When we try to find words to express our most visceral and primary responses to literature, we are often inclined to speak of its power. But in academic contexts, that intuitive feeling for the vividness, energy, and special intensity of literary experience is all too often subdued, and exchanged for a supposedly more sophisticated discussion of its ethical or political significance. Philip Roth has long thumbed his nose at the 'virtue racket', as one of his
characters called it, and his fiction has repeatedly satirised the moralistic idiom that tends to rule the public discussion of literature. In doing so he has earned the disapproval of an unusually wide range of university teachers and intellectuals. Philip Roth: Fiction and Power argues that Roth's
importance derives precisely from his revaluation of what counts as sophisticated and serious in our response to literature. As well as examining how Roth emerged as a writer, and defining the main lines of influence on him, the book measures his impact on the dominant ways of thinking about literary value in post-war America. Attention is given to particular questions: about the place of emotion and affective experience, the nature and value of tragedy, the relevance of art to life, the
relationship between literature and the unconscious, the concept of the author, the idea of a literary canon, and the ways that fiction illuminates America's complex post-war history. The book will be of importance to readers of modern American literature, and indeed to anyone interested in why literature
Patrick Hayes is Associate Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of St John's College. His previous work includes J.M. Coetzee and the Novel: Writing and Politics After Beckett (2010).
1. Philip Roth and Ethics Talk ; 2. Beginnings, (Goodbye, Columbus) ; 3. Tragedy, (Letting Go, My Life as a Man, Sabbath's Theater) ; 4. Experience, (Portnoy's Complaint, American Pastoral) ; 5. Life as Literature, (The Counterlife, Deception, The Humbling) ; 6. The Author, (The Ghost Writer) ; 7. The Unconscious, (Operation Shylock, The Plot Against America) ; 8. The Canon, (The Human Stain)