Saturday, June 5, 2021

the last book I ever read (Philip Roth: The Biography, excerpt sixteen)

from Philip Roth: The Biography by Blake Bailey:

The Philip Roth Society’s “Roth@80” conference was held at the Robert Treat Hotel, jammed with scholars from more than a dozen countries, including Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Romania, and India (whence came Gurumurthy Neelakantan, who gave a seminar on how Roth challenges “notions of purity” inherent in the Brahmin caste system). “That this scholarly organization is not necessarily an adoration society,” Steven Kellman wrote in Tablet, “was apparent in several presentations that emphasized Roth’s obsession with controlling every detail of his reputation, from cover to dust-jacket, from advertising to translation.” Indeed, Roth took pains to ensure that his own select group of luminaries would be on hand to pay homage—the great Edna O’Brien, for instance, whom he insisted on personally reimbursing ($6,735) for her plane ticket and a week’s stay at the Lotos Club on the Upper East Side. Joining O’Brien onstage at the Billy Johnson Auditorium—while the likes of Don DeLillo, Paul Auster, David Remnick, and Siri Hustvedt sat in the audience—was Jonathan Lethem, who “accepted the honor of batting lead-off in this highbrow’s lineup.” Roth’s favorite intellectuals, Alain Finkielkraut and Hermione Lee, discussed Nemesis and Shakespearean themes in Roth’s work, respectively, while Claudia Roth Pierpont put the kibosh on accusations of misogyny (“There are no generalizations to be made about Roth’s women, any more than about his men”). But O’Brien’s tender, unsparing speech was perhaps the most memorable, as much for its content as for the bardic relish of its delivery. A little reluctantly she admitted that Roth and she had never been lovers, as naturally rumored, and imparted a few revealing (versus purely flattering) anecdotes. “So, friends,” she concluded, “this is the tip of the iceberg, I can only give you a glimmer of the complexity of the man that is Philip Roth, feared and revered, plagiarized, envied, hermit and jester, love and hater, by his own admission foolish and yet fiercely formidable, too adorable for words, a true friend and undoubtedly one of Yeats’s Olympians.”

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