Friday, March 25, 2011

testicles (tenuously connected) ... a complaint (from Alexander Portnoy)


I still plan to make a Phantoms 2 post this month as promised (I'll work on it next week), but in the meantime I wanted to take advantage of my previous post by using it as a silly segue for the following excerpt from Philip Roth's very funny novel Portnoy's Complaint (1969).

The pictures are all illustrations by Alfred Kubin, and I selected them because I thought they would make excellent covers for subsequent editions of the book. Kubin is a perfect pairing not only because of the deep sexual anxieties expressed in his drawings, but also because he tried to kill himself while standing on his mother's grave.

* * *

The Ape


     "Sometime during my ninth year one of my testicles apparently decided it had had enough of life down in the scrotum and began to make its way north. At the beginning I could feel it bobbing uncertainly just at the rim of the pelvis—and then, as though its moment of indecision had passed, entering the cavity of my body, like a survivor being dragged up out of the sea and over the hull of a lifeboat. And there it nestled, secure at last behind the fortress of my bones, leaving its foolhardy mate to chance it alone in that boy's world of football cleats and picket fences, sticks and stones and pocketknives, all those dangers that drove my mother wild with foreboding, and about which I was warned and warned and warned. And warned again. And again.
     And again.
     So my left testicle took up residence in the vicinity of the inguinal canal. By pressing a finger in the crease between my groin and my thigh, I could still, in the early weeks of its disappearance, feel the curve of its jellied roundness; but then came nights of terror, when I searched my guts in vain, searched all the way up to my rib cage—alas, the voyager had struck off for regions uncharted and unknown. Where was it gone to! How high and how far before the journey would come to an end! Would I one day open my mouth to speak in class, only to discover my left nut out on the end of my tongue? In school we chanted, along with our teacher, I am the Captain of my fate, I am the Master of my soul, and meanwhile, within my own body, an anarchic insurrection had been launched by one of my privates—which I was helpless to put down!
     For some six months, until its absence was observed by the family doctor during my annual physical examination, I pondered my mystery, more than once wondering—for there was no possibility that did not enter my head, none—if the testicle could have taken a dive backwards toward the bowel and there begun to convert itself into just such an egg as I had observed my mother yank in a moist yellow cluster from the dark interior of a chicken whose guts she was emptying into the garbage. What if breasts began to grow on me, too? What if my penis went dry and brittle, and one day, while I was urinating, snapped off in my hand? Was I being transformed into a girl? Or worse, into a boy such as I understood (from the playground grapevine) that Robert Ripley of Believe It or Not would pay "a reward" of a hundred thousand dollars for? Believe it or not, there is a nine-year-old boy in New Jersey who is a boy in every way, except he can have babies.
     Who gets the reward? Me, or the person who turns me in?
     Doctor Izzie rolled the scrotal sac between his fingers as though it were the material of a suit he was considering buying, and then told my father that I would have to be given a series of male hormone shots. One of my testicles had never fully descended—unusual, not unheard of... But if the shots don't work, asks my father in alarm. What then—! Here I am sent out into the waiting room to look at a magazine.
     The shots work. I am spared the knife. (Once again!)"


alfred kubin promenade
The Promenade


alfred kubin headless observation
Self-Observation


What I would use for the cover if I were a publisher:

alfred kubin vagina
Death Jump


portnoy's complaint alfred kubin mock cover design
(Just to give an idea of what it might look like. Lacking a better program I used IrfanView, and I couldn't even figure out how to move "Portnoy's" and "Complaint" closer together...)

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