Philip Roth: In his own words

A selection of quotes from the American novelist
Philip Roth

As part of a Sunday Times guide to the work of Philip Roth, Steve Amidon collects a the writer's thoughts on a variety of topics:
On the reception of Portnoy’s Complaint: So many claimed to be offended by the masturbation. But that’s silly. Everybody knew about masturbation. What they were really offended by was the depiction of this level of brutality in a Jewish family.

On being Jewish-American: I know exactly what it means to be Jewish, and it’s really not interesting. I’m an American... America is first and foremost ... it’s my language. Identity labels have nothing to do with how anyone actually experiences life... I don’t accept that I write Jewish-American fiction. I don’t buy that nonsense about black literature or feminist literature. Those are labels made up to strengthen some political agenda.

On how he compares: Updike and Bellow hold their flashlights out into the world, reveal the world as it is now. I dig a hole and shine my flashlight into the hole.

On his literary alter egos: Am I Roth or Zuckerman? It’s all me ... Nothing is me.

On his range: Sheer Playfulness and Deadly Seriousness are my closest friends.

On work: The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.

On ageing: Passion doesn’t change, but you change – you become older. The thirst for women becomes more poignant. And there is a power in the pathos of sex it didn’t have before.

On fearing death: Oblivion. Of not being alive, quite simply, of not feeling life, not smelling it. But the difference between today and when I was 12 is a kind of resignation. It no longer feels like a great injustice that I have to die. [Read the article]

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