Philip Roth at Yaddo artists' retreat, 1968.
A Post-it on the recently retired Philip Roth's computer reads THE STRUGGLE WITH WRITING IS OVER. But as the new PBS documentary American Masters Philip Roth: Unmasked (airing March 29) shows, a fire still burns in the loins of the 79-year-old legend. Here, three Rothisms on matters of desire.
On literary masturbation: "[In James Joyce's Ulysses, Leopold Bloom] has cut the lining in his pocket so his hand can go through to his privates . . . but you still don't get it until the next paragraph begins with 'At it again.' . . . I think it should be on my tombstone: 'At it again.'"
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On literary cheating: "Writing about adultery was a passion of the 19th century. . . . Tolstoy wrote a book called Anna Karenina, Flaubert wrote a book called Madame Bovary . . . God, I'm fond of adultery. Aren't you?"
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On writing about sex: "When I sit down to write, I'm free from shame . . . I'm not horny while I'm sitting there writing it. This is a crucial distinction that has to be made."
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Philip Roth: Unmasked airs Friday, March 29, on PBS.