barzotto – Italian for half-cooked, semi-soft: a half-cooked meal, for example, a soft-boiled egg. I owe this word to my friend Nicola from Vicenza. We were in a club together and were watching a young Italian trying to come on to one of our friends. Nicola laughingly shook his head and said: barzotto. He explained to me that it meant something like awkward or clumsy. And, in his local slang, this is what a penis would be called, “not when it’s hard, not when it’s soft, somewhere in between.”

Not hard, not soft, somewhere in between – a vague indefiniteness but nevertheless a word: barzotto. Truly odd. Since penises are either flaccid or stiff, flabby or erect, dangling down or standing upright. Two states with innumerable designations and meanings. But in between? Phase, transition, limbo? Unquestionably physiological reality; but barely worth mentioning.

barzotto, the half erect penis – an image I could not get out of my head anymore. Another, a new image. Because the world is ruled by hard cocks, by mighty pricks, by the phallus, which one has to imagine as eternally erected, „standing“ for power, dominance, potency. There are no half men. There only are real men. A real man stands upright, is always able to perform, is always potent – he is his hard-on. Masculinity is potency. Not potential. Masculinity is not subjunctive (he could) but indicative (he can). The physical index may rest limp in the pants, but potency must be indicated nonetheless (or even more so). Masculinity must be exhibited, acted out, stated. It is represented: with overpowered cars, with expensive luxury items, with large-caliber weapons. It is exerted: in hierarchical power structures, as physical violence, in endless struggles. It is articulated: as noisy bravado, as disparagement of others, as discursive supremacy that goes without saying.

Potency conceives of itself as absolute; yet, in a representative comparison with others, it becomes relative. A faster car, a taller skyscraper, a larger nuclear arsenal … potency flips over into impotence. Comparison becomes competition, the relationship is one of rivalry, the goal is dominance. Patriarchy – a hierarchy of dominance relationships in which there is still something to dominate for each phallus: other ethnic groups, different sexes, other bodies, animals, nature, environment. Power is still men’s business – in politics, business, military, institutions of all kinds. The reign of the phallus: hard, rigid, ruthless. Patriarchy: a painful permanent erection.

Painful for those who are controlled, oppressed, disadvantaged. Painful also for those who have to walk around with such a hard-on. Who obsessively try to uphold a masculinity that consists of suppressing everything else (especially everything feminine) – also, and particularly, within themselves. This has to change. Masculinity needs a new image, for men of themselves, for their relationships and connections with others. A new image would be: barzotto. The somehow half-erect penis instead of the big, hard phallus.

Everything that constitutes our reality is interwoven: body, psyche, language, symbol; individual, partner, family, society; private, public, education, occupation; media, science, culture, sports, economy, politics. What masculinity is, how and where it manifests, always affects several of these levels simultaneously, permeating them as images, as ways of being, thinking, speaking, acting. Associations, attributes, metaphors, whether for the phallus or barzotto, are therefore not just language games, but refer to fields of tension of masculinity, effective in all dimensions of reality. Phrases relating to barzotto are not to be understood as fixations; they are attempts, approaches, orifices.

First and foremost, barzotto is what it is not: neither flaccid nor stiff, neither impotent nor potent, neither zero nor one. barzotto is indefinite, vague, ambiguous. barzotto is not. barzotto becomes.

The phallus is rigid, definitive, absolute, superlative.
barzotto would be flexible, elastic, relative, relational.

The phallus insists on its standpoint, its rightness, its rule, its language.
barzotto would be versatile, open, communicative, negotiable.

The phallus dominates, competes, penetrates.
barzotto would be egalitarian, playful, passive-active.

The phallus asserts himself, shows off, is randy, is porn.
barzotto would let itself get involved, would be expectant, would yearn, would be eros.

The phallus is proud, vain, serious, humourless, holy, sublime, stubborn, silent, lonely.
barzotto would be humble, gentle, cheerful, funny, profane, serene, thankful, talkative, sociable.

A masculinity oriented to barzotto would not be fixed, definite, firm. It would dare to be soft, shapeless, porous: flow, mixture, participation. Above all, it would leave room for itself, would conceive of itself as a potential to be unfold in communion (of bodies, of ideas), always new, always different.

It would be, like this text, an invitation.