Monday, 27 December 2010

Philip Roth - Nemesis

Book by Roth that uses the story around the polio epidemic around 1940s in New Jersey to deal with the topic of freedom, but much more interesting thatn Franzen.

This is a book about what an medical epidemic (polio) does to people, and how people deal with the situation, even before they are stricken. The book shows in detail how we make our lives hell, if we assume that everything is based on cause and effect and hence desperately search for someone responsible even for the worst things in life. And make him responsible. Similarly to Girard’s scapegoat theory, the responsible party in this book starts from the Italians, moves on to the Jews, a mentally challenged kid etc. Yet, the worst is still to come and at the end, as he runs out of options the main character has no other choice but to make himself responsible for taking the virus to a summer camp and punishes himself for the rest of his life. Being stuck in a wheelchair due to polio he again tries to take responsibility once more and leaves his fiancĂ©, so she can find someone ‘better’ – despite her wanting no one else but him.

“”I love you too.” It was difficult to tell her that because he ahd disciplined himself – sensible, he thought – not to pine for her too much while she was away.” (Roth, 2010, p.32).

“Why did Alan get polio? (…) Can there be a cleaner household than this one? Can there be a woman who keeps more spotless house than my wife? (…) Could there be a boy who looked after his room and his clothes and himself any better than Alan did? Everything he did, he did right the first time, And always happy.Always with a joke. So why did he die?” (Roth, 2010, p.46-7

After hearing that one kid died: “Mr. Cantor rushed down the basement hall o the washroom that was used by the playground bys, and, a the mercy of his grief, with no idea what to do with his misery, he grabbed the janitor’s mop, a bucked of water, and a gallon can of disinfectant and swabbed the entire floor, profusely sweating while he worked.” (Roth, 2010, p.62).

The father of his girlfriend, a well respected Doctor in the beighbourhood, gives him advise to show the kids not to fear the polio: “I’m against frightening of Jews, period. That was Europe, that’s why Jews fled. This is America. The less fearthe better. Fear unmans us. Fear degrades us. Fostering less fear – that’s your job and mine.” (Roth, 2010, p.106).

“But now that he was no longer a child he was capable of understanding why things couldn’t be otherwise was because of God.” (Roth, 2010, p.126).

On diving or the obsession with sports in general: “He filled his lungs with the harmless clean air of the Pocono Mountains, then bounded three steps forward, took off, and, in control of every inch of his body throughout the blind fligjht, did a simple swan dive into water he could see only the instant before his arms broke neatly through and he plumbed the cold purity of the lake to its depths.” (Roth, 2010, p.157).

“He has to convert tragedy into guilt. He has to find a necessity for what happens. There is an epidemic and he needs a reason for it. He has to ask why. Why? Why? (…) This is nothing more than stupid hubris, not the hubris of will or desire, but the hubris of fantasical childish religious interpretation” (Roth, 2010, p.265).

“Such a person is condemmed. Nothing he does matches the ideal in him. He never knows where his responsibility ends. (…) Such a person’s greates triumph is sparing his beloved from having a crippled husband, and his heroism consists of denying his deepest desire by relinquishing her.” (Roth, 2010, p.273).

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