Political Initiation in the Novels of Philip Roth


Political science and literary criticism share an interest in stages of transition, transformation and transgression. Although not yet explored by political science, initiation has to be regarded as an archetypical example of a transitory phase which marks an adolescent's discovery of evil, his end of innocence or his discovery of his inner self. In U.S. literature, this experience is the focal point of novels dealing with adolescent protagonists, wherefore a sub-genre of its own has been named thereafter, the initiation novel.

Political science often talks of initiation when describing an event or an experience which leads to an individual's political awakening, i.e. which heightens his political consciousness and turns him into a political being. Initiation can thus be regarded as a marking point in his political socialization, a process which denominates a person's learning of his political role in a society.

Philip Roth's novels might not have been labelled initiation novels and he might not be regarded as a predominantly political writer strictu sensu. His protagonists, however, frequently undergo processes that open their eyes for a less idyllic reality, they have to come to terms with the being they truly are, or have to learn to defend their own viewpoints. In other words, they undergo processes of initiation. Moreover, in certain novels Roth's characters get acquainted with political ideas and religious convictions, often under the guidance of mentors whose rhetorical power or charisma has a substantial impact on them.

The different aspects mentioned above demand a thorough analysis both from a literary as well as a political angle: literary, since initiation is one of the major topics in literary criticism which often deals with transgressions of rules, be they societal or textual. Political, because political science possesses greater analytical strength in depicting phenomena of power, both rhetorical and ideological. However, when dealing with the ideas and the political awakening of fictional characters, literary criticism will frequently have to remind the political scientist that he is not dealing with empirical reality, but with an autonomous work of art which might bend to the factitious side at times, but which remains, after all, a work of fiction.

Additional Informationsunspecified
Commencement Date1 October 2007
Contributors Brühwiler, Claudia Franziska (Project Manager)
Datestamp 16 Sep 2022 10:57
Completion Date 30 June 2010
Publications Brühwiler, Claudia Franziska (2009) Chiastic Reflections : Rash Moments in the Life of Zuckerman. Philip Roth Studies, 5 (2). 227-239. ISSN 1547-3929
Brühwiler, Claudia Franziska : Political Initiation in the Novels of Philip Roth. 1. Auflage. London/NY : Continuum Publishing, 2013, - ISBN 978-1-4411-5321-0.
Brühwiler, Claudia Franziska: Political Initiation in the Works of Philip Roth. St. Gallen, Thesis, 2010.
Brühwiler, Claudia Franziska: A Reluctant Public Intellectual : Seeing America through Philip Roth. 2011. - 22nd Annual Association for Library Collections (ALA) Conference. - Boston, United States.
Brühwiler, Claudia Franziska: Philip Roth Society Meeting in Switzerland: "Philip Roth: Across Cultures, across Disciplines". In: Philip Roth Society Newsletter 11 (2014), 2, S. 11.
Keywords political socialization, Transtextualität, Politisierung, political novel, Philip Roth, Initiation, political rhetoric, political scenario novel, Narratologie, politische un literarische Rhetorik, initiation story
Methods textual analysis
Funders SNF – Third Party
Id 53290
Project Range Institute/School
Reference Number K-11K1- 117902
Project Status completed
Subjects political science
Topics politics and literature; Philip Roth; political initiation
Project Type dissertation project
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