Last week Philip Roth celebrated his 81st birthday. What is he up to these days? As far as we know, he’s holding firm to his claim that his writing days are over. On the other hand, his interview days are moving briskly along. The most recent is one he gave to an editor at the publisher of the Swedish translation of Sabbath’s Theater. (Reprinted in the Sunday Times Book Review, 3/2/14)
Whatever else he is doing, Roth has lost none of his verbal intensity, energetic prose, passionate expression, forceful phraseology, dynamic voice, dramatic discourse, pyrotechnic style, explosive language, not any of it. Examples:
In reply to a question about the subject of Sabbath’s Theater, he said:
I could have called the book “Death and the Art of Dying.” It is a book in which breakdown is rampant, suicide is rampant, hatred is rampant, lust is rampant. Where disobedience is rampant. Where death is rampant.
In reply to another on the claim he is misogynistic Roth replied:
Misogyny, a hatred of women, provides my work with neither a structure, a meaning, a motive, a message, a conviction, a perspective, or a guiding principle.
He disagreed with those who say his books focus on masculine power, rather, he said they deal with it’s antithesis: “masculine power impaired”:
The drama issues from … men who are neither mired in weakness nor made of stone and who, almost inevitably, are bowed by blurred moral vision, real and imaginary culpability, conflicting allegiances, urgent desires, uncontrollable longings, unworkable love, the culprit passion, the erotic trance, rage, self-division, betrayal, drastic loss, vestiges of innocence, fits of bitterness, lunatic entanglements, consequential misjudgment, understanding overwhelmed, protracted pain, false accusation, unremitting strife, illness, exhaustion, estrangement, derangement…
Finally, when asked how he views contemporary culture, he let loose with this one:
Very little truthfulness anywhere, antagonism everywhere, so much calculated to disgust, the gigantic hypocrisies, no holding fierce passions at bay, the ordinary viciousness you can see just by pressing the remote, explosive weapons in the hands of creeps, the gloomy tabulation of unspeakable violent events, the unceasing despoliation of the biosphere for profit, surveillance overkill that will come back to haunt us, great concentrations of wealth financing the most undemocratic malevolents around, science illiterates still fighting the Scopes trial 89 years on, economic inequities the size of the Ritz, indebtedness on everyone’s tail, families not knowing how bad things can get, money being squeezed out of every last thing — that frenzy — and (by no means new) government hardly by the people through representative democracy but rather by the great financial interests, the old American plutocracy worse than ever.
Philip Roth is the same old robust Philip Roth. He’s lost none of his power and says at last, he is as free as a bird, one released from the cage of writing novels.