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Sex and The Humbling


Playing a role
Philip Roth Writer
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When you asked earlier about writing about women, what you have to do is play the role. In The Human Stain, when the main character's girlfriend – he's an old man by this point, and she's a janitor in the college where he was a professor – when he says to her, and they're in bed, dance for me. And so she begins to dance for him, but what I describe is what she's thinking while she's dancing for him. And then she begins to needle him a little bit, while she's dancing for him, about the fact that he's an old man. And I'm playing a role. I'm playing her, and so I have to be as convincing as I'm able to be, you know. So you're constantly playing... you're playing all the roles, like Mickey Sabbath with his hand puppets, you know. He does all the voices. It's his hand puppet here, it's his hand puppet... he does all the voices. I do all the voices.

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: The Human Stain

Duration: 1 minute, 26 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013