Thursday, November 30, 2006
Philip Roth's visit
Philip Roth visited the program to talk about his latest book, "Everyman.'' I thought his reflections on this dark book were inspiring and bleak at the same time. When asked if his vision, with every book, is getting darker, he said, "well, I know more people who've died -- colleagues, friends, family members falling off the ledge. If you're a writer, you are in tune to what is around you. I'm just trying to stay on top of my experiences. It's strange how you fail to understand things throughout your life, how you fail to understand deeply what you haven't experienced, even if you've watched somoene go through something and felt empathy toward them. Your (direct) experience piles up.'' In his book, he has the narrator 'converse,' or think he is conversing, with lost loved ones. "We do know (these conversations) take place all the time but they are imaginary,'' he said. "People push aside the fact that this is themselves talking to themselves.'' He also has a scene in which the narrator has a "moment of buoyancy'' when his best, most sensual memories flood back to him just before he goes under for an operation, and dies. One student asked if those good memories help to end the book on an 'optimistic' note. Roth said no. "The joke's on him,'' he said. Though the subject matter was bleak (because his latest book is so bleak), there were some (somewhat) lighter moments when he talked a bit about his process. For one thing, as most people know, he writes standing up, at a stand-up desk. "I walk around a lot,'' he said. "I walk a mile for a sentence. When you're a writer, you're kind of like a beggar, begging for the next sentence. You should walk around with a cup in your hand.'' He also spoke about the writers that formed him. (Henry James, ''elaborate style, ridiculous and grand,'' Faulkner ('a devastating discovery, rich, comic, and mean' ) Thomas Wolfe ('elegiac, lyrical, sometime bombastic, a great portraitist)'' and dozens of others.