Saturday, December 17, 2011

I Served the King of England: worthy of inseminating an Aryan with dignity

Bohumil Hrabal’s fantastic tale takes a dark turn as World War II begins. Ditie loses his job in Prague when he falls in love with a German. Even as Hrabal describes an absurd setting, an ugly edge creeps in with his humor. I’m providing another long excerpt to give an idea of his blending the two. In this scene, Ditie has proposed to his German girlfriend. Before he can accept, Ditie must get her father’s permission, which also includes a state blessing:
And so the unbelievable came true, because in Cheb I had to undergo an examination by a Supreme Court judge and I submitted a written request in which I listed my entire family, going back beyond that cemetery in Cvikov where Grandpa Johan Ditie lay, and with reference to his Aryan and Teutonic origins I respectfully requested permission to marry Elisabeth Papánek. According to the laws of the Reich, I also had to request a physical examination by an SS doctor to determine whether I, being of a different nationality, was eligible under the Nuremberg Laws not merely to have sex with someone of Aryan Teutonic blood but actually to impregnate her. And so while execution squads in Prague and Brno and other jurisdictions were carrying out the death sentence, I had to stand naked in front of a doctor who lifted my penis with a cane and then made me turn around while he used the cane to look into my anus, and then he hefted my scrotum and dictated in a loud voice. Next he asked me to masturbate and bring him a little semen so they could examine it scientifically because, as the doctor said in his atrocious Egerlander German—which I couldn’t understand, though I got the gist well enough—when some stupid Czech turd wants to marry a German woman his jism had better be at least twice as good as the jism of the lowliest stoker in the lowliest hotel in the city of Cheb. He added that the gob of phlegm a German woman would spit between my eyes would be as much a disgrace to her as an honor to me. And I knew from reading the papers that on the very same day that I was standing here with my penis in my hand to prove myself worthy to marry a German, Germans were executing Czechs, and so I couldn’t get an erection and offer the doctor a few drops of my sperm. Then the door opened and the doctor came in with my papers in his hand, and he’d probably just read them and realized who I was, because he said to me affably, Herr Ditie, was ist den los? And he patted me on the shoulder, handed me some photographs, and turned on the light. I found myself looking at pornographic snapshots of naked people, and whenever I’d had this kind of picture in my hands before I’d always turn stiff right away, but now the more I looked at them the more I saw those headlines and the stories in the papers announcing that so-and-so and four others had been sentenced to death and shot, and there were more of them every day, new ones, innocent ones. And here I was standing with my penis in my hand and pornographic snapshots in the other, so I put them down on the table, because I still couldn’t manage to do what I was asked. Finally a young nurse had to come in and after a few deft strokes of her hand, during which I didn’t have to think about anything anymore, she carried off two beads of my sperm on a piece of paper, and half an hour later they were pronounced first-class and worthy of inseminating an Aryan vagina with dignity. And so the Bureau for the Defense of German Honor and Blood could find no objection to my marrying an Aryan of German blood. With a mighty thumping of rubber stamps I was given a marriage license, while Czech patriots, with the same thumping of the same rubber stamps, were sentenced to death.

(From the translation by Paul Wilson in the New Directions edition)

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