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June 13, 1975 - Image 52

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1975-06-13

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52 Friday, June 13, 1975

In Defense of Philip Roth?

A Review

The question mark in the
title of this review was an
afterthought. My original
feeling in reading Philip
Roth's first book of non-fic-
tion (after the eight books of
fiction on which his reputa-
tion is based) was to feel
sorry for him and to defend
his right to be the Philip
Roth he wishes to be and not
the "Mr. Roth" his critics
expect him to be.
Only as I was formulating
my thoughts about his pre-
dicament did I realize that
his defense might better be
served by yet another irra-
tional attack upon him that
in its one-sidedness would
be just what some critics
have accused Philip Roth of
being — anti-Semitic.
Perhaps it would be kin-
der to Roth for me to vigor-
ously attack this book. Then
he could label my book re-
view as more of the bizarre
projections of others to
which he has been subjected
and respond as the innocent
victim; putting him in the
traditional position of the

In this way, his attack-
ers make a "good" Jew
out of Roth. My defense of
his rights might stimulate
further attacks against
him and thus be labeled
"with friends like this,
who needs enemies?" It
was this realization that
led me to add the question
mark to the title.

At a recent session of the
National Conference on the
Jewish Family, sponsored
by the Women's League for
Conservative Judaism and
the United Synagogue of
America, author Charles
Angoff denounced Jewish
writers of fiction "who are
either ignorant of Jewish
life, filled with shame or
even self-hatred, or write
out of sheer malice."
Angoff said he was refer-
ring to some of the most
commercially successful
Jewish writers, "such as
Saul Bellow, Bernard Mala-
, mud and, of course, Philip
He said they had demon-
strated "the least authentic-
ity" in their portrayals of
American Jewish life. He
was critical of Jewish writ-
ers who treat Jews and the
Jewish family "in shabby
fashion" and who seem to
delight in villifying "the
Jewish mother," who has
sacrificed so gallantly
throughout this century to
keep her family together
and who has "contributed
such a glorious chapter to
American JeWish -life
I believe the above is


is free of them. Does this
make him anti-Semitic?

another of this genre of
missing-the-point criti-
cism of creative writers; of
telling them what they
"should" write instead of
recognizing that they are
driven from within to
write . . . what they
"must" write.

Editor's Note: Dr. Peter
Martin, the reviewer of
Philip Roth's latest book
"Reading Myself and Oth-
ers" (Farrar, Straus and
Giroux), is nationally
prominent in the science of
psychiatry. President-
elect of the American Col-
lege of Psychiatrists, he
has gained national recog-
nition as an author of ma-
jor works on psychiatry.
His reviews of books have
appeared in earlier issues
of The Jewish News.


Philip Roth is a creative
writer when he writes what
he "must" write and should
be judged on this basis. At
those times when he or any
other writer writes what he
"should" (for example, in or-
der to sell books) he be-
comes a hack writer and is
creatively irrelevant. I noted
this point in my review pub-
lished in The Jewish News
of his novel, "The Breast."
If the psychoanalytic
"wound" theory of creativ-
ity is correct, the creative
writer writes because he
must. It is his way of at-
tempting to heal his wound
and free himself of pain.
The wound and the pain is
largely unconscious, par-
tially preconscious and
sometimes conscious to the
The creative writer
plunges into the uncon-
scious more readily than do
his readers or his critics.
Stated in Roth's words, this
book of reflections reveal to
him his continuing preoccu-
pation with the relationship
between the written and the
unwritten world (within

The wound from which
Roth suffers is a common
one; common to Jew and
Gentile alike, common to
creative writer and non-
creative writer alike. It is
the wound resulting from
the fight for individual
rights as opposed to the
demands of the civilization
in which the individual

The wound results from
the fight between salvaging
the right to one's self, to
one's needs, to one's plea-
sures, to one's sense of
power as opposed by the civ-
ilizing, restricting, impot-
ence-producing efforts of
one's parents, one's culture
and one's society. Most peo-
ple are not as sensitive, not
as wounded in this struggle
for survival of the self as
creative writers.
We owe a debt to those
creative people who do not
withdraw autistically but
who artistically communi-
cate the pains of their strug-
gle. Instead of recognition,
we often give further pain to
those who need approval so
desperately by becoming
non-comprehending critics.
Roth's critics accuse him
of self-loathing and hatred
of self in his work. This may
be present in the work of the
creative writer, but that is
not the purpose of his work.
The purpose is to free him-
self of self-loathing.

It is an effort to save
himself, his right to re-
spect himself (his desires,
his wishes, his Id) which
his family and culture ask
him to deny. If he succeeds
in his efforts he will not
have to hate himself. If he
succumbs to the external
demands, Ire- may lie
with self-loathing.


In his work, Roth shows
his stiff-necked, tyranical
need for "independence". He
fights to free himself from
his parents (and their guilt-
inducing love), to separate,
to individuate and thus to
transcend his parents.
Is this fierce, unhappy
struggle for his beliefs so
evil? Is it so unlike the his-
tory of the Jews in their
adherence to their beliefs
for which the Gentile world
has repeatedly criticized
them? And as is happening
again in the current Mideast

Freud respected and ap-
preciated creative writers.
When asked what he
thought of psychoanalysis,
he modestly said, "Oh well,
creative writers knaw all
about it." He was aware of
their capacity to dip into the
unconscious and reveal as-
pects of human nature hid-
den to those who avoid the
pain of exposing the inner
turmoil for the inspection of

Poor Portnoy, merely a
figment of Roth's imagina-
tion, struggles to free him-
self from his impotence
with Jewish mother-fig-
ures by exhibiting sexual
powers with the forbidden

Writers like Roth are not
the cause of the problem
through their writing. They
contribute to a deeper un-
derstanding of the problem.
For this they deserve more
thanks than criticism.

Creative writers, and
Roth in this instance, are
much like Joseph of biblical
fame. What was there in Jo-
seph that provoked jealousy,
rivalry, and envy from his
own family?

Joseph was a good Jewish
boy. But he was an ambi-
tious boy, even an arrogant
one-in his dreams. He made
the mistake of telling his
dreams to his family. (Note:
This is also what creative
writers do, often with the
same consequences.)

In his dreams, Joseph
wished to do so well, that
they would all bow down to
him. Even his ambitious
father, Jacob (Israel), who
in his arrogance fought God
and in his dreams climbed
the ladder to the Heavens,
could not stand the arrog-
ance of his son Joseph. In
Joseph's dreams of wanting
to rise so high that his
father, mothe.r,apd : brothers
would bOW1:16.kh lb him, he
transcends his parents and

Does Roth's artistic use
of his experience in a Jew-
ish family and culture
make him anti-Semitic?
To be true to his own
needs, he must in some
ways betray his family. In
every Jew there is such a
recurrent internal strug-
gle. At times the self-seek-
ing portion of himself wins
dominance over the alle-
giance to his group or ori-

The man who loves Juda-
ism must at times painfully
put the group's survival
above his self-interests.
Geniuses like Freud and
Marx were not able to do
this or perhaps, we should
say, chose not to do so.
Whether it is more heroic to
put one's self-interests
above the group's despite
the pressures of guilt,
shame, and ostracism or
more heroic to submerge
one's vanity for the sake of
the greater good of the
group is the story of many
persons' lives and many
great novels.

But this is also the strug-
gle of all individuals within
a structured society. Too
much dominance by the
group can destroy the indi-
vidual. Too much individual
freedom can destroy a so-

Maintaining homeostasis
is the struggle in everyone's
life. Creative writers main-
tain their homeostasis by
successful writing. To quote

"Fiction is not written
to affirm the principles
and beliefs that everybody
seems to hold, nor does it
seek to guarantee the ap-
propriateness of our feel-
ings. The world of fiction,
in fact, frees us from the
circumscriptions that so-
ciety places upon feelings;
one of the greatnesses of
art is that it allows both
the writer and the reader
to respond to experience in
ways not always available
in day-to-day conduct; or,
if they are available, or
they are possible, or man-
ageable, or legal, or advis-
able, or even necessary to
the business of living.

"We may not even know
that we have such a range of
feeling and responses until
we have come into contact
with the work of fiction.
This does not mean that ei-
ther the reader or writer no
longer brings any judge-
ment to bear upon human

`U.S. Should Leave Assembly
If Israel is Ousted from UN'

Daniel P. Moynihan, the
U.S. Ambassador-designate
to the United Nations, said
that the U.S. should pro-
claim "now" that it will not
stand for "eve.n the effort"
to expel Israel from the UN
General Assembly.
Testifying before the Sen-
ate Foreign Relations Com-
mittee which is holding
hearings on his nomination,
the former U.S. Ambassa-
dor to India and former pol-
itical science professor at.
Harvard said he agreed with
the views expressed before
the committee a month ago
by Arthur J. Goldberg.

Moynihan noted that the
representatives of some 77
non-aligned and Third
World countries had met
in Havana in March and
will meet again in Lima in
August. He said it would
be too late for the U.S. to
take action in September
with these representatives
since by then the instruc-
tions from their govern-
ments will have been solid-

The non-aligned countries
have called for a special ses-
sion of the General Assem-
bly in September to discuss
economic problems.
Moynihan pointed out
that Israel cannot be ex-
pelled from the UN as a
whole because the Security
Council must decide that,
implying a U.S. veto of such
an act.
But he emphasized that
even the effort to expel Is-
rael "would be a cata-
strophic action." He de-
scribed such an act as

Meanwhile, Goldberg
told the Presidents Confer-
ence of Major American
Jewish Organizations that
he told President Ford that
in case of the ejection of Is-
rael from the UN the U.S.
should withdraw from the
General Assembly, but re-
main on the Security
Council with its veto.

He also said that Secre-
tary of State Kissinger
characterized his suggestion
as "too early" and "overkill."
Kissinger said Friday
that the United States
"strongly opposes" expul-
Sfoh ofahy country from the
United Nations General
Assembly, but said the Ad-
ministration has "not de-
cided on specific steps"
should the Arab bloc and its
supporters seek to oust Is-
rael from the Assembly in

Senate Extends Ford's Power
to Continue Credits to Israel

By better than a three-to-
one margin, the Senate ap-
proved last week continua-
tion for two years of
standby authority for the
President to extend military
credits and guarantees for
Israel to purchase American
The vote for passage was
68-22 after a move to table
the legislation was defeated
The authorization, first
introduced by Sen. Henry
M. Jackson (D-Wash.) in
1970 and continued bienni-
ally since, was sponsored by
Jackson and Sens. James
Buckley (R-C-N.Y.), Hubert
H. Humphrey (D-Minn.),
Clifford Case (R-N.J.) and
Harrison Williams (D-N.J.I.

"Rather we judge at a dif-
ferent level of our being, for
not only are we judging
with the aid of new feelings,
but without the necessity to
act upon judgment.

The opposition was led
by Sen. John Stennis (D-
Miss.) head of the Senate
Armed Services Commit-
tee, who contended that
the authorization was not
within the jurisdictional
limits of the Defense Pro-
curement Bill.

"Ceasing for awhile to be
upright citizens, we drop
into another layer of con-
sciousness. And this expan-
sion of moral consciousness,
this exploration of moral
fantasy, is of considerable
‘ a-1 o e to - rnan and to so-

He was supported by
Sens. Barry Goldwater (R-
Ariz. ), James Abourezk, (D-
S.D.) and Sam Nunn (D-
Ga.). It was reported here
that. President Ford, in
briefing Congressional lead-
ers on his talks with Egyp-
tian and Israeli leaders, op-



"madness" and "contrary to
the spirit and the letter" of
the UN Charter.

posed the measure.
The authorization which
extends through December
1977, enables the President
to grant financial assistance
to Israel as may be neces-
sary. It contains no dollar
Its purpose is to allow
credit to be extended in the
event the formal foreign aid
legislation gets bogged
down in the legislative proc-
ess leaving'the President
without authority to aid Is-

Physicians Set
Annual Assem,

The 25th annual assembly
of the American Physicians
Fellowship, Inc. for the Is-
rael Medical Association
will be held 8:30 p.m. Mon-
day at the Chalfonte-Had-
don Hall in Atlantic City.
The assembly is being
held in conjunction with the
American Medical Associa-
tion convention week.
Dr. Shaul Feldman of Je-
rusalem, chairman of the
Scientific Committee of the
Israel Medical Association,
will speak on "Israel as a
Medical Center."
Violinist Debra Biderman
of the New Jersey Sym-
phony Orchestra will pre-
sent a musical program.

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