-“What, they’re all Jewish, superheroes. Superman, you don’t think he’s Jewish? Coming over from the old country, changing his name like that. Clark Kent, only a Jew would pick a name like that for himself.”
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, (p. 585).
"In literature and folklore, the significance and the fascination of golems—from Rabbi Loew’s to Victor von Frankenstein’s—lay in their soullessness, in their tireless inhuman strength, in their metaphorical association with overweening human ambition, and in the frightening ease with which they passed beyond the control of their horrified and admiring creators. But it seemed to Joe that none of these—Faustian hubris, least of all—were among the true reasons that impelled men, time after time, to hazard the making of golems. The shaping of a golem, to him, was a gesture of hope, offered against hope, in a time of desperation. It was the expression of a yearning that a few magic words and an artful hand might produce something—one poor, dumb, powerful thing—exempt from the crushing strictures, from the ills, cruelties, and inevitable failures of the greater Creation. It was the voicing of a vain wish, when you got down to it, to escape. To slip, like the Escapist, free of the entangling chain of reality and the straitjacket of physical laws. Harry Houdini had roamed the Palladiums and Hippodromes of the world encumbered by an entire cargo-hold of crates and boxes, stuffed with chains, iron hardware, brightly painted flats and hokum, animated all the while only by this same desire, never fulfilled: truly to escape, if only for one instant; to poke his head through the borders of this world, with its harsh physics, into the mysterious spirit world that lay beyond. The newspaper articles that Joe had read about the upcoming Senate investigation into comic books always cited “escapism” among the litany of injurious consequences of their reading, and dwelled on the pernicious effect, on young minds, of satisfying the desire to escape. As if there could be any more noble or necessary service in life." (p.582)
"The age of the costumed superhero had long passed. The Angel, the Arrow, the Comet and the Fin, the Snowman and the Sandman and Hydroman, Captain Courageous, Captain Flag, Captain Freedom, Captain Midnight, Captain Venture and Major Victory, the Flame and the Flash and the Ray, the Monitor, the Guardian, the Shield and the Defender, the Green Lantern, the Red Bee, the Crimson Avenger, the Black Hat and the White Streak, Cat-Man and the Kitten, Bulletman and Bulletgirl, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, the Star-Spangled Rid and Stripesy, Dr. Mid-Nite, Mr. Terrific, Mr. Machine Gun, Mr. Scarlet and Miss Victory, Doll Man, the Atom and Minimidget, all had fallen beneath the whirling thresher blades of changing tastes, an aging readership, the coming of television, a glutted marketplace, and the unbeatable foe that had wiped out Hiroshima and Nagasaki." (p.589)
"He had been on and around the Atlantic Ocean plenty of times since the sinking of the Ark of Miriam; the train of association linking Thomas, in Joe’s mind, to the body of water that had swallowed him had long since worn away. But from time to time, especially if, as now, his brother was already in his thoughts, the smell of the sea could unfurl the memory of Thomas like a flag. His snoring, the half-animal snuffle of his breath coming from the other bed. His aversion to spiders, lobsters, and anything that crept like a disembodied hand. A much-thumbed mental picture of him at the age of seven or eight, in a plaid bathrobe and bedroom slippers, sitting beside the Kavaliers’ big Philips, knees to his chest, eyes shut tight, rocking back and forth while, with all his might, he listened to some Italian opera or other." (p.602)
"And now there was nothing left to regret but his own cowardice. He recalled his and Tracy’s parting at Penn Station on the morning of Pearl Harbor, in the first-class compartment of the Broadway Limited, their show of ordinary mute male farewell, the handshake, the pat on the shoulder, carefully tailoring and modulating their behavior though there was no one at all watching, so finely attuned to the danger of what they might lose that they could not permit themselves to notice what they had." (p.620)
Shizo Kanakuri desapareció mientras corría la maratón en las olimpíadas de Estocolmo en 1912, nadie supo qué había pasado con él. Estuvo perdido durante 50 años, hasta que un periodista lo encontró en el sur de Japón. Dijo que había sentido mucha sed, que se detuvo en una cafetería, pidió un jugo de naranja, se sentó durante una hora o más y que al día siguiente se embarcó de vuelta a su casa. En 1966 fue invitado a Estocolmo para completar la carrera y aceptó. Su tiempo final fue de 54 años, 8 meses, 6 días, 8 horas, 32 minutos y 20.3 segundos.
“It was Bess Houdini,” he said. “She knew her husband’s face. She could read the writing of failure in his eyes. She could go to the man from the newspaper. She could beg him, with the tears in her eyes and the blush on her bosom, to consider the ruin of her husband’s career when put into the balance with nothing more on the other side than a good headline for the next morning’s newspaper. She could carry a glass of water to her husband, with the small steps and the solemn face of the wife. It was not the key that freed him,” he said. “It was the wife. There was no other way out. It was impossible, even for Houdini.” He stood up. “Only love could pick a nested pair of steel Bramah locks.” He wiped at his raw cheek with the back of his hand, on the verge, Joe felt, of sharing some parallel example of liberation from his own life.
Michael Chabon, ‘The amazing adventures of Kavalier & Clay’. p.535.
Claro, al final la mejor historia del libro, la del fracaso de Harry Houdini en la apertura de la doble cerradura de acero bramah, es la matriz desde la cual se dispara la sumatoria argumental de Michael Chabon, todo se concentra en la línea “Only love could pick a nested pair of steel bramah locks.” En ella se plantea que la única redención a la mutilación en que consiste la represión homosexual de Sam Clay y a la dolorosa culpa de Joe Kavalier se encuentra en no huir de la transformación que implica aceptar el amor, su carga y el impulso por destruirlo.
When Joe saw the boy, his son, join the motley crowd that had convened on the observation deck to observe as a rash and imaginary promise was fulfilled, he suddenly remembered a remark that his teacher Bernard Kornblum had once made. “Only love,” the old magician had said, “could pick a nested pair of steel Bramah locks.”
He had offered this observation toward the end of Joe’s last regular visit to the house on Maisel Street, as he rubbed a dab of calendula ointment into the skin of his raw, peeling cheeks. Generally, Kornblum said very little during the final portion of every lesson, sitting on the lid of the plain pine box that he had bought from a local coffin maker, smoking and taking his ease with a copy of Di Cajt while, inside the box, Joe lay curled, roped and chained, permitting himself sawdust-flavored sips of life through his nostrils, and making terrible, minute exertions. Kornblum sat, his only commentary an occasional derisive blast of flatulence, waiting for the triple rap from within which signified that Joe had loosed himself from cuffs and chains, prized out the three sawn-off dummy screw heads in the left-hand hinge of the lid, and was ready to emerge. At times, however, if Joe was particularly dilatory, or if the temptation of a literally captive audience proved too great, Kornblum would begin to speak, in his coarse if agile German—always limiting himself, however, to shoptalk. He reminisced fondly about performances in which he had, through bad luck or foolishness, nearly been killed; or recalled, in apostolic and tedious detail, one of the three golden occasions on which he had been fortunate enough to catch the act of his prophet, Houdini. Only this once, just before Joe attempted his ill-fated plunge into the Moldau, had Kornblum’s talk ever wandered from the path of professional retrospection into the shadowed, leafy margins of the personal.
He had been present, Kornblum said—his voice coming muffled through the inch of pine plank and the thin canvas sack in which Joe was cocooned—for what none but the closest confidants of the Handcuff Ring, and the few canny confreres who witnessed it, knew to be the hour when the great one failed. This was in London, Kornblum said, in 1906, at the Palladium, after Houdini had accepted a public challenge to free himself from a purportedly inescapable pair of handcuffs. The challenge had been made by the Mirror of London, which had discovered a locksmith in the north of England who, after a lifetime of tinkering, had devised a pair of manacles fitted with a lock so convoluted and thorny that no one, not even its necromantic inventor, could pick it. Kornblum described the manacles, two thick steel circlets inflexibly welded to a cylindrical shaft. Within this rigid shaft lay the sinister mechanism of the Manchester locksmith—and here a tone of awe, even horror, entered Kornblum’s voice. It was a variation on the Bramah, a notoriously intransigent lock that could be opened—and even then with difficulty—only by a long, arcane, tubular key, intricately notched at one end. Devised by the Englishman Joseph Bramah in the 1760s, it had gone unpicked, inviolate, for over half a century until it was finally cracked. The lock that now confronted Houdini, on the stage of the Palladium, consisted of two Bramah tubes, one nested inside the other, and could be opened only by a bizarre double key that looked something like the collapsed halves of a telescope, one notched cylinder protruding from within another.
As five thousand cheering gentlemen and ladies, the young Kornblum among them, looked on, the Mysteriarch, in black cutaway and waistcoat, was fitted with the awful cuffs. Then, with a single, blank-faced, wordless nod to his wife, he retreated to his small cabinet to begin his impossible work. The orchestra struck up “Annie Laurie.” Twenty minutes later, wild cheering broke out as the magician’s head and shoulders emerged from the cabinet; but it turned out that Houdini wanted only to get a look at the cuffs, which still held him fast, in better light. He ducked back inside. The orchestra played the Overture to Tales of Hoffmann. Fifteen minutes later, the music died amid cheers as Houdini stepped from the cabinet. Kornblum hoped against hope that the master had succeeded, though he knew perfectly well that when the first, single-barreled Bramah was, after sixty years, finally picked, it had taken the successful lock-pick, an American master by the name of Hobbs, two full days of continuous effort. And now it turned out that Houdini, sweating, a queasy smile on his face, his collar snapped and dangling free at one end, had merely—oddly—come out to announce that, though his knees hurt from crouching in the cabinet, he was not yet ready to throw in the towel. The newspaper’s representative, in the interests of good sportsmanship, allowed a cushion to be brought, and Houdini retreated to his cabinet once more.
When Houdini had been in the box for nearly an hour, Kornblum began to sense the approach of defeat. An audience, even one so firmly on the side of its hero, would wait only so long while the orchestra cycled, with an air of increasing desperation, through the standards and popular tunes of the day. Inside his cabinet, the veteran of five hundred houses and ten thousand turns could doubtless sense it, too, as the tide of hope and goodwill flowing from the galleries onto the stage began to ebb. In a daring display of showmanship, he emerged once again, this time to ask if the newspaper’s man would consent to remove the cuffs long enough for the magician to take off his coat. Perhaps Houdini was hoping to learn something from watching as the cuffs were opened and then closed again; perhaps he had calculated that his request, after due consideration, would be refused. When the gentleman from the newspaper regretfully declined, to loud hisses and catcalls from the audience, Houdini pulled off a minor feat that was, in its way, among the finest bits of showmanship of his career. Wriggling and contorting himself, he managed to pluck from the pocket of his waistcoat a tiny penknife, then painstakingly transfer it to, and open it with, his teeth. He shrugged and twisted until he had worked his cutaway coat up over to the front of his head, where the knife, still clenched between his teeth, could slice it, in three great sawing rasps, in two. A confederate tore the sundered halves away. After viewing this display of pluck and panache, the audience was bound to him as if with bands of steel. And, Kornblum said, in the uproar, no one noticed the look that passed between the magician and his wife, that tiny, quiet woman who had stood to one side of the stage as the minutes passed, and the band played, and the audience watched the faint rippling of the cabinet’s curtain.
After the magician had reinstalled himself, coatless now, in his dark box, Mrs. Houdini asked if she might not prevail upon the kindness and forbearance of their host for the evening to bring her husband a glass of water. It had been an hour, after all, and as anyone could see, the closeness of the cabinet and the difficulty of Houdini’s exertions had taken a certain toll. The sporting spirit prevailed; a glass of water was brought, and Mrs. Houdini carried it to her husband. Five minutes later, Houdini stepped from the cabinet for the last time, brandishing the cuffs over his head like a loving cup. He was free. The crowd suffered a kind of painful, collective orgasm—a “Krise,” Kornblum called it—of delight and relief. Few remarked, as the magician was lifted onto the shoulders of the referees and notables on hand and carried through the theater, that his face was convulsed with tears of rage, not triumph, and that his blue eyes were incandescent with shame.
“It was in the glass of water,” Joe guessed, when he had managed to free himself at last from the far simpler challenge of the canvas sack and a pair of German police cuffs gaffed with buckshot. “The key.”
Michael Chabon, ‘The amazing adventures of Kavalier & Clay’. p.532.