|Philip Montgomery photo of Philip Roth source|
If a writer's work works for you, nothing but your own life experience will separate you from that writer. If a writer's work doesn't work for you, it takes earth-moving-equipment-level effort to bring you to care about that writer.
Philip Roth died yesterday, and lots of old white male snobs, his demographic, are insisting that he was a great writer.
Me? Meh. I read one of his books, and it left me cold. I saw a movie based on one of his books, and it left me colder. And he hated me and others like me, Polaks, who are, as Roth put it, Jews' "worst enemy." At least Rabbi Warshaw, one of Roth's characters, put it that way. Note that Roth places his bigotry against Poles in the mouth of a man whose last name is a misspelling of the Polish capital, Warszawa or Warsaw.
Roth write a misogynist novel about jerking off, and he included Dumb-Polak-joke level comments about Polish people, and he won every literary award there is to win, except the Nobel.
If that isn't proof of the American elite's embrace of Bieganski, the Brute Polak Stereotype, I don't know what is. Ask yourself. If Roth had written about "Negroes" – a fusty term I associate with the old, white male snobs who love Roth – if Roth had written about African Americans the way he wrote about Polish people, would he have won any of those awards? Oh, come on!
Below are some snippets about Roth.
From my book, Bieganski, the Brute Polak Stereotype.
The process of firming and defining fragile group identity and solidarity through victimization and over and against a posited ethnic other of choice has been described in American- as well as Eastern European-Jewish literature. Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint provides an example. Portnoy, the novel protagonist, "recalls something that his father often said to him: 'A Polack's day ... isn't complete until he has dragged his big, dumb feet across the bones of a Jew' ... My father is right, these people are direct descendants of the ox." Alice Dembosky embodies the sensuality and stupidity of a stereotypical "dumb, blond, goyische beauty." This "Polack's plan" is to steal away a Jewish boy and "ruin his life." Uncle Hymie, using deceit and bribes, drives the threatening Polack away. Hymie's lies and bribery are justifiable; he is dealing with a Pole, an animal out to ruin Jews. Portnoy and his father agree on little else. On Bieganski, though, they can bond, and Portnoy, Roth, and his readers can experience the comforts of identity, whether they follow the six hundred thirteen commandments or not.
My Amazon review of The Plot Against America, Roth's book that depicts the Holocaust occurring in the US,
Question for fans who champion Philip Roth's "Plot against America" as a brilliant, moral analysis of anti-Semitism: How would you review a Palestinian "alterative history" that depicts Israelis feeding Palestinians into gas chambers? How would you review an "alternative history" by a real aid to former President Bill Clinton who depicts Clinton raping her, though he did not? A point blank question: what is the difference between an "alternative history," and a "lie"?
"Don't invent; just remember:" Roth announced as his dictum when he was writing "Plot." Thus Roth implicates himself as a case of self-induced False Memory Syndrome. This notorious condition, created by overzealous therapists, resulted in the jailing of innocent adults who had never harmed any child. *Real* child abuse -- like real anti-Semitism -- must be fought. It is exactly because anti-Semitism is so heinous that false charges of anti-Semitism are themselves so heinous.
Some individuals are so self-important, so divorced from common standards of decency, and so ravenous for unearned pity that they announce that they have been victimized when they have not. Philip Roth insists on imagining himself, Philip Roth, as the main character, the primary innocent victim, in the history of anti-Semitism in America. Like the woman who cries rape when she's never been touched, Roth does not care whom he slanders with his phony charge. He also does not care how much of the spotlight he hogs from real victims.
Slander Roth does. Yes, there was anti-Semitism in America in the interwar period. There was murderous hostility to largely Catholic Eastern and Southern Europeans, Asians, and blacks as well. But statistics speak volumes. So do the rows of white crosses above places like Normandy. Over sixteen million Americans fought fascism in WW II. Almost three hundred thousand Americans died. In "Plot," these lives were never lived, nor were they ever sacrificed.
Roth further lies about history by stating in so many words that Jews, and Jews alone, are the only imaginable victims. In fact, one would not have to imagine anything to write a genuine history of organized terror and mass murder in the case of twentieth century African American history. Too, not only Jews, as Roth insists here, were victimized by the Nazis; Gypsies, Homosexuals, Poles, Soviets, Jehovah's Witnesses, trade unionists, etc, were also targeted.
Roth's further twisting of facts abounds on every page. Pacifists and others who did not want to enter WW II had reasons other than anti-Semitism for their hesitation. Millions, including Americans, had just fought in WW I, and, by many assessments, had thereby accomplished nothing. Lindbergh and others who resisted America's entry into the war often criticized the British "race" as much as they criticized Jews, because Brits wanted America in the war. Walter Winchell, Roth's hero, was a vicious homophobe who destroyed careers of those who would not play along with him.
Hog the spotlight from real victims Roth also does. As the book makes its splashy debut, a real genocide is taking place in Darfur. If Roth were the least bit moral, he could use his fame to draw attention to the tens of thousands already dead in Darfur, and the millions slated to die.
As literature, the book is empty. Roth's opening descriptions of Newark are pedestrian. That's to be expected. Readers will rush these early passages to reach the "money shots," the titillating, "true" depictions of rabid Kentucky goyim burning Jews alive.
Roth's distortions are not random. They are part of a struggle to redefine Nazism. Authors like James Carroll, in his "Constantine's Sword," have been working to define Nazism as an expression of Christianity. For this definition to make sense, many historical facts must disappear, for example, that Nazis persecuted Christian populations, and that Nazis defined their own movement as an expression of ancient paganism and modern science.
In this profoundly immoral view, all Christians are essentially anti-Semites, and all Jews are essentially victims. This view can never explain genocides like that by Muslims against fellow Muslims in Darfur, and so, that genocide is best ignored. Much else must be ignored, including the millions of Americans who fought against fascism. One can see how "Plot" services this worldview.
Roth has lived, and now lives, a comfortable life, rich with rewards that any human might envy. He has written two books, "Portnoy's Complaint" and "Goodbye Columbus," that earned him hatred from Jews who denounced him as a self-hating Jew. With "Plot," Roth is trying to have his cake and eat it too. Don't swallow it.
Read Romeo Dallaire's "Shake Hands with the Devil" to understand genocide in our own day. Read Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning," to discover how one real survivor dealt with his real Holocaust experience. Read more recent books by survivors like Bernat Rosner and Betty Schimmel. And then read Roth. There will be no comparison.
From my Amazon review of Claire Bloom's book, Leaving a Doll's House.
Bloom's husband, the author Philip Roth, insists that a skunk has anti-Semitic feelings toward him. This anecdote goes a long way towards explaining Roth's new book, "The Plot Against America."
Pages 195-220 contain, without comment, Bloom's diary entries from a particularly rocky time in her marriage to Roth. This is the best, rawest, most detailed writing in the book.
As others report, Philip Roth is depicted here -- believably -- as a demented and sadistic man. He is also clearly depicted as an object of genuine pathos. It must be hard to be Roth's wife; it must also be hard to be Roth. Without ever using the term, Bloom creates a vivid portrayal of Roth as a kind of idiot savant with Borderline Personality Disorder.
Reading of Roth's self-induced wounds of greed -- he demanded that Bloom pay him huge sums of money as compensation for the time he spent with her -- paranoia, and sheer unhappiness is like reading of a patient tormented by self-induced skin rashes. It's simply hard to watch, and you can't help but say a prayer for his speedy recovery.
*** Below is my review of The Human Stain, a 2003 film based on the 2000 Roth novel.
"The Human Stain" is the product of Philip Roth's ego and attention deficit disorder. Roth's ego: characters are obsessed with Jews, because Roth is obsessed with his own Jewish identity. Naked, beautiful, young women throw themselves at wizened, physically unattractive college professors, because Roth is an older man. A novelist saves the day, because Roth is a novelist. There is not a single believable female character in the movie. There are four melodramatic deaths. A character who had been a coward and a traitor in one of the first scenes accuses himself – unbelievably – during a eulogy in one of the last scenes. There are two scenes where very beautiful women perform private stripteases for ogling men – porn for pseudo-intellectuals. Yawn.
Attention deficit disorder: the script attempts to address Clinton's impeachment, stereotypical "White Trash," crazed, homicidal, Vietnam veterans, the issue of passing, artistic burnout, college town hypocrisy, and political correctness. Even a gifted novelist would find it impossible to work all those themes into a coherent and effective narrative. Roth drops the ball big time here; every theme he attempts is aborted. But, Roth is a genius, so if we aren't swept off our feet by the fruits of Roth's labor, it's because we are too small to appreciate his great genius. That, in a nutshell, is the naked emperor syndrome. Feh. Step aside. Make room for better writers.
Though "The Human Stain" is a failure, in spite of itself, it contains some worthy work. Wentworth Miller, as the young Coleman Silk, the character Antony Hopkins plays in advanced age, is stunning. Miller is supercharged with star power and it is to be hoped that he goes far. Ed Harris can do no wrong. He elevates and ignites every moment of his screen time that we are lucky enough to enjoy – even when the character Harris is playing, as here, is a two-dimensional stereotype of a homicidal, wife beating, anti-Semitic, lower class white, Vietnam veteran. This is a stereotype so shallow a tyro writer could produce it based on watching grade B movies. Nicole Kidman never escapes the two dimensional, derivative, and divorced from real life quality of her character, a foul-mouthed, chain smoking, poor white nymphomaniac with a craving for plump old men. If Roth gets his homicidal Vietnam Vet characters from B movies, he gets his female characters from pulp fiction. And just from the paperback *covers* of pulp fiction. Not even from reading the text. It's actually kinda scary to contemplate how divorced Roth and his readers are from real poor white people, real women, real Vietnam veterans.
There is a very fine early scene where Professor Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) is berated and threatened by a committee of self-righteous, politically correct, hypocritical, gasbag, (redundant, I know) college professors who falsely accuse Silk of making a racist remark. The scene is very well played. But it is never anything more than an anecdote. Journalism has outstripped fiction's ability to comment on events like this. Want to read about politically correct shenanigans on campus? Read "Until Proven Innocent" about the legal and media lynching of the Duke lacrosse players. Roth's novel can't begin to match that account. As for Roth's stripteases? Free on the internet.
Finally, I'm a Jersey girl. My parents lived in Newark but had to leave. They, categorized as "white," were targets of violent rage our people played no historical role in generating. At least one of my older brothers was born in Newark. I've worked in Newark and I go to Newark several times a year for medical care. That Roth was born in Newark means nothing to me as a Jersey girl or as a New Jersey reader. Roth does not write for me.
New Jersey's most important living wordsmith is almost certainly Bruce Springsteen. Listen to his lyrics; read his 2016 memoir, Born to Run. Springsteen captures, and evokes, much of New Jersey life. Few of us are rock stars, but any of us could have walked along the boardwalk, or negotiated race relations in a shifting landscape, or interacted with immigrant ancestors or close relatives with mental illness. Springsteen's description of his father's body is one of the most powerful passages I've ever read.