Foer’s Here I Am, Our Asshole as the Portal of Shared Intimacy and Fulfillment.
Quick note to the reader of this large and overly-contemporary novel … look past the privilege of Foer’s characters, look past their socioeconomic platform, look past their hetero-normative and white privilege. Know that this novel is not about compensation of privilege with the character’s emotional and interpersonal flaws. Rather, this novel is intimately about us … and our assholes.
The focus of this beautiful and honest story being the human asshole is arguable at best. However, Foer makes great allegorical use in mobilizing the decline of Jacob and Julia’s marriage by dedicating eloquent language to a paragraph that sums up the role that the human asshole plays in every romantic and close interpersonal relationship:
“The asshole, with which every member of the Bloch family was, in his or her own way, obsessed, was the epicenter of Jacob and Julia’s denial. It was necessary for life, but never to be spoken of. It was what the one had, but had to hide. It was where everything came together — the cinch of the human body — and nothing, especially not attention, and especially not a finger or cock, and especially not a tongue, could go. There were enough matches by the toilet to both light and fuel a bonfire.” (Foer 111)
So much of this novel’s readership may have read this incredible passage and thought that they alone were being profiled. This may be the case if we consider the dust jacket’s featured criticism about Foer speaking for the human condition and experience. In this specific case, Foer is speaking for the human condition considering that all humans have an asshole and need it for biological functions such as the obvious — shitting. However, the asshole is not limited to that of mechanical human function, but it is also a vessel for sexual pleasure. Media and culture inform us that when it comes to anal pleasure it is situated as an other-oriented pleasure that would change a person’s sexual identification. As a queer-identified man, the asshole serves as a place of shared intimacy and connection.
Foer situates the asshole as an area that is vital in order to understand someone we choose to ritually spend the rest of our lives with. It truly is the place of ourselves that is both so much of ourselves and so much of nothing because it is literally an empty space of our bodies, a hole. Foer explores this idea through his use of Jewish tradition/Family life and holding it at the same weight of Jacob’s sexual restriction with his wife Julia. Jacob is caught sending un-Jacob-like sexts to a co-director at his writing job and it serves as the catalyst for capsizing their marriage. The novel leads to this early climax by gracefully and sentimentally declining each character’s perception of each other and their relationship with “ritual happiness.” Their stage of marriage is not focused on sexual exploration or pleasures of each other’s bodies because they have three children and have to maintain their own personal ways of coping with the fact that marriage was never a fix or cure for dying as a person. We can then argue that if we have confidently decided that someone is worth spending the rest of our lives with and having children with, then any revelation of self-preservation becomes lethal in this relationship. In this case, Julia discovers that Jacob’s texts were about licking another woman’s asshole while she knows how much of a germaphobe in his personal life.
Ultimately, Foer poses the question, what do we do when we accept that we can never fully reach a person we share “love” with? This is why he emphasizes each character’s reliance on fixed religious traditions to placehold for life-ambiguities and easy directions that can be passed down to the children. Religion and tradition act much in the same way marriage does, it helps us cope with the imperfection of ourselves and the imperfection of life because of its expiration date — unknown. So, if the asshole is an aspect that is a collective human experience , why then do we continue to act as if it is an afterthought rather than something that is integral to relating to another person?
Here I Am acts as more than a title for this novel. It is filled with each character and each reader’s experience with intimacy. Intimacies that are built and destroyed by the need to be acknowledged. Foer poignantly navigates the need for closure and fulfillment in contemporary married life by exploring Jacob and Julia’s marred consciousness over the lack of release or break from ritual. Reading the rest of this novel with the asshole allegory will provide much more fulfilling understanding of this book. At least that is what I hope will occur.