Tag: Philip Roth

When the Senate was a goyisch old boys’ club

As I head into the home stretch of Clarence Thomas, I’m poring over the more than three-thousand-page transcript of Thomas’s Senate Confirmation hearings in 1991. One of the eeriest revelations from that reading is not how much the Senate in 1991 was an old boys’ club; that we already knew from Anita Hill. Nor is it how much the Senate in 1991 was a white old boys’ club; that we already knew from Thomas. No, what really comes out from the hearings is how much the Senate of 1991 was a goyisch, even WASP-y, old boys’ club. Some of the most uncomfortable moments of the hearings, for me as a Jew, is to see the subtle, almost invisible, ways in […]

The real danger of normalization

I’ve got a new piece in Harper’s, taking stock of a very American pathology—amnesia—which I analyze with the help of Philip Roth, Barbara Fields, Louis Hartz, and Alchoholics Anonymous. The piece is behind a paywall, but here’s a taste: Ever since the 2016 presidential election, we’ve been warned against normalizing Trump. That fear of normalization misstates the problem, though. It’s never the immediate present, no matter how bad, that gets normalized—it’s the not-so-distant past. Because judgments of the American experiment obey a strict economy, in which every critique demands an outlay of creed and every censure of the present is paid for with a rehabilitation of the past, any rejection of the now requires a normalization of the then. We all […]

Politics in this country has never felt the way the it does now…

“The Vietnam War years were the most ‘politicized’ of my life. I spent my days during this war writing fiction, none of which on the face of it would appear to connect to politics. But by being ‘politicized’ I mean something other than writing about politics or even taking direct political action. I mean something akin to what ordinary citizens experience in countries like Czechoslovakia or Chile: a daily awareness of government as a coercive force, its continuous presence in one’s thoughts as far more than just an institutionalized system of regulations and controls. In sharp contrast to Chileans or Czechs, we hadn’t personally to fear for our safety and could be as outspoken as we liked, but this did not […]

A Patience With Your Own Crap: Philip Roth on Writing

David Remnick: Is there a sense of mastery at some point that you might not have had at 40?— Philip Roth: There’s patience. Remnick:—What did age give you?— Roth: Patience. Remnick:—What did experience give you? Roth: Patience. That is, the patience to outlast your frustration. The confidence that if you just stay with it you’ll master it, you know? But that doesn’t mean tomorrow necessarily but that I think it gives you confidence in your instincts….You don’t feel like such a gambler, such a risk taker, in laying down the first ten or twenty or fifty pages. So I guess age and experience give you patience, confidence. Though the confidence can be shattered at the end of a first draft. […]

Hannah Arendt and Philip Roth: Parallel Lives

In the second half of the twentieth century, a writer of uncommon gifts travels to Israel. There, the writer, who is Jewish and fiercely intellectual, attends the trial of a Nazi war criminal. When the trial’s over, the writer writes a book about it. No, it’s not Hannah Arendt. It’s Philip Roth. Arendt and Roth led oddly parallel lives. Both were denounced by the Jewish establishment—at roughly the same time, in remarkably similar terms—for pieces they had written for The New Yorker. Long before Portnoy’s Complaint, Roth antagonized the Jewish community with his short story, “Defender of the Faith,” which appeared in the magazine in 1959. Describing the controversy, Judith Thurman writes: It sparked a violent reaction in certain quarters of the Jewish establishment. Roth was vilified as a self-hating Jew and […]

More on Biden and the Jews: A Response to Critics of My Salon Column

My Salon column this morning on Joe Biden and the Jews has generated a lot of conversation, at Salon, on Crooked Timber, and on my Facebook page and others. I want to address here four objections to the column that have been made. 1. A few commenters have claimed that I completely misinterpreted Biden’s comment. Biden wasn’t saying, they claim, that American Jews have no guarantee of their safety save Israel but that Israeli Jews have no such guarantee. What’s more, I alone have come up with this far-fetched reading, ignoring for my own reasons—a desire for “clickbait,” one commenter said—the more obvious interpretation of Biden’s remarks. There’s a few problems with this claim. First, and most obviously, Biden’s remarks were first reported by […]

The Touchy Irving Howe

Last night, I was trying to find a comment I had remembered Irving Howe making about Hannah Arendt, and I found myself holed up, late into the night, with a volume of his criticism. I run into these sorts of detours a lot. I set out for a destination, and before you know it, it’s 2 am, and I’m miles away from where I need to be. I’ve read Howe’s criticism many times before, but I never noticed just how touchy he is about what he perceives to be the haughtiness of authors and critics. Howe is sensitive, perhaps too sensitive, to the power dynamics of fiction and criticism: how writers look down on the people they’re writing about or the readers they’re writing for, how they […]

My Life

The Ghost Writer: I turn sentences around. That’s my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning. And if I knock off from this routine for as long as a day, I’m frantic with boredom and a sense of waste. Pretty much.

When Philip Roth Taught at CUNY

I was just reminded by Kathy Geier on FB and Twitter that when she was a student at Hunter College in the early 1990s, she took a comparative literature course with Philip Roth. According to Kathy, Roth had no TAs, designed the course himself, graded all the papers (and there was a lot of writing), and was paid reasonably. The last point was confirmed by Ken Sherrill, whose memory of Lillian Hellmann teaching at CUNY I spoke about here. About all of which Scott Lemieux said: What I find really strange about this is that he [Roth] apparently put together a syllabus for a course without at least 3 grad students to help him; almost as if he was an […]