Philip Roth on the 'Lost Cause' of Literature

Is the novel in permanent decline?

PBS Art Correspondent Jeffrey Brown speaks to Philip Roth on the release of his novel, The Plot Against America, originally broadcast 11 October 2004:
What do you see as the role of a writer in our society?

Your role is to write as well as you can. You're not advancing social causes as far as I'm concerned; you're not addressing social problems. [...] What you're advancing is [...] the cause of literature, which is one of the great lost human causes. So you do your bit; you do your bit for fiction, for the novel.

Why do you think it's become one of the 'great lost causes' of our time?

Oh my goodness. [...] I don't think in twenty or twenty-five years people will read these things at all.

Not at all?

Not at all. [...] I think it's inevitable. I think there are other things for people to do, other ways for them to be occupied, other ways for them to be imaginatively engaged that are, I think, probably far more compelling than the novel. So, I think the novel's day has come and gone, really.

I would imagine you would think this is a great loss for society?

Yes, I do. There's a lot of brilliance locked up in all those books in the library. There's a lot of human understanding. And there's a lot of language. [...] There's a lot of imaginative genius. So, yes, it's a great shame.

And what happens for you?



I'll keep doing it. Stubbornly. 

Okay Philip Roth, thank you for letting us come to talk to you.

You're welcome.