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Original Essays | April 11, 2014

Paul Laudiero: IMG Shit Rough Draft

I was sitting in a British and Irish romantic drama class my last semester in college when the idea for Shit Rough Drafts hit me. I was working... Continue »
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Cain Cover





When the lord, also known as god, realized that adam and eve, although perfect in every outward aspect, could not utter a word or make even the most primitive of sounds, he must have felt annoyed with himself, for there was no one else in the garden of eden whom he could blame for this grave oversight, after all, the other animals, who were, like the two humans, the product of his divine command, already had a voice of their own, be it a bellow, a roar, a croak, a chirp, a whistle or a cackle. In an excess of rage, surprising in someone who could have solved any problem simply by issuing another quick fiat, he rushed over to adam and eve and unceremoniously, no half-measures, stuck his tongue down the throats of first one and then the other. From the texts which, over the centuries, have provided a somewhat random record of those remote times, be it of events that might, at some future date, be awarded canonical status and others deemed to be the fruit of apocryphal and irredeemably heretical imaginations, it is not at all clear what kind of tongue was being referred to here, whether the moist, flexible muscle that moves around in the buccal cavity and occasionally outside it too, or the gift of speech, also known as language, that the lord had so regrettably forgotten to give them and about which we know nothing, since not a trace of it remains, not even a heart engraved on the bark of a tree, accompanied by some sentimental message, something along the lines of I love eve. Its likely that the lords violent assault on his offsprings silent tongues had another motive, namely, given that, in principle, you cant have one without the other, that of putting them in contact with the deepest depths of their physical being, the so-called perturbations of the inner self, so that, in future, they could, with some authority, speak of those dark and labyrinthine disquiets out of whose window, the mouth, their tongues were already peering. Well, anything is possible. With the praiseworthy scrupulousness of any skilled craftsman, making up with due humility for his earlier negligence, the lord wanted to make sure that his mistake had been corrected, and so he asked adam, Whats your name, and the man replied, Im adam, your first-born. Then the creator turned to the woman, And what is your name, Im Eve, the first lady, she replied rather unnecessarily, since there was no other. The lord was satisfied and bade farewell with a fatherly See you later, then, and went about his business. And, for the first time, adam said to eve, Lets go to bed.

  Seth, their third child, will only come into the world one hundred and thirty years later, not because his mothers womb required that amount of time to complete the making of a new descendant, but because the gonads of father and mother, the testes and ovaries respectively, had taken more than a century to mature and to develop sufficient generative power. It must be pointed out to our more impatient readers, first, that the fiat was given once and once only, second, that men and women are not sausage machines, and, third, that hormones are very complicated things, they cant just be produced from one day to the next, nor can they be found in pharmacies or supermarkets, you have to let matters take their course. Before seth came into the world, cain had already arrived, followed, shortly afterwards, by abel. By the way, one must not underestimate the intense boredom of all those years spent without neighbors, without distractions, without some small child crawling about between kitchen and living room, with no other visitors but the lord, and even his visits were few and very brief, interspersed by long intervals of absence, ten, fifteen, twenty, fifty years, so we can easily imagine that the sole occupants of that earthly paradise must have felt like poor orphans abandoned in the forest of the universe, not that they would have been able to explain what the words orphan and abandoned meant. Its true that every now and then, although again not with any great frequency, adam would say to eve, Lets go to bed, but their conjugal routine, aggravated, in their case, due to inexperience, by the complete lack of alternative positions to adopt, proved to be as destructive as an invasion of woodworm to a roof beam. You hardly notice anything from the outside, just a little dust here and there falling from tiny holes, but, inside, its quite a different matter, and the collapse of something that had seemed so sturdy will not be long in coming. In such situations, there are those who say that a child can have an enlivening effect, if not on the libido, which is the work of chemicals far more complex than merely learning how to change a diaper, then at least on feelings, which, you must admit, is no small gain. As for the lord and his sporadic visits, the first was to see if adam and eve had had any problems setting up house, the second to find out what benefits they had gleaned from their experience of country life and the third to warn them that he would not be back for a while, because he had to do the rounds of the other paradises that exist in the heavens. Indeed, he would not appear again until much later, on a date that has not been recorded, in order to expel the unhappy couple from the garden of eden for the heinous crime of having eaten of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This episode, which gave rise to the first definition of a hitherto unknown concept, original sin, has never been satisfactorily explained. Firstly, even the most rudimentary of intelligences would have no difficulty in grasping that being properly informed about something is always preferable to being ignorant, especially in such delicate matters as good and evil, which could put anyone at risk, quite unwittingly, of being consigned to eternal damnation in a hell that had not yet been invented. Secondly, the lord showed a lamentable lack of foresight, because if he really didnt want them to eat that fruit, it would have been easy enough simply not to have planted the tree or to have put it somewhere else or surrounded it with barbed wire. Thirdly, it wasnt because they had disobeyed gods instructions that adam and eve discovered they were naked. They were already stark naked when they went to bed, and if the lord had never noticed such an evident lack of modesty, the fault must lie with a fathers blindness, an apparently incurable infliction that prevents us from seeing that our children are, after all, neither better nor worse than all the others.

  A point of order. Before we continue with this instructive and definitive history of cain, undertaken with unprecedented boldness, it might be advisable to introduce some clarity into the chronology of events. So, let us begin by clearing up certain malicious doubts about adams ability to make a child when he was one hundred and thirty years old. At first sight, if we stick to the fertility indices of modern times, no, he clearly wouldnt, but during the worlds infancy, those same one hundred and thirty years would have represented a vigorous adolescence that not even the most precocious of casanovas would have sneered at. It is, moreover, worth remembering that adam lived until he was nine hundred and thirty years old, thus narrowly missing being drowned in the great flood, for he died when lamech was still alive, lamech being the father of noah, the future builder of the ark. He would, therefore, have had the time and leisure to make all the children he did make and many more if he had so wished. As we said earlier, adams second child, born after cain, was abel, a handsome, fair-haired boy, who, having been the object of the best proofs of the lords esteem, met a very sticky end indeed. The third child, as we also said, was called seth, but he will not form part of this narrative, which we are writing step by step with all the meticulousness of a historian, and so well leave him here, just a name and nothing more. There are those who say that the idea of creating a religion was born in his head, but we have given abundant attention to such ticklish matters in the past, with reprehensible levity, according to some experts, and in terms that will doubtless prove deleterious to us when it comes to the final judgment at which everyone will be condemned, either for doing too much or too little. We are only interested now in the family of which father adam is the head, although he proved to be a very bad head, and we really cant put it any other way, since all it took was for his wife to offer him the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil and our illogical first patriarch, after a certain amount of persuasion, more for appearances sake than out of any real conviction, duly choked on it, leaving us men marked forever by that irritating piece of apple that will neither go up nor down. There are also those who say that the reason adam didnt manage to swallow the whole of that fateful fruit was because the lord suddenly turned up, demanding to know what was going on. Now before we forget about it completely or before our continuation of the story renders the fact redundant because it comes too late, we will tell you about the stealthy, almost clandestine visit the lord made to the garden of eden one hot summer night. As usual, adam and eve were sleeping, naked, beside each other, not touching, a deceptively edifying image of the most perfect innocence. They did not wake up, and the lord did not wake them either. He had gone there with the intention of correcting a slight flaw, which, as he had finally realized, seriously marred his creations, and that flaw, can you believe it, was the lack of a navel. The pale skin of his babies, untouched by the gentle sun of paradise, was too naked, too vulnerable, and in a way obscene, if that word existed then. Quickly, in case they should wake up, god reached out and very lightly pressed adams belly with the tip of his forefinger, making a rapid circling movement, and there was a navel. The same procedure, carried out on eve, produced similar results, with the one important difference that her navel was much better as regards design, shape and the delicacy of its folds. This was the last time that the lord looked upon his work and saw that it was good.

  Fifty years and one day after this fortunate surgical intervention, which gave rise to a new era in the aesthetics of the human body under the consensual motto that everything about it can always be improved, disaster struck. With a crack of thunder, the lord appeared. He was dressed differently from usual, in keeping perhaps with what would become the new imperial fashion in heaven, wearing a triple crown on his head and wielding a scepter as if it were a cudgel. I am the lord, he cried, I am he. A mortal silence fell over the garden of eden, not a sound, not even the buzz of a wasp, the barking of a dog, the trilling of a bird, or the trumpeting of an elephant. Nothing, only the chattering of a flock of starlings that had congregated in a leafy olive tree, there since the garden was first created, and which suddenly took flight as one, so many, hundreds, if not thousands of them, that they nearly obscured the sky. Who has disobeyed my orders, who has eaten of the fruit of my tree, asked god, fixing adam with a look that can only be described as coruscating, a word which, though highly expressive, has sadly fallen out of use. In desperation, the poor man tried in vain to swallow the telltale piece of apple, but his voice refused to come out, neither fore nor aft. Answer, said the angry voice of the lord, who was brandishing his scepter in a most threatening manner. Plucking up his courage, and conscious of how wrong it was to put the blame on someone else, adam said, The woman you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit of that tree and I did eat. The lord turned on the woman and asked, What is this that you have done, The serpent beguiled me and I did eat, Liar, deceiver, there are no serpents in paradise, Lord, I did not say that there were serpents in paradise, but I did have a dream in which a serpent appeared to me, saying, So god has forbidden you to eat the fruit of every tree in the garden, and I said no, that wasnt true, that the only tree whose fruit we could not eat was the one that grows in the middle of paradise, for we would die if we touched it, Serpents cant speak, at most they hiss, said the lord, The serpent in my dream spoke, And may one know what else the serpent said, asked the lord, trying to give the words a mocking tone that ill accorded with the celestial dignity of his robes, The serpent said that we wouldnt die, Oh, I see, the lords irony was becoming more and more marked, it would seem that this serpent thinks he knows more than I do, That is what I dreamed, my lord, that you didnt want us to eat of that fruit because we would open our eyes and know good and evil just as you know them, lord, And what did you do, you fallen, frivolous woman, when you woke from this delightful dream, I went straight to the tree, ate the fruit and brought some back for adam, who also ate, It got stuck just here, said adam, touching his throat, Right, said the lord, if thats the way you want it, thats the way it shall be, from now on you can bid farewell to the good life, you, eve, will not only suffer all the discomforts of pregnancy, morning sickness included, you will give birth in pain, and yet you will still feel desire for your husband, and he shall rule over you, Poor me, said eve, what a bad beginning, and what a sad fate will be mine, You should have thought of that before, and as for you, adam, the ground is cursed because of you, and in sorrow will you eat of it all of your days, it will bring forth only thorns and thistles, and you will have to eat the herbs of the fields, only by the sweat of your brow will you manage to grow enough to eat, until you return to the ground out of which you came, wretched adam, for dust you are and to dust you will return. That said, the lord plucked out of the air a couple of animal skins to cover the nakedness of adam and eve, who exchanged knowing winks, for they had known they were naked from the very first day and had made the most of it too. Then the lord said, In knowing good and evil, man has become like a god, and if you were to eat of the fruit of the tree of life you would gain eternal life, whatever next, two gods in one universe, that is why I am expelling you and your wife from the garden of eden, at whose gate I will place an angel armed with a flaming sword, who will let no one enter, now go, leave, I never want to see you again. Bearing on their backs the stinking animal hides, staggering along on unsteady legs, adam and eve resembled two orangutans who had stood upright for the first time. Outside of the garden of eden, the earth was arid and inhospitable, the lord was not exaggerating when he threatened adam with thorns and thistles. As he had so rightly said, the good life was over.

Product Details

Saramago, Jose
Mariner Books
Costa, Margaret Jull
Literature-A to Z
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Trade Paper
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Cain Used Trade Paper
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Product details 176 pages Mariner Books - English 9780547840178 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

The late José Saramago was quite the prolific writer, having composed over 30 books, including an array of acclaimed novels, poetry, and journals. Actively writing until his death at the age of 87 in 2010, the Portuguese Nobel laureate's international renown was often marked by controversy and criticism. Cain, his final work, was published in his native language in 2009 and stirred many of the same sentiments as his earlier, thematically linked novel The Gospel According to Jesus Christ.

Cain (with yet another enviable rendering by longtime translator Margaret Jull Costa) begins in the Garden of Eden, wherein God realizes he had neglected to endow Adam and Eve with the gift of speech. Shortly thereafter, Saramago introduces Cain and the well-known tale of his fratricidal encounter with Abel. When called to account for his actions by God, Cain indicts God for his own culpability in the murder. Cain is marked and exiled, and left to wander his many years.

Throughout the novel, Saramago reimagines much of the Hebrew Bible, allowing Cain to appear in many of the most famous Old Testament sites and stories (including the Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Jericho, and the tales of Abraham and Isaac, Noah and Ham, Joshua, and Job). Cain's role is most often that of witness, an opportunity he takes to call out God for the needless suffering and cruelty he inflicts on others (including innocent bystanders). The choice of incorporating the most violent and tumultuous biblical episodes into the narrative was, of course, intentional, as one of Saramago's aims was to highlight the vindictive, jealous, depraved, and incorrigible behavior of the Judeo-Christian god.

Colored by Saramago's trademark prose, Cain is a brief yet often funny novel that will serve as the author's final, passing denunciation of organized religion. To many, Cain will be not only objectionable but also heretical. Upon its publication in Portugal, Saramago remarked that while his book had offended the Church, it wasn't likely to offend Catholics, as "they don't read the Bible." He went on to characterize the Bible as "a manual of bad morals," a "catalogue of cruelties and of the worst of human nature." Saramago himself described Cain as "an insurrection, an exhortation for everyone to dare to look for what is on the other side of things."

Saramago's outspoken nature and commitment to a variety of political, international, and human rights issues — qualities he felt compelled to not as artist or author, but as engaged global citizen — was well known. To be sure, many of his novels are books of ideas, parables, or deeply conceived allegories. While his writing was always fluid and graceful, his opinions were often anything but subtle. Cain, while not his most accomplished work, will undoubtedly be seen as an important piece within his distinguished oeuvre. That he was able to continue to craft such vigorous and unequivocal fiction well into his mid-80s is, in and of itself, quite remarkable. José Saramago ought to be remembered as one of the all-time greats of world literature, and whatever praise his writing continues to attract well into future decades will be rightfully befitting.

Like everything else, words have their why and wherefores. Some call to us solemnly, arrogantly, giving themselves airs, as if they were destined for great things, and then it turns out that they were nothing more than a breeze too light even to set the sail of a windmill moving, whereas other ordinary, habitual words, the sort you use every day, end up having consequences no one would have dared predict, they weren't born for that and yet they shook the world.

"Review" by , "A winkingly blasphemous retelling of the Old Testament....Saramago, playfully stretching his chatty late style, pokes holes in the stated logic of the Biblical God throughout the novel."
"Review" by , "Saramago juxtaposes an eminently readable narrative of work and poverty, class and desire, knowledge and timelessness — one in which God, too, as he faces Cain in the wake of Noah's Ark, emerges as far more human than expected."
"Review" by , "With parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony, José Saramago continually enables us once again to apprehend an illusory reality."
"Review" by , "Saramago is a writer, like Faulkner, so confident of his resources and ultimate destination that he can bring any improbability to life."
"Review" by , "José Saramago will be a permanent part of the Western canon....In all of his wonderful meditations upon the ruefulness of our lives, there is always the spirit of laughter beckoning us in the art of somehow going on. His achievement is one of the enlargements of life."
"Review" by , "He got ahead of us; he is ahead of us. His work belongs to our future."
"Synopsis" by ,
Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago's last novel: a radical re-telling of the biblical story of Cain and Abel
"Synopsis" by , In this, his last novel, Jose Saramago daringly reimagines the characters and narratives of the Bible through the story of Cain. Condemned to wander forever after he kills Abel, Cain is whisked around in time and space. He experiences the almost-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, the Tower of Babel, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Joshua at the battle of Jericho, Jobs ordeal, and finally Noah's ark and the Flood. And over and over again Cain encounters an unjust, even cruel God. A startling, beautifully written, and powerful book, Cain is in all ways a fitting end to Saramago's extraordinary career.
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