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'In the destructive element, immerse yourself'


Sex: both serious and ridiculous
Philip Roth Writer
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Yes, it's... it can be very serious and it can be quite ridiculous. And I've written books like The Professor of Desire where it's pretty serious, and then I've written books like Portnoy's Complaint where it's quite... where the situation, the sexual situation, is quite ridiculous. And... and then in Sabbath's Theater where it's both serious and ridiculous. For instance, to... to skip to Sabbath's Theater and the death scene I mentioned earlier, Drenka is dying of cancer in a hospital. She's near the end. Sabbath goes to see her... it's... their affair is a secret, but he goes to the hospital to see her when he knows her husband isn't visiting. And she is hallucinating from morphine and he sees the whole situation, the... the drainage bags, what she looks like, how... how she begins to hallucinate and then at some... at some point she has an accent, she has a Serbo-Croatian accent, that's where she came from, she came from Yugoslavia.

And she says, she reminds Sabbath on her deathbed about the time they pissed on each other in a brook and the brook was in the woods, and the woods was a place they went because they could be alone there. And... the woods of a very wooded area. And a stream ran through and in... in that stream, they... they pissed on each other. And she reminds him while she's dying, of this. And she... tells him how she felt when they were doing it. And then she says, 'How did you feel?' And he tells her, that really he wasn't as... though it was his idea... he wasn't as good at it as she was. And it goes on for three or four pages and it's a very touching scene. But what are they talking about? The ludicrousness of one person pissing on another person, you know. So I love that scene to this day. I think it's as good a death scene – deathbed scene – as... as I can write, because I found the right wrong topic for them to be talking about. The right wrong topic.

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: Sabbath's Theater

Duration: 3 minutes, 12 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013