Bisognerebbe leggere, credo,
che mordono e pungono.
Se il libro che leggiamo
non ci sveglia
con un pugno in testa,
a che serve leggerlo?
Piero Dorfles (Per un pugno di Libri-Rai3) mi ha invogliato a leggere Portnoy’s Complaintsdi Philip Roth. Lo studente in gara in “Fuori gli autori” non lo conosce. Dorfles sgrana gli occhi stupefatto, ma si riprende subito e aggiunge estasiato:
“Beato te! questo vuol dire che hai ancora da leggere uno dei veri capolavori del 900!”
Sentire queste parole ha fatto scoccare il clic dei desideri; un altro clic lo aveva fatto scattare tempo prima la lunga e appassionata discussione sulla mancata attribuzione del Nobel a Roth. Tra le decine di super premi che gli sono stati conferiti, manca il top. Ma lui ci lascia prima che possa accadere l’agognato evento. Chiuso.
Per me invece sembra finalmente arrivato il momento di conoscerlo più da vicino. Inizio a leggere il romanzo in Inglese, con sprazzi di Ebraico.
“Portnoy’s Complaint (pôrt′-noiz kәm-plānt′) n. [after Alexander Portnoy (1933- )] A disorder in which strongly-felt ethical and altruistic impulses are perpetually warring with extreme sexual longings, often of a perverse nature. Spielvogel says: ‘Acts of exhibitionism, voyeurism, fetishism, auto-eroticism and oral coitus are plentiful; as a consequence of the patient’s “morality,” however, neither fantasy nor act issues in genuine sexual gratification, but rather in overriding feelings of shame and the dread of retribution, particularly in the form of castration.’ (Spielvogel, O. “The Puzzled Penis,” Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse, Vol. XXIV p. 909.) It is believed by Spielvogel that many of the symptoms can be traced to the bonds obtaining in the mother-child relationship.”
Questa introduzione trasporta il lettore in un ambito scientifico che, a detta dello stesso autore, “sterilizza” in un certo senso il contenuto e il linguaggio usati nella narrazione. Espressioni sconce, argomenti imbarazzanti, situazioni al limite del censurabile, diventano in tal modo narrativamente ed eticamente accettabili.
E allora, che abbia inizio il lungo e talora estenuante flusso di coscienza di un giovane maschio che inonda di domande il suo psicoanalista Doctor Spielvogel sulla sua condizione di maniaco ossessivo compulsivo:
“How much longer do I go on conducting these experiments with women? How much longer do I go on sticking this thing into the holes that come available to it—first this hole, then when I tire of this hole, that hole over there . . . and so on. When will it end? Only why should it end! To please a father and mother? To conform to the norm? Why on earth should I be so defensive about being what was honorably called some years ago, a bachelor?”
Alla fine del primo capitolo, ripenso al lettore Dorfles. È un maschio e dunque il suo punto di vista sul romanzo di Roth riflette quello di gran parte del mondo maschile sul sesso, sulle donne e sul linguaggio esplicito al limite dell’imbarazzo. Capisco perché gli sia piaciuto tanto questo romanzo di formazione… Per me la storia è un po’ diversa. L’impatto è destabilizzante, e forte è la tentazione di interrompere la lettura, ma non ci riesco e vado avanti.
La famiglia Portnoy-Il mio naso ebreo
“How has this happened to me who was so gorgeous in that carriage, Mother! At the top it has begun to aim toward the heavens, while simultaneously, where the cartilage ends halfway down the slope, it is beginning to bend back toward my mouth. A couple of years and I won’t even be able to eat, this thing will be directly in the path of the food! No! No! It can’t be!”
Alexander Portnoy, nasce a Newark-New Jersey da una famiglia di religione ebraica della middle class Americana. Suo padre Jack è di origine Galiziana, sua madre Sophie é di origine Ucraina. Jack è un assicuratore molto bravo che riesce a vendere polizze anche alle famiglie di quartieri spesso degradati. Il capo se lo tiene ben stretto per questa sua grande abilità. La sua vita familiare è meno brillante, anche lui ha un’ossessione che incupisce tutta la famiglia: è in perenne lotta con il suo intestino pigro… per così dire (e mi viene in mente il romanzo Le Correzioni di J. Franzen, dove il padre del protagonista ha lo stesso tragicomico problema-Che si siano parlati?)
La madre Sophie è la classica mamma ebrea da barzelletta: petulante, soffocante, onnipresente e sempre giudicante, un vero incubo.
“You know the joke, of course—Milty, the G.I., telephones from Japan. “Momma,” he says, “it’s Milton, I have good news! I found a wonderful Japanese girl and we were married today. As soon as I get my discharge I want to bring her home, Momma, for you to meet each other.” “So,” says the mother, “bring her, of course.” “Oh, wonderful, Momma,” says Milty, “wonderful—only I was wondering, in your little apartment, where will me and Ming Toy sleep?” “Where?” says the mother. “Why, in the bed? Where else should you sleep with your bride?” “But then where will you sleep, if we sleep in the bed? Momma, are you sure there’s room?” “Milty darling, please,” says the mother, “everything is fine, don’t you worry, there’ll be all the room you want: as soon as I hang up, I’m killing myself.””
O mangi o ti accoltello: “From my bed I hear her babbling about her problems to the women around the mah-jongg game: My Alex is suddenly such a bad eater I have to stand over him with a knife. And none of them apparently finds this tactic of hers at all excessive. I have to stand over him with a knife! And not one of those women gets up from the mah-jongg table and walks out of her house! Because in their world, that is the way it is with bad eaters—you have to stand over them with a knife!”
Le calze della mamma, che ossessione:”Who is going to stay with Mommy forever and ever? Me. Who is it who goes with Mommy wherever in the whole wide world Mommy goes? Why me, of course. What a silly question—but don’t get me wrong, I’ll play the game! Who had a nice lunch with Mommy, who goes downtown like a good boy on the bus with Mommy, who goes into the big store with Mommy . . . and on and on and on . . . so that only a week or so ago, upon my safe return from Europe, Mommy had this to say—”
Ruoli invertiti nella famiglia Portnoy:”Christ, in the face of my defiance–if my father had only been my mother! and my mother my father! But what a mix-up of the sexes in our house! Who should by rights be advancing on me, retreating—and who should be retreating, advancing! Who should be scolding, collapsing”
Alexander ha anche una sorella, Hanna di cui confessa di non conoscere molto se non la taglia e l’odore della sua biancheria intima. Hanna cerca di aiutare il fratello a comprendere meglio la sua condizione di ebreo in famglia, nella comunità ebraica e nella società in generale. Alex non sopporta che gli ebrei abbiano sempre pronta la scusa, “ma siamo stati perseguitati dai Nazi…”
“This summer she is going to be crafts counselor in the Jewish Community Center day camp. I have seen her reading a paperback book with a greenish cover called A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. All I seem to know about her are these few facts, and of course the size and smell of her brassiere and panties. What years of confusion! And when will they be over?”
“Do you know, she asks me, where you would be now if you had been born in Europe instead of America? That isn’t the issue, Hannah. Dead, she says. That isn’t the issue! Dead. Gassed, or shot, or incinerated, or butchered, or buried alive. Do you know that?”
Alex Portnoy non si sente Americano, tanto che, man mano che diventa adulto, assume un atteggiamento sempre più critico nei confronti del suo paese. Dissacra il baseball e il mito identitario del centerfield, dissacra l’idealismo e il patriottismo del paese in guerra, crede nel comunismo-nemico-numero-uno dell’America, rifiuta il mito della famiglia americana culla di ogni virtù, detesta la “sua famiglia”. Dell’America ama una sola cosa: una biondina che si accoccola tra le sue braccia e implora amore.
“so don’t tell me we’re just as good as anybody else, don’t tell me we’re Americans just like they are. No, no, these blond-haired Christians are the legitimate residents and owners of this place, and they can pump any song they want into the streets and no one is going to stop them either. O America! America! it may have been gold in the streets to my grandparents, it may have been a chicken in every pot to my father and mother, but to me, a child whose earliest movie memories are of Ann Rutherford and Alice Faye, America is a shikse nestling under your arm whispering love love love love love!”
Ma no, decisamente l’America non è solo love, love, love, L’America è razzista, non ama gli ebrei e il loro stile di vita, al punto da costringerli ad auto esiliarsi in piccole comunità dove parenti, e amici ebrei si proteggono tra loro. Ghetti, ancora ghetti nella democratica, civile, idealista America.
“and Hiroshima and Nagasaki went up in a puff, one week when I was twelve, and that was the heart of my boyhood, four years of hating Tojo, Hitler, and Mussolini, and loving this brave determined republic! Rooting my little Jewish heart out for our American democracy!”
“My home, SWEET HOOOOOHHHH-M!”
Superata la terrificante fase adolescenziale e quella universitaria di scoperta dell’autonomia, Alex si trasferisce a New York dove lavora in un ufficio governativo contro le discriminazioni (ironia della sorte), e qui ne vede di tutti i colori. Continua a combattere contro le sue ossessioni, ma se non altro vive la sua vita sessuale in modo abbastanza normale. Sposarsi? Mai! Ama viaggiare, conoscere donne e fare sesso. Ma il viaggio in Grecia e a Roma con Monkey, oggetto di ogni desiderio e sua attuale “pseudo fidanzata”, gli crea problemi di vario tipo.
Il viaggio della vita lo farà da solo in Israele. Ormai trentenne, in balia delle sue ossessioni decide di affrontare il totem dell’ Ebreo che torna nella terra promessa, la vera Madre Patria, dove spera di rimettere in ordine i suoi valori, la sua identità, le sue ossessioni. E proprio qui fa delle scoperte che lo turbano, o per lo meno lo fanno riflettere. In Israele il WASP è lui; in Israele non è discriminato per la sua religione, per il suo naso, per la sua “ebraicità”; qui Alexander Portnoy rappresenta l’Establishment. Gli oppressi, i discriminati sono altri.
E tuttavia, in terra d’Israele, l’impagabile Portnoy perde la sua onnipotenza e per la prima volta nella sua “carriera” di amante instancabile si scopre impotente. Incontra Naomi, incarnazione della donna forte, indipendente e risolta, che non ha bisogno di lui per realizzarsi e che lo mette di fronte alla sua fragile condizione di bambino irrisolto, alla sua “stupid self-deprecation”
“You are like a baby.” “No! Not so,” but she waved aside any explanation I may have had to offer, and began to lecture me on my shortcomings as she had observed them that day. “The way you disapprove of your life! Why do you do that? It is of no value for a man to disapprove of his life the way that you do. You seem to take some special pleasure, some pride, in making yourself the butt of your own peculiar sense of humor. I don’t believe you actually want to improve your life. Everything you say is somehow always twisted, some way or another, to come out ‘funny.’ All day long the same thing. In some little way or other, everything is ironical, or self-depreciating. Self-depreciating?” “Self-deprecating. Self-mocking.” “Exactly! And you are a highly intelligent man—that is what makes it even more disagreeable. The contribution you could make! Such stupid self-deprecation! How disagreeable!””
La paura di aver contratto un’infezione fatale durante il rapporto sessuale a tre vissuto a Roma con the Monkey e la prostituta Italiana fa scattare l’impotenza e un bruciante senso di fallimento.
Di contro, Alex comincia ad avere quasi bisogno di normalità e sogna una sua famiglia ideale con la cara soffice Pumpkin, compagna di università, che ha lasciato andare insieme al suo mondo WASP in Iowa, la famiglia giusta, il nome giusto-Campbell, la casa giusta, gli odori giusti, i diritti e i doveri giusti, per non parlare del nasino all’insù e dei capelli biondi…
“sleepy son, and in the arms of Mrs. A. Portnoy, that kind and gentle (and in my sugary but modest fantasy, faceless) woman, I bank the fires of my abounding pleasure. In the morning I am off to downtown Newark, to the Essex County Court House, where I spend my workdays seeking justice for the poor and the oppressed.”
“the education she was giving me in literature, a whole new perspective, an understanding of art and the artistic way . . . oh, why did I ever let her go! I can’t believe it—because she wouldn’t be Jewish? “The eternal note of sadness—” “The turbid ebb and flow of human misery—”
“let me miss her substantiality a little. That buttery skin! That unattended streaming hair! And this is back in the early fifties, before streaming hair became the style! This was just naturalness, Doctor. Round and ample, sun-colored Kay! I’ll bet that half a dozen kiddies are clinging to that girl’s”
Lo spaccato Israeliano, l’atteggiamento satirico di Alex-Roth verso l’universo Americano, un certo bisogno di normalità, mi hanno riconciliato con il romanzo. L’interminabile flusso di coscienza che accoglie e sputa ogni tipo di frustrazione, ogni espressione volgare e violenta del linguaggio, si veste di umanità e apre volentieri le porte anche a una lettrice turbata dalle ossessioni di un giovane maschio Ebreo-Americano.
Eppure, finalmente arriva condiviso, l’urlo liberatorio:
“Because that’s maybe what I need most of all, to howl. A pure howl, without any more words between me and it! “This is the”
È quasi un richiamo all’Howldi Ginsberg, che aiuta a distruggere la diga, le corde, i legami, l’autocensura, il mondo-camicia-di-forza in cui è stato imprigionato Alex Portnoy fino a quel momento.
Ma non illudiamoci, forse siamo in un loop..
“PUNCH LINE So [said the doctor]. Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?”
Continuando ad assaggiare…
I sacrifici dei genitori““Alex, why are you getting like this, give me some clue? Tell me please what horrible things we have done to you all our lives that this should be our reward?” I believe the question strikes her as original. I believe she considers the question unanswerable. And worst of all, so do I. What have they done for me all their lives, but sacrifice? Yet that this is precisely the horrible thing is beyond my understanding—and still, Doctor! To this day!”
Suona uno strumento e sarai popolare “For a man whose house was without a phonograph or a record, he was passionate on the subject of a musical instrument. “I don’t understand why you won’t take a musical instrument, this is beyond comprehension. Your little cousin Toby can sit down at the piano and play whatever song you can name. All she has to do is sit at the piano and play ‘Tea for Two’ and everybody in the room is her friend. She’ll never lack for companionship, Alex, she’ll never lack for popularity. Only tell me you’ll take up the piano, and I’ll have one in here tomorrow morning. Alex, are you listening to me? I am offering you something that could change the rest of your life!””
Ironia sui genitori poeti““Look outside, baby,” and I look; she says, “See? how purple? a real fall sky.” The first line of poetry I ever hear! And I remember it! A real fall sky . .”
“Good winter piney air—another poet for a parent! I couldn’t be more thrilled if I were Wordsworth’s kid! . .”
Scherzo del corpo, Capitano “I am the Captain of my fate, I am the Master of my soul, and meanwhile, within my own body, an anarchic insurrection had been launched by one of my privates—which I was helpless to put down!”
Ti imploro Dio, fa che sia benigno “let it be benign! Blessed art thou O Lord Our God, let it be benign! Hear O Israel, and shine down thy countenance, and the Lord is One, and honor thy father, and honor thy mother, and I will I will I promise I will—only let it be benign!”
Mamma è viva…felice con ironia “let it be benign! Blessed art thou O Lord Our God, let it be benign! Hear O Israel, and shine down thy countenance, and the Lord is One, and honor thy father, and honor thy mother, and I will I will I promise I will—only let it be benign!”
Donne del mondo “What are they, after all, these Jewish women who raised us up as children? In Calabria you see their suffering counterparts sitting like stones in the churches, swallowing all that hideous Catholic bullshit; in Calcutta they beg in the streets, or if they are lucky, are off somewhere in a dusty field hitched up to a plow . . . Only in America, Rabbi Golden, do these peasants, our mothers, get their hair dyed platinum at the age of sixty, and walk up and down Collins Avenue in Florida in pedalpushers and mink stoles—and with opinions on every subject under the sun. It isn’t their fault they were given a gift like speech—look, if cows could talk, they would say things just as idiotic.”
Freud e i desideri di uno scapolo impenitente“After all, that’s all this is, you know—bachelorhood. So what’s the crime? Sexual freedom? In this day and age? Why should I bend to the bourgeoisie? Do I ask them to bend to me? Maybe I’ve been touched by the tarbrush of Bohemia a little—is that so awful? Whom am I harming with my lusts? I don’t blackjack the ladies, I don’t twist arms to get them into bed with me. I am, if I may say so, an honest and compassionate man; let me tell you, as men go I am . . . But why must I explain myself! Excuse myself! Why must I justify with my Honesty and Compassion my desires! So I have desires—only they’re endless. Endless! And that, that may not be such a blessing, taking for the moment a psychoanalytic point of view . . . But then all the unconscious can do anyway, so Freud tells us, is want. And want! And WANT! Oh, Freud, do I know! This one has a nice ass, but she talks too much. On the other hand, this one here doesn’t talk at all, at least not so that she makes any sense—but, boy, can she suck!”
Un solo amore per tutta lavita? Cazzate“Imagine it: suppose I were to go ahead and marry A, with her sweet tits and so on, what will happen when B appears, whose are even sweeter—or, at any rate, newer? Or C, who knows how to move her ass in some special way I have never experienced; or D, or E, or F. I’m trying to be honest with you, Doctor—because with sex the human imagination runs to Z, and then beyond! Tits and cunts and legs and lips and mouths and tongues and assholes! How can I give up what I have never even had, for a girl, who delicious and provocative as once she may have been, will inevitably grow as familiar to me as a loaf of bread? For love? What love? Is that what binds all these couples we know together—the ones who even bother to let themselves be bound? Isn’t it something more like weakness? Isn’t it rather convenience and apathy and guilt? Isn’t it rather fear and exhaustion and inertia, gutlessness plain and simple, far far more than that “love” that the marriage counselors and the songwriters and the psychotherapists are forever dreaming about?”
I must della buona educazione letteraria di una shikse“I going to improve her mind! After Agee, Adamic’s Dynamite!, my own yellowing copy from college; I imagined her benefiting from my undergraduate underlinings, coming to understand the distinction between the relevant and the trivial, a generalization and an illustration, and so on. Furthermore, it was a book so simply written, that hopefully, without my pushing her, she might be encouraged to read not just the chapters I had suggested, those touching directly upon her own past (as I imagined it)—violence in the coal fields, beginning with the Molly Maguires; the chapter on the Wobblies—but the entire history of brutality and terror practiced by and upon the American laboring class, from which she was descended. Had she never read a book called U.S.A.? Mortimer Snerd: “Duh, I never read nothing, Mr. Bergen.” So I bought her the Modern Library Dos Passos, a book with a hard cover. Simple, I thought, keep it simple, but educational, elevating. Ah, you get the dreamy point, I’m sure. The texts? W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk. The Grapes of Wrath. An American Tragedy. A book of Sherwood Anderson’s I like, called Poor White (the title, I thought, might stir her interest). Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son. The name of the course? Oh, I don’t know—Professor Portnoy’s “Humiliated Minorities, an Introduction.” “The History and Function of Hatred in America.” The purpose? To save the stupid shikse; to rid her of her race’s ignorance; to make this daughter of the heartless oppressor a student of suffering and oppression; to teach her to be compassionate, to bleed a little for the world’s sorrows. Get it now? The perfect couple: she puts the id back in Yid, I put the oy back in goy. Where am I?”
Lingua Inglese, doni e formule, quanti modi per dire Good morning“Then there’s an expression in English, “Good morning,” or so I have been told; the phrase has never been of any particular use to me. Why should it have been? At breakfast at home I am in fact known to the other boarders as “Mr. Sourball,” and “The Crab.” But suddenly, here in Iowa, in imitation of the local inhabitants, I am transformed into a veritable geyser of good mornings. That’s all anybody around that place knows how to say—they feel the sunshine on their faces, and it just sets off some sort of chemical reaction: Good morning! Good morning! Good morning! sung to half a dozen different tunes! Next they all start asking each other if they had “a good night’s sleep.” And asking me! Did I have a good night’s sleep? I don’t really know, I have to think—the question comes as something of a surprise. Did I Have A Good Night’s Sleep? Why, yes! I think I did! Hey—did you? “Like a log,” replies Mr. Campbell.”
“The English language is a form of communication! Conversation isn’t just crossfire where you shoot and get shot at! Where you’ve got to duck for your life and aim to kill! Words aren’t only bombs and bullets—no, they’re little gifts, containing meanings!”
Ipocrisia religiosa The Pumpkin, fidanzata dell’Iowa, non capisce perchè dovrebbe convertirsi per sposare Alex- “Our favorite philosopher was Bertrand Russell. Our religion was Dylan Thomas’ religion, Truth and Joy! Our children would be atheists. I had only been making a joke!”
Soldi“And then of course that extra bonus, Charlatan Van Doren. Such character, such brains and breeding, that candor and schoolboyish charm—the ur-WASP, wouldn’t you say? And turns out he’s a fake. Well, what do you know about that, Gentile America? Supergoy, a gonif! Steals money. Covets money. Wants money, will do anything for it. Goodness gracious me, almost as bad as Jews—you sanctimonious WASPs!”
La vita di Alex ruota solo intorno al suo pene-Peter “LET MY PETER GO! There, that’s Portnoy’s slogan. That’s the story of my life, all summed up in four heroic dirty words.”
Dove mi trovo? In Israele, dove tutti sono ebrei“My dream begins as soon as I disembark. I am in an airport where I have never been before and all the people I see—passengers, stewardesses, ticket sellers, porters, pilots, taxi drivers—are Jews.”
Impotente nella Madre Patria“couldn’t get it up in the State of Israel! How’s that for symbolism, bubi? Let’s see somebody beat that, for acting-out! Could not maintain an erection in The Promised Land! At least not when I needed it, not when I wanted it, not when there was something more desirable than my own hand to stick it into.”