“Excuse me, Your Majesty, but what suffering has taught me is the uselessness of suffering, if you don’t mind me saying so (Malamud 333).”

Bernard Malamud’s Yakov Bok spent over two years in prison awaiting an indictment that was not guaranteed, a trial that may never have been set, and humiliation that was served as repulsively as his daily meals.  However, this does not constitute the entirety of his suffering, merely speaks on the immediate issues. His suffering, instead, is a continuation of a larger suffering. A suffering in flux.  Hermeneutically speaking, his case of suffering exists as a relation to the historical suffering of oppressed and scapegoated, such as the proletariat, but notably the Jewish people. The fixer’s suffering is a part that exists to reify the whole of racial vilification.

Suffering has become synonymous with the Jewish experience. Yes, it has existed and does still existed, but this begs the question: is it necessary? Yakov Bok describes the anguish of his experience as a lesson on the “uselessness” of it, does that then mean only those who have suffered could fully appreciate this conclusion? Yakov ultimately understands the futility of trying to incite sympathy from Tsar Nicholas II during his imaginative conversation with the Russian aristocrat. The monarch is so far removed, not only from the fixer’s socio-economic status, but from the inherited burden of being marked a target of blame and resentment, the phenomenological state of being Jewish.

Perhaps the “uselessness” of suffering is found in the attempt to perceive it as serving out penance for some transgression or another. Suffering is “useless” when it takes on a quality that is incompatible with the circumstances of the sufferer. Suffering should have a utility, a legitimate reason. In Yakov’s case, and those of the Jewish people, suffering has become something of the sacred, a martyred existence that although they have in a way resolved to take on, need not have existence to begin with. Yakov is determined to resist this label, renegotiating the traditionally bestowed concept of “mea culpa” . 

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