Variations on Hating Part 2! The Young Philip Roth Rebels
I had- and still have, but that’s another post- a huge crush on Philip Roth. Look how hot he was. In an earlier brief post (click here), I touched on a certain artist’s need to embarrass herself. I often feel the same. I think Roth did, too. Perhaps it’s a youthful impulse. Regardless, I believe Roth has three masterpieces (One which is actually four books): Zuckerman Bound (which consists of The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, The Anatomy Lesson and The Prague Orgy ), Sabbath’s Theater and American Pastoral. (Oh, And possibly The Counterlife goes in there too.)
What I do know from reading his work is that one gets to see a human life go through the predictable- but in no way uninteresting, in fact, I would argue, a very fascinating– transition of rebelling against the constraints of home and community (in his case, a Jewish, immigrant home and community) in search of a larger, freer life, only to realize in mid-life and old age that there’s incredible beauty and honor in one’s roots. This is not becoming conservative. Indeed, Sabbath’s Theater maintains Roth’s gleeful love of offending and, well, fucking. What does happen though, in American Pastoral and other, later works, is he learns to love every minute of his life. He learns to feel awe for his past and respect for those who gave him life. He has shrugged off the restrictions of his childhood and can now be- GRATEFUL- for it all.
But before he explored gratitude in his work, he explored telling his father and all of his father-like friends and relatives, to fuck off. Here is a fantastic passage taking place in a Jewish cemetery from The Anatomy Lesson indicating, if nothing else, a fictional exploration of desire to break free from one’s past and run into the future of a less confining world:
Zuckerman, with what strength remained in his enfeebled arms, pounced upon the old man’s neck. He would kill–and never again suppose himself better than his crime: an end to denial; of the heaviest judgement guilty as charged. “Your sacred genes! What do you see inside your head? Genes with JEW sewed on them? IS that all you see in that lunatic mind, the unstained natural virtue of Jews?”
“Stop!” Mr Freytag began pushing him off with his thick gloved hands, “Stop this! Zuck!”
“What’s he do all night long? He’s out studying fucking!”
“Zuck, no-Zuck, the dead!”
“We are the dead! These bones in boxes are the Jewish living! These are the people running the show!”
“Help me!” He struggled free, turned to the gate, stumbled–and Zuckerman slid after him. “Hurry!” Mr. Freytag called. “Something’s happened!” And wailing for help as he ran, the old man to be strangled was gone.
Just white snow whirling now, all else obliterated but the chiseled stones, and his hands frantically straining to throttle that throat. “Our genes! Our sacred little packet of Jewish sugars!” Then his legs flew off and he was sitting. From there he began his recitation, at the top of his voice read aloud the words he saw carved all around him in rock. “Honor thy Finkelstein! Do not commit Kaufman! Make no idols in the form of Levine! Thou shalt not take in vain the name of Katz!”
Tags: philip roth