“Life," the late writer Philip Roth wrote in
American Pastoral, "is just a short period of time in which you are alive.” Although his own short period came to an end Tuesday night when the Pulitzer Prize-winning author died of congestive heart failure at the age of 85, these quotes by Philip Roth will live on forever, enlightening, challenging, and inspiring readers for generations to come.
The author of bestselling classics
and American Pastoral Portnoy's Complaint, Roth was a defining voice in 20th century literature. Between 1959 and his official retirement from writing in 2012, he penned 27 novels, won two National Book Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and the Man Booker International Award, among countless other literary honors. While some of his writing has been criticized for its misogyny and sexism, Roth was nevertheless considered to be one of the America's greatest novelists, and his contributions to the book world are certain worth celebrating.
Up until his death, Roth was a truly remarkable writer, a literary icon, and, not unlike his fans,
a ravenous reader. In honor of his remarkable life and his exceptional writing, here are 15 quotes to remember him by:
“Pain is like a baby crying. What it wants it can't name.”
“I am marked like a road map from head to toe with my repressions. You can travel the length and breadth of my body over superhighways of shame and inhibition and fear.”
“There is truth and then again there is truth. For all that the world is full of people who go around believing they've got you or your neighbor figured out, there really is no bottom to what is not known. The truth about us is endless. As are the lies.”
“The only obsession everyone wants: 'love.' People think that in falling in love they make themselves whole? The Platonic union of souls? I think otherwise. I think you're whole before you begin. And the love fractures you. You're whole, and then you're cracked open. ”
“And as Lindbergh's election couldn't have made clearer to me, the unfolding of the unforeseen was everything. Turned wrong way round, the relentless unforeseen was what we schoolchildren studied as "History," harmless history, where everything unexpected in its own time is chronicled on the page as inevitable. The terror of the unforeseen is what the science of history hides, turning a disaster into an epic.”
“Is that what eternity is for, to muck over a lifetime's minutiae? Who could have imagined that one would have forever to remember each moment of life down to its tiniest component?”
“You have a conscience, and a conscience is a valuable attribute, but not if it begins to make you think you were to blame for what is far beyond the scope of your responsibility.”
“Things don't have to reach a peak. They can just go on. You do want to make a narrative out of it, with progress and momentum and dramatic peaks and then a resolution. You seem to see life as having a beginning, a middle, an ending, all of them linked together with something bearing your name. But it isn't necessary to give things a shape. You can yield to them too. No goals — just letting things take their own course. You must begin to see it as it is: there are insoluble problems in life, and this is one.”
“I felt as though the skin had been peeled away from half of my body. Half my face had been peeled away, and everybody would stare in horror for the rest of my life. Or they would stare at the other half, at the half still intact; I could see them smiling, pretending that the flayed half wasn't there, and talking to the half that was. And I could hear my self screaming at them, I could see myself thrusting my hideous side right up into their unmarred faces to make them properly horrified. 'I was pretty! I was whole! I was sunny, lively little girl! Look, look at what they did to me!' But whatever side they looked at, I would always be screaming, 'Look at the other! Why don't you look at the other!' That's what I thought about in the hospital at night. However they look at me, however they talk to me, however they try to comfort me, I will always be this half-flayed thing. I will never be young, I will never be kind or at peace or in love, and I will hate them all my life.”
“I would browse for half an hour or so in the secondhand bookstores in the neighborhood. Owning my own 'library' was my only materialistic ambition; in fact, trying to decide which two of these thousands of books to buy that week, I would frequently get so excited that by the time the purchase was accomplished I had to make use of the bookseller's toilet facilities. I don't believe that either microbe or laxative has ever affected me so strongly as the discovery that I was all at once the owner of a slightly soiled copy of Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity in the original English edition.”
"'America?' said Gamesh, smiling. 'Roland, what's American to you? Or me, or those tens of thousands up in the the stands? It's just a word they use to keep your nose to the grindstone and your toes to the line. America is the opiate of the people.'"
“Where everything is words, you'd think I'd have some mastery and know my way around, but all this churning hatred, each man a verbal firing squad, immeasurable suspicions, a flood of mocking, angry talk, all of life a vicious debate, conversations in which there is nothing that cannot be said... No, I'd be better off in the jungle, I thought, where a roar's a roar and no one is hard put to miss its meaning.”
“He had learned the worst lesson that life can teach — that it makes no sense.”