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Author: David Brauner

This is a study of the contemporary American novelist, Philip Roth. Reading alongside a number of his contemporaries and focusing particularly on his later fiction, it offers a view of Roth as an intellectually adventurous and stylistically brilliant writer who constantly reinvents himself in surprising ways. At the heart of this book are a number of readings of Roth's works both in terms of their relationships with each other and with fiction by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Pynchon, Tim O'Brien, Bret Easton Ellis, Stanley Elkin, Howard Jacobson and Jonathan Safran Foer. The book identifies as a thread running through all of Roth's work the use of paradox, both as a rhetorical device and as an organising intellectual and ideological principle.

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David Brauner

1 Introduction For so long an enfant terrible of the American literary world, Philip Roth may now be considered one of its elder statesmen. He has published eighteen full-length works of fiction in an oeuvre that spans high seriousness (Letting Go (1962)) and low humour (The Great American Novel (1973)), expansive monologue (Portnoy’s Complaint (1969)) and elliptical dialogue (Deception (1990)), spare realism (When She Was Good (1967)) and grotesque surrealism (The Breast (1972)). In addition to the novels for which he is most renowned, Roth has also published

in Philip Roth
Generic experimentation in My Life as a Man, The Counterlife, The Facts, Deception and Operation Shylock
David Brauner

mimetically an objective, external reality; at worst, a tool deployed by ideological state apparatuses (schools, colleges, the media) to reinforce the political status quo, promoting an idea of normative values that underpins the Capitalist system. In the last decade of the twentieth century and the first of the twenty-first, attempts have been made to bridge this chasm: Robert Siegle posits the 48 Philip Roth existence of a ‘two way corridor’ or ‘permeable membrane’ in contemporary American fiction, implying reciprocal exchange and fluid movement, rather than fixed

in Philip Roth
Judging Jews in Zuckerman Bound
David Brauner

, real and imagined, are ubiquitous in the work of Philip Roth. From Peter Tarnopol’s lengthy divorce litigation in My Life as a Man and the fantastical indictment of Alexander Portnoy at the end of Portnoy’s Complaint, to Mickey Sabbath’s arraignment on charges of obscenity in Sabbath’s Theater, to the historical court case of John Demjanjuk that dominates the opening of Operation Shylock, the trial is one of Roth’s favourite tropes. Frequently employing a confessional mode in his fiction, Roth noted early in his career that ‘the question of who or what shall have

in Philip Roth
Utopian dreams and rituals of purification in the ‘American Trilogy’
David Brauner

’s utopia of let’s pretend, the Jew’s utopia of not being Jewish, to name only the grandest of her projects to deodorize life and make it palatable.’ (Roth 1998: 179) The musicians had laid bare the youngest, most innocent of our ideas of life, the indestructible yearning for the way things aren’t and can never be. (Roth 2000: 207) Philip Roth’s fiction has always been characterised by the tension between the individual capacity for self-determination and the deterministic forces of history; between seductive dreams of harmony, idealism and purity and the troubling

in Philip Roth
Morality, mortality and masculinity in Sabbath’s Theater
David Brauner

in 1973 (reprinted in Reading Myself and Others), Philip Roth recalls how he came upon a letter from Herman Melville to Nathaniel Hawthorne, in which Melville describes his elation upon completing Moby Dick: ‘I have written a wicked book, and feel spotless as a lamb’ (Melville quoted in Roth 2001a: 76). Roth ‘pinned it up along with the other inspirational matter on [his] bulletin board’, while at the same time acknowledging to himself that ‘no matter how hard [he] tried, he could never really hope to be wicked’ (76). This tension – between the desire to be morally

in Philip Roth
Rewriting history and retreating from trauma in The Plot Against America
David Brauner

opportunistic exploitation, of human suffering.6 While there may have been a degree of self-pity and self-dramatisation in Foer’s observation in an interview that he had become ‘the most hated writer in America’ (quoted in McInerney 2005: 6), some of the reviews of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close smacked somewhat of schadenfreude, their 188 Philip Roth authors apparently relishing the opportunity of putting this young upstart firmly in his place. Even those who were broadly sympathetic tended to qualify their praise with the recommendation that Foer exercise greater

in Philip Roth
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David Brauner

that had lived and died before 220 Philip Roth us’ (51). It is precisely because death is final and absolute, the novel implies, that it is so shocking. For all the obvious differences of form and sensibility, however, the two Everymans share certain structures. For example, the medieval Everyman’s anguished exclamation when he realises that his time on earth is up – ‘O Death, thou comest when I had thee least in mind’ (described by Roth in interviews as ‘the first great line in English drama’) – is echoed in the description of his modern counterpart’s state of

in Philip Roth
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Literature and agnoiology
Author: Andrew Bennett

This book argues that ignorance is part of the narrative and poetic force of literature, as well as an important aspect of its thematic focus: ignorance is what literary texts are about. The author argues that the dominant conception of literature since the Romantic period has involved an often unacknowledged engagement with the experience of not knowing. From Wordsworth and Keats to George Eliot and Charles Dickens, from Henry James to Joseph Conrad, from Elizabeth Bowen to Philip Roth and Seamus Heaney, writers have been fascinated and compelled by the question of ignorance, including their own. The book argues that there is a politics and ethics, as well as a poetics, of ignorance: literature's agnoiology, its acknowledgement of the limits of what we know both of ourselves and of others, engages with the possibility of democracy and the ethical, and allows us to begin to conceive of what it might mean to be human.

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Philip Roth’s American trilogy
Andrew Bennett

When questioned, Philip Roth can be peculiarly insistent on the subject of his own, authorial, ignorance: Robert McCrum: Do you think sex is the Western novel’s deepest theme? Philip Roth: I don’t know. Robert McCrum: So what is the purpose of fiction? Philip Roth: God only knows. 1 ‘I don’t know anything about anything’, Roth complains in another interview, from 1984, half-jokingly contrasting himself with John Updike, who ‘knows so much’, who knows ‘about golf, about porn, about kids

in Ignorance