I will never forget the day I read Judaism in music by Richard Wagner. That one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time could have conceived a book that exposed in a criminal way the same anti-Jewish prejudices that not many years later would have induced a bunch of his countrymen psychopaths to conceive the so-called final solution, was an attack on my youthful idealism. so overbearing as to undermine my love for the work.

How not to think of the one who in addition to making me listen for the first time opening del Dental houses had he taught me to abhor all forms of racism? The melomaniac who had avoided being caught by the Nazis due to the broken headphone: my grandmother.

Eminent anti-Semitic geniuses

In my last year of university, preparing my thesis on Proust and Judaism, I came across such a bewildering number of eminent anti-Semitic geniuses as to cover the entire literary history: Voltaire, Dostoevsky, the Goncourts, TS Eliot. Listen to this, by Baudelaire: Beautiful conspiracy to organize for the extermination of the Jewish race.

In short, here I am stuck in a beautiful case of conscience. To get out, I decided that it was necessary to separate the artistic sphere from the moral one. An awkward shortcut that presented several additional problems. If an individual’s morality is expressed in the search for truth, how to keep the artist away from the object of his investigation? Common sense took care of offering me a new perspective, in some ways reassuring. It was necessary to historicize. Nothing like cultural relativism could help me get out of the quicksand in which I was bogged down. To judge an individual who lived centuries earlier according to the democratic humanism of my time was a cross-eyed and deleterious anachronism.

Who knows, maybe a day would come when someone would judge with similar inflexibility some of our consolidated habits: such as eating animal meat inflicting unspeakable suffering on cattle, pigs and poultry.

Arts and morals

Soon, however, I had to abandon this perspective as well. It was the very idea of ​​judgment that disturbed me. What right did I have to set myself up as a censor, representative of a public health committee called to absolve the upright and condemn the wicked? Perhaps nothing was more wrong than a legalistic approach. What was the point of subjecting art to the pillory encouraged by liberal Puritanism? So? A big hand came from Proustian studies. Just to say, no one can deny that Proust was, in a literal sense, a racist. Of course, it wasn’t in the murderous way of a Goebbels. His racism was in the service of the Great Laws that he had made up his mind to postulate. However, he was convinced that Charles Swann and Basin de Guermantes – a Jewish dandy and aristocrat of ancient Merovingian nobility – belonged to irreconcilable human races. Here, this, far from indignant, showed me how art pursued antithetical goals, in some ways superior to those imposed by common sense. On closer inspection, therefore, there is nothing more moral than literature, precisely in its desire to flesh out, to put in crisis, to go to the mephitic core of the question. Not surprisingly, the so-called classical moralistic – made up of writers of the caliber of La Rochefoucauld, La Bruyre, Madame de La Fayette – did not care about offering readers dull examples of virtue. The aim that the classical moralists set for themselves was less edifying and much more grim: to account for human distortions, to denounce the hypocrisies in which censors and beautiful souls of all times indulge. Not surprisingly, all the best fiction of the nineteenth century is nourished by classical moralistics: the novels of Balzac, Stendhal, Flaubert or Maupassant are crowded with sinister characters, and full of disconsolate and irreverent considerations. Here, maybe I had found a key and a compass. Suddenly I seemed to understand the intransigence with which some formalist criticism had chosen to evaluate only and only the text. Now I understood why Roland Barthes had felt the need to proclaim the Author’s death: killing him meant defending him from the gossip of the Philistines, and at the same time restoring his intrinsic morality to style. Moral literature precisely because it puts respectability and rhetoric in check. The morality of a work of art, and therefore of the artist who conceives it, derives from the ability to stage human miseries in the most straightforward way, without euphemisms and pretenses. With hindsight it can be said that, although on paper Cline’s intentions were less virtuous than those of Zola, there is more morality in Ferdinand Bardamu’s most atrocious outburst than in the whole J’accuse.

The Roth case

Now Philip Roth’s turn. Apparently, on the threshold of the release of his biography, a storm of disapproval threatens his memory. Not that it has to worry us. I trust that in the long run his dense and complex work will prevail over damnation of memory that the specious susceptibility of the new McCarthyists is ready to inflict upon him. Normally the bias of the Puritans is short of breath and short life. Furthermore, the proverbial Rothian stoicism comforts me. It seems that once, to console his friend Harold Bloom about the umpteenth violent protest that put an end to one of his conferences, Roth said: What are you doing, Harold? We were born to be insulted.

Philip Roth, friends (and not). And the special extra in the “la Lettura” App
Mia Farrow

In short, the Roth case seems to be done in such a way as to be true what I just wrote. Of course, I’ll be careful not to worry about his life. I do not deny that the biography coming out in these hours in America arouses my morbid curiosity. The fact remains, however, that there is no venerable obsession, adultery, marital quarrel that has gone through the life of Mr. Philip Roth that can offer me a new perspective on his narrative. His vices leave me indifferent no less than Archilochus’ military prowess, the treatment Virgil used to reserve for slaves or Chateaubriand’s classism.
After all, it is enough to go into the merits of the accusations made against Roth during his career – which apparently not even death can dispel – to understand the dishonest tendentiousness that inspires them.

1) Roth was accused of anti-Semitism. The caustic portrayals of solipsistic, disbelieving and lustful Jewish males have outraged the orthodox factions of the community he comes from. The accusation is the usual: Why put our quarrels in the streets? Dirty clothes are washed in the family. This intelligence with the enemy. By doing so you indulge the anti-Semites by providing them with new arguments to hate us. What madness! If anything, one wonders if there is another artist who, in the last part of the century, has given the same prestige to secular and secularized Judaism by showing its complexity, irony and contempt.

2) Roth was accused of anti-Americanism. For some, the epic trilogy dedicated to the United States would hide an indictment against the so-called American way of life defaced by too many puritanical hypocrisies. Here too, I don’t understand. If anything, the excess of patriotism, the elegiac chauvinism that pushes him to see in America the beginning and the end of everything, should be made to Roth. After all, it is difficult for non-American people like me not to be infected by the Rothian nostalgia for the petty-bourgeois suburbs of New Jersey, the electrifying and cosmopolitan air that was breathed in the academic circles of Chicago in the immediate postwar period or the sense of sexual liberation that invaded New York in the early 1960s. On the other hand, while it is true that there is no more commendable form of literary nationalism than renewing the mother tongue, it must be said that few writers of his generation have refreshed English syntax and lexicon in such a persuasive and heartbreaking way.

3) Roth was accused of male chauvinism and misogyny. Here, the delicate question. I do not deny that someone may be shocked by certain morbid delays, the harvest of disgusting genital details, the torrent of physiological fluids poured out by his narrative. Sometimes I’m bored with it too. Told and understood, to execute them seems to me such a foolish act as to leave me speechless: it would be like blaming Dante for the punishments inflicted on certain poor damned or Shakespeare for giving a free hand to Macbeth. literature, good heavens. What else do you expect? Pink sunsets, clear waters, heroic deeds? The accusation of misogyny, if possible, seems even more insane to me. Apart from the fact that a writer – in the fairytale ecosystem of his imaginary – has the right to any intemperance: whether it be misogynist, misanthropic, illiberal, xenophobic and even homicidal if the work requires it. But then how would Roth be misogynistic? What’s the problem? The machismo of his heroes, the unscrupulousness of libertine and sex addict alter egos? The disgust? The cynicism? If these are the aesthetic parameters of reference, I advise those who carry them to get rid of all Western literature and retire to the convent. After all, the only form of misogyny that a novelist risks is exhausted in the creation of corrective, inhuman and implausible female characters.

Beyond the controversial relationship that Flaubert and Tolstoy entertained with the female world (a relationship which, moreover, concerns only them, certainly not nosy people and literary gossip buffs), I challenge anyone, at least from an artistic point of view, to accuse them of misogyny. It seems to me that a similar argument applies to Roth. The Sabbath Theater, his most daring and controversial masterpiece, mephitic and heartbreaking, stages two characters – Drenka and Nikki – who in the opinion of the writer deserve a place next to the great heroines of literature: Francesca, Phaedra, Isabel Archer.
In short, there is more morality in a comma of Philip Roth than in the soul resentful of any of his old, new or future detractors.

April 6, 2021 (change April 6, 2021 | 15:13)

© Time.News


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