Sunday 26 March 2017

A Trip to The Icelandic Phallological Museum

Jarred animal penises at the Icelandic Phallological Museum

   Animals, I’m sure you will agree, are magnificent.

   Despite the fact that we see them every day – the birds in our gardens, the pets which share our homes, the ducks in our parks – it’s not often we take the opportunity to try and learn more about them. Indeed, as Frans de Waal writes in his remarkable book Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, we humans haven’t even begun to reach the tip of the iceberg in terms of knowledge about the animals we share Earth with.

   So, on a trip to Iceland, I was eager to stop by a museum dedicated to a very specific niche of animal biology I had first read about in Richard Herring’s lewd classic Talking Cock. The institution, you see, is not a typical tourist destination and is entirely peerless across the world – situated in the heart of Reykjavik is the one, the only public showcase spanning the globe dedicated to penises and penile parts: The Icelandic Phallological Museum.

Whale penis in a jar

   If, as you read this, you have begun to scratch your head in confusion at what you have read, I will reiterate that there does indeed exist a museum in Iceland dedicated solely to the male reproductive organ. This may seem a tawdry novelty, perhaps a lewd voyeur’s heaven, alas I became determined to find out what level of education could be attained by passing through the attraction’s doors. Maybe, just maybe, by investigating jars of pickled penis I could learn more about the human condition and the place homo sapiens find ourselves at within the universe? More than likely, however, I was likely to find myself shocked, appalled, embarrassed and bemused by a house of dicks.

   So, as I stepped through the doors of the Phallological Museum, I braced myself intellectually for what I may discover in a small building which plays host to “two hundred penises and penile parts belonging to almost all the land and sea mammals that can be found in Iceland.” Even though I was fully aware of what I was about to witness, I was still blown away by the display in front of me – scores of glass vials and cases, running to the edges of the room, contained dozens of dismembered members each somewhat wilted and shrivelled as consequence of no longer being connected to a living thing. Every direction my eyes darted, I was greeted with the sight of another penis: a foreboding whale’s genital in one direction, a seal dick in the other. It didn’t take long until I became verifiably “cock blind”.

A whale penis on display

   I stumbled around the room, a strange mix of fascinated and repulsed, simply staring at these penises until I came across one of the ugliest ones imaginable – to my shock and horror, it turned out that this withered flap of skin had once belonged to a human, a man like me in many ways (except for the fact that he was dead and now had the severely grotesque remains of his penis on display for all to see). I’m not certain I can qualify or quantify my reaction at this point, other than to say it was a visceral one, and I’m still none the closer to being able to put into words anything I tangibly learnt at this museum.

   The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote: “If a lion could speak, we could not understand him.” He was, of course, referring to how wild beasts live existences so detached from our own experiences and perspectives that communication or comprehension between species is simply impossible. During my trip to the Iceland Phallological Museum I too came upon my own philosophy of animal understanding: “If a human could look at an animal’s dismembered penis, we would be no closer to understanding them.” I’m not sure if this matches Wittgenstein in terms of profundity but it is perhaps the truest sentence I will ever write.

   (A huge thanks to Kel at Let's Go Somewhere Nice for providing the additional photos of me used in this post. She was a game companion to this rather weird and wonderful museum.)

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