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Sex: how to handle this dynamite


Assessing the power of sex words
Philip Roth Writer
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As for the... the sex words, they're too... writers were given permission they never had before. Beginning with Ulysses I suppose. And everybody had to discover how to use those words. A brand new vocabulary of what are called dirty words. What are you going to do with those words? Are you... are you going to use them at all? In what circumstance? And if you use them in dialogue are you also going to use them in the narrative? They're... they're strong words. Maybe not... maybe not any longer, by the way. But when I began to write in the 1950s, they were strong things to type out on the page, you know. So it's... it's...writing about sex involves fictional choices and tact, and tactlessness. And you don't want to be necessarily indecorous, but you don't necessarily want to be decorous either. So you have to have a good ear. And be able to weigh the power of the word.

The fame of the American writer Philip Roth (1933-2018) rested on the frank explorations of Jewish-American life he portrayed in his novels. There is a strong autobiographical element in much of what he wrote, alongside social commentary and political satire. Despite often polarising critics with his frequently explicit accounts of his male protagonists' sexual doings, Roth received a great many prestigious literary awards which include a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1997, and the 4th Man Booker International Prize in 2011.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Ulysses

Duration: 1 minute, 48 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013