Confessional writing is a gendered activity. It is an attempt at giving testimony to oneself and (imagined) others, an act of becoming a public witness to one's intimate self. Etymologically, the act of bearing witness is linked to the male sexual anatomy: “testifying” and “testicles” have a common root in the Latin testis (witness). Although contested by some scholars, this linkage points—beyond a homophonic similarity—to a strong cultural-semantic connection “between testicles and solemn declarations” (Katz 1998, 191).1 In a more literal sense, testicles witness male sexual intercourse, virility, and fertility. Transferred to the ritual realm, testicles have assumed a legal function across different cultures. In ancient Greece, for example, “testicles of ritually slaughtered animals” were employed in deciding homicide trials (194). The Torah attests to a similar ritualized legal power of testicles when Abraham demands that his servant take an oath to protect Isaac's lineage: “Put your hand under my thigh [Hebrew, yarek], and I will make you swear by the Lord” (Gen. 24:2–3), a ritual gesture that is later repeated between Jacob and his son Joseph (Gen. 47:29). Taking an oath while grabbing the male organ (yarek) secures loyalty and patrilineal continuity.2
Confessional writings testify to various levels of prowess and impotence of the male subject. As a solemn declaration, they are most persuasive and effective when the confessant successfully conveys to the reader the sincerity of the oath he has taken: “to lay bare one's heart, to write that book about oneself in which the concern for sincerity would be carried to such length that … 'the paper would shrivel and fare at each touch of his fiery pen'” (Leiris 1992, 158). There is a fierce energy in the act of confessing—dangerous and seductive. “To expose myself to others,” Leiris continues, “was an attempt to seduce my public to be indulgent” (156). At the same time, the male confessant fears his impotence. Socially and sexually frustrated, Leiris threatens to castrate himself (137, 142). A “slight strain in one testicle,” he writes, caused him a “sense of impotence” and rendered impossible “any sexual relation with women” (132).