Philip Roth: A Real American Asshole

13 Jun

I’m an artist, man. I don’t really know what kind of art I do, but I know I’m totally an artist. That means I’m qualified to decide whether something is or isn’t art, and whether something that is art is good or bad art. In fact, I’m more qualified than the average art or literature critic to make such a call because I claim to be an artist, whereas most of them would not. At a minimum, I can make weighty pronouncements on literature, because I read a lot of it, I often consider quitting school to become a bartender and start writing it, and I think about it a lot.

When I first went to college I was already 24, and I felt distinctly uneducated when I got there. It seemed like everyone there had gone to some highfalutin high school where they’d been required to read every book ever written, and that they had all been doing nothing but reading the classics and discussing deep philosophical issues I’d never even thought about since the second they’d set foot on campus (holy shit, was I wrong). I, on the other hand, had gone to continuation school, where they send the kids who can’t seem to stop getting in fights, getting pregnant, and getting wasted (I had to hide the fact that I’d been sent to continuation school for merely ditching class too much, which was totally not bad-ass). Every book I had read in high school and in the seven years before I went to college had been something I chose myself and, while I had read a lot of books, the things I’d read were a bit more… eclectic than the books they assign in the average AP English class. On top of that, when I finally did go back to school, I went to community college before I transferred to a university as a junior, so I was basically obsessed with the inadequacies of my preparatory education when I was an undergraduate.

So I set about the ridiculous task of trying to read everything I thought I should have read earlier, and in the process avoided reading a lot of things I would probably have enjoyed a lot more and suffered through some pretty loathsome bullshit. I thought for awhile that the old coots in New York and Boston who decided what was and wasn’t literature were worthy guides to my intellectual development, and I set about reading a lot of really awful American novels that, though I’m not sorry to have read them, I can honestly say took up a lot of time that would have been better spent learning to breakdance or something.

It so happened that I was living in Shanghai and that I had run out of books to read and was sick of watching Chinese historical soap operas, so I went to the Foreign Language Bookstore on Fuzhou Lu to load up. I’m pretty sure, now that I think back on it, that some old-school party cadre with a rudimentary understanding of English owns and operates that store, because every book they had in English was either written by a Russian author or centered on how unfulfilling and corrupt life in western capitalist democracies is/was. I mean, I got cheap copies of The Brothers Karamazov and Das Kapital, which was cool, but the rest of the books were pretty depressing (not that I don’t like them): The Age of Innocence, Babbit, The Jungle, The Great Gatsby, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and any number of books by Charles Dickens. I should have known not to buy anything in the contemporary fiction section, but I did it anyway and went home with a copy of Philip Roth’s The Human Stain, remembering that, if I was going to be a pretentious urban liberal intellectual, I had to get down with that guy’s work. I mean, where is there a list of 100 Books You Must Read if You Want to Be A Pretentious Urban Liberal Intellectual that doesn’t include at least one by Philip Roth?

I don’t think I know anyone who’s read The Human Stain, and now I know why. If you plan to read this rubbish, skip to the next paragraph, because I’m going to give the plot away right now. The story is that some old Classics professor named something-or-other Silk who teaches at a liberal arts college is having a rough time of it because, although no one can tell, he’s black. He’s been pretending all his life that he’s Jewish (“passing”), and the novel tells the story of how he “comes out” as a black man to his children and the world, which he is prompted to do once he is accused of racism by two black students. In the meantime, this dude carries on an affair with the much younger Fawn, a female janitor who just “likes to fuck” and otherwise wants to “live a simple existence” who Roth presents as the pinnacle of desirable (to men) stupidity. She’s developed these defining personality characteristics, apparently, because she’s been the victim of abuse at the hands of her previous lovers. This would be a great deal for Silk but for the fact that some uppity broad who is also a professor at the school passes a communique around the university positing that his cavorting with Fawn amounts to abuse. This woman, of course, turns out to have been in love with Silk all along, despite her public contention that he’s a chauvinistic asshole. I’ll have something to say about all this shortly, not to worry.

The book completely sucked, but I decided to give Roth a second chance. I have a generalization that I hold dear that says that most authors’ second book is their best one. The first one is usually kind of a mess, but the second one is where talent really shows itself after the author has had a chance to work out the kinks involved in writing a long piece. Most of the time succeeding books are either tired variations on the second one, or they make it obvious that the writer spent up all of her/his ideas on that second book. Either that or the author tends to get experimental and usually fails at whatever she/he intended to do. I know that there are exceptions, but I think I’m usually right. So, I figured I’d give it another go. I mean, maybe Roth was intentionally portraying Silk as a complete dick and is really just a terribly talented illustrator of character.

So, when I was thinking about what to read last winter break, I decided to add his most acclaimed (though not his second) book, Portnoy’s Complaint, to the list. In this one, the title character, Alexander Portnoy, relays his experiences as a child, an adolescent, and a young dude to his psychiatrist, and does so in excruciating (-ly awful) detail. He discusses his weird sexual thoughts about his mother, his perceptions of his father’s penis, his obsession with wanking, his propensity for sexually assaulting women (in one part, he jacks off on a bus and considers ejaculating onto the arm of a sleeping girl next to him), and his unabashed and unexamined lack of concern for his sex partners’ humanity. He spends a good portion of the book explaining his relationship with a woman he calls The Monkey (because she once ate a banana while watching people fuck or some such nonsense) and relating sundry details of the sex acts he has pressured her into performing, including a threesome with a prostitute. The entire book could have been written in one sentence: “Doctor, I, Alexander Portnoy, consider women to be an alien species and to be intellectually and morally inferior to me, but I want to fuck them and I expect them to rescue me from my extreme narcissism and self-loathing, so I sexually abuse them and then make them responsible for my lack of emotional maturity.”

Alright. Where do I start?  Roth has been given countless awards by all of the pipe smokers who decide what literature is and should be, he’s been praised like Jenna Jameson at a UFC match for giving us some kind of glimpse into the mind of the old northeastern Jewish male, and he is supposed to be some type of literary genius who has the ability to illustrate for us the foolishness of our ways and offer us insights into our national and cultural character. Portnoy’s Complaint is on every top-100-books-of-all-time list in the world. It’s really, according to the tweed hat posse, a work of fucking art.

I don’t quite see it the same way they do. Like I said, after reading The Human Stain, I though Roth might just be a really insightful motherfucker who was capable of lucidly illustrating the character of a really despicable person, but Portnoy’s Complaint proved me wrong. Roth isn’t actually able to portray anyone’s character except his own, and his lack of ability in this arena ought to shove him right off those top 100 lists (if the aim of the vainglorious tossers who write them is really to compile a list of 100 books written by people with real insight into the human condition). This guy is quite simply the most arrogant and narcissistic writer of the century, and he is utterly incapable of even the most rudimentary forms of empathy and understanding that give a good writer the ability to capture human experience and emotion. I’ll explain.

The Human Stain is nothing but a hysterical, angsty screed disguised as fiction written by an arrogant and self-absorbed old man fearful of the prospect of women and non-whites usurping the position in society that he (mistakenly) feels entitled to. Reviewers have said that he wrote it to voice his opinion on the state of identity politics in the 90s. I can agree with the fact that things got a little silly on that front at times, but I don’t buy that this book was some genius illustration of the follies of the age. I mean, Silk gets accused of racism and turns out to actually be a black guy passing? Come on. What’s the message there? That people who accuse other people of racism are stupid because the people they are accusing might also not be white? That someone who manages to escape the one-drop rule is incapable of being racist? OK, dude. As for the female professor, how likely is it that a college professor would send notes around a school complaining about the private life of another professor? In painting this character as a busy-body, Roth is sinking into really lame and patently false stereotypes about feminists. And the fact that she is supposedly secretly in love with him? Jesus Christ. Even the purportedly sympathetic female character, Fawn, is a caricature rather than a rounded character with complicated human motives. She’s an old asshole’s fantasy, a stupid, cowed younger woman who likes to fuck and doesn’t expect anything beyond that. Not affection, not respect, not love, nothing. Disgusting. The fact is, Silk is Roth: an aging, ego-centric academic who is much more impressed with his own intellect than he has any right to be, and who assumes that women are simple creatures who just can’t resist his old, wrinkly wiener.

Portnoy’s Complaint, like The Human Stain, is nothing but a memoir thinly disguised as a novel. Had I not read The Human Stain I might not have picked that up, but it’s obvious that Portnoy’s Complaint is just the opening volume to the story that (hopefully) nears completion in The Human Stain. There is no mistaking the fact that Silk is Portnoy all “grown up” (but not at all). Portnoy’s narcissism and his view of women carry neatly into Silk’s world, and Fawn is nothing but a new and improved version of The Monkey, one who will allow him to act out his sexual neuroses on her without expecting anything in return, which was The Monkey’s one fault. Good thing there are asshole ex-spouses to abuse women and break their spirits to get them ready for guys like Silk.

Did I mention the copious and exuberant use of the word “cunt” in both books? OK, Henry Miller.

My point in all this is that it takes a lot of talent to write penetrating analyses of other people, to create complex and human characters from scratch, to create a story from nothing, but it takes very little to write an insightful story about oneself. Who doesn’t have insight into themselves? Roth can’t see into the hearts and minds of others because he’s too busy studying his own reflection. There is not a single character in any of his books that is anything other than a caricature or an extension of one of Roth’s own psychological flaws. I’d be ready, if the world weren’t already inundated with the ramblings of narcissistic American Jewish men, to give him credit as a memoirist, but he even sinks in that shallow pool.

But who am I? Just some blogger. Roth taught at Princeton, you know. He’s got a lot of scarves and shit.

We all know how hard it is for women to break into the old boys’ clubs of the American literati, and the fact that this is the kind of thing that’s topping our lists of cultural achievement proves it. Until the East Coast magazines and book publishers — as well as the awards committees — cease to be dominated by old, misogynistic white men who think that they’re progressive because they let women do their proofreading and event planning, this is what we can expect. I don’t even make the argument that we should stop praising overtly (or subtly) gynophobic literature, or that we should require of our authors that they display any serious understanding of women. I love John Cheever and Saul Bellow as much as the next pretentious asshole. But if we’re going to make a big deal out of male-centric and misogynistic literature as offering some kind of valuable insight into our cultural character, it ought to at least be able to do so.

I think I know what kind of artist I want to be now that I’ve thought about Portnoy’s Complaint and Humboldt’s Gift in the same sitting; I’m going to write a satirical East Coast intellectual novel under a pen name entitled Irving’s Discontent. It’s gonna win awards, man.

32 Responses to “Philip Roth: A Real American Asshole”

  1. Me June 13, 2008 at 11:08 PM #

    I’ve found that pretty much any book labeled as “classic literature” is usually horrid and/or boring. Besides, I’m a recluse; I don’t have to impress anyone, so I read what I like (and no, that doesn’t mean I read complete hacks like Danielle Steele, either).

  2. Nine Deuce June 13, 2008 at 11:09 PM #

    I agree somewhat, but I do love a few classics. I know you don’t read Danielle Steele. No one who reads my blog does, unless it’s for the unintended comedy, in which case I totally support it.

  3. Feminist Avatar June 13, 2008 at 11:30 PM #

    (I have never read Roth) But the narrative you describe also assumes that because you are a person of colour that you can’t be racist? Erm, like women can’t be sexist?

  4. Nine Deuce June 13, 2008 at 11:30 PM #

    Exactly.

  5. Me June 14, 2008 at 12:32 AM #

    Hmm, I’ll have to remember that next time I’m in need of cheap entertainment. It seems that Danielle Steele novels multiply like rabbits on thrift store shelves. Ditto with Tom Clancy.

    Speaking of hacks, I briefly dated a guy who was proud of the fact that he was related to Thomas Kinkade. Christ, I sure could pick ‘em back then. Blech.

  6. chlorophyll June 14, 2008 at 1:23 AM #

    “I’m a fucking artist, man. I don’t really know what kind of art I do, but I know I’m totally an artist. ”

    HA! HA! HA! *wipes metaphorical tear from eye* oh man, I just had to come and comment on the first two lines, they were hilarious. Can’t wait to read the rest of the article — had a man-hating bad Friday the 13th and am happy to read new posts on this site.

    ///////// Heil spitting on bad art, and those who love it //////

  7. Nine Deuce June 14, 2008 at 1:25 AM #

    Thanks!

    If you’ve had a bad day, DO avoid the comments on Deuce’s Law.

  8. chlorophyll June 14, 2008 at 2:20 AM #

    Eh too late, that Derp is a real asshole.

  9. elanor June 14, 2008 at 4:00 PM #

    I have been reading your blog for a while with pleasure, but iirc this is my first comment.

    Somewhat unrelated part of a comment:
    I’m pretty sure… that some old-school communist party cadre with a rudimentary understanding of English owns and operates that store, because every book they had in English was either written by a Russian author or centered on how unfulfilling and corrupt life in western capitalist democracies is/was.
    Russian is my mother tongue, so I couldn’t help feeling slightly hurt. :) Russian literature isn’t worse than English one & there are plenty of wonderful books to read. I have been reading quite a lot since my childhood, but only after graduating school (and learning English well enough to let me read books in it – I am not from US) found how many great English books I have never even heard about. May be many Americans would find the same, if they tried to read more books translated from Russian. Just wanted to say that an entire store filled books, written only by Russian authors, doesn’t mean the choice is small. Of course, it depends on which books you put there.
    Besides, most books “centered on how unfulfilling and corrupt life in western capitalist democracies is/was” were written by English writers. It’s logical since they lived in that society and had a chance to observe it. Many (most?) English classics deal with that (that = not rosy sides of life).

    Now about feminism and your post:

    I want to recommend a book, written by my favorite Russian classic, Alexandra Kuprin. The book describes a life of prostitutes in the brothel. It is written without false sentimentality and the writer’s genius shines in it. The book is truly feminist and I agree that “It must not be thought, despite its locale, that Kuprin’s “Yama” is a picture of Russian prostitution solely; it is intrinsically universal.”

    The name of the book: Yama (The Pit) by Alexandra Kuprin
    Full text:

    http://infomotions.com/etexts/gutenberg/dirs/etext03/ymapt10.htm

    Quote from the introduction:
    The best introduction to “Yama,” however, can be given in Kuprin’s own words, as uttered by the reporter Platonov. “They do write,” he says, “… but it is all either a lie, or theatrical effects for children of tender years, or else a cunning symbolism,
    comprehensible only to the sages of the future. But the life itself no one as yet has touched…
    “But the material here is in reality tremendous, downright crushing, terrible… And not at all terrible are the loud phrases about the traffic in women’s flesh, about the white slaves, about prostitution being a corroding fester of large cities, and so on, and so on… an old hurdy-gurdy of which all have tired! No, horrible are the everyday, accustomed trifles; these business- like, daily, commercial reckonings; this thousand-year-old science of amatory practice; this prosaic usage, determined by the ages. In these unnoticeable nothings are completely dissolved such feelings as resentment, humiliation, shame. There remains a dry profession, a contract, an agreement, a well-nigh honest petty trade, no better, no worse than, say, the trade in groceries. Do you understand, gentlemen, that all the horror is in just this– that there is no horror! Bourgeois work days–and that is all…
    “More awful than all awful words, a hundredfold more awful–is some such little prosaic stroke or other as will suddenly knock you all in a heap, like a blow on the forehead…”

    If you haven’t read it, try & I’m sure you won’t regret. His other short stories and novels are highly recommended too, but I thought about this particular novel since it combines his insight into human nature with examining women’s position in society probably more than any other of his works.

    I would love to hear your opinion about it (if you want, you can send mail to my brother’s mailbox above). May be you’ll like it so much that you’ll be inspired to even blog about the novel. After all, your readers may benefit from reading it too, and while there are plenty of horrible books everywhere, a good one is hard to find. (May be you could put up one day a post of good recommendations with Internet links, if the books are online?).

    My blog is HP centered & so far I have written only one post about feminism – How the image of women and advertising affect each other

    Your avid reader.

  10. Nine Deuce June 14, 2008 at 4:30 PM #

    elanor – I wasn’t saying I was unhappy that the store had a lot of Russian books. In fact, I thought that the best part of the store was the Russian lit. section, where I got most of the things I bought. I probably like Russian literature more than American or English literature, if I think about it. I just noticed that the selection was heavy on Russian works and works in English that tended toward the depressing, which made me think the owner was into Russian literature and liked English literature that fit into his idea of what things were like in the west.

    I will most definitely check out your recommendation. I am always happy to find out about feminist-friendly works.

    Thanks for reading!

  11. crankosaur June 15, 2008 at 12:34 AM #

    I freaking hate Philip Roth. I felt so uncomfortable the entire time I was reading Portnoy’s Complaint, like I’d just walked into an Elk lodge and they were watching a stag film. I don’t know if this is worse than anything else he’s written, but he’s also read a book called The Breast about a guy who turns into a giant boob, which includes a passage in which the afflicted individual talks to a friend about getting thirteen-year-old girls to suck on his penis/nipple.

  12. Windstorm June 15, 2008 at 8:05 PM #

    N.D., thank you for this post. I have such ill feelings toward the old, white, male, pipe-smoking, boy-networked, purposefully intimidating, arrogant judges of what is to be considered great literature.

    The required reading lists in high school and college left me bewildered and sad, and the acceptance of these “literary gurus” by the public, the media, the schools, and libraries leaves me breathless with despair.

    I can’t stand Philip Roth’s books and have NEVER understood why he’s considered to be such a literary genius. It’s like the mainstream literati are a bunch of sheep, just following and nodding in agreement and resting comfortably and ignorantly in their select world of male priviledge.

    But I rant. I misspell. Steam is coming out of my ears. Thank you for being here, N.D., you make me feel less alone!

    ~ Suzann

  13. notmandy August 11, 2008 at 7:04 PM #

    Yes yes yes, a million times, yes! I picked up Human Stain because I writer I really like gushed about it (Francine Prose) and had to stop reading it because the portrayal of Fawn so thoroughly pissed me off.

    • bones June 27, 2009 at 11:57 PM #

      Francine Prose … I don’t know, I think Blue Angel grated against my feminist grain. I guess if she likes Roth, there we go.

  14. Imaginary December 2, 2009 at 2:36 PM #

    Best author ever? J.K. Rowling, hands down. Harry Potter pwns life.

    Aaaaand, she’s a she. So ha, pipe smoking wankers! Avada Kedavra!

  15. donna January 4, 2010 at 11:46 AM #

    You are me. Except I read Portnoy’s Complaint first and stopped there. I recall reading the first 20 pages or so and finding it okay, maybe even sympathizing with the protagonist a bit, as I’m kind of a neurotic weirdo. Then he got to the female characters in his book. Basically, all the women in Roth’s world were either dumb to the point of mentally disability with cripplingly insatiable sexual appetites or emasculating bitches out to crush his balls with their Jewish mother-ness. It was just so damn hateful towards women, it made for an unpleasant and alienating read. And I’m someone who loved Bukowski when I was a teenager (though, honestly, not sure what I’d think of him these days), so it’s not like I’m easily put off by sexist writers. It puzzles me that the book is so highly regarded. I don’t recall any memorable prose, great insights, or interesting stylistic experiments. At least, for me, there wasn’t enough there of value to make it worth reading any more books by someone who obviously hates me and anyone else with a vagina.

  16. lizor January 4, 2010 at 10:36 PM #

    David Foster Wallace wrote a very enjoyable (for me) essay entitled “John Updike, Champion Literary Phallocrat, Drops One; Is This Finally the End for Magnificent Narcissists?”, a review of Updike’s last novel wherein he (DFW) describes Roth, Updike and Mailer as “the Great male Narcissits” and footnotes that label thusly:
    ” Unless, of course, you consider constructing long encomiums to a
    woman’s “sacred several-lipped gateway” or saying things like “It is
    true, the sight of her plump lips obediently distended around my swollen
    member, her eyelids lowered demurely, afflicts me with a religious
    peace” to be the same as loving her. ”

    It’s posted here:

    http://www.badgerinternet.com/~bobkat/observer1.html

    In his examination of the “conflict” of the aging protagonist, who is transparently based on Old Johnny himself, Wallace concludes;

    “Erect
    or flaccid, Ben Turnbull’s unhappiness is obvious right from the book’s
    first page. But it never once occurs to him that the reason he’s so
    unhappy is that he’s an asshole.”

  17. lizor January 5, 2010 at 12:09 PM #

    And thank you so much for this column and especially this quote

    “The entire book could have been written in one sentence: “Doctor, I, Alexander Portnoy, consider women to be an alien species and to be intellectually and morally inferior to me, but I want to fuck them and I expect them to rescue me from my extreme narcissism and self-loathing, so I sexually abuse them and then make them responsible for my lack of emotional maturity.””

    I’ve been waiting a lot of years for someone to write that.

  18. elaine January 17, 2010 at 3:24 PM #

    If you’ve ever read his former wife, Claire Bloom’s, stomach-turning account of her marriage to Roth (especially in its final days), Roth sounds like he’s quite possible as big an asshole in his actual life as his fictional counterparts are in his novels.

    I read Roth from time to time, but I have to admit that the endless misogynistic bashings masquerading as boyish sexual hijinks really just gets under my skin after a bit. The same goes for Saul Bellow, who, overall, I rate as a much more humane and all-around better writer than Roth, but who still suffered from that same old ‘Jewish-literary-male complex that requires he make the entire female gender appear to be sluts/nags/morons in virtually every novel that drops from his pen’ complex that appears to be a malady of almost all male Chosen Ones who depend upon the literary muse for their livings. WTF is up with that, anyway?

  19. elaine January 18, 2010 at 2:57 PM #

    BTW, lizor, thanks for the DFW link on Updike. Made my day. Updike is another writer whom I can read just so long as he avoids gazing in rapture at his own prick, or eulogizing the ‘glory of woman’ in strict terms of the cunt and desirablity of physical attributes thereof. Once he starts that, it’s ‘book-hurled-against-the-wall-time’ for me. He’s generally, imo, a better essayist than fictionalist, anyway, but good jchrist, he can’t keep even keep the phallocentric WASP male component out of his critical writings for any appreciable length of time.

  20. GXB January 23, 2010 at 7:28 AM #

    Do, please write a book! Once you’re a professor, perhaps?

  21. kenndojo January 26, 2010 at 1:24 AM #

    Genesis: ” Adam and Nai Eve “

  22. CPB February 10, 2012 at 1:48 PM #

    Really late comment, but I’m curious about your thoughts of the book and, in turn, movie, American Psycho. It struck the same misogynistic chord masquerading as social commentary for me anyways…..

  23. Roxannaldo August 3, 2012 at 4:38 AM #

    Also, the highest art is the study of one’s reflection. Anything else is just vanity. If you can’t understand that, you’re a model of self-absorption. A little humility! Please, as if the mind is capable of thinking independent of the ego’s strain! And David Foster Wallace was great on some things- certain essays, much of Infinite Jest, but a terrible literary critic. The finest critic/writer of our age is a toss up between Martin Amis and John Updike. Though Wallace had it right when he said the book that made him want to become a writer was Frank Conroy’s “Stop Time.” It’s not talked about much anymore, but amazing.

  24. M.K. Hajdin November 15, 2012 at 4:30 PM #

    Roxxanaldo, you’re a dumb shit.

  25. JustPlainJain January 2, 2013 at 5:40 AM #

    LOL, I found you by googling ‘Philip Roth is so overrated’. Dig it.
    You write well, but this post would be greatly improved if you just deleted the first paragraph, which utterly undermines the intelligence of everything else you have to say by making you seem juvenile, pretentious, insecure and ignorant. Sorry.
    I appreciate that you’re insecure about your early (lack of) education, but you’re honest about that and frankly it’s nothing to be ashamed of or insecure about; you’re obviously an intelligent woman who’s made great effort to fill in and overcome those early shortcomings.
    But that whole “I’m an artist who hasn’t produced any art and don’t know what kind of art I would make but I know I’m much more qualified to have an opinion on other people’s art than all the people who are more educated than me because, like, I just say so, cuz, um, like, um, you know what I mean, man?” paragraph is just unnecessary, pedantic, and immature. You’ve made great strides in your education, but you undermine yourself completely with juvenile attempts at justifying your opinions with shallow insistence that you’re “an artist who’s just not an artist yet but doesn’t know what kind of artist, man.”
    You can worry about convincing people that you’re an artist once you actually BECOME one, till then you’d come across as much more mature and coherent if you just give your opinions and let them stand on their own, without the insecure attempts to justify it by designating yourself and your nonexistent “art but I don’t know what kind of art” as superior to the works you’re critiquing.

    Other than that, I totally agree with this post and I really liked it.

    Not crazy about all the whore-hating links on your blog though. I consider myself a feminist, have been a prostitute for 15 years, and I enjoy my work immensely and find it extraordinarily empowering. I don’t know where people get this crazy idea that men only want to subjugate and abuse prostitutes; my experience is that most clients prefer to be subservient, if one is only willing to ALLOW them to be, but it’s impossible to explain that to people who are invested in the prevailing cultural stereotypes, so I won’t waste your time and, more importantly, mine, with a lengthy explanation.
    As with most things in life, “you only get out of it what you put in”; know what I mean?
    Probably not, but I won’t bother you anymore.

    Good post, neat blog, you’s a fun little bitch.

  26. JustPlainJain January 2, 2013 at 6:09 AM #

    “My point in all this is that it takes a lot of talent to write penetrating analyses of other people, to create complex and human characters from scratch, to create a story from nothing, but it takes very little to write an insightful story about oneself. Who doesn’t have insight into themselves? Roth can’t see into the hearts and minds of others because he’s too busy studying his own reflection. There is not a single character in any of his books that is anything other than a caricature or an extension of one of Roth’s own psychological flaws. I’d be ready, if the world weren’t already inundated with the ramblings of narcissistic American Jewish men, to give him credit as a memoirist, but he even sinks in that shallow pool.”

    LOL, I just had to say that I absolutely LOVE this paragraph and have thought this exact thing many times about writers who many consider to be brilliantly gifted at character development. In particular two others I find guilty of this narcissistic-self-representation-masquerading-as-gifted-character-development, though in the medium of film rather than literature, are Woody Allen and Larry David. In the mediums of film and tv these two are as venerated as Roth, but I’ve never noticed them to be capable of any character development that isn’t , as you put it so succinctly, “a caricature or an extension of one of (his) own psychological flaws”.
    In the filmed versions of their written words, the actors are even obligated to adopt precise mimicry of David’s and Allen’s vocal inflections, postures, and gestures. Any Woody Allen comedy (some of his drama’s did a better job of getting away from these tendencies) consists of nothing but the whole cast running around pretending to be Woody Allen, right down to his annoying-New-York-neurotic-Jew-stammering speech patterns.

    Was just re-reading your post (yes, it was THAT fun to read!) and that parallel jumped out at me.

  27. JustPlainJain January 2, 2013 at 6:11 AM #

    “dramas”, not “drama’s”, lol.

  28. JustPlainJain January 2, 2013 at 6:35 AM #

    @Roxxnaldo:
    “Also, the highest art is the study of one’s reflection. Anything else is just vanity. If you can’t understand that, you’re a model of self-absorption. A little humility!”

    This statement manages to be both circular and self-contradictory in four different instances.
    The definition of “vanity”, not “art”, IS “the study of one’s own reflection.”
    Perhaps you are not a native English-speaker and whatever you attempted to say was mangled and wound back around itself several times in the process of translation?
    Because if you are a native English speaker, the only explanation for contradictory and nonsensical nature of your post is that you have worn holes in your brain with chronic methamphetamine abuse.
    You exhibit a symptom known to psychiatrists as “word salad”.
    Methamphetamine abuse will exacerbate and aggravate the condition responsible for this symptom.
    Nine Deuce is not “a model of self-absorption”, but I suspect you might be.

  29. Life January 20, 2013 at 12:09 PM #

    I love you.

  30. Mark March 20, 2013 at 10:58 AM #

    I was eating my lunch reading the front page of the NJ “Star-Loser” Ledger and there was the headline: “Jersey’s literary lion still roars at 80.” An article about Roth’s 80th bday fest at Newark Museum.
    And I was shocked to read their still promoting this guy. He’s like Joan River’s, you just wish they’d be forgotten but they remain.
    So, I decided to do a Goggle search, “Is Philip Roth an asshole?” and your blog came up. You nailed it! Thanks for having the courage and fortitude to endure reading his crap. I never read any of it but felt like you. You have spared me the pain, and again I thank you.
    Your insight was real and very entertaining. I had a good laugh and needed it after seeing his greasy mug on the front page.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Philip Roth wins the Booker Prize: Carmen’s Complaint « Velvet Coalmine - June 22, 2011

    […] criticism traditionally levelled at the Roth canon is that it mines a deep seam of misogyny. Although Callil was quick to quash any conjecture that her decision to dish Roth was […]

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