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Philip Roth: A writer’s life

Philip Roth

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The week’s best art and culture reads – including an interview with a great American novellist, Raymond Chandler at the Oscars and the secret life of WH Auden.

Imaginary Jews
Michael Walzer | New York Review of Books | 3 March 2014
David Nirenberg’s “brilliant, fascinating, and deeply depressing” new book, Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition, is “an intellectual history of Western civilization, seen from a peculiar but frighteningly revealing perspective”. It shows how centuries of “Christian heresies, political tyrannies, medieval plagues, capitalist crises, and revolutionary movements” have been blamed upon the imaginary behaviour of “imagined Jews”.

Philip Roth: My life as a writer
Daniel Sandstrom | New York Times | 2 March 2014
Interview in which Roth looks back over his work and declares its recurrent theme to be “masculine power impaired… My intention is to present my fictional men not as they should be but vexed as men are.” His work as a writer is done, he says: “Now I am a bird sprung from a cage. It is now truly a great relief, something close to a sublime experience, to have nothing more to worry about than death.”

Liam Neesons, though!
Wesley Morris | Grantland | 28 February 2014
Terse, fizzy, fun film review. “Anyone planning to see Non-Stop should probably just go see it. This is one of those near-perfect, peeled-onion, airplane-hijacking thrillers in which each removed layer brings you closer to a single, happy tear… The filmmakers love the junk they’re making. Non-Stop is like a hamburger that would’ve been fine as just meat on a bun. But the accumulation of fixings starts to blow your mind”.

The Secret Auden
Edward Mendelson | New York Review of Books | 27 February 2014
On the “secret life” of WH Auden. In public he portrayed himself as “rigid or uncaring”, but in private he was “generous and honorable”. He gave freely to needy friends and charities. He helped young and struggling poets. He was “disgusted by his early fame”, and preferred to be seen as “less than he was”. He was not a Christian, but he felt “an absolute obligation” to love his neighbour as himself.

Fate urg’d the sheers
Times Literary Supplement | 26 February 2014
Notes on the 300th anniversary of the publication of Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock, a mock-epic poem about “a bizarre episode” involving a row between two families over the theft of a lock of hair. It was Pope’s third major work and he was still just 25. His royalties were meagre. But the boost to his reputation enabled him to negotiate a contract for his next work, an Iliad translation that made him rich.

Terry Eagleton: The Jeremy Clarkson of philosophy
Jonathan Rée | The Guardian | 26 February 2014
Eagleton “came to fame in the 70s as the Oxford English don who was also a self-confessed revolutionary socialist, or, if you prefer, as the revolutionary socialist who was also a self-confessed Oxford don”. His “verve and cogency” conceal a lack of depth. He is “the Jeremy Clarkson of philosophy, giving high-performance ideas a quick spin, but making a point of not taking anything very seriously.”

Oscar night in Hollywood
Raymond Chandler | Atlantic | 1 March 1948
Chandler’s critique hits the target today as surely as it did when he wrote it 66 years ago. “It doesn’t really seem to make much difference how the voting is done. The quality of the work is still only recognized in the context of success. A superb job in a flop picture would get you nothing, a routine job in a winner will be voted in. It is against this background of success-worship that the voting is done”.

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