“Roth left so many instructions and prescriptive statements about how things should happen after his death, that he was really trying to — to use a phrase uttered by the gravedigger in Everyman — square the hole.”
Professor & biographer Ira Nadel joins the show to talk about PHILIP ROTH: A Counterlife (Oxford University Press). We get into Ira’s approach to literary biography, his history with Roth’s books, and what it was like publishing the other major Roth bio of 2021 (and whether the materials & records that Roth authorized for Blake Bailey’s biography will remain accessible, against Roth’s wishes). We also talk about how his understanding of Roth changed over the course of the project, Roth’s . . . disrespect for women, the major trends that emerged in Roth’s life through the books, letters and other documents Ira explored, Roth’s need to self-mythologize and his conflation of fact, fiction and metafiction in his work, Kafka’s influence on Roth’s involvement with Eastern Europe writers during the Cold War, the question of whether Roth was deluding himself when he insisted his writerly identity was his Americanness (as opposed to his Jewishness), his bad relationships with editors and publishers, the health woes that governed so much of his life, my key questions — “What’s your favorite Roth novel?” and “Does Roth’s work survive another 10-20 years?” — and plenty more! Give it a listen! And go read PHILIP ROTH: A Counterlife!
“I didn’t know where I was going to start; this is one of the things that I like about biography. I don’t really begin with a plan. The evolution occurs in relation to archives, people I speak to, and my own general sense of what might work as an approach to synthesis.”
About our Guest
Ira Nadel is Professor of English at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and the author of biographies of Leonard Cohen, Tom Stoppard, David Mamet, and Leon Uris. He has also published Biography: Fiction Fact & Form, Joyce And The Jews, and Modernism’s Second Act, in addition to a Critical Companion to Philip Roth. His most recent book is PHILIP ROTH: A Counterlife.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Ira by … someone else. It’s on my instagram.