Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Waxing Roth

Amazon.com has a pageful of neat stuff on Philip Roth's Exit Ghost, which brings us the latest adventures of Nathan Zuckerman.

Zuckerman returns to Manhattan after a decade-long self-imposed exile in the country, and finds people behaving strangely:
"For one who frequently went without talking to anyone for days at a time, I had to wonder what that had previously held them up had collapsed in people to make incessant talking into a telephone preferable to walking about under no one's surveillance, momentarily solitary, assimilating the street through one's animal senses and thinking the myriad thoughts that the activities of a city inspire."
There's a podcast interview with Roth, as well as an excerpt read by the author.

For fans of The Ghost Writer, Amy Bellette makes a reappearance. She's changed greatly, too, in a way that hits a tad too close to home for me, but makes the idea of reading this book as irresistible as the young Amy was to Zuckerman.


Okay, I've figured out why I'm not a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist. This is the part where Zuckerman's neighbor's brought him a couple of kittens to keep him company:

He'd brought the cats on a Thursday. I kept them through Sunday. During that time I did virtually no work on my book. Instead I spent my time throwing the cats their toys or stroking them, together or in turn in my lap, or just sitting and looking at them eating, or playing, or grooming themselves, or sleeping. I kept their litter box in a corner of the kitchen and at night put them in the living room and shut my bedroom door behind me. When I awoke in the morning the first thing I did was rush to the door to see them. There they would be, just beside the door, waiting for me to open it.

On Monday morning I phoned Larry and said, "Please come and take the cats."

"You hate them."

"To the contrary. If they stay, I'll never write another word. I can't have these cats in the house with me."

"Why not? What the hell is wrong with you?"

"They're too delightful."

That's like what Rilke said, that he couldn't live with anyone or any creature if he wanted to do his work, because he'd have to give even a dog his due.
Here it is: "More than ever all communication becomes the rival of what I want to accomplish, which is no doubt true of anyone who more and more has his mind set on one thing only, so that any giving, be it inward or external, is an expending of the very same thing, this one thing. A few days ago I was offered a dog; you can imagine what a temptation that was, especially since the secluded position of the house makes the presence of a watchdog almost advisable. But I felt at once that even this would result in much too much relationship, what with all the attention I would devote to such a housemate; every life that in some sense depends on me arouses in me an infinite obligation to do right by it, and then I always end up withdrawing painfully from the actual consequences of that obligation when I realize that they are using me up completely."

From a letter to Lou Andreas-Salomé, December 29, 1921; misquoted (from memory?) in Tillie Olsen's Silences, as part of the explanation for why women have created so much less great art than men.
Or maybe, probably, she was just quoting a different translation.
Tillie Olsen...Wasn't she one of the kids from "Little House on the Prairie"?

Seriously, while this may be good advice for those of us who do too damn much for other people, how far can you go in the other direction before you start acting like an autistic?
Oh, I quite agree. When I read that quote long ago, I thought, "Well, if that's what it takes to be a poet, I guess I'm not going to be no poet."
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