Blogging Joshua Cohen’s ‘Witz’
The Scroll will be blogging selected sections of Witz, the new novel from Tablet Magazine columnist Joshua Cohen. Josh will be celebrating James Joyce’s Ulysses with us this Wednesday, June 16.
It’s Kafka rather than Joyce who haunts the final section of Witz, in which the world’s remaining Unaffiliated—that is, those who have not converted to the brand of something-like-Judaism that has come to dominate the post-apocalyptic future, or “not chosen to be chosen” in the Newspeak of this new order—are rounded up and sent to their deaths (by a reconstituted Sanhedrin, naturally) in the reopened concentration camps of Polandland. The new genocide victims are, simultaneously, tourists, and their journeys to Whateverwitz, Whywald, and Nohausen, though mandatory, are also luxury vacations. “Give them the Grand Tour, show them the sites, take it all in, the works, allinclusive: then, terminal transfer to extermination facilities situated at the outer limits of major metropolises throughout the Pale … and then to murder them, every one of them, dead, and so only the pure will be left; that’s the plan.” They are flown first-class to Eastern Europe; “gifted with oodles of ointments to apply to their new tattoos”; taken to barracks with minibars and flat-screen televisions. “They’re not scheduled but punctually leisured to death, that’s how we like to think of it.”
But that’s not the Kafkaesque part. Each Unaffiliate either initially passes through one of several gates that leads directly to death or instead gets to pass through the Tourist Gate, and this is determined by a series of gatekeepers on loan from K’s famous parable “Before the Law” (which, I am personally convinced, is a parable about rabbinic Judaism and which I’m also sure inspired the structure of A Serious Man).
In Kafka’s version, a man stands before the gateway of the Law. (more…)