Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An interesting take on...

...Philip Roth and Narcissism

"Whereas Whitman, most likely a closeted homosexual, tamed his libido and taught it wonderful poetic tricks, and whereas Dickinson exerted superhuman pressure and turned hers into a diamond of sublimation, Roth ejaculates. Because he is a talented writer, frequently this is pleasurable to observe. But he is never in possession of the loom—so elegantly mastered by his contemporary, Saul Bellow—that lets a writer process his or her bales of bile into beautiful fabrics that keep us warm."


  1. It has been a long time since I read Portnoy's Complaint, so I could be wrong, but I don't remember Portnoy marrying The Monkey, and I don't remember her as being particularly cultured--wasn't she a libidinous young woman from small-town West Virginia?

    I thought that Zuckerman Unbound was a pretty good parable about celebrity, but I've hardly been back since.

  2. This is a terrific assessment of Roth, and goes a long way to articulate why I think he's over-rated. Of course, it's an assessment that's going to raise hackles, particularly among Roth's faithful followers. On the other hand, without explicitly stating so, it puts a spotlight on how Freudian Roth is, and many of his followers, even in this day and age when Freud is beloved mostly by academics while most of psychology has moved on.

    This passage below very ably sums up why many readers, myself among them, have never been able to raise more than a shrug in response to Roth's novels:

    "Put simply, while all American writers write first and foremost of the individual, the great ones are, to use a sterling phrase, large enough to contain multitudes; peek into Emerson, say, and see America in its entirety.

    Do the same with Roth, and you’d be lucky to see much past New Jersey. That is because Roth’s primary preoccupation is Roth."

    In other words, Roth is one template of artistic narcissism for artists in this very narcissistic, mannerist, post-modern artistic era we find ourselves living in. Parallels abound between Roth's popularity and pop art's popularity. Both can be shallow, narcissistic, and self-referential to the point of boredom.