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February 02, 2009

Comments

D G Myers

Exactly. It is my extraordinary claim that the real butt of the joke is Nathan Zuckerman. Roth was forty-six when he wrote the novel. He looked back on similar accusations that had been made against him when he, like Nathan, was twenty-two and just starting out. He too had been accused of irresponsibility toward his family and the Jews. Two decades later he had come to understand and acknowledge the justice of those accusations—to understand and acknowledge the pain he had caused. He had arrived, that is, at the point of agreeing with Judge Wapter, but he wanted to say it differently. (The vulgarity, he saw, belonged not to Wapter’s judgment, but to its style.) So Roth wrote a novel in which he pretended to be a 22-year-old novelist, laughing at the Wapters, in order to shake his head at the spectacle the young novelist is making of himself, who is too young—too close to the spectacle, too much the protagonist of his own drama—fully to realize what is going on.

bianca steele

"Exactly. It is my extraordinary claim that the real butt of the joke is Nathan Zuckerman."
Nathan Zuckerman is the point of view character. I should think it would be extraordinary if the belief system that prevails in the novel were that of a character who barely participates in the narrative and is aware of none of it, to whom the protagonist and almost all the major characters are hostile, and whose views are represented only in a set piece of a few pages.

"Roth was forty-six when he wrote the novel. He looked back on similar accusations that had been made against him when he, like Nathan, was twenty-two and just starting out."
Not sure what you’re getting at, here.

"He too had been accused of irresponsibility toward his family and the Jews."
True -- at least regarding his alleged failures of responsibility toward the Jewish people. I remember a High Holy Days sermon in which Roth and Freud were called out as self-hating Jews. But I’m not sure of the details. In _Portnoy’s Complaint_ the narrator’s mother is portrayed as castrating in a nearly literal manner, and then there is the graphically portrayed sexual immorality. Milton Appel is based on the then well-known and well-regarded Irving Howe. I don’t remember who Wapter is based on. I can’t remember any more offhand. Regarding his family, that might be true of Zuckerman, the fictional character, but if I recall correctly, Roth has said in interviews that his own experience was different.

"Two decades later he had come to understand and acknowledge the justice of those accusations—to understand and acknowledge the pain he had caused. He had arrived, that is, at the point of agreeing with Judge Wapter, but he wanted to say it differently. (The vulgarity, he saw, belonged not to Wapter’s judgment, but to its style.)"
I think the novel is more likely about the same dilemma Cynthia Ozick was talking about when she said she had tried too hard to be Henry James when she was just starting out.

"So Roth wrote a novel in which he pretended to be a 22-year-old novelist, laughing at the Wapters, in order to shake his head at the spectacle the young novelist is making of himself, who is too young—too close to the spectacle, too much the protagonist of his own drama—fully to realize what is going on."
I don’t like the idea of a novelist who doesn’t like people, and I’d prefer to pretend Roth isn’t one of those for as long as I can.

Josh

Bianca, Roth gives a great account of the reception given to "Goodbye Columbus," in Reading Myself and Others. Dunno when it was written, but it doesn't substantiate DGM's argument. I expect some of NZ's views in the novel are Roth's and some are not.

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