Academic journal article Shofar

Textualizing the Self: Adultery, Blatant Fictions, and Jewishness in Philip Roth's Deception

Academic journal article Shofar

Textualizing the Self: Adultery, Blatant Fictions, and Jewishness in Philip Roth's Deception

Article excerpt

This article examines how Philip Roth's Deception, by enmeshing fiction with autobiography, enlarges the definition of reality. The artist-hero of the text is guilty of deception in both practicing adultery and in adulterating reality by his blatant fictions. Strangely enough, the protagonist's Jewishness lies at the heart of these deceptions. Deception, thus, qualifies as a portrait of the artist as an adulterous Jew.

Philip Roth's Deception1 returns to some of the novelist's familiar concerns,2 even while its techniques of narration are radically experimental.3 The story at the core of the narrative is "the story of an imagination in love" (D, 183). In Deception, Roth for once dispenses with Nathan Zuckerman, his alter ego, in narrating the events that comprise the novel. Enmeshing fiction with autobiography4 and thereby creating intriguing possibilities of reading a situation or a character, Roth succeeds in addressing certain concerns characteristic of metafiction5 in this novel. The novel nearly abandons exposition in favor of dialogue for narrative purposes, and this technique often creates a vivid dramatic impact.

The protagonist of Deception is thinly disguised Philip Roth himself, an AmericanJewish novelist, who for the most part of the novel's present lives in London. Owing to "cultural dissatisfactions" (D, 47) as he puts it, Philip spends most of his day in his one-room studio working on his novel The Counterlife.6 He falls in love with Maria, a married Englishwoman, who seeks solace in his company for the troubles of her unhappy married life. Though she is unnamed in the novel, she is later identified as a model for Maria in The Counterlife. As in The Counterlife, Roth conflates her with other women whom he knew intimately in order to implicate himself deeper into his "story of an imagination in love" (D, 183). Accordingly, the sections where Philip and Maria converse are juxtaposed by sections where Roth talks to ex-patriot Czechs, former lovers, and even a Polish woman interested in politics. As Jay Halio aptly points out, "Counterpointing, heightening, and sometimes mirroring the dialogues with Maria, they [these sections] are on sex, infidelity, family and work, psychotherapy, sleeplessness, divorce lawyers, English anti-Semitism, and other subjects."7

Philip, the protagonist, clearly has an adulterous relationship with Maria. "Roth's new novel [Deception]," Johnson argues, "is about adultery, in a manner of speaking."8 If adultery is the theme, it also serves to structure the narrative in ways that make it possible to see the Rothian artist as an incorrigible adulterer.9 To commit adultery and to write fiction, both, in effect, mean a sanction for deception. There is nothing pristine or sacred, according to Rom, about the artistic process: it is a game where the artist constantly betrays others, stealing their words and deceiving them. Halio observes, "Roth plays games of deception and betrayal, 'impersonates' himself, 'ventriloquizes' himself, and has a thoroughly good time experimenting with what for him is also a new form of fiction."10 In an interview shortly after Deception was published, Roth had expressed his passion for play. "What a writer has on tap, he said, 'is the capacity ... to play. I'm in here trying to find out what the game is. . . . What I'm doing is looking to find out how to play'."11

The artist and adulterer in Philip is drawn to only those women who have a way with words. Appropriately, when confronted with his wife's charge that he had portrayed his affair with Rosalie Nichols in his notebook,'2 Philip loses his temper and rants: "She's not, she's words - and try as I will, I cannot fuck words!" (D, 186). He exhibits an irresistible fascination for the seductive movement of the narrative. To Maria's complaint mat he is often indifferent when she talks to him, Philip responds: "I'm listening. I listen. I'm an ecouteur - an audiophiliac. I'm a talk fetishist" (D, 42). …

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