March 2, 2014

"In some quarters, 'misogynist' is now a word used almost as laxly as was 'Communist' by the McCarthyite right in the 1950s — and for very like the same purpose."

Said Philip Roth, who, having quit writing, recently reread all 31 of his books. Those who accuse him of misogyny, he says, "propound my alleged malefaction as though I have spewed venom on women for half a century."
But only a madman would go to the trouble of writing 31 books in order to affirm his hatred.

It is my comic fate to be the writer these traducers have decided I am not. They practice a rather commonplace form of social control: You are not what you think you are. You are what we think you are. You are what we choose for you to be. Well, welcome to the subjective human race.
He says that his focus has been on "masculine power impaired."
I have hardly been singing a paean to male superiority but rather representing manhood stumbling, constricted, humbled, devastated and brought down. I am not a utopian moralist. My intention is to present my fictional men not as they should be but vexed as men are.
AND: Asked how he feels about never winning the Nobel Prize, he says "I wonder if I had called 'Portnoy’s Complaint' 'The Orgasm Under Rapacious Capitalism,' if I would thereby have earned the favor of the Swedish Academy."

52 comments:

Mark O said...

Traduced and vexed. Sublime.

RichardS said...

Portnoy's Complaint could also have been "The Gripes of Roth."

Oso Negro said...

Damn. Makes me wanna go out and read some Roth.

YoungHegelian said...

A strong undercurrent of the "misogynist" criticism of Roth comes from people who, while they would be loath to admit it publicly, don't want to hear about the interior lives of American Jewish men.

That, today, no doubt includes a fair percentage of Jewish women.....

Henry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry said...

RichardS, did you read the whole interview?

Asked about the Nobel Prize, Roth says:

I wonder if I had called “Portnoy’s Complaint” “The Orgasm Under Rapacious Capitalism,” if I would thereby have earned the favor of the Swedish Academy.

There's always something wonderfully bracing about unapologetic spleen. I'll admit to not enjoying it at novel length, however.

rehajm said...

They practice a rather commonplace form of social control: You are not what you think you are. You are what we think you are. You are what we choose for you to be.

I would say trendy rather than commonplace. There are stretches of time where it's obvious and you can't get a away with it.

Robert Cook said...

I feel like writers should abjure prizes, and gripe only if they have been too poorly paid or too little read. Otherwise, they get caught in the trap of seeking public approval.

harrogate said...

Roth has got some damn fine novels. That said, once you've released your work into the public eye, you do not have any more authority of interpretation than anyone else. "That's not what I meant!" rarely helps in an argument with the spouse ( of either sex) and there are good reasons for this.

Robert Cook said...

"There's always something wonderfully bracing about unapologetic spleen. I'll admit to not enjoying it at novel length, however."

I guess you wouldn't (or don't) like Louis-Ferdinand Celine or Thomas Bernhard, then.

Michael K said...

What we need now is a big losing war to reestablish priorities. Obama may still manage to accomplish this. Feminism would not survive the Russian army behaving as they did in Berlin in 1945.

Bob Boyd said...

I'll never forget the day I asked for a misogynist and learned the word masseuse.

lemondog said...

Tsk...tsk..I notice his listing of postwar has women writers mentioned last.

I like his Joe Louis quote.

lemondog said...

...notice his listing of postwar WRITERS...

chrisnavin.com said...

Cook, you've really got to start teaching humanities at the local library. Reading groups, stuff like that.

If they're particularly sharp, you hit 'em with the Sartre and Brecht.

Then, casually, dropping an idea here or there, you mention the Revolution.

EDH said...

Feminism: giving McCarthyism a bad name.

B said...

Has anyone accused Roth of micro-aggression yet?

rhhardin said...

I always encourage women to do better so that they can be treated as adults.

chrisnavin.com said...

Micro-aggression may eventually find a place in the space created under a certain school of macro-economics.

William said...

I never thought of Roth as particularly misogynist. He never stabbed any of his wives. But I don't think any of his female characters, except perhaps Portnoy's mother, were especially memorable. Both the wife and the daughter in American Pastoral seemed more a catalogue of sociological traits than real characters.....OK, McCarthy was a drunk and a bully, but I yearn for the day when someone like Lillian Hellmann gets as much criticism for her pro Stalin beliefs as, say, Elia Kazan gets for his anti Communism.....There are people currently starving to death in North Korea as a result of the fine work of the Communist spy apparatus in America. It was not a victimless crime.

Michael K said...

"McCarthyism" is now a word used almost as laxly as was "false consciousness" by the political left.

campy said...

At least the m-word is not yet used as laxly as "racist" by Crack.

SJ said...

I thought "racist" is now used the way "communist" was used by the 1950s-era McCarthyites.

Maybe both "racist" and "misogynist" have descended to that level.

The word is often used in such a way as to implicate that the recipient is evil, and should not receive any approbation in polite company.

Shouting Thomas said...

There is no such thing as "misogyny."

We all like different kinds of individual women.

What "misogyny" actually means is... a person, usually a man, who disagrees about something with a feminist.

Robert Cook said...

Yeah, Shouting Tom, just like there's no such thing as racism, or misandry.

traditionalguy said...

Wonderful post. Roth keeps alive the talent of verbal and written UFC. The critics didn't lay a glove on him. He is the Jewish Joe Louis.

Shouting Thomas said...

Yeah, Shouting Tom, just like there's no such thing as racism, or misandry.

Not so much of either around that it's worth wasting your time bitching about.

There are so many better things to do.

About the only misogynists I've met are gay guys who simply can't tolerate women, and about the only misandrists I've met are lesbians who can't tolerate men.

As one of my women friends said, the men's activists and the feminists deserve each other.

Greg Hlatky said...

"Misogynist: A man who hates women as much as they hate each other." - H. L. Mencken

Fen said...

"...as laxly as Communist.."

Except for the fact that they were actually, ya know, communists...

Other than that, great analogy. If you're an idiot.

David said...

Great interview. Gem after Gem, the statements of a man who has considered his life and vocation seriously.

Explaining sources of the post-war flowering of the American novel: "the American novelist’s indifference to, if not contempt for, “critical” theory. Aesthetic freedom unhampered by all the high-and-mighty isms and their humorlessness. (Can you think of an ideology capable of corrective self-satire, let alone one that wouldn’t want to sink its teeth into an imagination on the loose?) Writing that is uncontaminated by political propaganda — or even political responsibility.

And:

Yet every writer learns over a lifetime to be tolerant of the stupid inferences that are drawn from literature and the fantasies implausibly imposed upon it.

Stupid. He came out and said it. Of course.

Darleen said...

Roth has got some damn fine novels. That said, once you've released your work into the public eye, you do not have any more authority of interpretation than anyone else.

Wrong.

Oh, of course, readers can make up all sorts of "interpretations" but if no effort is made to hew to an author's intent, than you are NOT reading, but rewriting your own script.

It's dishonest and quite revealing of the so-called interpreter.

rcocean said...

The great thing about Women is they're all alike, which is why you can hate them ALL.

Unlike men.

rcocean said...

Wow, so PR's upset because he's been labeled an "ist".

Looks like he can dish it out - but can't take it.

David said...

Roth acknowledges he can't control the interpretation. He also acknowledges that some of it (much?) is stupid.

Greg Hlatky said...

I feel like writers should abjure prizes

Adults should abjure prizes.

Marshal said...

William said...
I never thought of Roth as particularly misogynist. He never stabbed any of his wives. But I don't think any of his female characters, except perhaps Portnoy's mother, were especially memorable.


Maybe he writes what he knows. Is recognizing you don't understand women well enough to speak in their voice misogyny? Only to those who think anything contrary to their beliefs is misogyny.

RecChief said...

Welcome to the Tea Party, Mr. Roth.

LOOOOOLLLLLLLLL

Scott M said...

Otherwise, they get caught in the trap of seeking public approval.

A great deal of why most writers write is to seek public approval even if that's only described in sales. Otherwise, why publish? Few are the true manifesto writers. Seekers of public favor are legion.

Had you categorized "public" as literary or academic legitimacy...then ya gots somethin'.

Jupiter said...

"OK, McCarthy was a drunk and a bully, ..."

Your evidence? Do you even have any idea which communist propagandist's lies you're absent-mindedly repeating?

Jupiter said...

"It is my comic fate to be the writer these traducers have decided I am not."

"My conclusion, after I’d finished, echoes the words spoken by an American boxing hero of mine, Joe Louis."

Are we really supposed to believe this is from an interview? That Philip Roth habitually expresses himself in such sentences?

David said...

Jupiter, why would he not? He's Phillip Roth. Unlike most of us, he has thought for a long time about what he wants to say.

Amexpat said...

Good interview. Lots of interesting observations/thoughts. Guy should start a blog. First post should be:
"The power in any society is with those who get to impose the fantasy."

Mark said...

I call dibs on TOURC as a band name.

Crazy Jane said...

Roth has written many books, from thoughtful and carefully observed novels of the modern American experience to explications of rampaging male id. He stands by all of them, as he should.

I think he deserved a Nobel for fiction, but my guess is there was not much interest in naming another US writer. I enjoy the short stories of Alice Munro, the Canadian Nobelist last year; she knows more about women than Roth ever will (duh), but she has devoted herself to intimate renderings of individual lives and not to the larger issues of the day, as Roth and previous Nobel winners have.

But most prizes, really, reflect the knee-jerk impulses of a given moment (think of the Pulitzers). Our great-grandchildren will be in a better position to assess which current literary work has staying power. Assuming people still read literary works at that point.

Craig said...

Why would he want or need a Pulitzer? He wrote The Great American Novel.

lemondog said...

Assuming people still read literary works at that point.

Roth thinks not:

Philip Roth: The Novel is a Dying Animal

Pity.

SGT Ted said...

That said, once you've released your work into the public eye, you do not have any more authority of interpretation than anyone else

What you wrote is post modern bullshit that privileges the reader over the author, in order for the reader to assume and wield power.

This style of bullshit is how the feminazis and other progressive fascists "re-interpret" an authors words to paint decent, ordinary people as racist or sexist or whatever sub-human scapegoat they desire for their Two Minute Hate social bigotry.

"A word means whatever I say they mean" is a shining example of the Po-Mo interpretive horseshit that allows progressive idiots to shoehorn an authors words into a political construct of the progressive that has nothing to do with the actual author or his intent or his message.

What was an illustration of nonsense thinking in a fantasy novels depiction of a crazy, backwards, foreign world has become the guiding principle of progressive ideology. It is a form of hate speech used to enforce political conformity.

The goal of which is:

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'





SGT Ted said...

Roth refutes the po-mo bullshit thus:

Whoever looks for the writer’s thinking in the words and thoughts of his characters is looking in the wrong direction. Seeking out a writer’s “thoughts” violates the richness of the mixture that is the very hallmark of the novel. The thought of the novelist that matters most is the thought that makes him a novelist.

The thought of the novelist lies not in the remarks of his characters or even in their introspection but in the plight he has invented for his characters, in the juxtaposition of those characters and in the lifelike ramifications of the ensemble they make — their density, their substantiality, their lived existence actualized in all its nuanced particulars, is in fact his thought metabolized.

mccullough said...

If Roth weren't such a public asshole, his novels would be harder to attack as misogynistic. But he liked the publicity. Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, and Thomas Pynchon aren't celebrities. It's hard to attack someone who shuns publicity.

Gahrie said...

OK, McCarthy was a drunk and a bully, ..."

Your evidence? Do you even have any idea which communist propagandist's lies you're absent-mindedly repeating?


Look..I'm as anti-communist as they come, and McCarthy was a drunk and a bully.

Doesn't mean he was wrong. But unlike Nixon and the HUAC, he was never able to provide proof.

Sigivald said...

harrogate said: That said, once you've released your work into the public eye, you do not have any more authority of interpretation than anyone else.

Like hell you don't.

If authorial intent is not more authoritative* than other interpretations, then we've given up on the text entirely.

(* Notice how "authority" and "author" are the same word?

That's one reason why we should distrust claims that other interpretations are just as valid as the author's intent.

I don't claim they're invalid, mind - just that when someone "interprets" in something that requires straining the text and goes against the author's express intent, they're no longer interpreting - they're creating.

Reminds me of Spivak's unintentionally hilarious critique of Frankenstein as homoerotic literature [which I can't find online, but was appended to an edition I read in college].

As far as I can tell, she was being deadpan serious, but nevertheless, I don't think she can be taken as seriously as Shelley on what the story actually means.

This is the problem with any interpretive theory that de-privileges the author or that asserts that all interpretations are valid.

They aren't, not as interpretations.)

Jose_K said...

Tolstoi, Borges , Kafka, Proust. They did not win the Nobel. He is in pretty good company