carves a space for that voice in American society.Portnoy's overwhelming experience in his youth is that of being part of the wrong discourse. He isobsessed with what his mother dismissively calls '
143), and loves baseball as anembodiment of what he perceives to be America's calm respect for the individual: 'Oh, how unlike myhome it is to be in center field, where no one will appropriate unto himself anything that I say ismine!' (
69) The American discourse is manifested in bodies, in a style of dress and tone of voicethat Portnoy will never achieve. He envies
their parents because they represent a
that, by definition, will never be his. But the humour of
is in the frenziedwriting style, where undertones of paranoia, self-hatred, superiority and hypochondria can be made tocrescendo into prolonged passages of hysteria. One of the most perfect examples is the episode atBubbles Girardi's house, where his fear of catching syphilis, losing his penis, being caught by hismother and featuring in local headlines climax in an inability to get an erection at the hands of the girland a spurt of semen in his eye: masturbation literally blinds him (
165-184). He does notrecognise that the nature of every discourse is that it has its own constraints. Portnoy's primary modeof communication, the Judenwitz, is born of his claustrophobic home-life: 'In this householdeverybody tries to get a good cry in at least once a day' (
25). The freedom he finds in punning is born of the inescapability of a mother who demands to look through his faeces (
22), and hisearliest fantasies are the product of trying to sidestep meanings and identities conferred on him:'Portnoy, yes, it's an old French name, a corruption of porte noir, meaning black door or gate.Apparently in the Middle Ages in France the door to our family manor house was painted.' (PC 149)He has in fact been afforded a greater power over language than the
who apparently had somuch more freedom for their bodies.Critics have commented on the fluidity of Jewish identity in Jewish/American literature
. To be a Jewis identified in literature with certain motivations, desires and disappointments, which can betransferred to another character within the novel. If Portnoy's identification of himself as a 'Jewishson' hangs on his stifling home life, his desire to be part of American culture and his hankering after sexual experiences, Alex is the Jew in Everything Is Illuminated. Eliot Borenstein mentions Alex asan example of the 'yokel': the mythical Eastern European figure who has not reclaimed his voiceunlike almost every other demographic in the wake of postmodernism.
Foer certainly takes part in'the abject humour of yokelisation' at the opening of the novel. When Jonathan keeps complaining of
3Including Jonathan Rosen's introduction to
by Bernard Malamud (New York: Farrar, Strauss andGiroux, 2003)4Eliot Borenstein, 'Our Borats, Our Selves: Yokels and Cosmopolitans on the Global Stage' Source: Slavic Review,Vol. 67, No. 1 (Spring, 2008), p. 3