Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Judge withdraws over Philip Roth's Booker win

"Author and publisher Carmen Callil has withdrawn from the judging panel of the Man Booker International prize over its decision to honour Philip Roth with the £60,000 award. Dismissing the Pulitzer prize-winning author, Callil said that "he goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It's as though he's sitting on your face and you can't breathe".

Personally, I have always found something in Roth's work which piques my interest and captures my attention - despite the fact that I am neither male, Jewish, American, have not lived through the post-war years and do not suffer from the complaint of compulsive masturbation. All of these are themes of Roth's literature, and I can only assume it is the ongoing engagement with them throughout his work which is being referred to by Callil as oppressive. One article, critical of Callil's decision, notes that:

"Her expertise is as an ebullient and pioneering feminist publisher from the 1970s. It's hardly a surprise that she should find herself unresponsive to Roth's lifelong subject: the adventures of the ordinary sexual (American) man."

I find it interesting that one's response to literature should be considered in terms of the degree to which the reader is able to personally identify with the subject matter. Do we not read (to some degree) in order to transcend our individual experience, in order for our mind to be opened to ideas that come from beyond the sphere of the personal? Why, then, should we be unable to 'relate' to a novel that deals with themes that are unfamiliar to us? Why indeed, should we disregard as irrelevant to our selves any novel that we cannot 'relate' to anyhow?

I think Roth is great; I have written on his American Pastoral during my studies and I think it is an amazing piece of work. It's subtle, nuanced, complex. Even a year after I first read it, I found my perspective on the novel changing as I unpicked more of the text. He avoids presenting us with one definitive angle of interpretation and incorporates a polyphony of voices towards which he manages to be simultaneously both critical and sympathetic. It's a sad book, it's darkly funny, it's fantastically well crafted, it's powerful, it's elegiac and it has very little to do with anything that I have directly experienced in my life thus far. The last factor has never had the slightest bearing on my appreciation of the novel.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

“The workers frequently gave names to their machines, so my grandfather was working with Ginny. They were making their money, going back and forth like this: the machine would come down and stamp the part out of metal, and he would take it out and put it on a pile. But one day he made a mistake, and put his hand in when he should have taken it out. And that one time, the machine refused to come down. That’s what it means to be in tune with the machine, to feel it’s spirit.”

On the community of man and machine