Philip Roth (1933-2018)

Life, at least in his books, was a grim farce. Everything in life was stupid, wrong, meaningless. Even his writing was a deliberately destructive, nihilistic act; preparing one piece, he thought of a critic, saying “I think, “How (s)he is going to hate this!” That can be just the encouragement I need.”

We’ll leave to others the parlour game, played from time to time by the author himself, which of his characters he most resembles (though a case could be made, of late, for Mickey Sabbath: “You have the body of an old man, the life of an old man, the past of an old man, and the instinctive force of a two-year old.”) And we’ll tactfully leave alone the shambles of his real life marriages.  Instead, let’s remember how crazy brave and funny he was in print:

“Come, Big Boy, come” screamed the maddened piece of liver that, in my own insanity, I bought one afternoon at a butcher shop and, believe it or not, violated behind a billboard on the way to a bar mitzvah lesson.” (Portnoy’s Complaint)

“Listen, bud,” said the priest, his fingers whitening around the thick stack of pamphlets that he was still clutching to his chest, “Hitler, for your information, was no friend of the Ukranian people. Hitler gave away half of my country to Nazified Poland, in case you haven’t heard. Hitler gave Bukovina to Fascist Romania, Hitler gave Bessarabia -” “No! Shut up! Hitler give you big present! Hitler give you big, big present! Hitler,” he boomed, “give you Jew to kill!”” (Operation Shylock)

And let there be no mistake about it: if I am elected Devil, I intend to see Evil triumph in the end; I intend to see that our children, and our children’s children, need never know the terrible scourge of Righteousness and Peace.” (Our Gang)

“..if only he could be as convinced as he was determined; if only he could tell which he was being, prudent, imprudent, brave, sentimental…A bleeding heart, a cold heart, a soft heart, a hard, a cautious…which? Oh if he could only break down and give in and weep. But there was no comfort for him in tears, or in reason. He had passed beyond what he had taken for the normal round of life, beyond what had been kept normal by fortune and by strategy. Tears would only roll off the shell of him. And every reason had its mate. Whichever way he turned, there was a kind of horror.” (Letting Go)

One of Drenka’s sayings: “His bark is worse than your cry.” (Sabbath’s Theater)

“…my voice box was buried in a one-hundred-and-fifty-five-pound mammary gland.” (The Breast)

I don’t any longer get in touch with them on a private basis until they’ve completed their final exam and received their grade and I am no longer officially in loco parentis. In spite of temptation-or even a clear-cut signal to begin the flirtation and make the approach – I haven’t broken this rule since, back in the mid-eighties, the phone number of the sexual harassment hotline was first posted outside my office door. I don’t get in touch with them any earlier so as not to run afoul of those in the university who, if they could, would seriously impede my enjoyment of life.” (The Dying Animal)


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