it’s capable of many different interpretations in different contexts, to different viewers. In particular, a mountain penis can be understand as a symbol of male domination, and thus as no fun at all. Just so with a mountaintop cross or Savior or Madonna figure, all of which can be seen as conveying the message that Christianity rules all of us, that we are merely the servants of the Church. Some people see this as symbolic slavery (we must submit ourselves to Our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the institutions of His Church) and resent it deeply.

— K: I’m happy to know the symbolic meaning for the people using the object. [Story of linga carvings at Phnom Kulen in Cambodia – see below] … I don’t have a vision of penises as inherently violent. I do think we can use more sacred carvings in the world…

On the noun linga, from NOAD:

noun lingam (also linga): Hinduism a symbol of divine generative energy, especially a phallus or phallic object worshiped as a symbol of Shiva. Compare with yoni.

On Phnom Kulen, from Wikipedia:

Phnom Kulen is considered a holy mountain in Cambodia, of special religious significance to Hindus and Buddhists who come to the mountain in pilgrimage.

It also has a major symbolic importance for Cambodians as the birthplace of the ancient Khmer Empire, for it was at Phnom Kulen that King Jayavarma II proclaimed independence from Java in 804 CE. Jayavarman II initiated the Devaraja cult of the king, a linga cult

Kbal Spean is known for its carvings representing fertility and its waters which hold special significance to Hindus. Just 5 cm under the water’s surface over 1000 small linga carvings are etched into the sandstone riverbed.

Unfortunately, the streambed linga carvings don’t photograph well.

— AZ in reply to K: Objects are not inherently anything, especially not any particular thing; they just are. But they can be subject to being understood as symbols in many ways. Penises can be fertility symbols, they can be symbols of sexual pleasure, they can be symbols of play, and so on.


The general principle is It’s Just Stuff. From my 6/30/15 posting “That goes without”, on syntactic truncation in examples like I can’t even:

It’s Just Stuff. [Amanda] Hess thinks of phonetic phenomena like uptalk and vocal fry as each having a single fixed meaning, in fact as having the meaning she hears in them. So she understands the high rising terminal pitch of uptalk as question-asking, though this is not at all what users of uptalk are doing with it.

The fact is that different people are doing different things with uptalk, and that different people are doing different things with vocal fry. These phonetic features are “just stuff”, just material that’s available for becoming associated (within particular social groups) with semantics, social meanings, pragmatic functions, discourse functions, and so on. Similarly for lexical items: for example, different people use discourse markers like well for different purposes. And for syntactic constructions: for example, there is plenty of variation in how Subject-Auxiliary Inversion is used. And so for syntactic truncation.

All these things are just aspects of linguistic form, with no intrinsic meaningful content at all, aspects that are available for becoming conventionally associated (in a particular social context) with various sorts of “meaning” (in a very broad sense). It’s Just Stuff.

So it is with visual forms, like a cross or a phallus.

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