Monday, September 14, 2009

Philip Roth on American Literature

Do you remember that a few months ago the permanent secretary of the Nobel Prize jury said that it was unlikely that an American author would be awarded the prize, because according to him "the US is too isolated, too insular", adding that "they don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature"? He called this attitude a "restraining ignorance" (read my post and my opinions on the matter here).

Philip Roth, one of the most prominent living writers in the US, during an interview concerning his book Indignation, was asked what he thought about this. He answered (I'm translating Philip Roth back to English once that his words were translated into Italian in this article published in La Repubblica):

"It is such a ridiculous polemic that I can't even understand it. I think that American literature, from after the Second World War until now, has been the most important of the world, with authors like Faulkner, Hemingway and Bellow. And also nowadays we have top notch writers such as Don DeLillo, E. L. Doctorow, Cynthia Ozick, Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison. I feel that I am in the company of excellent colleagues".

Take that Mr Engdahl!

But of course Mr Roth is himself an "isolated, insular" American, what does he know about world literature? :-P


  1. Interesting comment and also the observation by you in the form of the question. I know most literary folks outside Africa are not conversant with African Literature. People tend to be inward looking except a few.

    I see you have 'The Thing Around Your Neck' in you must read...have reviewed it on my blog. You can check it out or perhaps after you have read it so as not to spoil it for you.

  2. I don't know about African literature, but European literature tends to be inward looking as well. French or English authors often think that they ar so much better than their American, African or Asian counterparts. I think that there is no region of the world that can claim to have the most important literature right now, because so many literatures have surfaced in the recent years (African, but also Latin American literature are a good example). I think that American literature was the most important just after the Second World War, with Hemingway and the Beat Generation, but in this moment America is as important as any other country in the literary world.

    Yes, I have ordered "The Thing Around Your Neck" and I'm waiting for it. I hope I'll be able to read it soon, I can't wait!