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A Reluctant Public Intellectual : Seeing America through Philip Roth

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abstract Philip Roth frequently stressed, both in his novels and in interviews, that he did not believe in literature’s transformative powers, beyond its turning people into better readers. For instance, he shows in I Married A Communist (1998) how Nathan Zuckerman first perceives literature as a means of political persuasion, until he is taught to recognize the antagonistic relationship between art and politics. Moreover, Roth has repeatedly fought attempts by critics to read parts of his oeuvre as political allegories, most notably in the case of his novel The Plot Against America (2004). At the same time, however, he never withholds his own political opinions.

Roth’s frankness combined with the politically pertinent questions raised by his novels makes him, (in)voluntarily, a sought-after observer and critic of American life. Particularly in the German speaking world, where critical literary voices such as Günter Grass or Adolf Muschg are perceived as important public intellectuals, Philip Roth is often presented as a messenger, an interpreter of American reality whose views are not only quoted in the culture pages of the newspaper, but sometimes even in the sports section. This paper shall explore what America German and Swiss media as well as scholarly works believe to recognize through their readings of and interviews with Philip Roth. It will in a first step show the extent of the media coverage and the scholarly work on Roth’s novels, and then discuss in a second step how he is cast as a public intellectual, who explains the transatlantic “Other” to the German speaking reader.
   
type conference paper (English)
   
keywords Philip Roth; public intellectual; politics and literature.
   
project Political Initiation in the Novels of Philip Roth
name of conference 22nd Annual Conference on American Literature (Boston, United States)
date of conference 26-5-2011
title of proceedings International Roth
page(s) 6
review not reviewed
   
citation Brühwiler, C. F. (2011). A Reluctant Public Intellectual: Seeing America through Philip Roth. In International Roth, pp.6.