Philip Roth
Quotations


It isnít that you subordinate your ideas to the force of the facts in autobiography but that you construct a sequence of stories to bind up the facts with a persuasive hypothesis that unravels your historyís meaning.

I write fiction and Iím told itís autobiography, I write autobiography and Iím told itís fiction, so since Iím so dim and theyíre so smart, let them decide what it is or it isnít.

Circumcision is startling, all right, particularly when performed by a garlicked old man upon the glory of a newborn body, but then maybe thatís what the Jews had in mind and what makes the act seem quintessentially Jewish and the mark of their reality. Circumcision makes it clear as can be that you are here and not there, that you are out and not in -- also that youíre mine and not theirs. . . . Quite convincingly, circumcision gives the lie to the womb-dream of life in the beautiful state of innocent prehistory, the appealing idyll of living ďnaturally,Ē unencumbered by man-made ritual. To be born is to lose all that. The heavy hand of human values falls upon you right at the start, marking your genitals as its own.

Just like those who are incurably ill, the aged know everything about their dying except exactly when.

I cannot and do not live in the world of discretion, not as a writer, anyway. I would prefer to, I assure you -- it would make life easier. But discretion is, unfortunately, not for novelists.

Obviously the facts are never just coming at you but are incorporated by an imagination that is formed by your previous experience. Memories of the past are not memories of facts but memories of your imaginings of the facts.

Undermining experience, embellishing experience, rearranging and enlarging experience into a species of mythology.

A Jewish man with parents alive is a fifteen-year-old boy, and will remain a fifteen-year-old boy until they die!

A Jew without Jews, without Judaism, without Zionism, without Jewishness, without a temple or an army or even a pistol, a Jew clearly without a home, just the object itself, like a glass or an apple.

My God! The English language is a form of communication! Conversation isnít just crossfire where you shoot and get shot at! Where youíve got to duck for your life and aim to kill! Words arenít only bombs and bullets -- no, theyíre little gifts, containing meanings!

Only in America . . . do these peasants, our mothers, get their hair dyed platinum at the age of sixty, and walk up and down Collins Avenue in Florida in pedalpushers and mink stoles -- and with opinions on every subject under the sun. It isnít their fault they were given a gift like speech -- look, if cows could talk, they would say things just as idiotic.

The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.

When you publish a book, itís the worldís book. The world edits it.

All I can tell you with certainty is that I, for one, have no self, and that I am unwilling or unable to perpetrate upon myself the joke of a self. . . . What I have instead is a variety of impersonations I can do, and not only of myself -- a troupe of players that I have internalised, a permanent company of actors that I can call upon when a self is required. . . . I am a theater and nothing more than a theater.

Is an intelligent human being likely to be much more than a large-scale manufacturer of misunderstanding?

To become a celebrity is to become a brand name. There is Ivory Soap, Rice Krispies, and Philip Roth. Ivory is the soap that floats; Rice Krispies the breakfast cereal that goes snap-crackle-pop; Philip Roth the Jew who masturbates with a piece of liver.

This indictment is a kind of fever that flares up from time to time. It flared up after "Defender of the Faith," again after "Goodbye Columbus," and understandably it went way up ó to about 107 ó after "Portnoy's Complaint." Now there's just a low-grade fever running, nothing to worry about.

Itís a family joke that when I was a tiny child I turned from the window out of which I was watching a snowstorm, and hopefully asked, "Momma, do we believe in winter?"

Englandís made a Jew of me in only eight weeks, which, on reflection, might be the least painful method. A Jew without Jews, without Judaism, without Zionism, without Jewishness, without a temple or an army or even a pistol, a Jew clearly without a home, just the object itself, like a glass or an apple.

I don't ask writers about their work habits. I really don't care. Joyce Carol Oates says somewhere that when writers ask each other what time they start working and when they finish and how much time they take for lunch, they're actually trying to find out, "Is he as crazy as I am?" I don't need that question answered.

Any satirist writing a futuristic novel who had imagined a President Reagan during the Eisenhower years would have been accused of perpetrating a piece of crude, contemptible, adolescent anti-American wickedness, when, in fact, he would have succeeded, as prophetic sentry, where Orwell failed.

When I was first in Czechoslovakia, it occurred to me that I work in a society where as a writer everything goes and nothing matters, while for the Czech writers I met in Prague, nothing goes and everything matters. This isn't to say I wished to change places. I didn't envy them their persecution and the way in which it heightens their social importance. I didn't even envy them their seemingly more valuable and serious themes. The trivialization, in the West, of much that's deadly serious in the East is itself a subject, one requiring considerable imaginative ingenuity to transform into compelling fiction.

You ask if I thought my fiction had changed anything in the culture and the answer is no. Sure, there's been some scandal, but people are scandalized all the time; it's a way of life for them. It doesn't mean a thing. If you ask if I want my fiction to change anything in the culture, the answer is still no. What I want is to possess my readers while they are reading my book ó if I can, to possess them in ways that other writers don't. Then let them return, just as they were, to a world where everybody else is working to change, persuade, tempt, and control them. The best readers come to fiction to be free of all that noise, to have set loose in them the consciousness that's otherwise conditioned and hemmed in by all that isn't fiction.



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