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The inner ear


Nemesis and the destruction of the strong man
Philip Roth Writer
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The Humbling was followed by Nemesis, which is about another strong fellow who gets destroyed.  And I suppose that's what they all have in common.  A strong fellow, whether he's a young fellow or a middle-aged fellow, a strong fellow gets knocked over, gets destroyed.  And... by some cataclysm.  And what the stories have in common is the cataclysm.  And what they have in common – I realised when I wrote the last one – is they each... each character faces his nemesis that was just... that was on his tail after him, he can't.. that he can't elude.  He cannot shake off and he cannot elude it.  And so, here are four more men of different ages brought down.  If you... if you like that kind of stuff, I give it to you. 

This also happens in American Pastoral, it also happens in... in I Married a Communist, it also happens in Human Stain.  Strangely, it doesn't happen to Mickey Sabbath in Sabbath's Theater.  He's already down.  You know that folk song, it goes, 'I've been down so long it look like up to me'.  Well, that's Mickey Sabbath, you know.  So when you think of all these heroes as though they were real people you knew, if you want to, the one who isn't knocked over is the one who is most cynical, most isolated, most despised... most despised, and yet he's not destroyed.  So what that adds up to, I don't know.  I don't know. 

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: Nemesis, Sabbath's Theater, Mickey Sabbath

Duration: 2 minutes, 36 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013