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On Writing > Roth and the Sources of the Human Stain

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message 1: by Robert (new)

Robert Corbett (robcrowe00) | 169 comments The Human Stain by Philip Roth

The situation is comic--you sir are not regarded as authority about what you wrote--but the reality is sad. And after reading this letter, I am not sure I could ever write something here about Philip Roth. He knows his facts and why he puts things the way he does. Perhaps writing about race does act like honey for people who would misconstrue willfully, and I am too influenced by Harold Bloom's argument not to think that misreading and misconstruction are inextricable to a reading. But this situation is farcical and insult to the real inspiration of Roth's novel.

message 2: by Adrian (new)

Adrian | 253 comments Good grief! I wonder if Roth stayed around to read the bizarre commentary on that blog.

To be honest, I couldn't finish The Human Stain. Perhaps it would have been more interesting & dramatic if Roth had been brazen enough to use Anatole Broyard's life as a source.

message 3: by Elizabeth, bubbles (last edited Sep 17, 2012 07:35AM) (new)

Elizabeth (RedBrick) | 221 comments Mod
Oh, I loved that so much.

This made me laugh: "Neither before nor after writing these books was I a puppeteer, a glove manufacturer, a high-school teacher, or a radio star."

It was so enjoyable seeing PR engaged in a public argument. As seemingly the only person in the fiction files who loves this novel, thank you, Robert.

I think the wiki entry / letter combination does a good job of exposing some very presumptuous literary critics.

Do you have something to start a thread about Harold Bloom? Here is an NYT article, but I'd love to read more.

message 4: by Robert (new)

Robert Corbett (robcrowe00) | 169 comments Adrian,

I can't imagine he has the time or patience to the read comments some of which will automatically hateful for dissing wikipedia. But he obviously pays attention and got his own back on the source of THS.

message 5: by Robert (new)

Robert Corbett (robcrowe00) | 169 comments Elizabeth,

It is great to see him engaged, and so gracefully. I read THS a time ago amongst several other Roth and may have overlooked it because the pathos of the situation didn't strike me. Now it does, so I may have to go back. The letter now being a source of the information is both strikingly Rothian and in tune with Wikipedia's strictures on public editing. A little vertiginious.

AboutHarold Bloom, how about I start a new thread? There is a .pdf of The Anxiety of Influence, here -- -- but it is also easy to find used. The 1st chapter is about misreading, which Bloom calls "misprision". It's about poets being strong readers. I think for Bloom critics and reviewers are always already "belated". I do think though the idea could be set forth in a shorter form. I will start a new thread with the link. Oh, and I agree with Bloom that Shakespeare invented us, at least if we speak English in whatsoever country we come from.

Again, Roth's letter is simply amazing.

Elizabeth wrote: "Oh, I loved that so much.

This made me laugh: "Neither before nor after writing these books was I a puppeteer, a glove manufacturer, a high-school teacher, or a radio star."

It was so enjoyable..."

message 6: by Dan, deadpan man (new)

Dan | 640 comments Mod
One of the things I like about Wikipedia articles are the talk pages and the edit histories. It is here you can see the battles play out as to what makes it into the article. The rules of Wikipedia are ridiculously rigid to help make Wikipedia more credible, however all too often it makes themselves look dumb.

Here is the rather long talk page:

The Revision history page is a bit more complicated and confusing but if you are familiar with Wikipedia at all you can gleam a lot from it, you can also compared different versions of the article. Here it is:

message 7: by Robert (new)

Robert Corbett (robcrowe00) | 169 comments Thanks, Dan. Oh I try to read these particularly to the few pages I have contributed, but their organization defeats me. They are interesting and a great part of Wikipedia, but I see the legend Here Time Be Sucketh when I start to figure out what is what.

message 8: by Robert (new)

Robert Corbett (robcrowe00) | 169 comments Here is a take on the spat from someone who has some authority over the standards.

message 9: by Matt, e-monk (last edited Sep 19, 2012 02:23PM) (new)

Matt Comito | 386 comments Mod
Im not sure I take Roth's story completely at face value - I could totally see him taking one element of Broyard's life story and merging it with Tumin's ordeal - doesnt make the wiki people right and it's probably more complex than we could allow here but

a) he doth protest a lot, and does it strike anyone else that his description of his relation to broyard sounds like a guilty guy working himself up to a confession? I didnt even know the guy, well except to nod at we never even had drinks except for that one time where we did but that was only for like 10 minutes and we only did that occasionally, you know and that was about it, well except for that one time we hung out at the beach but that was about it, well except...

and isnt it odd that he can cite such certainties as "and this was the one and only time that I ever spoke to Broyard on the phone" or "and that brought to 30 minutes..."

b) there is something disingenuous about a novelist asking questions like did Silk die of cancer like Broyard did? was Broyard in the navy like Silk was in the book?

c) in the letter itself Roth admits to having been told about Broyard's mixed race back-ground way back in the late 50s, saying:
"Before I left the beach that day, someone told me that Broyard was rumored to be an “octoroon.” I didn’t pay much attention or, back in 1958, lend much credence to the attribution"

because yeah, that kind of accusation would have no shock value in the 50s... and he certainly remembers the accusation to this day so i guess it's just one of those meaningless pieces of trivia you hear in passing, dont lend much credence to and can still recall verbatim 54 years later, you know, like you do

I would like to introduce the idea that Roth could be fucking with us

and anyway he can be both right and wrong, could be the the case that he based most of the character of silk on Tumin but used this one detail that he remembered about Broyard to create a little more depth to the central conflict

or further the Broyard detail (which he does admit he knew) could have bubbled up out of his subconscience without proper attribution or effort at establishing
provenance - the author mid-sentence: "now where did I hear that before?"

also overlooked in all this is the fact that When Kafka was the Rage was a really lovely book

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