Academic journal article Philip Roth Studies

Zuckerman Unsound?: A Roundtable Discussion on Philip Roth's Exit Ghost

Academic journal article Philip Roth Studies

Zuckerman Unsound?: A Roundtable Discussion on Philip Roth's Exit Ghost

Article excerpt

At the nineteenth annual American Literature Association Conference in 2008, the Philip Roth Society sponsored a roundtable discussion on Roth's Utest novel at the time, Exit Ghost (2007). This event was held on 24 May 2008, and what follows is an edited transcript of the conversation that took pUce among the various panelists and the attending audience members. The roundtable participants included Alan Cooper, professor emeritus in English at York College of CUNY and the author of Philip Roth and the Jews (1996); Bernard F. Rodgers, fr., the Emily H. Fisher Chair in Literature at Bard College at Simons Rock as well as author of Philip Roth (1978), Philip Roth: A Bibliography (1984), and Voices and Visions: Selected Essays (2002); Michael Rothberg, professor of English and director of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies Initiative at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, author of Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization (2009) and Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation (2000), and co-editor of "The Holocaust: Theoretical Readings (2003); Debra Shostak, professor of English at the College ofWooster and the author o/Philip Roth - Countertexts, Counterlives (2004); and Ruth Knafo Setton, writer in residence at the Philip and Muriel Berman Center for fewish Studies and professor of practice in the Department of English at Lehigh University as well as the author of 'The Road to Fez (2001) and the soon-to-be-published novel, The Zigzag Girl. Moderating the panel was Derek Parker Royal, associate professor of English at Texas A&M University-Commerce, founding executive editor of "Philip Roth Studies, and whose collection, Philip Roth: New Perspectives on an American Author, was published in 2005.

Derek Parker Royal: Welcome to our roundtable discussion on Exit Ghost. I'm Derek Parker Royal and I'll be moderating today's dialogue among our participants and the audience. Let me start by saying that this will be a roundtable discussion in the fullest sense. No one will read anything prepared. We want this to be a discussion among readers and scholars, and not only regarding those of us sitting here at the panel, but also with you in the audience. And we want to see where this discussion goes. We have no idea where this will end up, but it could be exciting.

I want to begin by considering my own experience in reading the novel. When it came out last year I didn't know what to make of it and think that many of my questions stemmed from the fact that Exit Ghost seemed different from the Zuckerman narratives we've had in the past several years, especially Zuckerman in the American Trilogy. It seemed to me something more reminiscent of the earlier Zuckerman novels, beginning in 1979 with The Ghost Writers and the ones immediately following that. I guess I want to ask the rest of you on the panel if you had a similar experience in your reading or what your thoughts are on the place oí Exit Ghost in Roth's overall work.

Alan Cooper: I saw it as the other bookend, of which The Ghost Writer was the first. That was a coming of age novel, and this is a going of age novel. It is very much involved in the whole question of age that Roth has been involved in with the last number of works. We sometimes miss the fact that Zuckerman has been impotent and incontinent for the last four novels. Mickey Sabbath was also looking at aging with great fear.

Bernard F. Rodgers, Jr.: I was thinking of that too. There's a line in American Pastoral where Zuckerman is still speaking in his own voice, and he says "Let us speak further of death and desire." If you think about it, all three Trilogy novels are recounting the life and death of a figure, and Zuckerman is impotent and incontinent. And then we have die latest series of novels that have been so much about death, so it seems to me that it actually fits in both ways. Zuckerman has had death on his mind even before Roth started writing books like Everyman (2006) or The Dying Animal (2001), or the new one Indignation (2008). …

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