Letting go of Philip Roth

Burke-Roth-HallmanJ.C. Hallman at The Baffler:

The phenomenon of Philip Roth’s “retirement”—and that seems to be what it is now, a phenomenon—is not about a writer’s vanity, an ego grown so massive it’s like a publicity black hole sucking up limelight that might have shined warmly on other equally deserving authors. Nor is it about an inability to shut up, even though Roth admitted that his decision to quit writing, announced abruptly in 2012, had triggered in him an impulse to “chatter.” (Almost everyone has taken this quotation out of context, and I have too, which means that “chatter” may be on its way to becoming one of those offhand remarks that gets used to make a famous person appear to mean the opposite of what he probably did mean.)

No, Roth’s announcement that he would leave the literary stage, followed by his conspicuous failure to do so in favor of a series of curtain calls, is about us—Roth’s audience, a community of readers. We’re the ones endlessly fascinated by Roth’s penchant to pontificate about himself in public, from an interview with the BBC aired last spring (titled “Philip Roth Unleashed”) to a promised appearance on The Colbert Report (reportedly scheduled for last summer, but apparently scrapped). Through it all, Roth continues to insist that he’s retreating into full Garbo mode. “You can write it down,” he told a reporter last May after a star turn at the 92nd Street Y. “This was absolutely the last public appearance I will make on any public stage, anywhere”—this just a week before collecting an award from the Yaddo writer’s retreat and two weeks before accepting an honorary doctorate at the conservative Jewish Theological Seminary.

more here.