God Wrestling

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God Wrestling; Shalom Auslander and A.L. Kennedy“There but for the grace of god go I,”is a common reaction from a Shalom Auslander audience as he tends to attract those whose psyches, like his, were shaped at an early age by fundamentalist religion.  Not that Shalom Auslander’s God reveals much in the way of grace.  It is wise to avoid attributing a gender to God but the deity dominating Foreskin’s Lament is inexorably male – male and in the image of Auslander’s abusive alcoholic father.    Car crashes, miscarriages, gruesome murders, congenital deformity – four topics hardly likely to elicit laughter from an audience yet Shalom Auslander’s reading, with imagined punishments meted out by the aforementioned vengeful God, achieved exactly that.  AL Kennedy, Calvinist, session-chair and two-times mail-order minister, engaged with Auslander in a bout of one-upmanship to establish whose childhood was more scarred as a result of their respective religious upbringings.  They say in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. If you’d asked before Thursday who’s the king between Shalom Auslander and A.L.Kennedy we’d have been hard-pressed to choose, being privileged to have heard each of them speak on multiple occasions in no-holds-barred displays of f**ked-upness.  Although A.L. Kennedy made reference to the psychiatric competition in her opening remarks she came across as sound of mind throughout the session possibly because she strategically left most of the talking to Shalom Auslander. “I was told that I’d be boiled for an eternity in the semen that I had wasted during my teenage years,” read Auslander; Kennedy countered with equivalent tales of torment to be meted out to lapsed Catholics.  The audience added their own riffs – one former orthodox Rabbi only recently expurgating the idea that his soul would be catapulted from one end of the firmament to the other on account of his homosexual peccadilloes.  In fact those in attendance mostly sympathised with Auslander’s predicament, unlike many possibly unhinged readers who have communicated their rage stirred by his view of God and religion on blogs and online book reviews. Auslander is a formerly ultra-orthodox Jew who just can’t seem to shake the last vestiges of belief. He’s tried everything – from psychotherapy to a diet of Dawkins, Hitchens and marijuana, yet a part of him can’t help feeling that a nasty end awaits all those with whom he comes into contact on account of his tendency to transgress.  

A.L.Kennedy and Shalom Auslander have given us prize-winning novels and non-fiction along with the priceless ability to feel relatively sane by comparison.

 

Rivka Isaacson is a biophysicist at Imperial College London and poet laureate for www.lablit.com

Danny Pine is a doctor who now works for Medical Futures – a company dedicated to helping other doctors develop their new medical technologies

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