Sunday, March 16, 2014

MARCH 16 2014: AUTHOR PHILIP ROTH ON WRITING: “ALL REAL WORK IS HARD” (Writing certainly is—but is also deeply satisfying to the point of being joyous—at least as far as I am concerned. V.)

“Everybody has a hard job. All real work is hard. My work happened also to be undoable. Morning after morning for 50 years, I faced the next page defenseless and unprepared. Writing for me was a feat of self-preservation. If I did not do it, I would die. So I did it. Obstinacy, not talent, saved my life. It was also my good luck that happiness didn’t matter to me and I had no compassion for myself. Though why such a task should have fallen to me I have no idea. Maybe writing protected me against even worse menace.”

Philip Roth during an interview with Daniel Sandstrom, the cultural editor at Svenska Dagbladet, for publication in Swedish translation in that newspaper and in its original English in the New York Times Book Review.

Back in my pre-writing days, I vividly recall arriving for work at Doyle, Dane, Bernbach Advertising (DDB)—it was my very first day there—and encountering the extremely sexy receptionist, totally engrossed in Philip Roth’s PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT.

I received not a glance as I walked by.

The book, in case you haven’t read it, features a sexually obsessed protagonist who masturbates at every conceivable opportunity—and who eventually encounters a woman—called The Monkey (if memory serves)—who will do anything.

Roth somehow managed to write a sexually explicit book—which bore more than a passing resemblance to pornography—but which was marketed and accepted as a literary work. And that was then, when acceptance of the graphically sexual was less far advanced.

Chutzpah indeed! But he got away with it because he is a very fine writer—and it’s a pretty good book. It is also an honest book in that it describes how we actually think and behave as opposed to what we pretend. For some strange reason—which I don’t adequately understand—we are remarkably dishonest about sex; yet we all have sexual desires and fantasies. We may privately think some are really weird—but if we were more open about sex, I suspect that most would be not.

I’m coming around to the view that we should drop the sexual taboo completely, and worry much more about issues such as egregious corporate corruption, social injustice, and the degradation of our system of governance, which really are corroding our way of life.

Somehow, I don’t see sex—in all its pleasurable variations—as an existential threat to this Great Nation. We have—so to speak—got our priorities screwed.

Sexual explicitness is, when you think about it, no more than honesty—and that’s a quality which, like integrity and empathy, really is in short supply.

Sexuality—of whatever sort—is as natural breathing, And it represents love—a reaching out for affection--so why do we fight it?

Damned if I know. To have, to hold, to caress, and to love is nothing short of wonderful.

It is why we are here,


One way or another DDB—a famously creative agency I had first read about in the book MADISON AVENUE U.S.A. was quite an experience, and PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT an appropriate introduction.  It was a sexually charged, hedonistic environment—but out of it came some truly incredible creative work.

MAD MEN? With desires and women to match.

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