Zadie Smith writes about Philip Roth, Writing, Literature, and Imperfection


Some words by Zadie Smith at the New Yorker remembering Philp Roth and human complexity. You can read the whole thing here:

“For Roth, literature was not a tool of any description. It was the venerated thing in itself. He loved fiction and (unlike so many half or three-quarter writers) was never ashamed of it. He loved it in its irresponsibility, in its comedy, in its vulgarity, and its divine independence. He never confused it with other things made of words, like statements of social justice or personal rectitude, journalism or political speeches, all of which are vital and necessary for lives we live outside of fiction, but none of which are fiction, which is a medium that must always allow itself, as those other forms often can’t, the possibility of expressing intimate and inconvenient truths.


Roth was an unusually patriotic writer, but his love for his country never outweighed or obscured his curiosity about it. He always wanted to know America, in its beauty and its utter brutality, and to see it in the round: the noble ideals, the bloody reality. A thing did not have to be perfect to engage him, and that went double for people, which, in Roth’s world, always really meant characters. The admixture of the admirable and the perverse that exists in people, the ideal and the absurd, the beautiful and the ugly, is what he knew and understood and always forgave, even if the people he so recorded did not always forgive him for noticing. It would probably drive him nuts to be told there was something ancient and rabbinical in this attraction to paradox and imperfection, but I’m going to say it anyway.”


About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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1 Response to Zadie Smith writes about Philip Roth, Writing, Literature, and Imperfection

  1. dmf says:

    wish I liked her novels more but she’s a great critique.

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