Some bloodless writing hinders Bergman's otherwise intriguing examination of hunting as the most powerful metaphor we have for defining what it means to be male. Bergman (English/Pacific Lutheran Univ.) can be quite engaging when he describes hunting whales with the Inuit off Baffin Island in the Arctic or when he looks at the careers and writings of 19th- century big game hunters Roualeyn Gordon Cummings and Frederick Courtenay Selous. His study of the literature from Petrarch to James Fenimore Cooper to Ortega y Gasset can at times become obvious and pedantic: Petrarch's Laura is ``the pure white doe,'' the ``most beautiful and elusive of all creatures in the forest''; the hunter's desire is ``embodied in elaborate courtship games'' and the ``Petrarchian posture is a transforming conception in the history of desire.'' But Bergman is also capable of incisive observation, as when he looks at the evolution of Natty Bumppo's frontier names, i.e., as Deerslayer or Hawkeye, he may be most savage and true to his identity; but as Leatherstocking, resplendent in buckskin breeches and mocassins, he becomes ``that strange American amalgam—the saint with a gun.'' His assertion that the hunt ``informs popular notions of erotic life'' from Elvis's hound dog to Madonna as ``bitch'' goddess, from Daniel Boone to Moby-Dick, also stirs some interest. But Bergman's overall thesis is clouded by vague, sometimes impenetrable academese (``hunting extracts identity from the psychological interplay of desire and power''). While some passages are sharply insightful, there's too much that's dry, bewildering, and nearly unreadable.
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