Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Gripes Of Roth

I just read the collected nonfiction of Philip Roth.  He's one of our best writers, with a keen perception of the human condition.  But being a liberal practically from birth, he can't help but attack whatever Republican is in office at the time, which becomes clear as you go through the years.

For instance, in 1960, he wrote a much talked about essay, "Writing In America Today." His thesis: America is in such a weird state that it's hard for writers to keep up. Who could invent Charles Van Doren, or Sherman Adams?  Or Dwight David Eisenhower?

The sentiment hasn't aged well, but, after all, he was an up-and-comer then, not yet 30, so perhaps he can be forgiven for his lack of perspective.  But he never seemed to learn, at least not for partisan purposes.

He couldn't attack Nixon enough (including in the 1960 essay, so it was a thing with Roth).  But why give examples, when he wrote an entire novel in 1971, Our Gang, just to get at Tricky Dick. (Gore Vidal did a similar thing around the same time with his play An Evening With Richard Nixon.)

You think Roth would get it out of his system, but every the rule became every new Republican president had to be unprecedentedly evil or stupid or unqualified or dangerous.

So we get this:

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, just where Orwell failed [....] It wasn't Big Brother who'd be watching us from the screen, but we who'd be watching a terrifyingly powerful world leader with the soul of an amiable, soap opera grandmother, the values of a civic-minded Beverly Hills Cadillac dealer, and the historical background and intellectual equipment of a high school senior in a June Allyson musical.

And this:

And now Aristophanes [...] has given us George W. Bush, a man unfit to run a hardware store let alone a nation like this one...

Roth stopped writing a few years ago.  Perhaps he'll come out of retirement to do a fill-in-the-blanks piece on Donald Trump.


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