Philip Roth to World: "Literature Will be Dead in 25 Years"
AUSTIN, TX: I sat in a sprung lawn-chair on somebody's back porch, watching as a couple of bearded louts smoked pack after pack of cheap cigarettes. I don't smoke anymore but I like the smell. I can't get enough of the smell.

"So check this out," I said. "Philip Roth says that there won't be any literature in twenty-five years. He claims that the novel will be nothing but a minority cult."

Branch library or Branch Dividians?

"When did he say this?" asked one of the louts, a red-bearded guy named "Coral" who works at a local food co-op.

"Last week," I said. "It was big news. For literature. It was in the Guardian."

"Who's Philip Roth?" asked the other lout, a large man with terrible skin named "Sutphin" who doesn't actually have a job.

"He's a writer in New York," I said. "He writes about sex and Israel and stuff."

"New York," said Sutphin. "Jesus Christ. Is that all you can talk about?"

"I'm trying to figure out what ya'll think," I said. "Do you think that the novel will be nothing but a minority cult in twenty-five years? Do you think "the screen" will win? He says the novel can't compete with "the screen."

"What does he mean by "the screen"? asked Coral. "TV or computers?"

"I guess he means both," I said. "The nexus of TV and computers. Passive entertainment. Anything where you sit back and let a machine do the imagining for you."

"Fuck that," said Sutphin. "We're all gonna get government barcodes soon. Universal government identification. He's worried about literature? Fuck that."

"Yeah," I said. "He's worried about literature. So am I."

"I don't think literature is going anywhere," said Coral, cracking open a cold light beer. "I mean, think about it. Where does literature come from?"

"I don't know," I said. "The desire to construct a narrative in order to understand reality? The desire for permanence in a hostile and shifting universe of intangibles?"

"Naw," said Coral. "I mean more specifically."

"I don't know," I admitted. "I don't know where literature comes from specifically."

"Think about it," said Coral. "THINK ABOUT IT."

"Okay," I said, thinking about it. I shut my eyes and massaged my temples. This made Sutphin laugh. Coral shot him a dirty look until he shut up.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I still don't know where literature comes from specifically."

"Literature," said Coral. "Comes from assholes who think they are smart."

"Aha," I said.

"Is Philip Roth an asshole who thinks he is smart?"

"Yes," I said.

"Are you an asshole who thinks he is smart?"

"Pretty much," I said.

"Then there will be literature for at least fifty more years," said Coral. "You don't have to start a cult. Honestly, dude. Why does every asshole think they are the only one?"

"That's what makes them assholes," suggested Sutphin.

"Yeah, I don't know what I was worried about," I said. "Just making conversation, I guess."

Posted by miracle on Wed, 28 Oct 2009 20:28:15 -0400 -- permanent link

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