In a 2004 PBS interview Philip Roth mentions how he believes he is “empty” without a novel. He needs the challenge and the work. Says he isn’t very happy or energized without the daily direction.
Now I have to say the news last week that he plans to retire caught me off guard. And not only is he retiring, according to this New Yorker article , he says he doesn’t want to talk about fiction anymore.
Here’s the quote that struck me:
“…I decided that I was finished with fiction,” Roth went on. “I don’t want to read it, I don’t want to write it, and I don’t even want to talk about it anymore. I dedicated my life to the novel. I studied them, I taught them, I wrote them, and I read them. At the exclusion of nearly everything else. It’s enough!”
He went so far as to state he doesn’t want his letters and notes from his body of work to be studied past his death either.
Now, Roth is a heavyweight of an author. My rereading of Goodbye, Columbus for the current literature course I’m teaching reminds me. So does the rest of his body of work I’ve studied. American Pastoral is a particular favorite. I mean he’s prolific as hell. Winning every award short of the Nobel Prize. So what else is there to prove, right?
Now I have to say I’ve always seen writing as different from publishing. I see them as two different problems. With that said I have to ask: Are we to believe he’ll put away his computer and pen? Are we to believe he will only read? I think of him as I am doggedly drawn back to my notes again and again. The work and energy I draw from working on my own novel. And I have to say, like what I used to believe about Roth, I need the daily work even if it doesn’t take my career anywhere. I’ve long thought on how I would rather be writing than reading. Most folks who call themselves writers I believe feel the same.
I’m left with this: Will a life of writing and toiling at your desk lead to such a negative thought? Will the work lead you away from everyday life? Can you become so depleted from writing at a certain age you can only give it up?