Saturday, September 8, 2012

In which I comment on Philip Roth's pretty hilarious open letter to Wikipedia in The New Yorker

[Roth's "Open Letter to Wikipedia"]

I don't think Roth gives the plot of The Human Stain quite accurately.  It's Zuckerman who thinks all these things about Les Farley, but he never knows them. The scene where he talks to Farley at the end-- but is it Farley? Zuckerman writes: "I came to notice, parked at the edge of a wide field I would otherwise have shot right by, the dilapidated gray pickup truck with the POW/MIA bumper sticker that, I was sure, had to be Les Farley's.  I saw that pickup, somehow knew it was his...", but a couple of pages later is still putting this in the conditional: "if  this was Les Farley..."--is a masterpiece of anxious paranoia: he may be talking to Farley, Farley may be a psychotic murderer.  But he may not be, and he may not be. Zuckerman doesn't know, any more than he knows the truth of Swede Levov's life.  It's interesting that the great care Roth takes to make that point, over and over again in the trilogy, is absent here.  One might wonder to what extent Roth, in this lovely rant, is playing the sly game he trademarked so many years ago, tempting us to wonder what exactly we're supposed to understand as the truth behind his official claims, but refusing ever to show his hand.  That doesn't mean that Broyard was a source for Silk--I think he wasn't--but that Roth is enjoying the serendipitous opportunity not to settle the issue once and for all.

Nathan Zuckerman, of course, would be a good secondary source for the Wikipedia article, if only he were still writing about Roth.


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