Guardian interview: Philip Roth

blunt

shot by both sides
"It would be wonderful with a 100-year moratorium on literature talk, if you shut down all literature departments, close the book reviews, ban the critics. The readers should be alone with the books, and if anyone dared to say anything about them, they would be shot or imprisoned right on the spot. Yes, shot. A 100-year moratorium on insufferable literary talk. You should let people fight with the books on their own and rediscover what they are and what they are not. Anything other than this talk. Fairytale talk."

God love 'im. Great stuff. Get it here
 

Grievous Angel

Beast of Burden
So the reader should be mute, unable to discuss the books (for to do so would perforce be to become a critic), and be unsupported by other readers, i.e. critics, so the writer can drop their pearls of wisdom before the swine of their readership without restraint, and without anyone having the temerity to talk back.

What
A
Fucking
Tosser
 

bassnation

the abyss
2stepfan said:
So the reader should be mute, unable to discuss the books (for to do so would perforce be to become a critic), and be unsupported by other readers, i.e. critics, so the writer can drop their pearls of wisdom before the swine of their readership without restraint, and without anyone having the temerity to talk back.

What
A
Fucking
Tosser
did you read the bit about how he finds it demeaning to crack a smile for press photographers? theres a point where gravitas tips over into pomposity.
 

bassnation

the abyss
labrat said:
wellllll.....one only needs read Portnoy's Complaint to know he's a wanker.
if someone is unpleasant, does it affect your appreciation of their art?

i'm thinking beyond roth here to someone like koestler who raped michael foot's wife. i know it shocked a lot of people who had read his books, but if they are read less as a result, is it a bad or good thing?
 

jenks

thread death
i have always really liked roth but have been aware that i wouldn't much like the man - no real surprises that he hates critics - they've been pretty mean at various times - but that's their job.

if he wants us all to stay quiet i suppose we may well ask the same from him

communing with the text in some platonic state is not just idealistic nonsense but also a serious problem in terms of the role of the artist - why publish? just write the fucker and put it in a drawer. if you put it out there to be published (and at some level, asking people to buy it and thus provide you with a wage) then you have got to enage in the critical discourse - rough and smooth. it's a commercial enterprise and as such teh payback for that is criticism.

smile/don't smile but don't expect us to read in mute admiration

as to authors who are shits in life - dickens treated his wife pretty shabbily, milton not too nice to his daughters, did shakespeare smack little judith? does it matter? probably not - in the end art survives if it has a public, the artist slowly slides from the surface of the work and whatever matters most will survive
 

martin

----
blunt said:
"It would be wonderful with a 100-year moratorium on literature talk, if you shut down all literature departments, close the book reviews, ban the critics. The readers should be alone with the books, and if anyone dared to say anything about them, they would be shot or imprisoned right on the spot. Yes, shot. A 100-year moratorium on insufferable literary talk. You should let people fight with the books on their own and rediscover what they are and what they are not. Anything other than this talk. Fairytale talk."
Yeah great, he's sold his books and can afford to risk people walking past 'American Pastoral' to read something more exciting and engaging
 

bassnation

the abyss
jenks said:
communing with the text in some platonic state is not just idealistic nonsense but also a serious problem in terms of the role of the artist - why publish? just write the fucker and put it in a drawer. if you put it out there to be published (and at some level, asking people to buy it and thus provide you with a wage) then you have got to enage in the critical discourse - rough and smooth. it's a commercial enterprise and as such teh payback for that is criticism.
this seems totally reasonable in an age of light-speed ultra connected discourse - but has it always been that way with authors? i wonder how it must have been for something like the lutherian bible which caused huge shockwaves through society but the reaction for luther wouldn't have been at all immediate.
 

blunt

shot by both sides
Crikey. And I wasn't even trolling. ;)

jenks said:
'shot by both sides' indeed
In the absence of any other comment, I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean. But given the posts that followed, it seems pretty prescient :)

2stepfan said:
So the reader should be mute, unable to discuss the books (for to do so would perforce be to become a critic), and be unsupported by other readers, i.e. critics [...]
I'm not convinced that's what he's saying.

I think he's railing against professional critics, the unseemly degree of influence that they have in an age of top-down mass media, and the degree to which they prejudice the reader's interpretation / enjoyment of a book - or indeed any creative work - before they've even started.

And I think that he has beef, in particular, with critics that make a living by merely commenting in a sporadic fashion on the work of others, whilst contributing nothing constructive of their own. And, I have to say, there is a degree to which I'm with him. (Sorry if that offends anyone here)

And let's face it - the interviewer's questions were pretty lame. It's hardly surprising he doesn't get much out of him. It's always refreshing to see someone call a spade a spade.

Obviously, the guy's a curmudgeonly old fart - hence the "God bless 'im" comment - and a number of his stated views (here and elsewhere) are fairly repellent. But I for one thought The Plot Against America was a great book.
 
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jenks

thread death
blunt said:
In the absence of any other comment, I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean. But given the posts that followed, it seems pretty prescient :)


nice to be called prescient, however i was just making a lame joke - yr subtitle being 'shot by both sides' and you drawing attention to the article - in essence asking for lit crit - exactly what roth didn't want. hence the (attempted) witticism.

as for the professional critic pov - unless they are total hatchet men like dale peck most actually like books!!! I don't think any have any real influence - someone like james woods probably thinks that readers salivate over his every orotund turn but very few people actually read serious lit crit - after all it is entirely absent from the 'quality' press nowadays - (the FT has a biggish book essay on a saturday, the rest have piffling reviews of teh same old stuff). You've got to get the LRB or NYRB to get proper reviews and they don't review that much fiction.

i think roth has never really recoverd from the very public fallout with clare bloom which saw this, essentially private, man get mauled in the press by a vicious woman scorned (communist is allegedly a very thinly veiled portrait of the whole affair)

finally agree with you re roth's output - the last four novels have been amongst the best that fiction has to offer over the last ten or so years and portnoy/columbus/counterlife and many others are pretty shit hot too
 

bassnation

the abyss
blunt said:
And I think that he has beef, in particular, with critics that make a living by merely commenting in a sporadic fashion on the work of others, whilst contributing nothing constructive of their own. And, I have to say, there is a degree to which I'm with him. (Sorry if that offends anyone here)
lol, yeah dissensus is probably not the best place to criticise critics!
 

dogger

Sweet Virginia
bassnation said:
this seems totally reasonable in an age of light-speed ultra connected discourse - but has it always been that way with authors? i wonder how it must have been for something like the lutherian bible which caused huge shockwaves through society but the reaction for luther wouldn't have been at all immediate.
this is an interesting question. no - the author (and this excludes dramatists, who were only really seen as writers post-shax, tho the point at which plays began to be regarded as written texts as well as performative pieces is being pushed back all the time) did not have public standing, he (it usually was a he) certainly wouldn't enter into a critical discourse with readers (except for ppl already known to him) and he probably wouldn't even make a living out of it. writers had day jobs. pope really invented the concept of the modern, commercial literary writer - in the 18th c.

take the metaphysical poets. theirs was cotary writing - written in private, without a public audience in mind, circulated around small groups of friends. that's why donne and marvell and herbert are so fucking interesting and technically challenging - there was no need to conform to acceptable, sellable norms. why write? for herbert - to examine his (painfully tortured) faith, for marvell - for fun while he was getting pissed on his own in hull.

for better for worse, this has not been possible for a good few centuries, so jenks' comments on the current situation are accurate. but it was not always thus, and there are those, not all as irritating as roth, who think literature is the poorer for it...
 
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