“I think what’s different about Roth is the wink and the nod and the game; he’s signaling to us in his fiction that he’s writing about events and people that are very close to him, and yet repeatedly denied doing so. No one else engaged in that gamesmanship with the readership and the critical apparatus around the study of the literature. Why did he need to play that game?”
Professor Jacques Berlinerblau joins the show to celebrate his new book, The Philip Roth We Don’t Know: Sex, Race, and Autobiography (UVA Press)! We get into a deep dive on All Things Roth: #metoo, reverse-biography, metafiction, rage merchants, Rothian Path Dependency, literary legacy & reputation, the changing expectations and tolerances of readers, and the writer Roth cites more than any other in his books. We also talk about the scandal around Roth’s biographer and why I think it’s greatest metafictional novel Roth never wrote, the role of race & racism in Roth’s work (and in Jacques’ broader areas of study), why Jacques never wanted to meet Roth, his love of The Anatomy Lesson, the disillusionment he had upon reading Roth’s letters in the Library of Congress, why we should all read My Dark Vanessa, whether not winning the Nobel really burned Roth’s ass, and so much more! Give it a listen! And go read The Philip Roth We Don’t Know!
“Roth studies needs a huge kick in the ass. Several, really. The first is that we have to stop letting non-Roth-scholars set the agenda for this writer. I can think of no American writer whose interpretation is brought to us by so many non-scholars.”
“It’s a dilemma for Roth scholars: did he know a lot about postmodernism and metafiction and just didn’t want to admit it, or did he just independently have very similar thoughts about how literature works? . . . Did he read literary criticism about anyone besides himself?”
About our Guest
Jacques Berlinerblau is Rabbi Harold White Professor of Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University and author of Campus Confidential: How College Works, or Doesn’t, for Professors, Parents, and Students. His new book is The Philip Roth We Don’t Know: Sex, Race, and Autobiography.
Follow Jacques on Twitter.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Jacques by someone else. It’s on my instagram.
And, because you read this far, here’s the painting that Roth owned, which Jacque’s agent sent him. As we said during the episode, there is NO way to do this justice: