Philip Roth

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Philip Milton Roth (born March 19, 1933) is an American novelist. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for his novel American Pastoral. In May 2011, he received the Man Booker International Prize, for achievement in fiction on the world stage, becoming the fourth winner of the biennial award.

Sourced[edit]

  • When the whole world doesn't believe in God, it will be a great place.
  • The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.
  • When you publish a book, it’s the world’s book. The world edits it.
    • "A Visit with Philip Roth," interview with James Atlas, The New York Times Book Review (1979-09-02), p. BR1
  • To become a celebrity is to become a brand name. There is Ivory Soap, Rice Krispies, and Philip Roth. Ivory is the soap that floats; Rice Krispies the breakfast cereal that goes snap-crackle-pop; Philip Roth the Jew who masturbates with a piece of liver.
    • "The Ghosts of Roth," interview with Alan Finkielkraut, Esquire (September, 1981)
  • This indictment is a kind of fever that flares up from time to time. It flared up after "Defender of the Faith," again after "Goodbye Columbus," and understandably it went way up — to about 107 — after "Portnoy's Complaint." Now there's just a low-grade fever running, nothing to worry about.
  • I write fiction and I’m told it’s autobiography, I write autobiography and I’m told it’s fiction, so since I’m so dim and they’re so smart, let them decide what it is or it isn’t.
  • I cannot and do not live in the world of discretion, not as a writer, anyway. I would prefer to, I assure you — it would make life easier. But discretion is, unfortunately, not for novelists.
    • Deception: A Novel
  • And he couldn't do it. He could not fucking die. How could he leave? How could he go? Everything he hated was here.

Goodbye, Columbus (1959)[edit]

  • Oh Patimkin! Fruit grew in their refrigerator and sporting goods dropped from their trees!
  • ...her breasts swam towards me like two pink-nosed fish and she let me hold them.

Portnoy's Complaint (1969)[edit]

  • A Jewish man with parents alive is a fifteen-year-old boy, and will remain a fifteen-year-old boy till they die.
  • It’s a family joke that when I was a tiny child I turned from the window out of which I was watching a snowstorm, and hopefully asked, "Momma, do we believe in winter?"
  • My God! The English language is a form of communication! Conversation isn’t just crossfire where you shoot and get shot at! Where you’ve got to duck for your life and aim to kill! Words aren’t only bombs and bullets — no, they’re little gifts, containing meanings!
    • Ch. 4: "The Most Prevalent Form of Degradation in Erotic Life"
  • Only in America, Rabbi Golden, do these peasants, our mothers, get their hair dyed platinum at the age of sixty, and walk up and down Collins Avenue in Florida in pedalpushers and mink stoles — and with opinions on every subject under the sun. It isn’t their fault they were given a gift like speech — look, if cows could talk, they would say things just as idiotic.
    • Part 5: "Cunt Crazy"
  • I am thirteen. At long last, not a cored apple. Not an empty milk bottle greased with vaseline, but a girl in a slip, with two tits and a cunt -and a mustache, but who am I to be picky.
  • I'm not trying to turn you into a bourgeois, Naomi. If the bed is too luxurious, we can do it on the floor.
  • ...and then this amazing creature -to whom no one has ever said "Shah!" or "I only hope your children will do the same to you someday!"

The Counterlife (1986)[edit]

  • Circumcision is startling, all right, particularly when performed by a garlicked old man upon the glory of a newborn body, but then maybe that’s what the Jews had in mind and what makes the act seem quintessentially Jewish and the mark of their reality. Circumcision makes it clear as can be that you are here and not there, that you are out and not in — also that you’re mine and not theirs.... Quite convincingly, circumcision gives the lie to the womb-dream of life in the beautiful state of innocent prehistory, the appealing idyll of living "naturally," unencumbered by man-made ritual. To be born is to lose all that. The heavy hand of human values falls upon you right at the start, marking your genitals as its own.
    • Ch. 5
  • England’s made a Jew of me in only eight weeks, which, on reflection, might be the least painful method. A Jew without Jews, without Judaism, without Zionism, without Jewishness, without a temple or an army or even a pistol, a Jew clearly without a home, just the object itself, like a glass or an apple.
    • Ch. 5
  • Is an intelligent human being likely to be much more than a large-scale manufacturer of misunderstanding?
    • Ch. 5
  • All I can tell you with certainty is that I, for one, have no self, and that I am unwilling or unable to perpetrate upon myself the joke of a self.... What I have instead is a variety of impersonations I can do, and not only of myself — a troupe of players that I have internalised, a permanent company of actors that I can call upon when a self is required.... I am a theater and nothing more than a theater.
    • Ch. 5

Paris Review Interview (1986)[edit]

Interview with Hermione Lee (summer 1983 - winter 1984), Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, seventh series, Viking/Penguin, 1986, ISBN 0-140-08500-9

  • I don't ask writers about their work habits. I really don't care. Joyce Carol Oates says somewhere that when writers ask each other what time they start working and when they finish and how much time they take for lunch, they're actually trying to find out, "Is he as crazy as I am?" I don't need that question answered.
  • Beginning a book is unpleasant. I’m entirely uncertain about the character and the predicament, and a character in his predicament is what I have to begin with. Worse than not knowing your subject is not knowing how to treat it, because that’s finally everything. I type out beginnings and they’re awful, more of an unconscious parody of my previous book than the breakaway from it that I want. I need something driving down the center of a book, a magnet to draw everything to it—that’s what I look for during the first months of writing something new. I often have to write a hundred pages or more before there’s a paragraph that’s alive. Okay, I say to myself, that’s your beginning, start there; that’s the first paragraph of the book. I’ll go over the first six months of work and underline in red a paragraph, a sentence, sometimes no more than a phrase, that has some life in it, and then I’ll type all these out on one page. Usually it doesn’t come to more than one page, but if I’m lucky, that’s the start of page one. I look for the liveliness to set the tone. After the awful beginning come the months of freewheeling play, and after the play come the crises, turning against your material and hating the book.
  • Any satirist writing a futuristic novel who had imagined a President Reagan during the Eisenhower years would have been accused of perpetrating a piece of crude, contemptible, adolescent, anti-American wickedness, when, in fact, he would have succeeded, as prophetic sentry, where Orwell failed.
  • I was trying to solve the problem of this book. (My Life as a Man) When it seemed I never would, I stopped and wrote Our Gang; when I tried again and still couldn't write it, I stopped and wrote the baseball book; then while finishing the baseball book, I stopped to write The Breast. It was as though I were blasting my way through a tunnel to reach the novel I couldn't write. Each of one's books is a blast, clearing the way for what's next.
  • When I was first in Czechoslovakia, it occurred to me that I work in a society where as a writer everything goes and nothing matters, while for the Czech writers I met in Prague, nothing goes and everything matters. This isn't to say I wished to change places. I didn't envy their persecution and the way in which it heightens their social importance. I didn't even envy them their seemingly more valuable and serious themes. The trivialization, in the West, of much that's deadly serious in the East is itself a subject, one requiring considerable imaginative ingenuity to transform into compelling fiction.
  • You ask if I thought my fiction had changed anything in the culture and the answer is no. Sure, there's been some scandal, but people are scandalized all the time; it's a way of life for them. It doesn't mean a thing. If you ask if I want my fiction to change anything in the culture, the answer is still no. What I want is to possess my readers while they are reading my book — if I can, to possess them in ways that other writers don't. Then let them return, just as they were, to a world where everybody else is working to change, persuade, tempt, and control them. The best readers come to fiction to be free of all that noise, to have set loose in them the consciousness that's otherwise conditioned and hemmed in by all that isn't fiction.

The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography (1988)[edit]

  • Obviously the facts are never just coming at you but are incorporated by an imagination that is formed by your previous experience. Memories of the past are not memories of facts but memories of your imaginings of the facts.
    • Opening letter to Nathan Zuckerman
  • Undermining experience, embellishing experience, rearranging and enlarging experience into a species of mythology.
    • Opening letter to Nathan Zuckerman.
    • Referring to the life of a fiction writer
  • Just like those who are incurably ill, the aged know everything about their dying except exactly when.
    • Opening letter to Nathan Zuckerman
  • It isn’t that you subordinate your ideas to the force of the facts in autobiography but that you construct a sequence of stories to bind up the facts with a persuasive hypothesis that unravels your history’s meaning.
    • Opening letter to Nathan Zuckerman

Sabbath's Theater (1995)[edit]

  • Each year she taught him the names of the flowers in her language and in his, and from one year to the next he could not even remember the English. For nearly thirty years Sabbath had been exiled in these mountains, and still he could name hardly anything. They didn't have this stuff where he came from. All these things growing were beside the point there. He was from the shore. There was sand and ocean, horizon and sky, daytime and nighttime - the light, the dark, the tide, the stars, the boats, the sun, the mists, the gulls. There were the jetties, the piers, the boardwalk, the booming, silent, limitless sea. Where he grew up they had the Atlantic. You could touch with your toes where America began. They lived in a stucco bungalow two short streets from the edge of America. The house. The porch. The screens. The icebox. The tub. The linoleum. The broom. The pantry. The ants. The sofa. The radio. The garage. The outside shower with the slatted wooden floor Morty had built and the drain that always clogged. In summer, the salty sea breeze and the dazling light; in September, the hurricanes; in January, the storms. They had January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, November, December. And then January. And then again January, no end to the stockpile of Januaries, of Mays, of Marches. August, December, April - name a month, and they had it in spades. They'd had endlessness. He had grown up on endlessness and his mother - in the beginning they were the same thing. His mother, his mother, his mother, his mother, his mother... and then there was his mother, his father, Grandma, Morty, and the Atlantic at the end of the street. The ocean, the beach, the first two streets in America, then the house, and in the house a mother who never stopped whistlîg until December 1944. If Morty had come alive, if the endlessness had ended naturally instead of with the telegram, if after the war Morty had started doing electrical work and plumbing for people, had become a builder at the shore, gone into the construction business just as the boom in Monmouth County was beginning...Didn't matter. Take your pick. Get betrayed by the fantasy of endlessness or by the fact of finitude. No, Sabbath could only have wound up Sabbath, begging for what he was begging, bound to what he was bound, saying what he did not wish to stop himself from saying.

The Dying Animal (2001)[edit]

  • ""You'll always be powerless to this girl. You'll never be in charge. There's something there," George told me, "that makes you crazy and always will. If you don't cut the connection for good, in the end that something will destroy you. You're no longer merely answering natural need with her. This is the pathology in its purest form. Look," he told me, "see it as a critic, see it from a professional point of view. You violated the law of aesthetic distance. You sentimentalized the aesthetic experience with this girl - you personalized it, you sentimentalized it, and you lost the sense of separation essential to your enjoyment. Do you know when that happened? … I'm not against it because it's digusting. I'm against it because it's falling in love. The only obsession everyone wants: 'love.' People think that in falling in love they make themselves whole? The Platonic union of souls? I think otherwise. I think you're whole before you begin. And the love fractures you. You're whole, and then you're cracked open."
  • Sex is all the enchantment required. Do men find women so enchanting once the sex is taken out? Does anyone find anyone that enchanting unless they have sexual business with them? Who else are you enchanted by? Nobody.
  • The jealously. That poison. And unprovoked. Jealous even when she tells me she's going ice-skating with her eighteen-year-old brother.
  • Stop worrying about growing old. And think about growing up.
  • You too need the lecture on the childishness of coupling? Of course it's childish. Family life is, today more than ever, when the ethos is created substantially by the children. It's even worse when there are no children around. Because the childish adult replaces the child. Coupled life and family life bring out everything that's childish in everyone involved. Why do they have to sleep night after night in the same bed? Why must they be on the phone to each other five times a day? Why are they always with each other? The forced deference is certainly childish. The unnatural deference.
  • Now, I'm very vulnerable to female beauty, as you know. Everybody's defenseless against something, and that's it for me. I see it and it blinds me to everything else. They come to my first class, and I know almost immediately which is the girl for me. There is a Mark Twain story in which he runs from a bull, and the bull looks up to him when he's hiding in a tree, and the bull thinks, "You are my meat, sir." Well, that "sir" is transformed into "young lady" when I see them in class.
  • That body is still new to her, she's still trying it out, thinking it through, a bit like a kid walking the streets with a loaded gun and deciding whether he's packing it to protect himself or to begin a life of crime.

The Plot Against America (2004)[edit]

  • Turned the wrong way around, the relentless unforeseen was what we schoolchildren studied in "History", harmless history, where everything unexpected in its own time is chronicled on the page as inevitable. The terror of the unforeseen is what the science of history hides, turning a disaster into an epic.
    • Chapter 3, "June 1941 – December 1941: Following Christians", pp. 113–114 (ISBN 0547345313)

Everyman (2006)[edit]

  • Why must he mistrust his life just when he was more its master than he'd been in years?.
  • Should he ever write an autobiography, he'd call it The Life and Death of a Male Body.
  • I'm sure the liars as skillful and persistent and devious as you reach the point where it's the one you are lying to, and not you, who seems like the one with the serious limitations.
  • Old age isn't a battle; old age is a massacre.

Exit Ghost (2007)[edit]

  • [I]n the eighties, a self-assured knucklehead whose unsurpassable hollowness and hackneyed sentiments and absolute blindness to every historical complexity became the object of national worship and, esteemed as a “great communicator” no less, won each of his two terms in a landslide.
  • They [the young] are not “no-longers,” losing faculties, losing control, shamefully dispossessed from themselves, marked by deprivation and experiencing the organic rebellion staged by the body against the elderly; they are “not-yets,” with no idea how quickly things turn out another way.

Criticism[edit]

  • The cruelest thing anyone can do to Portnoy’s Complaint is to read it twice.
    • Irving Howe, quoted in Thomas Fleming, "The War between Writers and Reviewers," The New York Times (1985-01-06); originally in Howe's "Philip Roth Reconsidered," Commentary, Volume 54, December, 1972.
  • He's a fine writer, but I wouldn't want to shake hands with him.
    • Jacqueline Susann, in Barbara Seaman, Lovely Me: The Life of Jacqueline Susann (1996)

External links[edit]

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