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One of my favorite writers has died. R.I.P Philip Roth You will be missed

May 23, 2018 16 comments

Early in the morning, with eyes still full of sleep I heard the news: Philip Roth has made his exit. That day started with this gloomy news and the comforting thought that it was important enough to make the headlines, have a special guest invited to talk about his books and to remind us that he was “the greatest author of contemporary American literature”. Not everything has been sold to economy, politics and marketing. Literature still makes the headlines. What a relief. Hopefully, there will be a special edition of La Grande Librairie and it could make me switch on the TV for the first time in several years.

I hate the idea that he’s dead, that he will no longer write or give interviews.

I love Philip Roth for his Jewish sense of humor. (I probably have thing for that brand of humor if I consider my love for Woody Allen’s films and all things Romain Gary) I love that he takes his readers seriously and asks us to think even if he also entertains us. I love his lucidity, his precise vision of the American society and the Western world in general. I love that he was not politically correct. I love his twisted mind, his as-if mind, his scrutiny of our ant lives. I love his endless observation of the human nature. I love that he tackled all kinds of political topics while telling the story of an individual.

He will be missed. How sad that he won’t write another book. We have to do with the ones that already exist, now.

I only have read The Plot Against America, The Breast, Portnoy’s Complaint, I Married a Communist, Exit Ghost and The Human Stain. All stayed with me, I can talk about them now contrary to other novels whose plot and characters are long forgotten.

Everyone should read The Plot Against America these days. Under the Trump presidency and what’s happening in Europe, I think I’d see it differently than before. Embracing extreme right thoughts and electing their leaders seemed fictional when I read it, but now, not so much.

I didn’t like The Breast much. It has a Kafkian ring and, while I admire Kafka a lot, he’s not a writer I truly enjoy.

I read Portnoy’s Complaint in English. Imagine how educational it was for a French reader. It enlarged my vocabulary in an unexpected (and useless) way. But it was a lot of fun.

I Married A Communist made me think a lot, so much that I wrote three billets about it. (Part I, Part II, Part III)

Exit Ghost is a stunning novel about old age in all its crudity and glory and thought about an artist’s legacy.

The Human Stain was my first Roth and pre-blog. I was blown away by it. His style, his depiction of America and the hypocrisy of the academic world. It opened my eyes about the concept of having black blood in America, something totally foreign to me.

My next one will be American Pastoral, it’s been on my mind since the last Roth I read. But I need quality time to read him because it’s a challenge for me to read him in English. It would be too frustrating to read him in French now. Let’s be positive, I still have more than twenty books by him to read and that’s a comforting thought.

I’ll end this billet by a repeat of a previous one, Politics, literature, Philip Roth…and Me which was only a quote from I Married A Communist.

“Politics is the great generalizer,” Leo told me, “and literature the great particularizer, and not only are they in a inverse relationship to each other –they are in an antagonistic relationship. To politics, literature is decadent, soft, irrelevant, boring, wrongheaded, dull, something that makes no sense and that really oughtn’t be. Why? Because the particularizing impulse is literature. How can you be an artist and renounce the nuance? But how can you be a politician and allow the nuance? As an artist, the nuance is your task. Your task is not to simplify. Even should you choose to write in the simplest way, à la Hemingway, the task remains to impart the nuance, to elucidate the complication, to imply the contradiction. Not to erase the contradiction, not to deny the contradiction, but to see where, within the contradiction, lies the tormented human being. To allow for the chaos, to let it in. You must let it in. Otherwise you produce propaganda, if not for a political party, a political movement, then stupid propaganda for life itself –for life as it might itself prefer to be publicized. During the first five, six years of the Russian Revolution the revolutionaries cried, ‘Free love, there will be free love!’ But once they were in power, they couldn’t permit it. Because what is free love? Chaos. And they didn’t want chaos,. That isn’t why they made their glorious revolution. They wanted something carefully disciplined, organized, contained, predictable scientifically, if possible. Free love disturbs the organization, their social and political and cultural machine. Art also disturbs the organization. Literature disturbs the organization. Not because it is blatantly for or against, or even subtly for or against. It disturbs the organization because it is not general. The intrinsic nature of the particular is to be particular, and the intrinsic nature of particularity is to fail to conform. Generalizing suffering: there is Communism. Particularizing suffering: there is literature. In that polarity is the antagonism. Keeping the particular alive in a simplifying, generalizing world –that’s where the battle is joined. You do not have to write to legitimize Communism, and you do not have to write to legitimize capitalism. You are out of both. If you are a writer, you are as unallied to the one as you are to the other. Yes, you see differences, and of course you see that this shit is a little better than that shit, or that that shit is a little better than that shit. Maybe much better. But you see the shit. You are not a government clerk. You are not a militant. You are not a believer. You are someone who deals in a very different way with the world and what happens in the world. The militant introduces a faith, a big relief that will change the world and the artist introduces a product that has no place in that world. It’s useless. The artist, the serious writer, introduces into the world something that wasn’t there even at the start. When God made all this stuff in seven days, the birds, the rivers, the human beings, he didn’t have ten minutes for literature. ‘And then there will be literature. Some people will like it, some people will be obsessed by it, want to do it…’ No. No. He did not say that. If you had asked God then, ‘There will be plumbers?’ ‘Yes, there will be. Because they will have houses, they will need plumbers.’ ‘There will be doctors?’ ‘Yes. Because they will get sick, they will need doctors to give them some pills.’ ‘And literature?’ ‘Literature? What are you talking about? What use does it have? Where does it fit in? Please, I am creating a universe, not a university. No literature.’”

Yes, literature is useless but indispensable therefore it is beauty. Philip Roth will be missed. QED.

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