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The ordeal of writing


Using words to make it real
Philip Roth Writer
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What are you doing? You're making an object out of words that purports to be reality, and my goal is to make the object, to make the object whole, to make the object complete… these are ideals… to make the object solid. I don't… I'm not striving for anything else. I have no political ambitions for my books, political agenda. I have no moral agenda. I have no ethical agenda. I'm being driven by the ethic of the novel as a work of art. That's why it's often very peculiar, when the novel is published, to read about it. Because whatever is written, however intelligent it may be, has very little to do with what was driving you. So in a way, what's written about it is none of my business. I once had lunch years and years ago with a baseball player named Keith Hernandez. He used to play first base for the Mets. And so I asked him all the fan questions, and I said, 'Do you read... do you read the sports page the next day?' He said, 'Why should... why should I? I was there. I was playing in the game', you know. Likewise, with the novel... that's my game. I'm playing the game.


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: writing, agenda, ethics, critics, reality

Duration: 2 minutes, 35 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013