Playful and Serious: Philip Roth as a Comic Writer

Playful and Serious: Philip Roth as a Comic Writer

Playful and Serious: Philip Roth as a Comic Writer

Playful and Serious: Philip Roth as a Comic Writer

Excerpt

Few contemporary American writers have stirred the minds and emotions of their readers as Philip Roth has done. Even fewer writers have excelled in various forms of the comic as Roth has for over a half century. Virtually every critic and reviewer refers to his comic genius in glowing terms, but only a few have attempted to confront his comic mastery, to explain its genesis, or to analyze it in detail. So we decided to assemble a group of outstanding Roth scholar/critics to focus their attention on the different ways Roth brings his comic tendencies to bear on his essentially serious topics. We use the term “comic” here loosely enough to include humor, irony, satire, comedy, black comedy, and their variations. As coeditor Ben Siegel points out, Roth’s special humor often appears to grow “more surrealistic and obsessive, as in each new fiction he tries not merely to surpass the daily news but to touch what is deeply private and dark in the modern psyche.” In the process, he targets “his society’s most deeply embedded pieties and hypocrisies, enthusiasms and lunacies.” Roth’s special targets are “America’s hyper-patriots and racists, her adolescent sexists and media vulgarians.” Or, as Roth himself puts it in an early essay, “After Ten Books”: “Sheer Playfulness and Deadly Seriousness are my closest friends; it is with them that I take those walks in the country at the end of the day. I am also on friendly terms with Deadly Playfulness, Playful Playfulness, Serious Playfulness, Serious Seriousness, and Sheer Sheerness. From the last, however, I get nothing; he just wrings my heart and leaves me speechless” (Reading Myself and Others, 111). Our collection takes account of the majority of Roth’s works, beginning with some of his earliest stories and ending with the latest novel published as of this writing. It includes an account of several relatively neglected works, such as “Novotny’s Pain” and “On the Air,” but the essays in this volume deal mainly . . .
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