Master of the Bad Name -- Sabbath's Theater by Philip Roth

By Bukiet, Melvin Jules | Tikkun, September 1995 | Go to article overview

Master of the Bad Name -- Sabbath's Theater by Philip Roth


Bukiet, Melvin Jules, Tikkun


Sabbath's Theater, by Philip Roth, Houghton Mifflin 1995, 451 pp. $24.95

Roth: "Read this, Doctor." (He hands Sabbath's Theater across the couch. It's a fat volume with a menstrual red coyer.) Spielvogel: (Six days later, spent, gasping.) "Oh, my Gott!" (He rests.)

***

The word "fucking" appears in the first sentence of Sabbath's Theater and in astonishing proliferation throughout the book, along with innumerable descriptions of no less explicit yet more esoteric varieties of sexual experience. This is not surprising coming from Philip Roth who has, through his decades' worth of alter egos or aliases--among others Neil Klugman, Alexander Portnoy, David Kepesh, Nathan Zuckerman, and Philip Roth--contrived one of the most remarkable series of variations on the theme of selfhood, especially sexual selfhood, of any writer alive. Yet although his new novel's protagonist is most definitely and defiantly male, Roth has transcended the boundaries of his gender. Here, the fingers of the main characters are no longer restrained to manipulating the organ of their creator, no longer traveling merely up and down, but in and out.

Appropriately, Mickey Sabbath is a puppeteer, his self-invented medium the seducing, cannibalizing finger puppet. Mickey loves these puppets, for "[t]here was nothing false or artificial about puppets, nor were they 'metaphors' for human beings. They were what they were." Sabbath works his art on the streets and is duly arrested for obscenity while performing at the gates of Columbia University, but is rescued by lawyers and patrons of the avant-arts, who subsidize The Indecent Theater of Manhattan. This is the early 1960s, and Mickey is married to Nikki, who abandons him while he's screwing Roseanna, with whom he flees the big city to isolation as assistant professor of puppeteering in some jerkwater college in Madamaska Falls, pop. 1,109, New England, America, where the years roll by. Sabbath's no metaphor for Roth, but his outrage against the public sensibility and his retreat to the bucolic countryside ring of the author as well as the protagonist.

The novel bounces back and forth in time, a Sabbatian odyssey of willful apostasy with each episode linked to a woman. Women, they come--and come-and go. In addition to the lost Nikki, there is Roseanna who also disappears, first into drink and then, worse, sobriety, while Sabbath fools with Kathy Goolsbee, a student whose tape of their dirty talk engenders a P.C. warlock hunt, and the wonderful Croatian hotelier, Drenka Ballich, whose final disappearance is due to cancer. "This shortish woman a little on the plump side, darkly pretty but with an oddly damaged-looking nose, this refugee who knew hardly anything of the world beyond her schoolgirl Split...seemed to Sabbath a woman of serious importance."

They are all important to Sabbath. Every woman he sees, he sees legs spread, welcoming. And Mickey is catholic; he loves them all, from a Latina maid to a menopausal mom, though there's also plenty of sniffing of adolescent panties. This is not loveless pornography, but passionate engagement with the bodily forms we inhabit and the smells and fluids we emit. Mickey Sabbath more than appreciates women; he adores them. In his own crude fashion, he respects them. Look at his description of a friend's wife, Michelle: "Hot flashes...Dipped, she is, in the very fire of fleeting time....Nothing quite touches Sabbath like these aging dishes with their promiscuous pasts and the pretty young daughters. Especially when they've still got it in them to laugh like this one....It's no fun burning on a pyre at dinner."

There is nearly unbearable pathos in Roth's devotion to threesomes, golden showers, whores and more whores. "Whores. Played a leading role in my life. Always felt at home with whores. Particularly fond of whores. The stew-like stink of those oniony parts. What has ever meant more to me? Real reason for existence then. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Master of the Bad Name -- Sabbath's Theater by Philip Roth
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.