Philip Roth has been cancelled, says Hadley Freeman in The Guardian. Of course, “Roth arguably cancelled himself three years ago by dying”, but that is beside the point. A new biography of the author is out and critics are determined to skewer him. Headlines declared him a sex-obsessed misogynist, but “as headlines go, “Philip Roth was obsessed with sex’ is pretty much up there with ‘The royal family are snobs’”.
Have any of these critics read Roth? This is “the man who wrote one novel about extreme masturbation (Portnoy’s Complaint) and another about a man turning into a giant breast (The Breast)”. That he had a high sex drive and a dodgy attitude towards women is hardly a surprise.
So yes, Roth was obsessed with sex. But he was also “obsessed with death, funny, angry, wise, profane, imaginative, cruel”. To reduce him to a sex pest is to ignore the rest of his brilliance. “There is a difference between reckoning with the past, and seeing only one colour of the rainbow.”
Interestingly, Roth anticipated the rise of cancel culture, says David Aaronovitch in The Times. The biography shows he was worried about “a movement towards a new puritanism” – he agonised that “as we moved away from censorship, we gravitated towards censoriousness”. But the truth is, we’ve always relished denunciating others, from the Inquisition in Spain to McCarthyism in America. It all comes down to shame. “Shame is one of the principal weapons used by poor parents”, and we carry it into adult life “together with a resentment of the authority figure who shamed us”. So it’s little surprise that shaming another is so deeply satisfying. And if that other is an “authority figure” such as Roth, “so much the better”.
I have heard it said that “shops” may be reopening on Monday, says Deborah Ross in The Times. Imagine, after a year of online shopping, being able to “actually touch an item before buying it or not”. Can it really be true, “or is this yet another one of those April Fools that have gained traction”?
More worryingly, a trip to the shops means getting “properly dressed and everything” – and by properly dressed, I mean wearing a bra. After a year of freedom, breasts “aren’t going to be happy and will probably need a good talking to along the lines of: ‘I’m sorry. If it were up to me you’d jiggle freely and boisterously as per. But we are off to ‘the shops’. Now, come on, my beauties, in you pop.”