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Philip Roth

Philip Roth

David Brauner
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 256
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt155j6rp
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  • Book Info
    Philip Roth
    Book Description:

    This is a groundbreaking study of the most important contemporary American novelist, Philip Roth. Reading the author alongside a number of his contemporaries, and focusing particularly on his later fiction, this book offers a highly accessible, informative and persuasive 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 detailed and nuanced 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, Brett Easton Ellis, Stanley Elkin, Howard Jacobson and Jonathan Safran Foer. Brauner 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.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-164-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Series editorsʹ foreword (pp. ix-x)
    Nahem Yousaf and Sharon Monteith

    This innovative series reflects the breadth and diversity of writing over the last thirty years, and provides critical evaluations of established, emerging and critically neglected writers – mixing the canonical with the unexpected. It explores notions of the contemporary and analyses current and developing modes of representation with a focus on individual writers and their work. The series seeks to reflect both the growing body of academic research in the field, and the increasing prevalence of contemporary American and Canadian fiction on programmes of study in institutions of higher education around the world. Central to the series is a concern...

  4. Acknowledgements (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 Introduction (pp. 1-20)

    For so long anenfant terribleof the American literary world, Philip Roth may now be considered one of its elder statesmen. He has published eighteen full-length works offiction in anoeuvrethat 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 two novellas (The BreastandThe Prague Orgy(1985)), a collection of short stories with...

  6. 2 The trials of Nathan Zuckerman, or Jewry as jury: judging Jews in Zuckerman Bound (pp. 21-45)

    Trials, literal and metaphorical, real and imagined, are ubiquitous in the work of Philip Roth. From Peter Tarnopol’s lengthy divorce litigation inMy Life as a Manand the fantastical indictment of Alexander Portnoy at the end ofPortnoy’s Complaint, to Mickey Sabbath’s arraignment on charges of obscenity inSabbath’s Theater, to the historical court case of John Demjanjuk that dominates the opening ofOperation 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… jurisdiction over one’s...

  7. 3 The ʹcredible incredible and the incredible credibleʹ: generic experimentation in My Life as a Man, The Counterlife, The Facts, Deception and Operation Shylock (pp. 46-121)

    Over the past forty years or so, critics of contemporary American fiction have tended to fall into two camps: those who write about – and champion – postmodernist fiction, and those who focus on – and defend – more realist forms of fiction. This ideological polarisation has resulted in the creation of two, largely discrete canons of contemporary American fiction: a postmodernist canon that includes Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover, Don DeLillo, Paul Auster and Bret Easton Ellis; and a realist canon that includes Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, John Updike, Richard Ford, Alison Lurie, Jayne...

  8. 4 Old men behaving badly: morality, mortality and masculinity in Sabbathʹs Theater (pp. 122-147)

    In an ‘interview with [him]self’ onThe Great American Novelin 1973 (reprinted inReading 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...

  9. 5 History and the anti-pastoral: Utopian dreams and rituals of purification in the ʹAmerican Trilogyʹ (pp. 148-185)

    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 realities of discord, disillusionment, corruption; between the desire to exert control, impose order, explain, and the impulse to break free from all constraints; to revel in anarchy, chaos and disorder; to celebrate the indeterminate, the unknowable, the inexplicable. Nowhere are these tensions more clearly articulated than in what has become known as his ‘American Trilogy’ of novels:American Pastoral(1997),I Married A Communist(1998) andThe...

  10. 6 Fantasies of flight and flights of fancy: rewriting history and retreating from trauma in The Plot Against America (pp. 186-217)

    The publication ofThe Plot Against Americawas attended with more fanfare and controversy than any of Roth’s books sincePortnoy’s Complaint. Just asPortnoyhad been heralded as the publishing event of 1969 long before its actual appearance, partly because of the buzz created by the appearance of two of its chapters in the preceding twelve months and partly as the result of shrewd promotion by Roth’s publishers, soThe Plot Against Americawas trailed by a carefully orchestrated marketing campaign that exploited rumours that the novel’s title alluded to the events of 9/11 and that included the dissemination...

  11. Afterword (pp. 218-224)

    Writing this book I have felt, at times, rather like Tristram Shandy in Laurence Sterne’s novel, who exclaims, paradoxically, that ‘the more I write, the more I shall have to write’ (Sterne 1986: 286). Whereas Sterne’s anti-hero is constantly fighting a losing battle to catch up in his memoirs with the events of his life, I have been struggling as I write to keep up with new developments in the field of Roth studies. So prolific is Roth (publishing on average a book every two years) – and so critically fashionable (there have been ten books and more than one...

  12. Works cited (pp. 225-236)
  13. Index (pp. 237-243)