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.
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 up intact.
- by Sam Lipsyte
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 son circumcised.
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 collector.”
The Millions, September 9, 2010
Ape and Essence
- by 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.
[This 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 time.]
by 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."
[Fictional Eleanor is
reminiscent of real-life Dina Lucas Relles in this essay.]
Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer's Life
- by Michael Greenberg
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
...like you'd crop a ear or scorch a
- by Annie Proulx
... 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 crazy rage.
"Christ, he licked the stuffin out a me, knocked me
down 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
First published in the New Yorker,
October 13, 1997
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 and loss.
The 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.
Caeli, Lesbia Nostra / Caelius, our
Lesbia (Poem 58)
- by Catullus (84- ~54 BCE)
Cael?, Lesbia nostra, Lesbia illa,
illa Lesbia, quam Catullus ?nam
pl?s quam s? atque su?s am?vit omn?s,
nunc in quadrivi?s et angiport?s
gl?bit magnanim? Rem? nep?t?s.
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
|gl?bere is Latin for "to strip the
bark from a tree". "The grandsons of Remus" are the
noble youths of Rome.
The Captain and Thomasine
- by Don Floyd
Grew up a girl, became a soldier, dressed as a
woman, defended herself in stunning Jamestown court
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.
- by György Dalos
György Dalos lives in Berlin, but in his books he
regularly returns to his homeland, Hungary. He was
born in Budapest in 1943.
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
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.
Claudius the God
- by Robert Graves
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.
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
- by Dario Sulzman
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 believe that?”
“Geez. So it’s like you get to have two Bar
Read the whole story online
Cutting for Stone
- by Abraham Verghese
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
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 of 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 cans.”
- (Noida, UP, India: Random House
India, 2009) p.107
Sunday 24 December, 1911
- by Franz Kafka
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 [mohel]
bustles 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
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.
The Doctor's Dilemma
- by 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
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.
WALPOLE. 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?
WALPOLE. 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 infection. The
ought to be compulsory : it's
ten times more important than vaccination.
SIR PATRICK. Have you had your own sac removed, may I
WALPOLE [triumphantly] I havent got one.
Look at me ! Ive no symptoms. I'm sound as a
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.
There 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 J H Kellogg's recommendation to
apply carbolic acid to girls' genitals to
treat " irritation".
- by Stephen King
(Daniel Torrance has woken up with a hangover after a
fight and a night in bed with an unknown woman, and
gone to her bathroom.)
He looked in the medicine cabinet. Amid tubes of
makeup and 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.
The Finkler Question
- by Howard Jacobson
2010 Man Booker Prize winner
A novel exploring the convoluted question of what it is to be
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 teacher,
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 sensitive part.'
'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 anything.'
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 better.
'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 house.'
'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
He read it again.
'As regards circumcision, I think
that one of its objects is to limit sexual
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 enjoyment'.
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
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
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
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 as ever?
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 besotted her?
Both, he decided.
[Yet 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.
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 wanton.
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
Unless his untiring lustfulness both wearied and
disgusted her. And as a matter of ethno-religious
principle she would have preferred him snipped.
[Treslove's 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 inspiring.'
'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 I.'
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
'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
'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 inordinately.'
'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 reversed.'
'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
'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 school.'
'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
'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
'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
'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 your question?'
'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
'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 his penis.
But then Treslove could afford to be generous: he had
what Alvin Poliakov, epispasmist, had wanted all his
life - a foreskin.
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
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
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
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
[In 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 issue.
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 curtailed.
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
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
He wrote an afternoon play about one such life
himself. But the BBC, though it thanked him for it,
has not put it on. Censorship.
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 struggle.
'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.
[This 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.]
- by Irvine Walsh
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.
didn't have to: see paraphimosis.)
The Dachau remark implies that apart from medical emergencies
like his, only Jews circumcise.
The Great Switcheroo
- by Roald Dahl
One of four short stories, collected as Switch Bitch
(Michael Joseph 1974), with sexual themes and a twist in their
(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
'Oh yes, I am,' I said. 'Just so long as both men
were either circumcised or uncircumcised, then there
really was no problem.'
(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
Lady Chatterley's Lover
- by D. H. Lawrence
The gamekeeper, Mellors, is talking to Constance Chatterley in
"...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.
- by Stephen King
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, ...
Live From Golgotha
- by 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 Christian Church.
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
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
In that silent smoky hall you could have heard an
unweighted pin drop or the loosest foreskin slide
- 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
- 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 member."
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..."
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
...for the longest time I harbored this
absurd vision of doctors, gathered in secrecy ...
- by James Brown (1994)
Bobby, aged 16, is having a shower when he sees his father's
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,
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 his "eccentricity".
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
And what is he comparing it with?
Ma circoncision [My circumcision]
- by Riad Sattouf
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 his Grief
- by Lisa Braver Moss
In Berkeley, at his father's shiva, a Jewish doctor
experiences 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 foreskin "restoration."
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...
- Gore Vidal (1968)
... 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
In Chapter Nineteen, Myra goes to an
orgy at which are two of the five members of a band
called the Four Skins.
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.
[Myra/Vidal 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 Breckinridge.
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!
[The 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
'Oh, sure!' He was beet-red. ...
She insists on examining his penis.
... the grail was in my hand at last, smooth, warm,
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 times.'
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
- William Burroughs
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
- Nadine Gordimer
"Gordimer addresses many subjects, from the chemical
compounds for making bombs to the circumcision
practices of various groups."
- review in the Wichita Eagle April 22, 2012
- Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt
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
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
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, 308)
The self-published novel is thoroughly panned.
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...."
"I don't believe...
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
Four nonconformists (Lilac, Chip, King and Leopard)
"I 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
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
It's incredible, all right," King said, hitting his
pipe against his palm, "but I've seen photographs.
Alleged photographs, anyway."
...he already had the prick for it
- Noah Gordon
Airport novel (762pp) about Rob Cole, an English-born
barber-surgeon who travels to Ispahan, Persia,
disguised as a Jew, to study under Abu
ibn Sina (Avicenna).
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
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
The boy moved away, very disturbed. (p35)
"I shall become a counterfeit Jew!" he
He could grow a full Jew's beard, and he already had
the prick for it. (p206)
Rob is swimming with a Jew, Meir:
Meir had noticed his circumcised penis and looked
"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," Meir explained.
"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
...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.
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 nature."
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 so?"
"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
"How else is a male witch recognised?" Hunne asked.
"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 water. (p728)
The film of
the book has completely different circumcision references
...like freezing cream lifting the paper
cap on the old-time milk bottles...
Rabbit at Rest
- by John Updike
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 say 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. Getting a hard-on you can feel the foreskin
sweetly tug back, like freezing cream lifting the
paper cap on the old-time milk bottles. From the numb
look of 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
- by Anita Diamant
Dinah (Gen 34) tells her own story.
Leah, wife of Jacob, has just given birth to
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 his life.
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
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.
Reuben howled, and Jacob dropped
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
Hamor put his hand under Jacob's thigh and Jacob
touched the king as well, and my betrothal was sealed
without a smile or satisfaction.
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
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
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
of you will be even greater than it is now. So
prepare yourself, woman. I will be upon you night and
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
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
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
'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 brideprice.
'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 East:
- 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.
...he'd be perfect...
- by Petronius
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, Penguin (1965)
Apparently the slave is also a sexual plaything of Habinnas,
which may indicate why his being circumcised is a fault.
Does it get in the way?
Secrets of a Gay Marine
- by Rich Merritt (2005)
One evening the subject of circumcision came up.
Ian asked, "Yearh. Gary, what's it like to have a
foreskin and fuck a girl? Does it get in the way?"
It made sense that Gary would be uncircumcised; he
had been born in England and his family had moved to
the States when he was a child. Still, I had never
thought about it in quite this context.
In a fit of stupidity, I looked at Gary and asked,
"You're not circumcised?"
Ian let out a howl. "Bullshit, Rich! We all know that
you, of all people, would know that Gary's not
The truth is, I didn't know. We all showered
together almost daily in an open shower room and, had
I been able to, I probably would have sneeked a peek
or two or more at my handsome and will-built friends,
especially Gary. But I never wore my glasses or
contact lenses in the showers.
The foreskin, of course, gets out of the
way before sex.
But in this context the focus is on whether Rich knew about
which, Ian supposes, would have revealaed his gayness.
(That Ian knows, somehow does not expose him.)
Bumby screamed; blood flowed, and Ernest
Selected Letters et al.
- Wiliam Carlos Williams,
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
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 K. Lynn
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. Bumby screamed; blood flowed, and
p. 209, Hemingway: The Paris Years by
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 fainted.”
p. 126, Hemingway: A Biography by
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 any way.]
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 foreskin.
Criminology / penology shd/ be written around the
The dissecting room shd/ lay off that chaotic bucket
of sweetbreads from the skull and start research from
the prong Upward. The lay of the nerves/ etc. This
don’t blot out endocrinology/ but it is the found
[fount?] of aesthetics/ means microscopic
attention/dissection and micro/photographic
enlargemens/ killers etc/ shd have their prongs
photoed post morten [after death]/
I supposed something must have been done/ but not
enough/ our little brown brothers in Japan might take
to it scientificly/ some very nasty europeans will but
it shdn’t be left to mere brutes INCAPABLE of
understanding the licherary and musical consequences,
in their upward reaches.
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 they are 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
...seven year old children just should not
- by Augusten Burroughs
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
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".
...so that they shan't feel...
The Subtle Knife
- second in the fantasy trilogy "His Dark
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 has definite 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
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
... the secret, still haunting wars
between the races of the circumcised and the uncircumcised.
- by Stephen Spender
Semi-autobiographical, written when the poet was only 19.
[English Paul and German Joachim are washing
themselves, naked, in their Cologne hotel room in
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 circumcised.'
'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 laugh.
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.
...their pierced nasal septums bearing
pig's tusks had seemed the height of bizarre, outrageous and
Throwim Way Leg
- by Tim Flannery
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
Startled by the question, I began to grope for
explanations about my relative large size and white
skin.Deyfu cut short this tangled speech by pointing
between his legs and saying,"No, hia" (Not that,
At once the point of the question became apparent- I
was circumcised while they were not. Mustering my
finest Pidgin, I expounded "Ol tumbuna bilong mi i
save rausim laplap bilong kok bilong pikinini man"
which translalates 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 becoming
hysterical again, and it was at least twenty minutes
before the mirth finally subsided.
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 could conceivably view me in the
*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
- by Paul Frampton
"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 wine.
(Vintage Books, 2011, pp. 142-143)
- by Joshua Cohen
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
goy 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
... my brothers and I weren't so strange
Fearless Memoir: Worlds Fair
- by James Stack
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
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
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...
- Books about circumcision, or with
significant references to it
- Circumcision in movies
- Circumcision on TV