September 6, 2010


In Witz, Joshua Cohen calls all religious Jews "Affiliated". After the sabbath meal a week before Christmas, Benjamin is born to Israel and Hanna Israelien in Joysey, the first son after 12 girls. This winter is particularly hard and in fact persists year round. Benjamin is born full grown, with a beard and glasses. His foreskin continually sheds itself and grows back. Already too big for his father's shirts, he takes to his mother's maternity robes. On Christmas Eve, all of the Affiliated die except first-born sons. The Israelien's maid, Wanda, drives Benjamin down to Florida to live with his grandfather, Isaac, who is Unaffiliated. Meanwhile, a cabal of government operatives are quarantining all of the first-borns on Ellis Island, now called "The Garden" (incorporated), capitalized with the property of the dead. A week later, they come for Benjamin. Isaac dies from a heart attack. Benjamin escapes at a rest stop but is eventually caught and taken to The Garden, where they have moved the entire Israelien house, complete with Sabbath guest still on one of the toilets. The Garden markets Benjamin as the messiah. A team of unaffiliated women are trained to act as his mother and sisters and see to his needs.

Then the first-borns start dying, and by Passover Benjamin is the only one remaining. It is arranged that he marry the President's daughter in Las Vegas, but Benjamin escapes again, to wander the country in his mother's robe. Back in New York, his "sisters" catch up with him, and during cunnilingus with his "Hanna", his tongue gets stuck and is torn off when his sisters try to separate them. The scandal destroys The Garden, and Benjamin is shunned by all (he and the operators of The Garden are Disaffiliated).

Without real Jews around to complicate things, America, and soon, the world, has become Affiliated. The President becomes chief of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. Those who refuse to Affiliate are sent to their "homeland", Polandland, to be killed. Benjamin finds his way there, too, visiting the towns of his mother's and his father's ancestors. In his wanderings, he sprouts the horns of a cow and ultimately he turns into a woman. The Affiliated, however, revive the cult of his tongue, now displayed as a relic. And Wanda, now Affiliated, with a son of her own, remembers the visitor that Benjamin had every night from his birth: Isaiah in the form of Santa Claus.

25 years later, we hear from a 108-year-old Jewish man who was in Auschwitz ... He has listed the punch line of a joke, who needs the setup any more, for every year that he has lived. Because what should you do only laugh.

(((( ))))

Today, affiliation means with Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, whatever Judaism. Cohen reminds the reader of the bloody record of The Bible: the flood, the almost-sacrifice of Isaac, the havoc wrought on the Egyptians, the conquest of Palestine. It is a model of single-minded imperial action by the self-chosen. When all of the Jews die, a singular Affiliation provides the complete means to realize the hegemony that has turned out to be the true American experiment. Indeed, after the destruction of The Twin Towers in New York in 2001, the world said "We are New York", but Israel said "Now you are Israel", which was prescient. Israel had already become everything that some thought it was supposed to stand against: it is a paranoid belligerent power instead of a voice for the oppressed and shunned. And America, seeing in Israel their own history (cf. the Indians), is wallowing even deeper into the madness of self-declared uniqueness that absolves it of all judgement. We are indeed marching headlong toward Affiliation: Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein F├╝hrer. God's Work.