The Foreskin and Circumcision in Literature
In most of these books, those quoted below,
circumcision is a plot point, and the issue is only whether or not a
character is circumcised, and why. The treatment varies widely,
depending on whether the culture is circumcising or intact.
Heaven and 3001,
on other pages, deal with sexual consequences of intactness and
circumcision respectively, in very different ways, and Tales of the City with growing
Indeed, The Ask isn’t really a Jewish novel, but
there are, throughout its pages, tinges of the Jewish experience. For
one thing, Milo routinely kvetches over his decision to not have his
Meanwhile, his son, Bernie, has his own
obsession—more age-appropriate—with the extra tubing. “Do superheroes
have foreskins?” he asks his dad. “Does Goliath have a foreskin?”
Lipsyte, as is his talent, turns a meaningful family moment into comedy
just in time: “Not for long,” Milo answers. “Not when David’s done with
him.” When Bernie asks who David is, Milo tells him, “A foreskin
The Millions, September 9, 2010
Aldous Huxley (1949)
Film script about a dystopian future.
This new bright day is the twentieth of February,
2108, and these men are members of the New Zealand Re-Discovery
Expedition to North America. Spared by the belligernts of the Third
World War... here come [New Zealand's] first explorers, re-discovering
America from the West. And meanwhile, on the other side of the world,
the black men have been working their way down the Nile and across the
Mediterranean. What splendid tribal dances in the bat-infested halls of
the Mother of Parliaments! And the labrynth of the Vatican - what a
capital place in which to celebrate the lingering and complex rites of
female circumcision! We all get precisely what we ask for.
sarcastic condemnation of "female circumcision" indicates the term is
not just a euphemism for "female genital mutilation/cutting" but
pre-dates it. Deplorable stereotyping of "the black men", but of its
Edward St Aubyn
Eleanor tells Mary of a particularly upsetting
incident, when a drunken David circumcised his infant son as Eleanor
and others looked on, too scared to do anything. “They knew this was no
operation, it was an attack by a furious old man on his son’s genitals;
but like the chorus in a play, they could only comment and wail,
without being able to stop him.” A scandalised Mary wonders how a
mother could let this happen, but concludes that her mother-in-law
“could never have protected anyone else when she was so entranced by
her own vulnerability, so desperate to be saved.”
"How could an infant express himself before he had
a self to express, or the words to express what he didn't yet have?
Only the dumb language of injury and illness was abundantly available.
There was screaming, of course, if it was allowed."
Eleanor is reminiscent of real-life Dina Lucas Relles in this essay.]
Steal: A Writer's Life
In one essay, he explores what he regards as the
unnecessary business of circumcision, particularly regarding his own
sons: “My brother was unimpressed. To him, I am the worst traitor: a
non-believer who was brought up to believe.”
The Telegraph, March 13, 2010
crop a ear or scorch a brand...
... He stood up, said you bet he'd like to see
Jack's room, recalled one of Jack's stories about this old man. Jack
was dick-clipped and the old man was not; it
bothered the son, who had discovered the anatomical disconformity
during a hard scene. He had been about three or four, he said, always
late getting to the toilet, struggling with buttons, the seat, the
height of the thing, and often as not left the surroundings sprinkled
down. The old man blew up about it and this one time worked into a
"Christ, he licked the stuffin out a me, knocked
on the bathroom floor, whipped me with his belt. I thought he was
killin me. Then he says, 'You want a know what it's like with piss all
over the place? I'll learn you,' and he pulls it out and lets go all
over me, soaked me, then he throws a towel at me and makes me mop up
the floor, take my clothes off and warsh them in the bathtub, warsh out
the towel, I'm bawlin and blubberin. But while he was hosin me down I
seen he had some extra material that I was missin. I seen they'd cut me
different like you'd crop a ear or scorch a brand. No way to get it
right with him after that."
First published in the New
Yorker, October 13, 1997
This story gets it right, that when a circumcised
boy discovers what he is missing - especially something his father has
- he is traumatised. In a circumcising society he may take comfort from
being the same as his peers, but for many this only delays the shock
film of "Brokeback Mountain"
starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack Twist and Heath Ledger as Ennis Del
Mar does not include the above sequence, perhaps because it would need
to be a flashback near the end.
Nostra / Caelius, our Lesbia (Poem 58)
Catullus (84- ~54 BCE)
Caelī, Lesbia nostra, Lesbia illa,
illa Lesbia, quam Catullus ūnam
plūs quam sē atque suōs amāvit omnēs,
nunc in quadriviīs et angiportīs
glūbit magnanimī Remī nepōtēs.
Caelius, our Lesbia, that Lesbia,
that Lesbia, alone whom Catullus loved
more than himself and all his own,
now, in the crossroads and in the alleyways,
she peels the grandsons of great Remus
Latin for "to strip
the bark from a tree". "The grandsons of Remus" are the noble youths of
Captain and Thomasine
Grew up a girl, became a soldier, dressed
as a woman, defended herself in stunning Jamestown court case.
The Thomas/Thomasine Hall case of 1629 was about
America’s first known intersexual, her struggle for identity in a
male-female world and her choice to dress as a woman despite the
efforts of settlers in Jamestown to force her to dress as a man.
Magistrate Nathaniel Basse ruled that she could dress as a woman, but
the settlers took their case to the Virginia governor. Thomasine Hall
testified that she was christened as a girl and raised as a girl, that
she considered herself a girl in childhood and a woman in adulthood.
The governor had something else in mind. He did not rule that Hall must
dress as a man, but something far worse.
György Dalos lives in Berlin, but in his books he
regularly returns to his homeland, Hungary. He was born in Budapest in
His novel "The Circumcision," which first appeared
in German (Die Beschneidung. Eine Geschichte) in
1997, is about a boy named Robi and his experiences with growing up.
Robi's biggest problem is the fact that he missed out on the Jewish
ritual of circumcision, which is normally performed on boys when they
are eight days old. It never happened because there was no time for it,
since Robi was born in an air-raid shelter in Budapest during a period
of regular bombings.
From the publisher:
Twelve-year-old Robi Singer and best friend Gabor Blum are the only
boys in their class who have yet to be circumcised. Robi is worried.
What if the knife should slip? What will the
others think in the showers? Will he find a wife? Is there plastic
surgery to fix damage of this sort?
Should he have the circumcision? Everyone has an
opinion—from his teachers to his eccentric grandmother and
hypochondriac mother—the final decision is Robi’s.
Purported autobiography of the Roman Emperor Claudius
(10 BCE - 54 CE)
[Herod Agrippa's] was not a drama in the purest
classical tradition, although his life was finally cut off in classical
tragic style by the conventional divine vengeance for the conventional
Greek sin of arrogance - no, there were too many un-Greek elements in
it. For instance, the God who inflicted the vengeance on him was not
one of the urbane OIympian community: he was perhaps the oddest deity
that you would find anywhere in my extensive dominions, or out of them,
for that matter, a God of whom no image is in existence, whose name his
devout worshippers are forbidden to pronounce (though in his honour
they clip their foreskins and practise many other curious and barbarous
rites), and who is said to live alone, at Jerusalem, in an ancient
cedar chest lined with badger-skins dyed blue and to refuse to have
anything to do with any other deities in the world or even to
acknowledge the existence of such.
being a recognized religion (the better sort of Jews repudate it
strongly), the cult [Christianity] falls under the regulations against
drinking-clubs and sodalities; and is of the dangerous sort that grows
the stronger by prohibition. The chief article in the faith is the
absolute equality of man with man in the sight of the Jewish God with
whom this Joshua [or Jesus as his Greek followers call him] is now
practically identified - and of God's granting everlasting bliss to
sinners on the single condition of their repentance and acknowledgement
of his supremacy to all other Gods. Anyone can be enrolled in the cult,
irrespective class, race, or character, so people join who cannot hope
for admittance to the legitimate mysteries of Isis, Cybele, Apollo, the
rest, either because they have never had the necessary social standing,
or because they have lost it by some disgrace or crime. At first an
initiate had to submit to circumcision, but even this ritual
preliminary has now been waived because the sect has broken away so
completely from orthodox Judaism that a mere sprinkling of water and
the naming of the Messiah is the only initiatory ceremony.
... this will
help you become a real mensch
Albee's parents have separated, his Bar Mitzvah is
and his now-Orthodox father has changed his mind
about a concession he made before Albee was born....
“How come you’re not circumcised?” Francis asked.
“I don’t really know. He said that my mother
didn’t want it.” They had stopped the game, the subject was too complex
to discuss while simultaneously playing. “He offered me money. Can you
“Geez. So it’s like you get to have two Bar
Read the whole story online
Novel about conjoined twins whose mother dies giving
them birth in Ethiopia, surgically separated soon after and their
The probationer broke the ensuing silence. She was
trying to anticipate,
so she opened a circumcision tray and pulled on gloves. The one thing
Matron allowed her to do without supervision was to use the foreskin
But instead of praising her, Hema pounced on her.
“My goodness, girl,
don’t you think these children have had quite enough? They’re preemies!
They are not out of danger. Want them to be chip-cock Charlies on top
all this? ... And you? What have you been doing all the time, eh? You
should’ve been worrying about their swallowing ends, not their watering
- (Noida, UP, India: Random
House India, 2009) p.107
Sunday 24 December, 1911
This morning my nephew's circumcision. A short,
bow-legged man, Austerlitz, who already has 2,800 circumcisions behind
him, carried the thing out very skillfully. It is an operation made
more difficult by the fact that the boy, instead of lying on a table,
lies on his grandfather's lap, and by the fact that the person
performing the operation, instead of paying close attention, must
whisper prayers. First the boy is prevented from moving by wrappings
which leave only his member free, then the surface to be operated on is
defined precisely by putting on a perforated metal disc, then the
operation is performed with what is almost an ordinary knife, a sort of
fish knife. One sees blood and raw flesh, the moule
about briefly with his long-nailed, trembling fingers and pulls skin
from some place or other over the wound like the finger of a glove. At
once everything is all right, the child has scarcely cried. Now there
remains only a short prayer during which the moule
drinks some wine and with his fingers, not yet entirely unbloody,
carries some wine to the child's lips. Those present pray: “As he has
now achieved the covenant, so may he achieve knowledge of the Torah, a
happy marriage, and the performance of good deeds.”
Today when I heard the moule's
assistant say the grace after meals and those present, aside from the
two grandfathers, spent the time in dreams or boredom with a complete
lack of understanding of the prayer, I saw Western European Judaism
before me in a transition whose end is clearly unpredictable and about
which those most closely affected are not concerned, but, like all
people truly in transition, bear what is imposed upon them. It is so
indisputable that these religious forms which have reached their final
end have merely a historical character, even as they are practiced
today, that only a short time was needed this very morning to interest
the people present in the obsolete custom of circumcision and its
half-sung prayers by describing it to them as something out of history.
George Bernard Shaw (1906)
Cynical satire of early 20th Century medicine, in
which each doctor supposes his own favourite malady and treatment is
the key to all of medicine.
SIR PATRICK. I know your Cutler Walpoles and their
like. They've found out that a mans' body is full of bits and scraps of
old organs he has no mortal use for. Thanks to chloroform, you can cut
half a dozen of them out without leaving him any the worse, except for
the illnes and the guineas it costs him. I knew the Walpoles well
fifteen years ago. The father used to snip of the ends of people's uvulas
for fifty guines, and paint throats with caustic every day for a year
at two guineas a time. His brother-in-law extirpated tonsils for two
hundred guineas until he took up women's cases at double the fees.
Cutler himself worked hard at anatomy to find something fresh to
operate on ; and at last he got hold of something he calls the nuciform
sac, which he's made quite the fashion. People pay him five hundred
guineas to cut it out. They might as well get their hair cut for all
the difference it makes ; but I suppose they feel important after it.
You cant go out to dinner now without your neighbor bragging to you of
some useless operation or other.
EMMY [announcing] Mr Cutler
Walpole. [She goes out]
WALPOLE [swiftly] I know whats the matter
with you. I can see it in your complexion. I can feel it in
the grip of your hand.
RIDGEON. What is it?
RIDGEON. Blood-poisoning! Impossible.
I tell you, blood-poisoning. Ninety-five per cent of the human race
suffer from chronic blood poisoning, and die of it. It's as simple as A
.B.C. Your nuciform sac is full of decaying matter - undigested food
and waste products - rank ptomaines. Now you take my advice, Ridgeon.
Let me cut it out for you, Youll be another man afterwards.
SIR PATRICK. Dont you like him as he is?
No I dont. I donlt like any man who hasn't a healthy circulation. I
tell you this : in an intelligently governed country people wouldn't be
allowed to go about with nuciform sacs, making themselves centres of
operation ought to be compulsory : it's ten times more important than
SIR PATRICK. Have you had your own sac removed,
may I ask?
I havent got one. Look at me ! Ive no symptoms. I'm sound as
bell. About five percent of the population havent got any ; and I'm one
of the five per cent. I'll give you an instance. You know Mrs Jack
Foljambe : the smart Mrs Foljambe? I operated at Easter on her
sister-in-law, Lady Goran and found she had the biggest sac I ever saw
: it held about two ounces. Well, Mrs Foljambe had the right spirit -
the genuine hygienic instinct. She couldn't stand her sister-in-law
being a clean, sound woman, and she simply a whited sepulchre. So she
insisted on my operating on her, too. And by George, sir, she hadn't
any sac at all. Not a trace ! Not a rudiment ! I was so taken aback -
so interessted, that I forgot to take the sponges out, and was
stitching them up inside her when the nurse missed them. Somehow I'd
made sure she'd have an exceptionally large one.
nuciform: (Latin) shaped like a nut.
is no nuciform sac. Shaw might well have been thinking about the
then-growing male genital cutting craze in England when he wrote this.
The Lord Chamberlain would have banned any direct reference to sexual
organs or surgery. "Paint throats with caustic" might be a reference to
H Kellogg's recommendation to apply carbolic acid to girls' genitals
to treat " irritation".
(Daniel Torrance has woken up with a hangover
after a fight and a night in bed with an unknown woman, and gone to her
He looked in the medicine cabinet. Amid tubes of
cluttered bottles of over-the-counter medicine, he found three
prescription bottles. The first was Diflucan, commonly prescribed for
yeast infections. It made him glad he was circumcised.
2010 Man Booker Prize winner
A novel exploring the convoluted question of what it is
to be Jewish.
Julian Treslove, underachieving
broadcaster/actor, is obsessed by Jewishness, especially that of his
old schoolmate Sam Finkler (He thinks of Jews as Finklers, hence the
title). Finkler, a successful philosopher and popular writer, is now
quite anti-Zionist, but his late wife, Tyler, was a convert. Treslove
had an affair with Tyler. Now he is with Hephzibah, niece of their old
Today he didn't want her [Tyler] to go home, back
to Sam's bed, back to Sam's penis. Was Sam now ashamed of his penis,
too? Treslove wondered.
He had flaunted his circumcision at school. 'Women
love it,' he'd told Treslove in the shower room.
'I'm not. It's true.'
'How do you know?'
'I've read. It gives them greater satisfaction.
With one of these beauties you can go for ever.'
Treslove read up about it himself. 'You don't get
the pleasure I get,' he told his friend. 'You've lost the most
'It might be sensitive but it's horrible. No woman
will want to touch yours. So what's the sensitivity worth? Unless you
want to spend the rest of your life being sensitive with yourself.'
'You 'll never experience what I experience.'
'With that thing you'll never experience
And now? Did Finkler's Jewish shame extend to his
Jewish dick? Or was his dick the one part of him to enjoy exclusion
from the slur? Could an ASHamed Jew go on giving women greater
satisfaclion than an unashamed Gentile, Palestine or no Palestine?
That's if there'd ever been a grain of truth in
any of it. You never knew with Jews what was a joke and what wasn't,
and Finkler wasn't even a Jew who joked much. Treslove longed for Tyler
to tell him, solve the mystery once and for all. Did women have a
preference? She was in the best position to make the comparison. Yes or
no? Could her Shmuelly go forever? Was her willingness to look at her
husband's penis but not her lover's attributable to the foreskin and
the foreskin alone? Was Treslove uncut too ugly to look at? Had the
Jews got that one right at least?
It would explain, wouldn't it, why she fiddled
with him the way she did, behind his back. Was she unconsciously trying
to screw off his prepuce?
He didn't ask her. Didn't have the courage. And in
all likelihood didn't want to hear the answer. Besides, Tyler wasn't
well enough to be questioned.
You take your opportunity when you have it.
Treslove was never given another.
It was more history he wanted. In the history of
ideas sense. And the knack of thinking Jewishly. For this Hephzibah
recommended Moses Maimonides' The Guide for the Perplexed.
She hadn't read it herself, but she knew it to be a highly regarded
text of the twelfth century, and since Treslove owned himself to be
perplexed and in need of a guide, she didn't see how he could do any
'You're sure you don't just want me out of your
hair?' he checked, once he'd seen the contents page and the size of the
print. It looked like one of those books which you started as a child
and finished in an old persons' home lying in a bed next to Libor's
'Look, as far as I'm concerned you're perfect as
you are,' she told him.'I love you perplexed. This is what you keep
saying you want.'
'You sure you love me perplexed?'
'I adore you perplexed.'
'What about uncircumcised?'
It was a subject to which he frequently returned.
'How often must I tell you,' Hephzibah told him.
'All that's immaterial to me.'
'Well, it isn't exactly immaterial to me, Hep.'
He offered to talk to someone. It was never too
late. She wouldn't hear of it.
'It would be barbaric,' she said.
'And if we have a son?'
'We aren't planning to have a son.'
'But if we do?'
'That would be different.'
'Ah, so what would be good for him, would not be
good for me. Already, there are competing criteria of maleness in this
'What's maleness got to do with it?'
'That's my question.'
'Will, go and get yourself an answer from some
higher authority. Read Moses Maimonides.'
He stumbled blindly from one chapter to another.
'Of the divine Names composed of Four[, ]Twelve and Forty-two Letters',
'Seven Methods by which the Philosophers sought to Prove the Eternity
of the Universe', 'Examination of a passage from Pirke di-Rabbi Eliezer
in reference to Creation'.
And then he got on to circumcision and found
himself galvanised into thought.
'As regards circumcision,' Maimonides had written,
'I think that one of its objects is to limit sexual intercourse.'
He read it again.
'As regards circumcision, I think that one of
its objects is to limit sexual intercourse.'
And then again.
But we don't have to follow him through every
As a matter of course he read every sentence of
Maimonides a minimum of three times, but that was to seek clarity. Here
was no obfuscation in need of conscientious penetration. Circumcision,
Moses Maimonides argued, 'counteracts excesssive lust', 'weakens the
power of sexual excitement' and 'sometimes lessens the natural
Such a claim merited reading and rereading simply
for itself. And indeed for himself, if he was ever to get to the bottom
of who Finklers were and what they really wanted.
Among the many thoughts that crowded into
Treslove's mind was this one: did it mean he'd been having a better
time than Finkler - Sam Finkler himself - all along? At school Finkler
had boasted of his circumcision. 'With one of these beauties you can go
for ever,' he had said. And Treslove had countered with what he'd read,
and with what made perfect sense to him, that Finkler had lost the most
feeling part of himself. A verdict in which Moses Maimonides
unequivocally concurred. Not only had Finkler lost the most feeling
part of himself, it had been taken from him precisely in order that he
should not feel what Treslove felt.
A great sadness, on behalf of Tyler, suddenly
welled up in him. He had enjoyed her more than Finkler had. No question
of it. He had the wherewithal to enjoy her more with.
But did it follow from that that she had enjoyed
him more than she had enjoyed Finkler? He had not thought so at the
time. 'No woman will want to touch yours,' Finkler had warned him at
school, and Tyler's apparent reluctance to look at him. seemed to bear
that out. But was it a reluctance or was it a kind of holy dread? Did
she fear to look upon what gave her so much pleasure? Had he been a
godhead to her?
For what gave him more pleasure must surely have
given her more pleasure too. A man made reluctant by his circumcision
would logically communicate that reluctance to his partner. The
'weakened power of sexual excitement' had to work both ways. What
counteracted 'excessive lust' in the one had to counteract 'excessive
lust' in the other, else there was no point in it. Why maim the man to
limit sexual intercourse if the woman went on demanding it as fervently
Indeed, Maimonides said as much. 'It is hard for a
woman, with whom an uncircumcised had sexual intercourse, to separate
from him.' Women had not found it hard to separate from Treslove, but
that could have been attributable to other causes. And initially he had
always done reasonably well - 'If you think I'm going to let you fuck
me on our first date you've got another think coming,' they had said to
him, letting him fuck them on their first date - which suggested it was
what they later discovered about him as a person that was the problem,
not the prepuce.
He felt possessed of a thrilling power he had
never known was his. He was the uncircumcised. From
whom women found it hard to separate.
Physically hard to separate, did Maimonides mean,
in that the uncircumcised somehow knotted inside the woman like a dog?
Or emotionally, in that the uncircumcised's untiring lustfulness
Both, he decided.
if Treslove is intact, he must know the first
supposition to be nonsense. The usual reading is that he gives her
so much pleasure she does not want to leave him.]
He was the uncircumcised, and
he had spoken. Both.
In retrospect, he fell in love with Tyler all over
again, knowing now that she must have loved him more than she could
ever admit. And had been afraid to look upon that which made her
Poor Tyler. Besotted with him. Or at least
besotted with his dick. And poor him for missing out on that exquisite
knowledge at the time.
If only he'd known.
If only he'd known, what then? He wasn't sure.
Just if only he'd known.
But it wasn't all regret. He was also excited by
this discovery of his own erotic power. Lucky Hephzibah at least.
Unless his untiring lustfulness both wearied and
disgusted her. And as a matter of ethno-religious principle she would
have preferred him snipped.
perception of his own foreskin and its effects is strangely abstract.
An intact man can feel his own foreskin, and whenever he thinks about
it, he is conscious of what it is feeling. To think about getting
circumcised creates an almost physical sensation of pain. Treslove
experiences none of this. His references to his own foreskin have an
unreal quality, like a 19th century Deaf girls's story about a dream
she had had about being able to hear - in which the "sounds" she
described were more like wisps of coloured fog. What do they always
say? "Write about what you know."]
He rang Finkler.
'You ever read Moses Maimonides?' he asked.
'Is that the purpose of your call?'
'That and to enquire how you are.'
'I've been better, thank you.'
'And Moses Maimonides?'
'I guess he's been better too. But have I read
him? Of course, I count him as among my inspirations.'
'I didn't think you found Jewish thought
'Then you think wrong. He teaches how to make
abstruse thought available to the intelligent layman. He is all along
saying more than he appears to say. We plough the same furrow, he and
Oh yeah, Treslove thought - Guide for
the Perplexed and John Duns Scotus and Self-Esteem:
a Manual jor the Menstruating.
But what he said was, 'So what do you reckon to
what he says about circumcision?'
Finkler laughed. 'Why don't you just come right
out with it, Julian? Hephzibah wants you to have it done - yes? Well, I
wouldn't stand in her way. But between ourselves - ha! - I think you
might be a wee bit old. As I recall, Maimonides warns against it past
the eighth day. So that's you out. Just.'
'No, Hephzibah does not want me to have it done.
She loves me as I am. Why would she not? Maimonides says circumcision
limits sexual intercourse. I impose no limits myself.'
'I am pleased to hear it. But is this about you or
'It's not about me. I simply wonder what you, as
a philosopher who ploughs the same furrow, think about Maimonides'
'That circumcision is to put a brake on sex?
Well, it certainly exists to make us afraid, and making us afraid of
sex is part of it.'
'You always told me Jews enjoyed sex
'Did I? That must have been a long time ago. But
if you're asking me whether circumcision as a means of inhibiting the
sexual impulse is specifically Jewish, I would say not.
Anthropologically speaking, it isn't primarily about sex anyway, except
in so far as all mitiation ceremonies are about sex. It's about cutting
the apron strings. What is Jewish is interpreting the circumcision rite
in the way Maimonides does. It's he - the medieval Jewish philosopher -
who would wish us to be more restrained and imagines circurncision as
the instrument. But I have to tell you it has never worked on me.'
'Not ever that I recall. And I think 1 would
recall it. But I do know someone who believes himself to have been
cheated of pleasure, and is in the process of having the operation
'You can have it reversed?'
'Some people think so. Read Alvin Poliakov's blog.
You can find it at something like www.ifnotnowwhen.com. Alternatively I
can fix you up with an introduction. He's perfectly affable, wants to
talk about nothing else, and might even show you his dick if you ask
him nicely. Apparently it's progressing. He's halfway to not being a
Jew any more.'
'He's one of your ASHamed Jews, presumably.'
'Sure is. You don't get more ashamed than that.'
'You're not ashamed of yours, then?'
'You think I should be?'
'Just asking. You carried it with pride at
'I was probably trying to rile you. I just carry
it, Julian. I am a widower. Being circumcised or not does not figure
high among my concerns right now.'
'Don't be. I'm pleased for you that your life is
dickcentric at the moment.'
'I'm only speaking philosophically, Sam.'
'I know you are, Julian. I expect nothing less of
Treslove remembered one more question before he
rang off. 'As a matter of interest,' he asked, 'are your boys
'Ask them,' Finkler said, putting down the phone.
He had more conversational joy with Libor.
Libor was now walking with a stick. 'It's come to
this,' he said.
'It suits you,' Treslove said. 'It suggests old
Bohemia. You should get one with a blade in the handle.'
'To protect myself against the anti Semites? '
'Why you? I'm the one who gets attacked.'
'Then you get a stick with a blade in it.'
'Speaking of which,' Treslove said, 'where do you
stand on circurncision?'
'Uncomfortably,' Libor said.
'Has it been a problem to you?'
'It would have been a problem to me had it been a
problem to Malkie. But she never said anything. Should she have?'
'It hasn't stopped you enjoying sex?'
'I think what you carry around would have stopped
me enjoying sex. Don't get me wrong - on you I'm sure it looks
wonderful, but on me it wouldn't have looked so good. Aesthetically I
have nothing to complain about. I look the way I'm supposed to look. Or
I did. It is aesthetics we're talking?'
'No, not really. I've been reading that
circumcision reduces sexual excitation. I'm canvassing opinion.'
'Well, it will certainly reduce yours if you
decide to have it done at your age. As for me, I have never known any
different. And I've never thought to complain. To be candid with you, I
wouldn't have wanted to be any more sexually excited than I've been.
It's been plenty, thank you. In fact, more than enough. Does that answer
'Yes, I suppose it does.'
'You only suppose it does?'
He saw Treslove looking at him narrowly, 'I know
what you're thinking,' he said.
'What am I thinking?'
'You're thinking I protest too loudly. Had I not
been circumcised, you're thinking, I wouldn't have found it so easy to
resist Marlene Dietrich. You're too polite to say so but you're
wondering whether it was only God's covenant with Abraham that kept me
away from the Hun.'
'Well, you have always claimed you were the most
faithful of husbands, despite facing temptations most men can't begin
to I comprehend .. .'
'And you're asking if it was having a desensitised
penis that kept me faithful?'
'I would never put it so grossly, Libor.'
'Except that you just have.'
Strange, how well you can come to feel you know a
person, Treslove thought, from a name, a word, and a few photographs of
But then Treslove could afford to be generous: he
had what Alvin Poliakov, epispasmist, had wanted all his life - a
Epispamos, Treslove learned from Alvin Poliakov's
blog, is foreskin restoration. Except, as Alvin Poliakov explains, you
cannot restore a foreskin. Once it's gone, it's gone. But it is not
beyond the ingenuity of man to conjure up a faux foreskin in its place.
This, Alvin Poliakov sits in front of a camera every day to prove.
For interest's sake, and by way of a break from
Maimonides, and what with Hephzibah being out often at the moment,
attending to problems with the museum, Treslove watches him.
Alvin Poliakov, son of a depressed Hebrew teacher,
bachelor, bodybuilder, one-time radio engineer and inventor, founder
member of ASHamed Jews, begins his morning by tugging at the loose skin
on his penis, easing a little more skin up the shaft. He does this for
two hours, breaks for mid-morning tea and a chocolate digestive
biscuit, and then begins again. It is a slow, slow process. In the
afternoon he takes measurements, collates the morning's data and writes
'I speak,' he confides to his readers, 'for the
millions of mutilated Jews the world over, who feel what I have felt
all my life. But not only for Jews, because there are millions of
Gentiles out there who have been circumcised under the erroneous
medical assumption that you are better without a foreskin than with.'
He doesn't say, the Jews misleading the
world again, but only an uncomplaining fool, happy to be
unforeskinned, could miss the implication.
Alvin Poliakov writes the way cinema newsreel
announcers of th 1940s spoke, as though mistrustful of the technology
and so shouting to be heard.
'Ever since the dawn of civilisation,' he says,
'men have sought to restore what was stolen from them, in violation of
their human rights, before they were old enough to have a say in the
matter. What has driven them to do this is a sense of incompletion, a
consciousness of something as disabling as amputation.'
He cites the anguish of Jews in classical Greek
and Roman society, longing to assimilate and strut their stuff but
unable to go to the baths and show other men their penises, for fear of
encountering mockery. (How many Jewish men actually wanted to do
this? Treslove wonders.) This has led many desperate Jews to
seek a remedy in surgery, often with tragic consequences. (Treslove
shudders.) The only proven method of restoring an at best passable
simulacrum of a foreskin is the one the blogger himself practises.
Do not hope for too much. But do not settle for
too little. This is Alvin Poliakov's philosophy:
As for the methodology
Every morning Alvin Poliakov photographs his penis
from various angles with a view to posting the photographs on the Web
later in the afternoon, along with diagrammatic details of the
procedures he has followed in the course of the day - the construction
of cardboard collars, the application of tape, the lubrication of sore
skin, the hours spent slumped forward on his wooden chair coaxing the
skin downward, ever downward, and the system of weights he has devised
using copper jewellery, keys from a children's xylophone, and a pair of
small brass candlesticks, which, he earnestly explains, can be bought
cheaply from any good market or shop selling Indian knick-knacks.
fact, restoration takes
a few minutes every day.]
Like a monk of self-denial he sits, shaven-headed,
pumped-up and muscled, with his head between his knees, a snake charmer
who knows the snake will not show himself for years, that's if he shows
himself at all. There is no lubricity in the procedure. Whatever sex
there once was in Alvin Poliakov's head has long since vanished in the
service of the tapes, the adhesives, the collars and the weights. It
was because he felt cheated of pleasure that Alvin Poliakov embarked on
this course, but pleasure is not the issue any longer. Jews are the
As an accompaniment to the photographs and the
diagrams, Alvin Poliakov appends a daily portion of tirade against the
Jewish religion in whose anti-service, so to speak, he now expends his
energies. The crime of sexual mutilation, he argues, is just one more
of the countless offences against humanity to be laid at the gates of
the Jews. Every day he publishes the name of another Jewish child, just
come into th world, whose integrity has been compromised and whose
rights t a full complement of sexual activities have been tragically
Where these names come from, Treslove cannot
imagine. Have they been lifted from the births and deaths pages of
Jewish newspapers? It is impossible to imagine that the guilty parents
would have given them to him. In which case isn't Alvin Poliakov
himself guilty of stealing from the child what the child is too young
to give freely.
Or has he just made them up?
Imperturbable, for he cannot hear Treslove's
objections and would not heed them if he could, Alvin Poliakov,
breathing like an athlete coaxes the skin of his penis into a foreskin.
Every evening he believes he can see one coming, but every morning it
is as though he must start again. Except for those nights when he
attends meetings ASHamed Jews, he does not leave the house. An elderly
sister do the shopping for him. She has recently converted to
Catholicism. It not clear whether she is aware of how her brother
passes his days, but he is not a man to keep his causes to himself. And
she must wonder what he is doing on his wooden chair, tugging at his
penis. Though it is possible she misinterprets.
He listens to the radio, noting how rarely the
sufferings of mutilated Jews, or Gentiles mutilated as proxy Jews, are
referred to. Th the BBC has a pro-Jewish bias he does not have the
slightest doubt. Why else is there so little heard from those whose
lives have been destroyed by Zionists and circumcision?
He wrote an afternoon play about one such life
himself. But the BBC, though it thanked him for it, has not put it on.
This barbarous ritual, Alvin Poliakov maintains,
is analogous to cutting off young men's hair before enrolling them in
the military and serves an identical function. It is to destroy
individuality and subjugate every man to the tyranny of the group,
whether religious or military. There is irrefutably, therefore, in
Alvin Poliakov's view, a direct link between the Jewish ritual of
circumcision and Zionist slaughter. The helpless Jewish baby and the
unarmed Palestinian become one in the innocent blood that Jews do not
scruple to take from both.
While he is sitting with his head between his
knees, Alvin Poliakov thinks up dedications to the victims of Zionist
brutality. He likes to post a new dedication whenever he can, above the
latest photograph of his brutalised penis, thereby hammering home the
connection. On the day Treslove decides he won't continue any longer
with the blog, the dedication above Alvin Poliakov's penis, from which
weights of assorted sizes and materials hang, reads: To the
mutilated of Shatila, Nebateya, Sabra, Gaza. Your struggle is my
'Put it this way,' Treslove said, describing the
blog to Hephzibah who had declined his offer to email her the link, 'if
you were a Palestinian -'
'Absolutely. With friends like him ...'
'But not just that. It's the appropriation-'
'And in such a trivial cause.'
'Not trivial to him, though, clearly.'
'No, but all other questions aside, aren't Muslims
'As far I know they are,' she said, turning away,
not wishing to encourage him in this new interest.
is, of course, a grotesque parody of any foreskin restorer. Like
the great majority of circumcised men, the great majority of restoring
men are not Jewish. None is on record as making any link between
circumcision and Zionism.]
author of "Trainspotting"
Novel about four hard-living Edinburgh youths, written
first-person in a thick Scottish dialect. In a chapter called
"Foreskin", they tease one (Terry) because he has a long foreskin. One
(Gally) says "It'd be the likes ay me thit wid've been up the road tae
Dachau. Me wi this circumcision job." He describes how he was having
sex when his foreskin got trapped behind his glans:
-- It goat so fuckin tight it just went ping!
Gally elaborates. -- Up like a fuckin Venetian blind. Ah wis in agony.
Ah thoat it wis jist the burst Durex wrapped roond thair at first, bit
it wis way too sair. Then ah realised that it wis ma fuckin foreskin!
Aye, like a fuckin broken roller blind wrapped roond the bit whair the
shaft meets the bell end, cuttin oaf the blood supply ay blood. Ma bell
end went blue, then black. The Brook sister phoned the ambulance, they
took ays up tae the hoaspital: emergency circumcision job.
(He didn't have to: see paraphimosis.)
The Dachau remark implies that apart from medical
emergencies like his, only Jews circumcise.
One of four short stories, collected as Switch
Bitch (Michael Joseph 1974), with sexual themes and a twist
in their tails
(Vic is explaining to his neighbour Jerry how two
men (implicitly and eventually themselves) could successfully sleep
undetected with each other's "faithful and honourable" wives.)
'Go on about these two men,' [Jerry] said. 'What
about some of the other differences?'
'You mean faces?' I said. 'No one's going to see
faces in the dark.'
'I'm not talking about faces,' Jerry said.
'What are you talking about, then?'
'I'm talking about their cocks,' Jerry said.
'That's what it's all about, isn't it? And you're not going to tell
'Oh yes, I am,' I said. 'Just so long as both men
were either circumcised or uncircumcised, then there really was no
(The topic is not raised again. It is
implicit that, contrary to popular opinion in cutting societies, women
can tell the difference in the dark.)
Pay 'em money to cut
off the world's cock
- by D.
The gamekeeper, Mellors, is talking to Constance
Chatterley in his hut
"...the Tommies are getting just as priggish and
half-balled and narrow-gutted [as the English middle classes]. It's the
fate of mankind, to go that way.'
`The common people too, the working people?'
`All the lot. Their spunk is gone dead. Motor-cars
and cinemas and aeroplanes suck that last bit out of them. I tell you,
every generation breeds a more rabbity generation, with india rubber
tubing for guts and tin legs and tin faces. Tin people! It's all a
steady sort of bolshevism just killing off the human thing, and
worshipping the mechanical thing. Money, money, money! All the modern
lot get their real kick out of killing the old human feeling out of
man, making mincemeat of the old Adam and the old Eve. They're all
alike. The world is all alike: kill off the human reality, a quid for
every foreskin, two quid for each pair of balls. What is cunt but
machine-fucking! - It's all alike. Pay 'em money to cut off the world's
cock. Pay money, money, money to them that will take spunk out of
mankind, and leave 'em all little twiddling machines.'
In 1928, class-based circumcision was starting to become
frequent in England.
Lisey is reminiscing about her dead husband.
"She liked how his skin felt under her hand, too.
Forehead or foreskin, both were good."
...I feel a
sharp pull. Then a burning, the knife ... I scream, ...
Gore Vidal (1992)
As an old Bishop, Saint Timothy is called on to re-write
the Gospels after a hacker from the future has erased the originals.
In the beginning was the nightmare, and the knife
was with Saint Paul, and the circumcision was a Jewish notion and
definitely not mine.
I am Timothy, son of Eunice the Jewess and George
the Greek. I am fifteen. I am in the kitchen of my family's home in
Lystra. I am lying stark naked on a wooden table. I have golden
hyacinthine curls and cornflower-blue, forget-me-not eyes and the
largest dick in our part of Asia Minor.
The nightmare always begins the way that it did in
actual life. I am surrounded by Jews except for my father, George, and
Saint, as I called Saul of Tarsus,
Little did I realize when I became a Christian and
met Saint and his friends, that my body-specifically, my whang-was to
be a battleground between two warring factions within the infant
although the Jerusalem Jews liked the money that Saint kept sending
back to headquarters, they still couldn't, in their heart of hearts,
stomach the Gentiles, and so they refused to eat at the same table with
us, since our huge uncut cocks were always on their minds. Finally,
things came to a head when Saint took a shine to a young convert and
stud named Titus and took him down to Jerusalem for a long weekend of
fun. After having drunk too much Babylonian beer, Titus took a leak up
against the wall of Fort Antonia, where the Roman troops were
stationed. As luck would have it, his snakelike foreskin was duly noted
with horror by some loitering Jews, who reported to the rabbinate the
presence of a Gentile on the premises a stone's throw from the Temple.
The central office then leaned on James, an employee of the Temple, and
James told Saint that in the future those goyim who became converted to
Jesus must be circumcised. That tore it.
Finally, Saint suggested to John Mark that he undergo a public
circumcision in order to convince Jerusalem that Saint was in no way an
apostate or self-hating Jew. John Mark split, leaving an opening not
only in Saint's office staff but sack, too. As an all-Greek Greek boy
who wanted to see the world, I figured that Saint's fussing around with
my bod was a small price to pay, or so I thought when I signed on. It
wasn't as if there wasn't plenty of me left over for the girls of
Lystra. Also, as secretary and gofer, I was pretty good, if not in John
Mark's league. The work was never dull. And what a learning experience!
Then came the shock. Saint was denounced by the pillars of the church
in Jerusalem: He ate with goyim. He christened goyim. He was having
carnal knowledge of a teenage Greek with two centimeters of
rose-velvety foreskin, me. This last was only whispered, but it would
have been quite enough to get Saint stoned to death by a quorum of Jews
anywhere on earth if James were to give the word.
That explains why I am in the nightmare that I can
never get out of once it starts.
The dream's always the same. I am on my back. The room is chilly. I
have goose bumps. All around me are Jews, wearing funny hats. Saint
stands beside the table, my joint resting lightly in his hand. Needless
to say, between the cold and the approaching mutilation, my fabled
weenie has shrunk considerably.
"Let it be reported by all who presently bear
witness that Timothy, our youthful brother in Christ, has now, of his
own free will, undertaken to join the elect of the elect through the
act of circumcision."
I can hear Saint's deep voice as he says, "Mohel, do thy business!"
A rough hand seizes my organ of generation. I feel
a sharp pull. Then a burning, the knife ... I scream, and wake up.
I am as mad as I must have been back then at what had been done to me
just so Saint could stay in good with the Jerusalem pillars of salt of
the church. Historically, as well as theologically, he should have made
a clean break with the Jews then and there, using the preservation of
my perfect dong as a perfect pretext.
In that silent smoky hall you could have heard an
unweighted pin drop or the loosest foreskin slide back.
- p 32
"The presence," said James, "of non-Jews is very
distressing to many members of our congregation, particularly at table
where we are entirely kosher, and often dairy. That is why the two
tables have been a compromise that the brethren can live with." James
was staring with disgust at my
hyacinthine golden curls and cornflower-blue eyes, the perfect Gentile
youth so hated by every proper, self-loving Jew. "Barely," he added.
"Timothy has been circumcised," said Saint,
intuiting James's revulsion. "Timmy, show Brother James your ..."
"Not in the dining room," said
James, looking ill.
- pp 106-7
Saint was very grim. "Am I to be tried by the
"No. By us. The Jesists, as they call us at the
"What is the charge?"
"In general, infidelity to the Torah.
Specifically, at Ephesus, you told a Jew that since he followed Jesus
he need not circumcise his son."
Saint laughed. "There is no truth in that. To the
contrary, I have even gone so far as to insist that many of the
Gentiles close to me undergo circumcision. Timothy, show him your
James was appalled. "Please. Not in front of the
- p 111
[Nero']s eyes focused on my mutilated whang.
"Jew boy?" Nero's eyes narrowed.
"No, a Christian," I squeaked. "I just had this
done because it was too tight..."
Nero was now all smiles. "It could happen to anyone. Did you know that
there is an epidemic of phimosis ... in Britain? Don't you love it?"
- p 160
See also Myra Breckenridge
longest time I harbored this absurd vision of doctors, gathered in
James Brown (1994)
Bobby, aged 16, is having a shower when he sees his
His penis seemed enormous in comparison and the
hood of skin over its tip remained, while mine had been removed at
birth, which according to my father had been a horrible mistake.
"Your mother wanted it done. If I'd had my say I
would have spared you the pain. Circumcision," he said, "it's
mutilation. A conspiracy, Bobby, on the part of the American Medical
Association in the name of public hygiene. A crock of shit is what it
is. All they care about is making that first quick buck off every
little pecker in the world. Ain't no reason in hell for it except
simple greed at your expense."
His theory stuck me as eccentric, and yet for the
longest time I harbored this absurd vision of doctors,
gathered in secrecy for the express purpose of deciding the fate of my
precious foreskin and those of our nation's male population.
I pictured the scalpel, the blood, and though I couldn't recall the
pain I knew how sensitive I was down there and could imagine it
intensely enough. My father further contended that my loss, in terms of
future sexual pleasure, was of greater consequence than I'd
unfortunately ever know.
"The head gets numb without the skin and after a
while you can't feel much, like a callus," he said, "on your hand. It
gets toughened from use."
I could not, of course, ever make the comparison,
and I didn't see how he could, given that he hadn't suffered my fate,
but I hoped, regardless of the contradiction, that someday I'd have the
opportunity to put his theory to the test.
However, this may not be as pro-intact as it may appear,
primarily because Bobby's father is considered to be a nasty piece of
work. Perhaps this obsession with circumcision is just another sign of
Later, Bobby gets to have sex:
My father's earlier contention regarding the loss
of my foreskin, and how it would have a numbing or deadening effect on
my future sexual pleasure, proved highly inaccurate.
And what is he comparing it with?
circoncision [My circumcision]
Autobiographical, graphic novel by a Syrian writer
(now living in France). His Arab, Muslim cousins accuse him of being an
Israeli, because he is not (yet) circumcised. They had been circumcised
long before, while Riad had been put on hold until his father got
around to it. The cousins erroneously believe that Jews (and therefore
Israelis) are not circumcised. (In the same way, many Americans and
Jews do not know that Muslims circumcise.)
The Measure of
Lisa Braver Moss
In Berkeley, at his father's shiva, a Jewish
a sharp groin pain for which he can find no explanation.
So begins a series of events that will find Dr. Sandy Waldman
ratling against the one Jewish tradition that's still observed
even in the most iconociastic of towns and among the most
assimilated of Jews: circumcision,
In her beautifully written debut novel, Lisa
Braver Moss interweaves Sandy's story with that of his wife, Ruth — who
will lose patience as Sandy lives and breathes the circumcision
controversy — and their colege-aged daughter, Amy, feisty yet
fragile, who's contacted by her incarcerated birth father just as
she's trying to sort out her future.
Sandy—visionary, neurotic, buffoonish, brilliant
-- deepens his understanding of Judaism
even as he's jeopardizing both marriage and career with his
anti-circumcision activism. When he discovers evidence that the tissue
lost to circurncision is highly erogenous, it's not a huge ieap for him
to join the men worldwide who are engaged in the astonishing process of
Thought provoking, witty and highly
original, The Measure of his Grief is the memorable
tale of a man wko risks everything to be true to himself — yet refuses
to turn his back on his heritage.
"You don't have to be Jewish to be concerned about
circumcision, and you don't have to be Jewish to appreciate The
Measure of His Grief - a thoughtful, nuanced, and wryly funny
portrait of Berkeley and the foibles of its denizens."
- Liza Dalby, Berkeley author
"Finally - an intelligent questioning of Jewish
circumcision, in a terrific, entertaining and very original story you
won't forget. A must-read!"
- Dr Dean Edell
Hotink Press, 2010
I am sure Moses is
roasting in hell...
... Also the Old Testament injunction not to look
upon the father’s nakedness is the core to a puritanism which finds
unbearable the thought that the male in himself might possess an
intrinsic attractiveness, either aesthetically or sensually. In fact,
they hate the male body and ritually tear the penis in order to remind
the man that his sex is so unlovely. ...
In Chapter Nineteen, Myra goes
to an orgy at which are two of the five members of a band called the
Chapter Twenty Two
Just as expected, seventy-two per cent of the
male students are circumcised. At Clem's party I had been
reminded of the promiscuous way in which American doctors circumcise
males in childhood, a practice I highly disapprove of, agreeing with
that publisher who is forever advertising in the New York Times
Book Review a work which proves that circumcision is
necessary for only a very few men. For the rest it constitutes, in the
advertiser’s phrase, “a rape of the penis.” Until the Forties, only the
upper or educated classes were circumcised in America. The real people
were spared this humiliation. But during the affluent postwar years the
operation became standard procedure, making money for doctors as well
as allowing the American mother to mutilate her son in order that he
might never forget her early power over him. Today only the poor Boston
Irish, the Midwestern Poles and the Appalachian Southerners can be
counted upon to be complete.
Myron never forgave Gertrude for her circumcision
of him. In fact, he once denounced her in my presence for it. She
defended herself by saying that the doctor had recommended it on
hygienic grounds -which of course does not hold water since most
foreskins are easily manipulated and kept clean. What is truly sinister
is that with the foreskin’s removal, up to fifty percent of sensation
in the glans penis is reduced . . . a condition no doubt as pleasing to
the puritan American mother as it is to her co-conspirator, the puritan
Jewish doctor who delights in being able to mutilate the goyim in the
same vivid way that his religion (and mother!) mutilated him.
fails to note the loss of sensation from the foreskin itself.]
I had once had the subject out with Dr Montag, who
granted me every single point and yet, finally, turned dentist and
confessed, 'Whenever I hear the word "smegma", I become physically ill.'
I am sure Moses is roasting in hell, along with Gertrude Percey
I was not able to find Rusty's medical report and
so do not know whether or not he had been circumcised. I hope not for I
prefer the penis intact... in order that it be raped, not by impersonal
surgery but by me!
last 13 words are missing from the UK paperback edition, which carries
this note: "Wanting in every way to adapt to the high moral climate
that currently envolops the British Isles, the author has allowed
certain excisions to be made in the American text."]
Chapter Twenty Nine
Myra is giving Rusty, a student, a
"physical examination" in the film school's infirmary.
'Oh, here's a question we forgot.' I was
incredibly sunny. 'Have you been circumcised?'
The foot he was holding on his knee slid to the
floor. Quickly he pressed his thighs together, wadded up his shirt, and
covered the beleagured lap. 'Why, no, ma'am. I never was.'
'So few Polish boys are, I'm told.' I made a check
on the chart.
'Oh, sure!' He was beet-red. ...
She insists on examining his penis.
... the grail was in my hand at last, smooth,
The humiliation was complete. There was nothing
that he could say.
'Now then, let's see how free the foreskin is.' I
slid the skin forward, then back. He shuddered. 'Now, you do it a few
To his relief, I let him go. Clumsily he took
himself in one hand as though never before had he touched this strange
object, so beloved of Mary-Ann. He gave a few halfhearted tugs to the
skin, looking for all the world like a child frightened in the act of
She proceeds to rape him with a dildo.
but in 1968, this was far ahead of its time -
concerning circumcision. The feminist revolution had barely begun and
rape (especially of a man) could still be treated lightly. See also Live From Golgotha
The Naked Lunch
Hassan's Rumpus Room. Gilt and red plush. Rococco
bar backed by pink shell. The air is cloyed with a sweet evil substance
like decayed honey. Men and women in evening dress sip pousse-cafés
through alabaster tubes. A Near East Mugwump sits naked on a bar stool
covered in pink silk. He licks warm honey from a crystal goblet with a
long black tongue. His genitals are perfectly formed -circumcised cock,
black shiny pubic hairs. His lips are thin and purple-blue like the
lips of a penis, his eyes blank with insect calm. The Mugwump has no
liver, maintaining himself exclusively on sweets. The Mugwump pushes a
slender blond youth to a couch and strips him expertly.
Implying that a "perfectly-formed" penis
- even on a biarre fictional monster (with a razor-sharp beak of black
bone) - is circumcised.
"Mr. Anker," he said, "I'm appealing to you as one
Razor Back to another," and he pulled out his Razor Back card, a memo
of his lush-rolling youth.
The Clerk looked at the card suspiciously: "You
don't look like a bone feed mast-fed Razor Back to me... What do you
think about the Jews...?"
"Well, Mr Anker, you know yourself all a Jew wants
to do is doodle a Christian girl... One of these days we'll cut the
rest of it off."
So in spite of the earlier reference,
Jews are still perceived as being defined by circumcision.
No Time Like The Present
"Gordimer addresses many subjects, from the
chemical compounds for making bombs to the circumcision practices of
- review in the Wichita Eagle April 22, 2012
Joseph is a Jewish boy in Nazi-occupied Belgium, being
hidden in an orphanage by a priest.
So the non-Jewish boys won't be able to identify
the Jews in their midst, Father Pons institutes a schedule for weekly
showers. Explaining the invisible scheme, the older boy, Rudy, explains
to Joseph that non-Jews aren't circumcised. "Once again I was
attributed some special status I didn't know about," says Joseph. "As
if being Jewish wasn't enough! Because of some scrap of skin no one
could see, I was condemned to staying Jewish."
The absurdity of the situation leads Joseph to
peek at his classmates' penises in the toilet thus discovering that
Christians do indeed "have a bit of skin at the end, all drawn together
and wrinkly". Even more confusing is the fact that his gentile friends
shake their willies afterwards!
Fortunately, Rudy is on hand to explain: "They're
shaking off the drips before putting it back in. It's harder for them
to stay clean than it is for us. If they're not careful they can get
loads of germs which smell and make it sore."
Review by Rob Minshull in ABC, March 30, 2012
The Obama Identity: A
Novel (Or Is It?)
Edward Klein and John LeBoutillier
A ceremony of removing Obama's foreskin is
described as having "cleansed Barry of his impure American ideas."
Later in the novel a KGB agent uses the evidence of this foreskin to
blackmail Obama not to take military action against Iran. (p. 173-7,
The self-published novel is thoroughly
The 120 Days of Sodom
the Marquis de Sade
"The head of the Président's device was now at all
times exposed, for he had had himself circumcised, a ceremony which
largely facilitates enjoyment and to which all pleasure-loving persons
ought to submit."
(The 120 Days of Sodom and
Other Writings, trans. Austryn Wainhouse and Richard Seaver, Arrow
Books, 1966, page 206).
Yet a few sentences before, we are told that
"erectile condition...had come to be most rare and to procure it a
furious sequence of things was the necessary preliminary. Nevertheless,
the event occurred at least two or three times each week...."
This Perfect Day
Ira Levin (1970)
Novel about a dystopian
future in which everyone's material needs are cared for, but
they are also fully controlled.
Four nonconformists (Lilac, Chip, King and
Leopard) are talking.
think we've been taught things that aren't true," she said. "About the
way life was before the Unification. In the late pre-U, I mean, not the
"The violence the agressiveness, the
greed, the hostility. There was some of it, I suppose, but I can't
believe there was
nothing else, and that's what we're taught, really. And the 'bosses'
punishing the 'workers,' and all the sickness and alcohol-drinking
and starvation and self-destruction. Do you believe it?"
He looked at her. "I don't know," he said. "I
haven't thought much about it."
"I'll tell you what I don't
believe," Snowflake said. She had risen from the bench, the game with
King evidently finished.
"I don't believe that they cut off the baby boys'
foreskins," she said. "In the early pre-U, maybe - in the early, early
pre-U - but not in the late; it's just too incredible. I mean, they had
some kind of intelligence, didn't they?'
It's incredible, all right," King said, hitting
his pipe against
his palm, "but I've seen photographs. Alleged photographs, anyway."
had the prick for it
Airport novel (762pp) about Rob Cole, an
English-born barber-surgeon who travels to Ispahan, Persia, disguised
as a Jew, to study under Abu
Rob is travelling with his first master, 'Barber':
When he had returned the utensils he went to a
nearby bush and passed water.
"My blessed Lord and Lady, but that is a remarkable looking peter,"
Barber said, coming up on him suddenly.
He finished before his need and hid the member.
"When I was an infant," he said stiffly, I had a mortification...there.
I'm told a surgeon removed the little hood of flesh at the end."
Barber gazed at him with astonishment. "Took off the prepuce. You were
circumcised, like a bleeding heathen."
The boy moved away, very disturbed. (p35)
"I shall become a counterfeit Jew!"
he cried. ...
He could grow a full Jew's beard, and he already had the prick for it.
Rob is swimming with a Jew, Meir:
Meir had noticed his circumcised penis and
looked at him.
"A horse bit the tip off," Rob said.
"A mare, no doubt," Meir said solemnly; he muttered something to the
others in their language, causing them to grin at Rob. (p224-5)
The Jews ask Meir about Rob.
"... He's a goy, an Other,"
"But Simon told me this Other is circumcised. How can that be?" said
Reb Pinhas ben Simeon the Dairyman.
Meir shrugged. "An accident," he said. "I've discussed it with him. It
has nothing to do with the covenant of Abraham." (p263)
...Rob enjoyed Friday afternoons in the bathhouse; never had he felt so
at home in the company of unclothed men. Perhaps it had something to do
with his bobbed prick. If he had been among his own kind, by now his
organ would have been the subject of rude stares, snickering,
questions, lewd speculations. An exotic flower growing by itself is one
thing, but it is quite another when it is surrounded by an entire field
of other flowers of similar configuration. (pp270-1)
In Ispahan, Rob has married a Christian woman from
Scotland, and they have a son.
He and Mary quarreled about circumcision.
"It will do him no harm. Here every man is circumcised, Muslim and Jew,
and it's an easy way for him to be more easily accepted."
"I don't wish him to be more easily accepted in Persia. I wish him to
be accepted at home, where men aren't bobbed and knobbed, but left to
She determined to make an effort to bend to the country. Reluctantly,
gave in concerning the matter of the child's circumcision.
"So, a circumcision," the mohel said. "The
mother..." Musing, he looked at [the midwife] Nitka through narrowed
eyes, his fingers scrabbling in his beard. "An Other!"
"It doesn't have to be a brit with all the
prayers," Nitka said impatiently. ... "If the father asks for the seal
of Abraham on the child, it is a blessing to circumcise him, isn't it
"Yes," Reb Asher admitted.
Holding the sweet little body supine in his lap, Rob had doubts when
Reb Asher cut the foreskin from the tiny penis. "My the lad grow in
vigor - of mind and body - to a life of good works," the mohel
declared as the baby shrieked.
Mary hated every moment. (pp 599-601)
They have another son.
Reb Asher Jacobi the mohel asked that the child
might grow in
vigor to a life of good works, and cut off the foreskin. The babe was
given suck on a wine so to quiet his yowl of pain.... (p657)
They return to London. A woman is convicted of
witchcraft and drowned. Rob is at a gathering of doctors.
"How else is a male witch recognised?" Hunne
"They appear much as any other men," Dryfield said. "Though some say
they cut their pricks like heathens."
Rob's own scrotum tightened with fear. As soon as possible, he took his
leave and knew he wouldn't return, for it wasn't safe to attend a place
where life could be forefeit if a collague should witness him passing
The film of the book has
completely different circumcision references from these.
lifting the paper cap on the old-time milk bottles...
Rabbit at Rest
Harry Angstrom, nicknamed "Rabbit", a man in his late
fifties, notes that his four-year-old grandson, Roy, is circumcised:
Rabbit wonders what his own life would have been
like if he had been
circumcised. The issue comes up now and then in the newspapers. Some
the foreskin is like an eyelid; without it the constantly exposed glans
becomes less sensitive, it gets thick-skinned and dull rubbing against
cloth all the time. A letter he once read in a skin magazine was from a
guy who got circumcised in midlife and found his sexual pleasure and
responsiveness went so far down his circumcised life was hardly worth
living. If Harry had been less responsive he might have been a more
dependable person, not so crazy to have his eye down there opened.
a hard-on you can feel the foreskin sweetly tug back, like freezing
lifting the paper cap on the old-time milk bottles. From the numb look
his prick Roy will be a solid citizen.
From the knowing reference to feeling the foreskin
"sweetly tug back," we may conclude Updike was intact.
Men are not capable of
such love ...
The Red Tent
Dinah (Gen 34) tells her own story.
Leah, wife of Jacob, has just given birth
As Jacob walked away from his first meeting with
his son, his happiness seemed to evaporate. His head sank to his chest
as he contemplated what had to be done next. According to the custom of
his family, the boy had to be circumcised, and there was no one to do
it but him. Jacob would not let Laban touch the baby, much less take a
knife to him. He knew of no other man in the village or nearby hills
who knew how, much less why he would do this to his firstborn son. It
would have to be him.
Jacob had seen his father cut the foreskins from
his bondsmen's baby boys, and he had not looked away or even winced
when it was done. But he had never done this himself, nor, he now
realized, had he watched carefully enough how his father had dressed
the wound. And, of course, he had never cared so much for any baby in
It had to be done, though, and he began the
preparations, which Zilpah watched and reported to Leah, who was sick
at the prospect of having her baby, her prize, put on the altar of the
bamah and mutilated. For that's what she considered it. The flap of
skin on the penis meant nothing to her. Indeed, now that she had seen
the look of an uncircumcised man, she
preferred the look of Jacob's sex - exposed, clean, audacious
even - to the tiny shroud her son wore on his member, which was the
source of many silly and crude jokes in the red tent. Once, Leah
threatened to take a bit of charred wood and draw a face upon Reuben's
sex, so that when Jacob retracted the
foreskin, he would drop his knife in wonder. The women rolled
around on the mats, holding their sides, laughing about the tender
equipment that men carried between their legs.
But after a few days, the joking stopped, and Leah
cried so long and so hard over the boy at her breast that the dark
curls on his head were salted with tears. Still, she did not object to
the custom of her husband's father. Jacob had survived this, she told
her sisters again and again, mostly to reassure herself. Isaac had been
circumcised, and Abram before him. Nevertheless, the thought of her
baby in pain and in danger made the new mother tremble, and the
realization that Jacob had no experience at the task put her in a
frenzy of worry. Zilpah watched and saw that Jacob was not at ease
about the ritual either. Every night, he sat on the bamah with his
knife and sharpened it on the altar. From sunset till moonrise three
nights running, until the edge was perfect, he honed and polished the
blade until it could cut a hair from his head with the slightest motion
of his wrist. He asked Adah to make small bandages, woven of new wool
taken from I he first shearing of the firstborn lamb of the season. He
sent word to Leah, inquiring whether she had any of the midwife's
unguents to aid in healing.
On the seventh night after Reuben's birth, Jacob
sat up, silently watching the sky, until sunrise. He poured lrbations
and sang to the god of his fathers. He poured libations over the
asherah, too, and opened his hands before her. Zilpah watched all of
this and afterward stopped referring to Jacob as 'that new man' and
began to call him by his name.
At dawn of the eighth day after his son's birth,
Jacob killed a kid and burned it on the altar. He washed his hands,
rubbing them red with straw, as though he had handled a corpse. And
then he walked to the red tent .uid asked that the women give him
Reuben, the son of Leah.
He called for Laban to follow him, and the two men
walked alone to the bamah, where Jacob undressed the baby, whose eyes
were open, and placed him on the altar. Jacob sighed a loud, long sigh
as he stripped the boy, and then he signaled Laban to grab the baby's
legs. At this, Reuben began to wail. Jacob took the knife in his hands
and knotted his brow.
'There were tears in his eyes,' said Zilpah. 'He
took the baby's sex in his hands and pulled the skin up tightly,
holding it between the two long fingers of his left hand. With his
right hand, he cut, with a quick, sure stroke, as though it was an old
custom of his, as though he knew what he was doing,' she said.
and Jacob dropped the knife.
Quickly, he bound the wound with Adah's bandage,
and swaddled the baby, badly, the way men do. He carried his son back
to the women, whispering into Reuben's perfect ear words that no one
else could hear.
The red tent, which had been quiet during the
baby's absence, now burst into activity. Leah dressed the wound with
the cumin oil that Inna had left for her own birth wounds. Adah
swaddled Reuben properly and gave him back to his mother, where he took
her breast with relief and then slept.
The baby healed quickly
Leah and Jacob's last child, Dinah, has
slept with a Canaanite, Shalem, son of Hamor:
My father spoke first, and without ceremony. I
come for our daughter,' he said. 'We will agree to marriage, but I
doubt if our terms will suit you, for they are severe.'
Hamor replied, his earlier warmth for the man
blasted by the insulting lack of hospitality. 'My son loves the girl,'
the king said. 'He will do anything for her, and I will do what my son
wishes. Name your terms, Jacob. Shechem will fulfill them so that your
children and children will bring forth new generations upon the land.'
But when Jacob named the price for his daughter
Hamor paled. 'What form of barbarity is this?' he asked 'Who do you
think you are, shepherd, to demand the blood of my son's manhood, and
mine, and that of my kinsmen and subjects? You are mad from too much
sun, too many years in the wilderness. Do you want the girl back, such
as she is? You must think very little of this daughter to make such
sport of her future.'
But Shalem stepped forward and put his hand on his
father's arm. 'I agree to the demands,' he said to Jacob's face. 'Here
and now, if you like. I will honor the custom of my wife's family, and
I will order my slaves and their sons to follow me. I know my father
speaks out of fear for me and in loyalty to his men, who would suffer.
But for me, there is no question. I hear and obey.'
The terms were agreed to that evening. Jacob I
accepted four laden donkeys for a bride-price. Shalem and Hamor would
go under the knife in three days, as would the men of Shechem, noble
and slave alike. All of the healthy men found within the walls of the
city on that same morning would also accept the mark of Jacob upon
them, and Hamor promised that every son born within the city from that
time forth would be circumcised on the eighth day, as was the custom
among the sons of Abram. Hamor also pledged that the god of Jacob would
be worshiped in his temple, and the king went so far as to call him
Elohim, the one god of the many gods.
Hamor put his hand under Jacob's thigh and Jacob
touched the king as well, and my betrothal was sealed without a smile
That same night, Shalem slipped away from his
father's tent and back into our bed with the news. 'You are a married
woman now and not merely a ruined girl,' he whispered, waking me before
the first light of morning.
I kissed him and pushed him away. 'Well then, now
that I am wed and you may not put me aside, I may tell you that my head
aches and I cannot receive my lord at this moment,' I said, gathering
my robe about my shoulders, and feigning a great yawn even as I slipped
my hand between my husband's legs. 'You know, my lord, that women only
submit to the caresses of their husbands - they do not enjoy the rough
use of their bodies.'
Shalem laughed and pulled me down on the bed, and
we made love with great tenderness that morning. It was a reunion after
what had been our longest parting since that day he found me in the
market and led me to his bed, which we had made ours.
We slept late into the day, and only after we had
eaten did he tell me my father's demand. I grew cold and my stomach
turned. In my mind's eye, I saw my beloved in agonies of pain, saw the
knife cut too deep, the wound fester, and Shalem dying in my arms. I
burst into tears like a little child.
Shalem made light of it all. 'It is nothing,' he
said. 'A flesh wound. And I hear that afterward, my
pleasure of you will be even greater than it is now. So
prepare yourself, woman. I will be upon you night and day.
But I did not smile. I shivered with a cold that
entered my bones and would not leave.
Re-nefer tried to reassure me, too. She was not
displeased at the bargain her husband had struck. 'In Egypt,' she said,
'they take boys for circumcision when their voices change. It is a
merry enough time - they chase the boys and catch them, and afterward,
they are petted and fed on every sweet and savory thing they ask for.
Rest assured, they all survive.
'We will have my guard do the deed,' she said.
'Nehesi has dispatched many a foreskin. I can care for the pain, and
you will help me, little midwife.' She rattled and on about how easy it
would be, and then whispered, with a knowing leer, 'Do you not find the male memmber more attractive without its hood?'
But I found nothing amusing about Shalem's test, and I did I did not
return my mother-in-law's smile.
The three days passed. I clung to my husband like
a wild thing those nights, and tears ran down my face even as I reached
greater pleasures than before. My husband licked the water from my
cheeks and ran his salty tongue the length of my body. 'I will tease
you about this when our first son is born,' he whispered, as I lay on
his chest, still shaking with cold.
The appointed hour arrived. Shalem left me at
dawn. I stayed in bed, pretending to sleep, watching him wash and dress
through closed eyes. He leaned down to kiss me, but I did not turn my
face up to meet his lips.
I lay there alone, counting my hatred. I hated my
father for asking such a terrible price. I hated my husband and his
father for agreeing to pay it. I hated my mother-in-law for smoothing
the way. I hated myself most for being the cause of it all.
I lay on the bed, huddled beneath blankets,
shivering with anger and fear and unrecognized foreboding, until he was
brought back to me.
It was done in the king's antechamber. Shalem was
first, and then his father, Hamor. Nehesi said that neither king nor
prince cried out. Ashnan's little son followed, and wailed, but the
little one did not suffer long, since he had a full breast to console
him. The men of the household and the few poor souls who had not
disappeared to the countryside outside the walls were not so lucky.
They felt the knife keenly, and many screamed as though they were
murdered. Their cries pierced the air throughout the morning, but
ceased by noon.
It turned into an unmercifully hot day. There was
no breeze or cloud, and even within the thick walls of the palace the
air was damp and heavy. The recovering men sweated through their
clothing and soaked the be where they slept.
Hamor, who uttered no sound when he was cut, fainted in pain, and when he woke put a
knife between his teeth to keep from screaming. My Shalem suffered too,
though not as badly. He was younger and the salve seemed to ease him,
but for him too, the only complete remedy was sleep. I dosed him with a
sleeping draft, and whenever he roused, he was thick-headed and weary,
slack-jawed and dazed. I bathed my beloved's face as he slept his
drugged sleep and washed his sweating back with the softest touch I
could muster. I did my best not to weep so my face would be fresh when
he awoke, but as the day Wore on the tears came in spite of my efforts.
By nightfall, I was exhausted, and I slept by my husband's side swathed
in blankets against the icy winds of my fears, even as Shalem slept
naked in the heat.
In the night, I woke once to feel Shalem caressing
my cheek. When he saw my eyes open, he managed a wincing smile and
said, 'Soon this will be nothing but a dream and our
embraces will be sweeter than ever.' ...
Dinah's brothers kill Shalem and his
family, and she flees to Egypt to bear his son:
At the start of his fourth month, the family
gathered in the great room where Nakht-re sat among his assistants. The
women assembled along the walls as the men clustered around the baby
and placed the tools of the scribe into his little hands. His fingers
curled around new reed brushes, and he grasped a circular dish upon
which his inks were mixed. He waved a scrap of papyrus in both hands
like a fan, which delighted Nakht-re, who declared him born to the
profession. So was my son welcomed into the world of men.
Only then did I remember the eighth day, when
newborn boys of my family were circumcised and first-time mothers
cowered in the red tent while the older women reassured them. My heart
broke in two pieces, half mourning that the god of my father would not
recognize this boy, nor would my brother Joseph or even his
grandmothers. And yet I was fiercely proud that my son's sex would
remain whole, for why should he bear a scar that recalled the death of
his own father? Why should he sacrifice his foreskin to a god in whose
name I was widowed and my son orphaned?
Dinah's son, Bar-Shalem, but known as
Re-mose, grows up and leaves home for several years to study.
The house was In an uproar. Re-mose was back!
... It was the cook who told me to hurry and see
my son, who had come home to recover. 'Recover?' I asked her, suddenly
cold with fear. 'Has he been ill?'
'Oh, no,' she said with a broad grin. 'He comes
home to heal from the circumcision and to celebrate his manhood in
high style. I'll be working from dawn till midnight all this week,' she
said and pinched my cheek.
I heard nothing past the word 'circumcision.' My
head rang and my heart pounded as I rushed into the great hall where
Re-mose was arrayed on a litter near Nakht-re's chair. He looked up at
me and smiled easily, without a trace of pain in his face, which was
now a different face altogether.
It had been nearly five years since he left me,
and the little boy was now a young man....
I asked if he suffered, and he waved the question
away. 'I have no pain,' he said. 'They give you wine laced with the
juice of poppies before they draw knife, and afterward too,' he said.
'But that all happened a week ago, and I am quite recovered. ...
Dinah, now famous as a midwife, is
summoned to Thebes to deliver the son of the vizier, Zaphenat Paneh-ah.
A woman attending her, Shery, tells her his story.
'And yesterday,' she grumbled, speaking to herself
by that point, 'this madman demanded that his son be circumcised. Not
when he is at manhood's door and able to withstand such a thing. Not
like civilized people, but now. Immediately! Can you imagine wanting to
do that to a tiny baby? It only goes to prove that a born barbarian
does not change. As-naat screamed and carried on like a gutted cat at
the order. And I can't blame her there. '
'Joseph,' I whispered, in horror and disbelief.
Shery had told Re-rnose of our conversation and
repeated the word I had spoken before falling back into a fevered
darkness of mind. Thus my son took 'Joseph' into his mouth and,
unannounced, went into the great hall, where the vizier of Egypt sat
alone, whispering comfort to his firstborn son, who had been
circumcised earlier that day.
Dinah returns to her family incognito,
where Gera, daughter of Benjamin, retells her story.
'The king brought Jacob a handsome bride-price
with his own hands, but it wasn't enough for Simon and Levi. They
claimed that their sister had been kidnapped and raped, and that the
family honor was demeaned. They put up such a noise that the king,
bowing to his son's great passion for Leah's daughter, doubled the
'Still my uncles were not satisfied. They claimed
it was a plot of the Canaanites to take what was Jacob's and make it
Hamor's. So Levi and Simon tried to undo the marriage by demanding that
the Shechemites give up their foreskins and become Jacobites.
'Now comes the part of this story that makes me
think it is nothing more than a tale that girls tell each other. The
prince submitted to the knife! He and his father and all the men in the
city! My cousins say this is impossible, because men are not capable of
'In the story, though, the prince agreed. He and
the men of the city were circumcised.' Gera lowered her voice, setting
a dark tone for the sorrowful ending.
While not ostensibly pro-circumcision, this exports
several 20th-century American misconceptions to the ancient Middle
- the newborn's foreskin is retractable;
- circumcision causes trivial pain for infants
- but serious pain for adults;
- women prefer the circumcised appearance;
- circumcising improves sex.
A man called Habinnas is speaking about one of his
slaves who has just been singing in an attempt to entertain the guests
at a dinner organised by Trimalchio:
"He's desperately clever, really. He's a cobbler,
a cook, a confectioner - a man that can turn his hand to anything. But
he's got two faults; if he didn't have them he'd be perfect - he's
circumcised and he snores. I don't mind him being cross-eyed - so is
Venus. That's why he's never quiet and his eyes are hardly ever still.
I bought him for twelve hundred sesterces [a low price]."
Translated by John Sullivan,
Apparently the slave is also a sexual plaything of
Habinnas, which may indicate why his being circumcised is a fault.
blood flowed, and Ernest blanched.
Letters et al.
- Wiliam Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound
January 14, 1951
Do you realize that when I was in Paris in 1924 I
retracted Hemingway’s oldest boy’s foreskin for him while the
redoubtable lion hunter almost fainted? And remember that this is not
for publication at this time… Best, Bill
- The Selected Letters of
William Carlos Williams
Hadley continued to nurse her infant son until the
end of May, when William Carlos Williams, a physician as well as a
poet, advised her during a social call that her milk supply must have
dwindled because Bumby was underweight. (Dr. Williams also retracted
the baby’s foreskin to see if it was too tight, at which point Bumby
“naturally cried,” Williams noted, “much to his parents’ chagrin.”)
Thereafter, the preparation of formula, the boiling of rubber nipples,
and the filing of bottles became a way of life at 113 rue
p. 249, Hemingway by Kenneth
Ezra and Dorothy arrived early in June to meet
with Pound’s old friend, William Carlos Williams, who, with his wife,
had been touring Italy and France since the previous January. The
Hemingways missed Williams his first time through Paris, but not the
second. Pound brought them over to the Hemingways’ apartment, and
Williams, a doctor, examined Bumby [nickname of the Hemingway's son
John Hadley Nicanor] , whose pallor bothered him. At eight
months, the baby was still nursing and not yet on solid food. Dr.
Williams told Ernest and Hadley it was time to wean the child and also
to have him circumcised. That night they all went to the fights at the
Cirque de Paris, where Ernest was happy to see Floss Williams pounding
the shoulders of the man in front of her and yelling at the boxers,
“Kill the bastard!” The next morning Williams returned with his
surgical instruments to remove the baby’s foreskin.
blood flowed, and Ernest blanched.
p. 209, Hemingway: The Paris
Years by Michael Reynolds
When Hadley heated the water to give Bumby a bath
in their cramped quartes, the wallpaper swelled out from the walls.
When they went out at night, they would leave Bumby alone in the flat
with their cat, Feather Puss, for company. William Carlos Williams, a
poet and hard-working obstetrician like Ed Hemingway, noted that when
he circumcised Bumby in 1924 the redoubtable Hemingway “almost
p. 126, Hemingway: A
Biography by Jeffrey Meyers
In sum, his ability lay first in an uncanny sense
for diagnosis. Then, he didn’t flounder. He made up his mind and went
to it. Furthermore, he was not, as might be supposed, radical and
eccentric in his surgical technique but conservative and thoroughgoing
throughout. He was not nervous but cool and painstaking — so long as he
had the drug in him. His principles were sound, nor was he
exhibitionistic in any sense of the word.
And what a psychologist he was. There was a boy
down in Kingsland who had had diarrhea for about a week. Several
doctors had seen him and prescribed medicine but the child had been
eating almost anything he wanted. Finally they called in Rivers. He
pulled down the kid’s pants, took one look and said, Hell, what he
needs is a circumcision. And he did it, there and then, kept food away
from him a day or two (because of the operation) and of course the kid
got well. That’s how smart he was.
from “Old Doc Rivers” by
William Carlos Williams, The Doctor Stories
[It would have
been keeping food away from him that cured the diarrhoea. It
is hard to see how the child's foreskin could have been implicated in
June 29, 
At the present moment I am suffering from the
after effects, so to speak, of a double circumcision, performed not
upon me but upon twin Yids of my recent acquaintance. They [presumbably
the twins' parents] had good
whisky and excellent cigars.
March 14, 1933, Rutherford, NJ
…I do nothing but punch the typewriter these days – that is when I’m
not delivering the usual quote of week-end babies (I don’t mean that
they’re all girls) – tho’ it saves money to have girls nowadays – they
don’t have to be circumcised. …
Letter collected in The
Correspondence of William Carlos Williams and Louis Zukofsky
8 Feb. 1936
… WHAT the hell/ history is written and character
is made by whether and HOW the male forskin produces a effect of
glorious sunrise or of annoyance in slippin backward.
Someone diagnosed [George Bernard] Shaw years ago by saying he had a
tight foreskin/ the whole of puritan idiocy is produced by badly built
Criminology / penology shd/ be written around the cock.
The dissecting room shd/ lay off that chaotic
bucket of sweetbreads from the skull and start research from the prong
The lay of the nerves/ etc.
This don’t blot out endocrinology/ but it is the found [fount?] of
means microscopic attention/dissection and micro/photographic
killers etc/ shd have their prongs photoed post morten [after death]/
I supposed something must have been done/ but not
our little brown brothers in Japan might take to it scientificly/ some
europeans will but it shdn’t be left to mere brutes INCAPABLE of
understanding the licherary and musical consequences, in their upward
Wot I said to the endocriner wuz that jews having
been circumcised fer centu
ries/ it must have had some effect on the character/
Not havin a foreskin he resented the suggestion/
BUT there is somethin’ the jew aint got. admittin his talents.
Waaal/ verb/ sap [a word to the wise]/
now develop it. ...
p. 177 Pound/Williams:
selected letters of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams
Feb. 27, 1936
They say Bobby Burns had three balls or an extra
artery to the general sphere of his dynamo – but it killed him in the
end. It seems as simple as that. And if cutting off the loose hide over
a few thousand years has altered the Hebrew character – I doubt it. By
all the laws of heredity it should [not?] have affected the women and
as bad as the men today, or worse.
It ain’t the skin that makes the difference in the
man, it’s the stick in it that does it. A reglar guy rips in even if it
takes half the works away, ripping him wide open. Next time it hurts
less and finally it feels comfortable even most delightful – as you
intimate. But they’re clipping the Irish, the Scotch the Scandinanvian
and the colored today almost as much as the Jews. What is needed is the
opportunity, a place, a chance to come out of it not whole in cock
which is nothing – but with a reasonable chance of not being castrated
by a wife or the law or whatever. That’s the barrier that makes shit of
it for man: divorced, tortment of mind – and if not then dray [sic]
rot. I’m sure I couod [sic] get along with or without a foreskin – but
one grows weary of the calamitous, faked up consequences of a simple,
salutary, hygienic and possibly, genius provoking exercise of the whole
psyche – Aw nerts. Ain’t you getting yours? …
p. 178 Pound/Williams:
selected letters of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams
old children just should not know...
Max Andrews has inadvertently let his penis appear out
of a bathrobe on national television. Howard Toast, executive producer
of the Sellevision Retail Broadcasting Network is berating Max:
Howard's normally placid, waspy features contorted
with frustration. A vein on his temple pulsed. "Max, the other hosts
weren't naked under their bathrobes. It's just -
well, there's no excuse - seven-year-old-children and their mothers
just should not know that you're uncircumcised."
While "that you're uncircumcised" here could be taken as
just a token for "too much information" there is clearly an undertone
that it would be less of an affront if Max had been circumcised.
Unstated but implied: "The foreskin is disgusting".
they shan't feel...
The Subtle Knife
- second in the fantasy trilogy
"His Dark Materials"
by Philip Pullman
Like J.R.R. Tolkien, Pullman places his tales in a
vaguely British setting, with some
Christian undertones. However, unlike the Tolkien, the Pullman trilogy
anti-clerical messages. In Book 1, "Northern Lights", filmed as "The Golden Compass"
the evil Magisterium is performing "intercision" on children in the
north - cutting them apart from their souls or "daemons", which are in
the form of animals. In the HBO TV series, the intercisor has guilloutine-like blades. In Book 2, Pullman goes into more detail:
The Queen of the Witches, Ruta Skadi, is
addressing a Witches' Council:
You know only the north; I have traveled in the
south lands. There are churches there, believe me, that cut their
children too, as the people of Bolvangar did - not in the same way, but
just as horribly. They cut their sexual organs, yes, both boys and
girls; they cut them with knives so that they shan't feel. That is what
the church does, and every church is the same: control, destroy,
obliterate every good feeling...
The Subtle Knife, pp. 44-5
Ballantine Pocket Book edition (p. 50 Yearling edition)
A detailed analysis of the "intercision" theme's
relationship to circumcision is at the History
of Circumcision website.
secret, still haunting wars between the races of the circumcised and
Semi-autobiographical, written when the poet was only 19.
[English Paul and German Joachim are washing
themselves, naked, in their Cologne hotel room in 1929.]
Joachm turned round, away from the mirror, and
said in his American drawl, smiling, but with unusual slowness as he
looked Paul up and down: 'Well I guess that you and Ernst have one
thing in common.'
Horribly embarrassed, Paul asked: 'What?'
'Well, I'm sure you must realise,' said Joachim,
watching him all the time -
Paul could not go on standing there, being looked
at. Trembling, he sat down on the edge of his bed. Then he said in a
voice that he tried to make sound detached, scientific, indifferent -
'In England, being circumcised doesn't mean being
'What does it mean then?'
'Oh, I suppose it is done for medical reasons.'
Joachim stated: 'Unless it was absolutely
essential for medical reasons no German parents would let their son be
'Because they would not wish his school-mates to
think he was a Jew.'
In the same choking, scientifically indifferent
voice, Paul provided information -
'In England, boys from upper-middle-class parents
tend to be circumcised. Not boys of the lower class.'
Oh. Why is that?' asked Joachim, with his usual
wide-eyed amazement at the English.
'I don't know I suppose because the doctors of the
poor don't think the parents can afford such luxuries.' He tried to
He wanted to dress, but he feared that if he did
so Joachim would think he was hiding that mutilation which he had in
common with Ernst. He resisted an impulse to bury his face, scarlet
with embarrassment, in his hands. Suddenly, trembling, he was
overwhelmed by the sense of those primitive rites which still divided
whole peoples - white skins, black skins - into tribes: cutting across
nationhood with connections far more primitive, going back to eras when
foreskins were cut off with flints. Under their clothes men concealed
the marks which revealed which side they were on in the secret, still
haunting wars between the races of the circumcised and the
uncircumcised. He thought of the Old Testament.
pierced nasal septums
bearing pig's tusks had seemed the height of bizarre, outrageous and
Throwim Way Leg
One day after having a swim with his Miyanmin
companions, they were lying
stretched out on the pebble beach.
As this conversation progressed, Deyfu leaned
close to me and asked in a
whisper why I was so different from them.
Startled by the question, I began to grope for
explanations about my
relative large size and white skin.Deyfu cut short this tangled speech
pointing between his legs and saying,"No, hia" (Not that, here!).
At once the point of the question became apparent-
I was circumcised while
they were not. Mustering my finest Pidgin, I expounded "Ol tumbuna
mi i save rausim laplap bilong kok bilong pikinini man" which
roughly as "My ancestors developed the habit of cutting off the little
skirt of skin that grows at the end of their children's willies".
Deyfu looked at me solemnly for a moment or two,
then tried to translate
this explanation for his eagerly waiting clansmen. After a few words he
fell to the ground, choking and writhing.
He was in a paroxysms of laughter!
As he spurted the words out, all our companions
fell about helplessly in a
similiar manner. For a long time, no-one could look at me without
hysterical again, and it was at least twenty minutes before the mirth
While all this was going on I began to reflect
upon my attitude towards
the Miyanmin and their body decorations; their pierced nasal septums
bearing pig's tusks had seemed the height of bizarre, outrageous and
primitive fashion. Until this moment, I never considered that they
conceivably view me in the same way.
*Toromwe Lek in standard Tok Pisin
When I Am
Playing with My Cat, How Do I Know That She Is Not Playing with Me?:
Montaigne and Being in Touch with Life
"And [Michel de] Montaigne's open-mindedness is
also to the fore
when he visits a house in Rome to witness what he describes as 'the
most ancient religious ceremony in existence among men' -- the
circumcision of a young Jewish boy. Here Montaigne's interest is
palpable. His mother was possibly of Jewish descent, and he had earlier
visited the synagogue in Verona 'and had a long talk with them about
their ceremonies'. Whether Montaigne, a devout Catholic, is sympathetic
to Judaism because of his mother's background is difficult to say. But
what comes across is an even-handedness and an objectivity of
description... He goes on to describe the circumcision, comparing it to
aspects of Catholic ritual. The boy receives a godfather and a
godmother 'as we do', and is swaddled 'after our fashion'. He describes
how the mohel warms his hands, before cutting off the foreskin, and
sucking the blood from the wound. There is 'a great deal of effort' in
the procedure 'and some pain', records Montaigne. But he does not seem
to pass judgement. The boy cries, but 'as ours do when they are
baptized', but is soothed by being allowed to suck a finger dipped in
(Vintage Books, 2011, pp.
At the center of 'Witz' is Benjamin Israelian, the
sole survivor of a
virulent global plague that quickly kills off nearly everyone of Jewish
extraction... After the plague, Ben is exploited for financial gain by
quasi-governmental forces intent on marketing this new messiah to the
masses. As a savior, Ben's only power seems to lie in constantly
shedding, then regenerating, his foreskin, but that doesn't stop the
hordes from slavishly adopting the tenets of Judaism for their own. It
seems that there are none more zealous than the converted....
- Time Out New York
brothers and I weren't so strange after all.
Fearless Memoir: Worlds Fair
The space below each showerhead was occupied, so a
line of naked men had formed. I got in it. So far there were about six
of us waiting our turns and trying not to watch the other men shower.
It was so bizarre. Most of the people in the room were adults. They
were tall, short, skinny, fat, bald, knock-kneed, bow-legged, pimply,
with warts, scars, scabs, scratches, and bruises. They had skin that
was fair, sunburned, tanned, dry, oily, with hair that was blond, red,
brown, gray and black. They stood on white, super-skinny legs
supporting big bellies; had fat asses or no asses; were hairy or
hairless. They had big nuts, tiny nuts, nuts that hung almost to their
knees; had little button dicks, long skinny dicks, short fat dicks,
long fat dicks, curved dicks, hairy dicks and plucked-chicken dicks.
Some were circumcised and others were not, like me.
All the boys I knew at school were circumcised.
The only uncircumcised penises I'd ever seen were my brothers' and
cousins'. But there was the time one of Daddy's friends, Rod Miller
(who worked at Smith-Outz Drug Store behind the prescription counter),
had babysat. I was in the bathtub when Daddy and Momma were leaving,
and Daddy brought him into the bathroom and told me he was going to
give me my bath. I was around four and considered too young to bathe
myself. I started to make a fuss and rolled over on my stomach. Daddy
told me not to worry; he wanted me to feel okay about not being
circumcised. So he asked this man to show me his penis, which was
uncircumcised like mine.
It seemed odd to me that we were different from
Daddy. I once asked Momma why. She told me that when Daddy had joined
the army they had circumcised him, and had cut off too much of his
foreskin. Ouch! Momma said it was still painful for him, and she didn't
want it to be painful for us. When I asked how it was painful now, she
told me that when Daddy got an erection it hurt him. Shit. I guess
Momma had done us a favor. She also told me it was more enjoyable for
both the man and woman when the man was uncircumcised. I had no idea if
this was like the time she'd told me my freckles were kisses from the
fairies, but I figured I'd find out - until one day I'd realized I
never would know because I'd never have sex circumcised. Either way, I
knew it hadn't stopped Daddy.
It dawned on me in the campsite shower room that
my brothers and I weren't so strange after all. At least half the men
and boys in there were like we were. The others were like Daddy...
about circumcision, or with significant references to it
- Circumcision in movies
- Circumcision on TV