Philip Roth and Ethnic Writing
This chapter examines how Philip Roth responds to Jewish American readers and contexts in his fiction. Roth exploits the tensions and transitions in Jewish American political aspirations in the period, setting heated political debates about assimilation and particularism against different measurements of value in the novel. By using live cultural debates from the period, Roth courts ethnic categorization, while ultimately relativizing such categories in his attempt to pursue alternative understandings of literary value. In Roth’s earlier ‘Nathan Zuckerman’ fictions, the comedy and intelligence emerge through his practice of contrasting the ‘humble needs’ of a desiring body with the rush either to pass political judgement or to withdraw the novel from the complications of embodied life. The second half of the chapter demonstrates how Roth engages both directly and indirectly with the work of Hannah Arendt and the 1950s context for thinking about the Holocaust. This section of the chapter focuses in particular on an unpublished screenplay housed in Roth’s literary archive.
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