Philip Roth

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Philip Milton Roth (born 1933-03-19) is an American novelist. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for his novel American Pastoral.


  • The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.
  • When you publish a book, it’s the world’s book. The world edits it.
    • "A Visit with Philip Roth," interview with James Atlas, The New York Times Book Review (1979-09-02), p. BR1
  • To become a celebrity is to become a brand name. There is Ivory Soap, Rice Krispies, and Philip Roth. Ivory is the soap that floats; Rice Krispies the breakfast cereal that goes snap-crackle-pop; Philip Roth the Jew who masturbates with a piece of liver.
    • "The Ghosts of Roth," interview with Alan Finkielkraut, Esquire (September 1981)
  • This indictment is a kind of fever that flares up from time to time. It flared up after "Defender of the Faith," again after "Goodbye Columbus," and understandably it went way up — to about 107 — after "Portnoy's Complaint." Now there's just a low-grade fever running, nothing to worry about.
  • I write fiction and I’m told it’s autobiography, I write autobiography and I’m told it’s fiction, so since I’m so dim and they’re so smart, let them decide what it is or it isn’t.
  • I cannot and do not live in the world of discretion, not as a writer, anyway. I would prefer to, I assure you — it would make life easier. But discretion is, unfortunately, not for novelists.
    • Deception: A Novel

Goodbye, Columbus (1959)

  • Oh Patimkin! Fruit grew in their refrigerator and sporting goods dropped from their trees!
  • ...her breasts swam towards me like two pink-nosed fish and she let me hold them.

Portnoy's Complaint (1969)

  • A Jewish man with parents alive is a fifteen-year-old boy, and will remain a fifteen-year-old boy till they die.
  • It’s a family joke that when I was a tiny child I turned from the window out of which I was watching a snowstorm, and hopefully asked, "Momma, do we believe in winter?"
  • My God! The English language is a form of communication! Conversation isn’t just crossfire where you shoot and get shot at! Where you’ve got to duck for your life and aim to kill! Words aren’t only bombs and bullets — no, they’re little gifts, containing meanings!
    • Ch. 4: "The Most Prevalent Form of Degradation in Erotic Life"
  • Only in America, Rabbi Golden, do these peasants, our mothers, get their hair dyed platinum at the age of sixty, and walk up and down Collins Avenue in Florida in pedalpushers and mink stoles — and with opinions on every subject under the sun. It isn’t their fault they were given a gift like speech — look, if cows could talk, they would say things just as idiotic.
    • Part 5: "Cunt Crazy"
  • I am thirteen. At long last, not a cored apple. Not an empty milk bottle greased with vaseline, but a girl in a slip, with two tits and a cunt -and a mustache, but who am I to be picky.
  • I'm not trying to turn you into a bourgeois, Naomi. If the bed is too luxurious, we can do it on the floor.
  • ...and then this amazing creature -to whom no one has ever said "Shah!" or "I only hope your children will do the same to you someday!"

The Counterlife (1986)

  • Circumcision is startling, all right, particularly when performed by a garlicked old man upon the glory of a newborn body, but then maybe that’s what the Jews had in mind and what makes the act seem quintessentially Jewish and the mark of their reality. Circumcision makes it clear as can be that you are here and not there, that you are out and not in — also that you’re mine and not theirs.... Quite convincingly, circumcision gives the lie to the womb-dream of life in the beautiful state of innocent prehistory, the appealing idyll of living "naturally," unencumbered by man-made ritual. To be born is to lose all that. The heavy hand of human values falls upon you right at the start, marking your genitals as its own.
    • Ch. 5
  • England’s made a Jew of me in only eight weeks, which, on reflection, might be the least painful method. A Jew without Jews, without Judaism, without Zionism, without Jewishness, without a temple or an army or even a pistol, a Jew clearly without a home, just the object itself, like a glass or an apple.
    • Ch. 5
  • Is an intelligent human being likely to be much more than a large-scale manufacturer of misunderstanding?
    • Ch. 5
  • All I can tell you with certainty is that I, for one, have no self, and that I am unwilling or unable to perpetrate upon myself the joke of a self.... What I have instead is a variety of impersonations I can do, and not only of myself — a troupe of players that I have internalised, a permanent company of actors that I can call upon when a self is required.... I am a theater and nothing more than a theater.
    • Ch. 5

Paris Review Interview (1986)

Interview with Hermione Lee (summer 1983 - winter 1984), Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, seventh series, Viking/Penguin, 1986, ISBN 0-140-08500-9

  • I don't ask writers about their work habits. I really don't care. Joyce Carol Oates says somewhere that when writers ask each other what time they start working and when they finish and how much time they take for lunch, they're actually trying to find out, "Is he as crazy as I am?" I don't need that question answered.
  • Any satirist writing a futuristic novel who had imagined a President Reagan during the Eisenhower years would have been accused of perpetrating a piece of crude, contemptible, adolescent anti-American wickedness, when, in fact, he would have succeeded, as prophetic sentry, where Orwell failed.
  • When I was first in Czechoslovakia, it occurred to me that I work in a society where as a writer everything goes and nothing matters, while for the Czech writers I met in Prague, nothing goes and everything matters. This isn't to say I wished to change places. I didn't envy their persecution and the way in which it heightens their social importance. I didn't even envy them their seemingly more valuable and serious themes. The trivialization, in the West, of much that's deadly serious in the East is itself a subject, one requiring considerable imaginative ingenuity to transform into compelling fiction.
  • You ask if I thought my fiction had changed anything in the culture and the answer is no. Sure, there's been some scandal, but people are scandalized all the time; it's a way of life for them. It doesn't mean a thing. If you ask if I want my fiction to change anything in the culture, the answer is still no. What I want is to possess my readers while they are reading my book — if I can, to possess them in ways that other writers don't. Then let them return, just as they were, to a world where everybody else is working to change, persuade, tempt, and control them. The best readers come to fiction to be free of all that noise, to have set loose in them the consciousness that's otherwise conditioned and hemmed in by all that isn't fiction.

The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography (1988)

  • Obviously the facts are never just coming at you but are incorporated by an imagination that is formed by your previous experience. Memories of the past are not memories of facts but memories of your imaginings of the facts.
    • Opening letter to Nathan Zuckerman
  • Undermining experience, embellishing experience, rearranging and enlarging experience into a species of mythology.
    • Opening letter to Nathan Zuckerman.
    • Referring to the life of a fiction writer
  • Just like those who are incurably ill, the aged know everything about their dying except exactly when.
    • Opening letter to Nathan Zuckerman
  • It isn’t that you subordinate your ideas to the force of the facts in autobiography but that you construct a sequence of stories to bind up the facts with a persuasive hypothesis that unravels your history’s meaning.
    • Opening letter to Nathan Zuckerman

Everyman (2006)

  • Why must he mistrust his life just when he was more its master than he'd been in years?.
  • Should he ever write an autobiography, he'd call it The Life and Death of a Male Body.
  • I'm sure the liars as skillful and persistent and devious as you reach the point where it's the one you are lying to, and not you, who seems like the one with the serious limitations.
  • Old age isn't a battle; old age is a massacre.


  • The cruelest thing anyone can do to Portnoy’s Complaint is to read it twice.
    • Irving Howe, quoted in Thomas Fleming, "The War between Writers and Reviewers," The New York Times (1985-01-06)

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