A Synopsis of Gilad Atzmon's
A Guide to the Perplexed
By Peter Meyer
This short book, which is reportedly banned in Germany, is the unfinished philosophical memoir of Gunther Wünker, born in Ramat Gan, Israel, in the 1960s. Written in a fast-paced, irreverent and witty style it describes his psychological development, his career as the world's foremost peepologist (peepology being the science of voyeurism, founded by Wünker) and his relationships with his lovers Avishag, Lola, Margarita and Eva. Interspersed with the biographical material are discussions of his native land, his countrymen, German culture and the nature of liberal democratic society.
Wünker begins with a chapter in praise of his grandfather, who was born a Jew in Lithuania, migrated to his spiritual homeland, Germany, in the early 1930s and saved himself by migrating to Palestine in 1936. He made himself unpopular there amongst his fellow Jews by continually asking: "What is it about the Jew that makes everybody want to see him dead?" Later he enjoyed trampling on holocaust sensibilities, and his most memorable saying, as related by his grandson, was "There's no business like Shoa business."
As an adolescent Wünker conceives an ardent desire to die a patriotic death in battle during one of Israel's so-called wars, after which his memory would be lovingly preserved by numerous women who had loved him for his gallantry, courage and dedication to the fulfillment of the Zionist dream. While still an adolescent at school he assumes the character of Lieutenant-Colonel G. Wünker, and his charismatic personality soon leads his schoolmates to become staff officers, platoon leaders, etc., in his outfit. His psychopathological delusion is, however, obliterated by his initiation into sex at the hands of Avishag, the first of many females who would guide Wünker into the mysteries of sexuality.
Shortly after finishing school Wünker is inducted into the Israeli army and quickly realizes that (a) he is a coward, (b) the army is the epitome of institutionalized stupidity and (c) the prospect of his spending two years within it is unthinkable. It is not long before Israel is at war again, and Wünker (by this time a corporal) and his platoon are sent to the front. He deliberately shoots himself in the ankle and his blood-curdling scream of pain (before he falls unconscious) is interpreted by his platoon as an order to attack. The next day he wakes up in a hospital and is hailed as a hero (since his platoon wiped out the enemy).
The book is written mainly as a narrative, but there are some memorable dialogues, such as this one between Wünker and Lola (when they are university students), Lola whose "speech was a kind of slow, phlegmatic drawl" and whom he has never talked to before. They are sitting together on a bus going toward their respective homes, and Wünker is wondering if he's ever going to get up enough courage to say something to her when Lola says (the narrator's interesting running commentary has been omitted):L.: How come you're so quiet ...
W.: I was thinking about Descartes.
L.: What's so great about Descartes that makes you think about him and not me?
W.: I was thinking about the strange progression from 'I think therefore I am' to proof of the existence of God.
L.: If you had even a fraction of the reasoning-power you think you have, you'd have realised long ago that existence precedes thought. 'You are and therefore you think.' As for God, that's another story altogether. ... Tell me, instead of fucking my mind, why not have a go at fucking the rest of me? ... I live here near the bus stop, are you coming up?
[Lola drags Wünker off the bus and up to her apartment. Upon entering and closing the door Lola pins him against the wall; he grabs her arse, nuzzles her throat and pulls her crotch toward his. Lola asks:]
L.: Tell me, Gunther, do you think a man could love me?
W.: Lola, I am myself already terminally in love with you.
L.: No Gunther, I mean a real man.
The narrator continues: "I began shedding quiet tears of real despair."
The lives of Lola and Wünker remain intertwined. She often leaves him, "looking for something that the world has never had to offer", but when she returns he is incapable of refusing her.
Wünker travels to Europe, becomes an expert in coming cheaply and spends so much time in peep shows that he becomes an expert on voyeurism and is asked to write a book on the subject. It becomes a best-seller and is translated into 25 languages including Assyrian and Amorite. This is the start of Wünker's career in peepology, a science of which he is later considered to be the founder.
Back in Israel in the late 1980s, "in the midst of this huge self-deluding void" that passed for Israeli culture, Wünker realizes that his country is headed for self-destruction and that he must leave if he is to survive.Back then ... I had already convinced myself that my country was transmitting its final geriatric palpitations, the kind of death-throes where the intellect expires long before the body finally wears out. As if the body is left to twitch in shameful disarray, putting on show the disgrace that is life in the absence of intellect. I remember noticing how the people around me were becoming more stupid, more blind, more credulous, more pious, and less and less in touch with reality.
He tries to convince Lola to emigrate with him. Touching on the theme of identity, which the author deals with more explicitly here, he reflects that:Migration is the identity of the unidentified ... Migrants have a wonderful ability to see things in their nakedness, as if out of childlike innocence. Unlike the natives who surround them, migrants judge every issue without prejudice and they're not bound by any local mind-set ... thus they create new worlds, apparently without investing any effort.
But even though Lola has "lack of identity ... in spades ... [living] in our world as if she'd just stepped off an inter-galactic cruiser", she is deaf to Wünker's entreaties. So, without Lola, he leaves Israel, "an act ... [which] seems to me in retrospect the most rational thing I ever did." In this decision he is much influenced by his grandfather, who said:The wise left Germany in thirty-three ... The foolish left in thirty-six, the idiots in thirty-eight, and those who were so feeble-minded they never left at all, paid the price for their stupidity in their incinerated flesh.
A similar observation might well apply to the US in the first decade of the 21st Century.
In Germany, his spiritual home, as it was of his grandfather, Wünker pursues his peepological research, giving occasional lectures on "the psychology of voyeurism" and similar subjects at universities and elsewhere. The line of research that Wünker chooses to pursue isthe sudden eruption of emporia for the sale of artificial sex, which spread through the streets of the West a few years after World War Two. ... These ... on the one hand turned the female body into a liquid economic asset, and on the other made it inaccessible. Women became a simulated reality ... Unlike the good old brothel, where the customer used to do his thing in an introspective sort of way, in commercial porno slots the new sexual customer has climbed to new heights. He's created himself in his imagination. When you're a slave to virtual reality, reality as such holds no further interest for you.
He conducts extensive research, wandering around "feeling embarrassed among scores of ripe women, sucking cigarettes in long and sensuous holders, while leaning sensually in the doorways of dark buildings and projecting their colossal tits so far across the pavement, they seriously impeded the progress of three-legged pedestrians." Gradually his research evolves into a genuine science, and his work attains widespread recognition and respect.While the arena of voyeurological research begins with peepholes, the theory itself constitutes a very useful critical tool, with conclusions relevant to society and all its component elements. The central problem at the root of peepological research touches on the onanistic structure of liberal democratic society. A society which indulges itself in deceitful fantasies of freedom, integration, ideological metabolism and the like. Peepological research seeks to trace the roots of the self-lie with the aid of models of pornographic consumerism. ... The man who comes in secret teaches us about the human tendency to sketch a delightful reality in the eyes of the mind, in blatant disregard of oppressive circumstances and of the ambient world.
In other words, modern Western society is built upon self-delusion, and, moreover, a callous self-delusion which ignores the suffering it creates beyond (and also within) its borders.
In this synopsis we shall pass over, with just a brief mention, Wünker's relationship with his inflatable love, Margarita, an affair which brought him happiness but ended tragicly.
At this time Wünker is observing the "peace rallies and pilgrimages by the Polish ruling junta to various Arab capitals" and, as a peepologist, he understands "that peace had become an object of collective onanism and would therefore never find release." When Yitzhak Rabin (not mentioned by name, but referred to as "a commander of armies who, though he had waged wars all his life, was exposed, on the very day of his death, as a secret lover of peace") is assassinated (by "a messianic ass"), Wünker notes that the mourners' "bitter grief ... was nothing more than paying lip-service ... just jerking off into the void ... a voyeuristic and onanistic display of joie de vivre and smiling acquiescence. ... I knew that peace was a lost cause."
Wünker learns from the Germans what war really means.Just as my native land was overloaded with organisations ... all of them, though of the second and third generation, experts at making a living out of nightmare visions of the Third Reich — so too in Europe I discovered people could sometimes live their parents' memories as if this was their own experience. They did this as a way of underlining principles, improving behaviour. There was no doubt in my mind that because the nightmare of that war [WW II] was too much to bear, the memory of the horror turned into a value preserved from generation to generation. Maybe this is the secret of continental reconciliation.
[The] longer I lived among the pink-skinned races, the better I came to understand that their western wars and our eastern wars are totally different. I realised that however many wars my fellow-countrymen have experienced, these were nothing more than marginal skirmishes, battles that on the scale of the European mincing-machine were mere pinpricks. ... In the regions I knew as a child, my compatriots never awoke to the reality of ruin, never woke in the morning [as in Hamburg and Dresden] to find that the city where they'd gone to sleep no longer existed. ... They didn't absorb the taste of true horror and because they didn't absorb it, they never really uttered an authentic howl. So their howl became a simulated reality, their cry a theatre of florid grief.
By this time Eva has entered Wünker's life, at first as his student, and later as his wife and eventually as mother of his son, Gustav. Unfortunately, while Gustav is still a child, his mother suddenly descends into a profound depression, from which she never emerges, and eventually ends up in an insane asylum.
Wünker comes to take a very dim view of what the science of peepology had become. "The whole business of peepological research was beginning to seem empty of any content, a passing intellectual trend and nothing more; peepology, like other new sciences, was making use of intellect and understanding as an expression of style and not of substance." (The astute reader may here detect an allusion to the "deconstruction" of Jacques Derrida.) "More and more poofs and eco-egoists were debating, ostensibly on my behalf, and this out of artificial reverence for my utterances. It wasn't long before the post-peepological concept came into being, spreading like wildfire among fantasists whose brains were like chaff." He also discovers that his peepological insights were nothing new, having previously been made by the Germans, and even as far back as the Greeks of antiquity. "So every night I went to sleep scared, my mind in a ferment, wondering how it had come about that the fanciful nonsense emerging from my fevered brain had suddenly become a cult phenomenon."
At this point Lola reappears, having spent years in India hanging around shrines dressed in rags, smoking dope, fucking yogis and babbling in Hindi, before returning to Israel. Of course, at their first meeting after so many years away she delivers to him a stinging insult, but before long he is freely submitting to her clitoral dictatorship, worshiping once again at the temple of her pubic mound.
Later Wünker ponders Lola's sudden re-appearance, and realizes that it is due to her "need to escape from her own, ravaged homeland", since by this time the State of Israel is nearing its end.The western world in those years was thronged with Israeli refugees in positively implausible numbers. First there were the refugees fleeing for their lives from the worst excesses of Jewish fundamentalism; then came those fleeing for their lives, empty-handed, from the cataclysmic war erupting around them. The decisive majority of Israelis I found as repellent as ever. ... My compatriots seemed to me creatures greedy for power and money, whether they were hired assassins, haters of Arabs, or inept fantasy-philanthropists.
I used to think that in Europe I'd succeeded in escaping from the burdensome presence of Israeli Jews. Not so. With the dawn of the new millennium these proud beasts became an integral part of the human landscape of western capitals and their financial sectors, not to mention crime and prostitution. ... I found myself for the second time engulfed by swarms of strident barbarians. The old derogatory tag of "Ost Juden" acquired a new lease of life, being applied to many thousands of refugees, uninvited arrivals from the East as they were. To the people of Europe, accustomed as they were to migrants, these many thousands were an unwelcome novelty. This was a new brand of asylum seeking, characterised by haughty individuals and insolent stupidity. In many respects this ungracious idiocy was nothing other than a direct extension of the Hebrew-Jewish conception of the world in general. The Jews consider themselves a chosen people. A chosen people that lives by gathering alms and oppressing others.
Towards the end of his unfinished memoir Wünker writes that he has been invited by the Palestinian Government to attend a peepology seminar at the University of Al-Kuds ("Al-Kuds" being the Arabic name for Jerusalem). Apparently the State of Israel has by this time ceased to exist, and in fact the conference marks the quarter-centenary of the founding of the State of Palestine. He decides to attend, and with great satisfaction visits once more his original homeland.
He returns to his home in Germany, makes some final adjustments to the text of his unfinished memoir, and mysteriously disappears.
A Guide to the Perplexed was originally written in Hebrew, and was translated admirably into English by Philip Simpson. It is available from Amazon US here and from Amazon UK here. It has been translated into Spanish as La Guia de Perplejos and into German as Anleitung für Zweifelnde. For those who read German here is the foreword to the German edition.
Gilad Atzmon was born a Jew in Israel, grew up in Jerusalem and currently lives in London. During his military service in the Israeli army he witnessed the suffering of the Palestinian people at first hand and as a result became a committed anti-Zionist. He is renowned as a jazz musician (saxophone and clarinet) and as a composer. Click here to buy Gilad's music and books.
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