ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2015
issue/numero: # 07


Author | Autor: Jacques Fux

Translated by Eric M. B. Becker

(Damn Nazis. Eichmann. Bormann. Argentina. Brazil. Now it all makes sense.

Everything fits.) I was a normal child. Normal, but with all the peculiarities

of a Jewish kid living in the modern-day ghetto. I had my Jewish mother

and father, my Jewish friends, my Jewish relatives, my Jewish school, the

Jewish club, and, at the time, I even thought that The Xuxa Show was kosher programming.

There were plenty of wombs around to nurture me. The first of them I

managed to break free from (as everyone does), with great effort. I feel like after

leaving that cozy, warm, comfortable, safe place (I seek it out again and again), I

got my first kick in the ass. To be honest, years later, I’m able to see that it was little

more than a Michelangelean pat on the rear, since I was already a masterpiece at

that point who should have parlare. But right from the start, Mom was giving me

love, affection, safety and loads of milk. There was no need for me to ever cry. I

could have it all. So in the end, I didn’t suffer so much with this first kick in the ass.

And one week later, they snipped off my foreskin. Brit Milah, my covenant with the

chosen people and my protection against cruel Lilith. That is, if God and Lilith exist.

Or is circumcision designed to make us certain that we’re always incomplete? In

my case, this incompleteness has always been physical—there’s nothing more to

be done. I’ve never heard of a foreskin implant. I’ve never heard of someone who

wanted one. The truth is, the whole thing must have hurt a lot. I must have felt

scared with all those people there eating and drinking on someone else’s dime

(wherever you find free food and drink and another’s misfortune, you’ll find plenty

of Jews, especially the kind of relatives who probably only appear at a Brit Milahs

and bar-mitzvahs). They looked on at me and my wee-wee. So tiny, the two of us

. . . At least one of them grew up (even if it wasn’t much). They even doused the

tip in wine to mock me. In vino veritas. Soon after, literally, they castrated me. The

castration, plagiarizing by anticipation Freudian theory, did in truth take place.

Some extremist psychoanalysts consider the rite of Brit Milah to be a sort of Jewish

self-mutilation, this being one of the explanations for anti-Semitism. I don’t

know anything, but I suspect a great many things. I don’t remember a thing. This

is where I would insert myself into History. The Story of Abraham and his covenant

with God. In medieval Jewish literature, along with Lilith and and the dybbuks. My

own story began to replicate literature’s. I discovered inside myself the symptoms

of Portnoy’s Complaint. Fascinating. The way history had reproduced history was

already quite staggering; that my story could reproduce literature was inconceivable.

Yet, all the same, my story went on.

The other womb that always kept me protected—this one omniscient, omnipresent,

and omnipotent—was that of Mom and Dad, the most unforgettable people

I ever met. They must have made a womb of the sort of material used to construct

those black boxes in airplanes. They knew everything, could do everything,

thought of everything, and I believe they were even able to guess at every one of

my thoughts, the most intimate, even without knowledge of the Kabbalah and its

manipulation of sacred letters. Could my parents have been followers of Tzinacan

and known the Holy Scripture? Could they have been characters from literature?

Was it magic? Reality? Magic realism?

Still another womb offered me protection. Or should have offered me protection.

It was much bigger, much scarier, and shared with many other kids: the Jewish

school. All the students were Jewish and near-twins, since they’d had similar

upbringings. I lived an exaggeratedly sheltered existence and had this feeling that I

was the chosen one, the special one. Could it be we’re all like that as children or is it

just young Jewish kids? The relationship between Stephen Dedalus and his boarding

school was exactly the opposite of me with mine. Yet both of us would become

artists (perhaps). My school seemed enormous with its thirty-five students. It was

an extension of my home. The teachers and administrators were versions of my

mother. They watched over all of us. In my class, there were little more than four

students, one of which was a girl. A sweet girl. A pretty girl. A creature unknown

to me. One who piqued my interest. My curiosity. Was it love for the unfamiliar?

Despite all the care and protection the school offered, I needed more. My standard

for comparison was the pre-school. Which was full of kids. So I needed to look for

even more emotional support. More shelter, more safety, more love and affection.

That’s when I discovered these things in my Jewish friends. Who became my siblings

for life. Companions on a long and fruitful journey.

But when you’re a perfectly normal kid, everyone expects you to be simply brilliant.

The most brilliant of all. Natural, smooth, outstanding. I would have to decide

while still at a very young age what I would do to become a successful, intelligent,

wealthy, and acclaimed young man of eighteen. Yes, for a child of four or five, to

imagine yourself at eighteen is to see yourself as an adult—complete, happy, determined,

with a family, money, cars, belongings, distinctions, prizes, children, books,

culture, leisure time, vacations. Phew. The basics, nothing more. An so, still just a cub,

I made the most important decision of my life. Which almost never changed with

the passing of the years. A practical decision, straight to the point and easily within

reach: I would become an astrophysicist and before long would earn a Nobel Prize.

Obviously it wouldn’t do to simply study the most complex mathematical theories

applied to the most wild, abstract, and imaginative concepts of physics. All this led

to those minor awards. Who needs a Jabuti, a Pulitzer, or any of that other crap?

The Nobel it would be, a gift to Mom and Dad and all the others who’d helped me to

accomplish this feat I’d already set out to accomplish. The eyes follow the paths that

have been laid down for them in the work. Several times, I rehearsed my Nobel acceptance

speech. My thank you remarks. My dedication of the award. My humility in

the face of such a feat. Everything was set. Only the details remained to be worked

out. Hence, in my view, my story and that of my family bore resemblance to stories

from literature and Jewish history. I needed to be brilliant, like Alexander Portnoy. My

brother, on the other hand, like Portnoy’s sister, was far from a genius. But he had

many qualities. A man of plain qualities and remarkable sensitivity. In this way, my

life and my family, though special, weren’t unique. Other lives and other literatures

had inevitably been like mine. Could that be why I’m here talking about and fabricating

my life and my literature? Am I special or not? Have we all been chosen? Do we

choose our own paths? Je m’en fou. I go on living, writing, reminiscing and inventing.

And being a perfectly normal guy.

My choice of a profession wasn’t mere chance. It had been coldly calculated,

planned out, studied, well founded (all at the age of five). Everyone who lived in

the modern ghettos had heard stories of the great achievements and discoveries

made by Jews. Science, above all mathematics and physics, was revered and held

great mystery. Further, the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics were considered

the science of Jews, brilliant Jews. So I decided to follow the path of the

other brilliant geniuses who’d come before me. I would be one more among them.

I decided to trod the same path they did and be every bit as much a genius as a

certain Jewish German physicist: Albert Einstein. I’d heard stories that Einstein

had been unable to speak until seven years of age, or that until the age of two,

he’d displayed a certain slowness in comparison to the other children. However,

I’d decided upon a still easier path. Since I was a child without any developmental

delay whatsoever, who spoke without difficulty and even earned good grades in

reading class, my path to the Nobel would be swifter than others could imagine.

Einstein, even with all his childhood difficulties, had come upon his brilliant idea at

sixteen. He won the prize at forty-two. I, then, needed to be prepared to reach my

insight, my brilliant epiphany, my discovery of the unknown at the gum-chewing

age of eleven. My Nobel-winning idea would be the vision that would destabilize

me emotionally, like a faint nausea, while still a youth. I was to have everything

ready to receive my accolade at thirty-three. But life is full of obstacles. (Damn

Nazis. Why did it have to be me? Why?) I wasn’t prepared for a single one of them.

I hadn’t been raised for stumbling blocks, challenges, and failures. I wasn’t meant

to be like Don Quixote, storming into battle, authoring my own epopees. No, I

would flee from battle. I would show no honor or virtue in the face of adversity.

And later, I discovered that not even the stories I’d heard had been as simple as all

that. Einstein, in reality, hadn’t had all of these problems in his youth. Things, even

for a mind as gifted as his, hadn’t been so simple. Physics and mathematics were

genuinely difficult, complicated, complex, unattainable. Many times, our stories are

full of mistakes, shaped by time, by our minds, by desires, by frustrations. But I can,

via literature, embellish my life. I can retell it as though it were Don Quixote’s or like

Forrest Gump’s. And by reshaping my memory, I will reshape my past.

I recall the day I decided to announce my profession to the world. The profession

I’d chosen. The profession to end all professions. I remember perfectly how

we all sat in a circle, all the students in my class. The doda went from student to

student asking what we wanted to be when we grew up. I’d have to grow up (rats!)

and this would result in a great many news things. Everyone said they wanted to

be doctors, lawyers, or soccer players (such innocence, little did they know, Pelé

wasn’t Jewish, nor had there ever been a Jewish winner of the Nobel for Soccer,

and, as a result, there was little reason to become a soccer star. Women, money,

fame, cars, culture—astrophysicists had everything and then some.) So I filled my

lungs with a deep breath. I swallowed all my shame, my timidity, and announced:

I’m going to be an astrophysicist. Declaring at age five that you want to become an

astrophysicist entails, above all, social suicide. All those present in such a solemn

and illustrious moment were charged, as a civic and moral duty, with the responsibility

to mock, attack, and ridicule each coming step taken by this idiot who hadn’t

chosen medicine, engineering, or law. (If I had, for example, chosen to be a noble

knight at five years of age, it would have shocked everyone much less.) A great

deal of courage had been required. And stupidity, to make such a declaration. Later,

the result of such a declaration is a gulf that’s created between you and others

and even yourself, from the unheimlich. The bizarre idiot. I was about to become

the eternal victim of bullying (a contemporary and polite term for human and literary

relations as old as the Earth). And so, returning to my unusual declaration: not

even the teacher was able to figure out what I’d actually said. My teachers, the era’s

guardians of knowledge, were unfamiliar with the term. They all knew very well

how to repeat old wives’ tales. They were important figures in the global history of

such things. They would tell us, for example, that the Amazon is the world’s lungs,

that sleeping with a plant next to your bed is almost certain suicide (seeing as how

plants give off carbon dioxide), and that the theory of relativity is rather simple:

everything is r I elative. And so faced the jeers of my classmates and the stupidity

of my teacher when it came to science and the Nobel Prize. And I, so often vulgar,

so often obscene, so often vile, found such common wisdom hard to believe. I had

been chosen to blaze a noble path (as had everyone who was present there). I

couldn’t imagine how they didn’t know what an astrophysicist was. Hardly anyone

at all knew what the word meant. And, honestly, neither did I. But, all the same, I

proudly declared my future profession.

Yet all my grand declarations, my grand achievements, my grand dreams,

prizes, desires, aspirations are (were?) motivated by two simple factors: pleasing

my mother and, at the time, pleasing Silvinha. (Years later, each great achievement

would also have the aim of pleasing my mother and, of course, getting laid). The

only girl in my class: Silvinha. A blondie. A real cutie. My little girlfriend. My girlfriend

in grand style: I never really came near her. I never managed to trade so

much as a word with her. I only knew how much I liked her by my shortness of

breath, the way I began to sweat, and the quickening of my heartbeat when I sat at

her side. I was her protector during recess. I was a knight whose mission it was to

protect my Dulcinea with valor. She baked beautiful cakes of sand with her friends.

Childhood works of art. I admired her early works with love, care, and attention. I

was already possessor of a sensitive and feminine soul for appreciating art, at least

the art of affection. That was why I sought to protect the girls and their sand cakes

from the cruel, horrible fate handed down by the other boys, the young dybbuks:

the total destruction of these tiny monuments by kicks and blows. I tried in vain to

protect them. I exercised tikkum olam. I’d been raised by my mother to be a virtuous,

kind, and generous boy. A real tzadik. I thought my mother was perfect, too.

That she was a virgin. And she thought I was a god. What a sublime relationship!

As sublime as the story of Jesus. Who was, in fact, Jewish and whose mother was

said to be a virgin. And so I, too, had a moral, social, and prophetic duty to be perfect.

I fancied myself protector of the young ladies. Or at least I imagined myself in

such a role. They were beautiful. And I dreamed of Silvinha. I don’t even remember

these dreams, but they didn’t have any sexual component. Vivre sans volumpté,

c’est vivre sous la terre. I never dreamed and didn’t have a clue that the fact that

I had a little wee-wee and Silvinha did not could result in unimaginable pleasures.

I went on loving her. What can one do if not, in the presence of others, love? Love

and forget, love and mislove, love, unlove and love again? Despite never making a

public declaration of my love, my eyes guarded no secrets. Ah, if only she would

guess, if she could hear my gaze’s call, if a single look was enough for her to know

how my eyes adored the sight of her . . . That’s how I continued loving my mother

and protecting Silvinha.

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