Author Archives: Shayna Goodman

The Lilith Blog

March 25, 2014 by

Why I Did Not “Like” Philip Roth’s New York Times Interview

Phillip_Roth_-_1973Last week, while scanning through my Facebook newsfeed for its usual mix of engagement announcements, serious news and Buzzfeed lists, I noticed that several of my male Jewish friends had shared the recent interview Philip Roth gave to Daniel Sandstrom, the editor of the Swedish newspaper, Svenska Dagbladet, reprinted in the New York Times Book Review. “If even one of you reads this absurdly perfect Q&A with Philip Roth, my entire engagement with social media has been worthwhile,” someone posted. Other men “liked” it. No one mentioned the troubling and decidedly imperfect parts of the interview about misogyny.

“In some quarters it is almost a cliché to mention the word ‘misogyny’ in relation to your books. What, do you think, prompted this reaction initially, and what is your response to those who still try to label your work in that way?” Sandstrom asks. Roth responds: “It is my comic fate to be the writer these traducers have decided I am not. They practice a rather commonplace form of social control… In some quarters, ‘misogynist’ is now a word used almost as laxly as was ‘Communist’ by the McCarthyite right in the 1950s — and for very like the same purpose.” –for the same purpose? As Roth must be aware, the McCarthyite right was responsible for silencing, imprisoning and disenfranchising its victims. Surely Roth could not be comparing the intent of his feminist critics with McCarthyites. But as a friend of mine said, why should I be surprised by this response? To mention the word “misogyny” in relation to Roth is a cliché for a reason: because he refuses to acknowledge the possibility of problematic content in his work.  It’s worth noting that Roth often gives flippant or provocative responses in interviews. But the idea that Roth views feminist criticism as erroneous and “ a rather commonplace form of social control” is surprising nonetheless.

I have enjoyed many of Roth’s novels. I have even appreciated the more controversial sections of his novels concerning stupid, sexually manipulative and emotionally unstable seductresses—the thought that these descriptions were offered from the point of view of a faulted protagonist eased my sense of guilt as a feminist reader. As Roth himself says in this interview:

“Whoever looks for the writer’s thinking in the words and thoughts of his characters is looking in the wrong direction… The thought of the novelist lies not in the remarks of his characters or even in their introspection but in the plight he has invented for his characters.”


The Lilith Blog

July 16, 2013 by

Friend of My Youth Group

image via mockstar

I hadn’t seen Ari for seven years but I remembered him well.  Actually I remembered him in nostalgic and probably inaccurate detail.  I remembered us on a youth group tour of Israel, sitting on lawn chairs outside the hostel in Jerusalem. I remembered that Ari was optimistic, athletic, with dark curly hair. On long bus rides we fell asleep listening to Coldplay (very alternative and cool) on his iPod. This was a simpler time: we shared one electronic device between the two of us—one set of headphones.  We had only 300 songs to last us through our leisure-trek through the desert.

For seven years Ari and I exchanged occasional emails.   I didn’t think I’d ever see him again.  We had passed the point where it was comfortable to travel for the purpose of seeing each other.  But circumstances lined up and seven years after we’d parted at Newark Airport, I was on my way to see him.  I was not headed to Israel, where I had fantasized our reunion would take place, but to gray, rainy Seattle.  At seventeen I had gone to sleep missing Ari and tearfully listening to Coldplay. At 24 there were other men to mourn and other sources of reminiscing.   But I still felt that this Seattle visit was of cosmic importance.

Ari, who was shorter than I remembered, came to meet me in the lobby of his building like this was no big deal. He showed me his small, impeccably neat, one-bedroom apartment.  I had not remembered him being so neat or having all his clothing folded so perfectly and the shampoo bottles in the bathroom lined up so accurately in height order. I noticed a copy of Alice Munro’s “Friend of my Youth” sitting on the coffee table, which I hoped was coincidental. I was somehow surprised to find that our romantic chemistry was gone.

It felt awkward so we went for a drink at a bar down the street.  Discussing the old days and getting a whiskey felt like acting out a scene from a Saul Bellow novel I once read about an aging Chicago native in Belarus who happens upon his childhood friend.  It felt silly to reminisce about seven years prior.

There were a lot of do-you-remember questions like “Do you remember sitting on the balcony at the hostel in Jerusalem?” or  “Do you remember the Russian kid, Vladimir, who didn’t integrate with the Skokie kids so well?” or “Do you remember when we had to do that reenactment of the Palmach missions on the beach near Haifa?  And you were on the European refugee team and I was a British officer?”

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