Academic journal article Philip Roth Studies

The Plot against Philip Roth *

Academic journal article Philip Roth Studies

The Plot against Philip Roth *

Article excerpt

The PRS inbox is overflowing with queries regarding Philip Roth's premature death. While obviously discomfited by this alleged news, published in a journal we need not disclose, rest assured that our position has been, and remains, Roth won't die until we, his readers, do. Unfortunately, some of you mock what you call our naïve high-mindedness. Without Roth around to crank out books every year like clockwork, the mockers assert, what the hell are we going to have to write about? Jobs are on the line here! Given such hostility, we are almost relieved that others have chosen the comfort of denial. Pointing to his recent emails to The New Yorker concerning the confidence man we just elected President, more than a few of you have dismissed the report as false. As one wag says, the story, not Roth, is DOA.

Denial, however, is not a position PRS can endorse. Consequently, we believe it our duty to share with you news so unsettling that its bearers have invented aliases and fake email accounts in order to relay to us the information without blowback. We initially dismissed these Secret Rothians, as our editors labeled them. Since they are so obviously steeped in the kabbalah, David said, they loved conspiracies for their own sake. Exactly, Deb replied. If one didn't already exist, they'd invent it and ask how long you had been hiding it. At which point, David asked Deb how long she had been hiding this particular conspiracy and soon thereafter I was asked to provide this preamble to what we have been able to glean so far.

The charge is that this report of Roth's "final hours" is the tip of the iceberg of a cover-up so vast in its scope that it has grave consequences for Roth and, perhaps more importantly, our status as Roth critics. Based in part on careful, expert readings of Roth's oeuvre, the Secret Rothians claim that none of Roth's books since Sabbath's Theater is authentic: that is, written by Roth. Relying on information not yet verified, they insist that in 1995 a gang of creative writing students, at the instigation of creative writing instructors jealous of Roth's success, killed Roth, cremated his body, hijacked his identity, and, with the aid of the notorious Jackal Wiley, proceeded to counterfeit every Roth novel since Sabbath's Theater. For fifteen years evolving teams of MFA aspirants, having enrolled in a seminar called "Learning to Write Like Philip Roth," were locked down in a fortified basement in Iowa City. Led by the Jackal and his surrogates, rotating members of the Creative Writing faculty, these sequestered "writers" were held hostage until they had produced a "Roth quality" novel, at which point they were freed from bondage, graduated, and sworn to silence on penalty of death so that what was done to them could be repeated without retaliation upon the next class. The arrangement had its perks, naturally. The Jackal secured the newly minted MFAs book contracts and provided them with advance blurbs already on file from his stable of "writers" for their own future books, not ruling out the prospect of manufacturing these projects from future classes of as yet "untrained" writers. Their supervisors kept mum about their roles in the conspiracy in exchange for tenure. We have been reliably informed that many are now much sought after as Creative Writing Gurus at Syracuse, Houston, and CalArts, among other locales, where the conspiracy had been spread.

How, you ask, could this happen right under our noses? Wasn't PRS reviewing the novels as they happened? Shouldn't somebody have known? The editors of PRS acknowledge a breach in security may have occurred, but hasten to add that such a breach, if it happened, happened under previous editorial guidance. Our new policy is to bring the news to you as we receive it.

Brace yourselves.

According to the Secret Rothians, in 2010, after Nemesis was completed, there was some kind of coordinated revolt on the Iowa and Syracuse campuses and thus no Roth novels have been published since. …

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