Some writers are good at defamiliarization, others know to instill a sense of familiarity to the most outrageous leaps of the imagination. Todd Hasak-Lowy is good at both.
Either one is no easy task. On one hand, it demands the writer off handedly reveal the obvious details of something utterly made-up, and justify this move without overplaying and indulging in it. On the other hand, it compels him to create – from a place of intimate familiarity – an external outlook, fresh, unspoiled. An outlook through which everything is new and nothing is obvious. The writer must both know in great detail what is foreign to the protagonist, but also remember him at his starting point, before things began to hide behind their given descriptions.
In his novel “Captives” Hasak-Lowy perfected this form of outlook on the Israeli reality: He himself lived in Israel for a short while, carefully observed her, and thus could create a protagonist, who appears to have stumbled upon her for the first time, an altogether foreign observer. The (knowledgeable) writer knows where to focus the (utterly surprised) gaze of his protagonist. Of course, there’s no need to travel to a foreign land for this, because in literature, all is a foreign land: the woman to the man, the work of art to the artist, the father to the son, the self to itself.
In “An Aspiring Idiot” Hasak-Lowy performs his familiar/foreign miracle twofold. He invents an entirely new form of art and plants it in a world where it is already a well-established and even lucrative practice.
The drooling-urinating-groaning in front of a refined audience idiot, is of course a wonderful, funny, metaphor for the writer himself (who does more or less the same thing, without wetting his pants as often), but the story itself is clearly not an allegory. Its universe is firm and valid and moreover, it contains one of the most brilliant and disturbing descriptions of a fleeting kiss I’ve encountered – the essence of the familiar and foreign intertwined.