20+ quotes from The Counterlife by Philip Roth

Quotes from The Counterlife

Philip Roth ·  336 pages

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“And as he spoke, I was thinking, 'the kind of stories that people turn life into, the kind of lives people turn stories into.”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Counterlife

“People are unjust to anger — it can be enlivening and a lot of fun.”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Counterlife

“Making you believe what he wanted you to believe was his very reason for being. Maybe his only reason. I was intrigued by the way he turned events, or hints I had given him about people, into reality--that is, his kind of reality. This obsessive reinvention of the real never stopped, what-could-be having always to top what is.
I began to wonder which was real, the woman in the book or the one I was pretending to be upstairs. Neither of them was particularly "me." I was acting just as much upstairs; I was not myself just as much Maria in the book was not myself. Perhaps she was. I began not to know which was true and which was not, like a writer who comes to believe that he's imagined what he hasn't.
The book began living in me all the time, more than my everyday life.”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Counterlife

“...he was seething suddenly with remorse, because of having done what he'd done and because he hadn't done more. Seething with outrage too, about "Basel" more than anything--as outraged by what Nathan had got right there as by what he'd got wrong, as much by what he'd been making up as by what he was reporting. It was the two in combination that were particularly galling, especially where the line was thin and everything was given the most distorted meaning.”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Counterlife

“Things don't have to reach a peak. They can just go on. You do want to make a narrative out of it, with progress and momentum and dramatic peaks and then a resolution. You seem to see life as having a beginning, a middle, an ending, all of them linked together with something bearing your name. But it isn't necessary to give things a shape. You can yield to them too. No goals--just letting things take their own course. You must begin to see it as it is: there are insoluble problems in life, and this is one.”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Counterlife

“No, I won't do it. I will not be locked into your head in this way. I will not participate in this drama for the sake of your fiction. Oh, darling, the hell with your fiction.”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Counterlife

“Why can't Jews with their Jewish problems be human beings with their human problems?”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Counterlife

“In short, dozens of conflicting, truncated impressions were already teasing to be understood, but the wisest course seemed to me to keep them to myself so long as I didn't begin to know what they added up to.”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Counterlife

“There is no you, Maria, any more than there is a me. There is only this way that we have established over the months of performing together, and what it is congruent with isn't "ourselves" but past performances--we're has-beens at heart, routinely trotting out the old, old act.”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Counterlife

“But it is INTERESTING trying to get a handle on one's own subjectivity--something to think about, to play around with, and what's more fun than that?”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Counterlife

“Pensando na morte de seu irmão - e no ataque mortal do pai - me peguei comparando aquele sorriso seu com um curativo sobre uma ferida.

― Philip Roth, quote from The Counterlife

“Nathan called all shiksas Maria--the explanation seemed as ludicrously simple as that.”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Counterlife

“If you're from New Jersey,” Nathan had said, “and you write thirty books, and you win the Nobel Prize, and you live to be white-haired and ninety-five, it's highly unlikely but not impossible that after your death they'll decide to name a rest stop for you on the Jersey Turnpike. And so, long after you're gone, you may indeed be remembered, but mostly by small children, in the backs of cars, when they lean forward and tell their parents, 'Stop, please, stop at Zuckerman—I have to make a pee.' For a New Jersey novelist that's as much immortality as it's realistic to hope for.”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Counterlife

“But, no, Nathan was utterly unable to involve himself in anything not entirely of his own making. The closest Nathan could ever come to life's real confusion was in these fictions he created about it--otherwise he'd lived as he died, died as he'd lived, constructing fantasies of loved ones, fantasies of adversaries, fantasies of conflict and disorder, alone day after day in this peopleless room, continuously seeking through solitary literary contrivance to dominate what, in real life, he was too fearful to confront. Namely: the past, the present, and the future.”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Counterlife

“No questions, no excuses, none of this who-am-I, what-am-I, where-am-I crap, not a grain of self-mistrust or the slightest impulse toward spiritual distinction; rather, like so many of his generation out of Newark’s old Jewish slums, a man who breathed the spirit of opposition while remaining completely in accord with the ways and means of the earth. Back when”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Counterlife

“At the crest of the hill outside Agor, Henry pulled the car to the side of the road and we got out to take in the view. In the falling shadows, the little Arab village at the foot of the Jewish settlement looked nothing like so grim and barren as it had a few minutes before when we’d driven down its deserted main street. A desert sunset lent a little picturesqueness even to that cluster of faceless hovels. As for the larger landscape, you could see, particularly in this light, how someone might get the impression that it had been created in only seven days, unlike England, say, whose countryside appeared to be the creation of a God who’d had four or five chances to come back to perfect it and smooth it out, to tame and retame it until it was utterly habitable by every last man and beast. Judea was something that had been left just as it had been made; this could have passed for a piece of the moon to which the Jews had been sadistically exiled by their worst enemies rather than the place they passionately maintained was theirs and no one else’s from time immemorial. What he finds in this landscape, I thought, is a correlative for the sense of himself he would now prefer to effect, the harsh and rugged pioneer with that pistol in his pocket.”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Counterlife

“This manic asidedness—well, that’s New York and the Jews. Heady stuff. The only thing I don’t like is that they all seem a bit too quick to find fault with Gentiles in their attitudes toward Jews. You have a touch of it too—finding things horrendously anti-Semitic, or even mildly so, when they really aren’t. I know it’s not entirely unjustified for Jews to be thin-skinned on that score—nonetheless, it’s irritating. Uh-oh,” she”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Counterlife

“Hypergamy. Do you know what it is?” “Never heard of it.” “Bedding women of a superior social class. Desire based on a superior social class.”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Counterlife

“... [T]hose who most seem to be themselves appear to me people impersonating what they think they might like to be, believe they ought to be, or wish to be taken to be by whoever is setting standards. So in earnest are they that they don't even recognise that being in earnest -is the act-. For certain self-aware people, however, this is not possible: to imagine themselves being themselves, living their own real, authentic, or genuine life, has for them all the aspects of a hallucination.
I realise that what I am describing, people divided in themselves, is said to characterise mental illness and is the absolute opposite of our idea of emotional integration. The whole Western idea of mental health runs in precisely the opposite direction: what is desirable is congruity between your self-consciousness and your natural being. But there are those whose sanity flows from the conscious -separation- of those two things. If there even -is- a natural being, an irreducible self, it is rather small, I think, and may even be the root of all impersonation -- the natural being may be the skill itself, the innate capacity to impersonate. I'm talking about recognising that one is acutely a performer, rather than swallowing whole the guise of naturalness and pretending that it isn't a performance but you. . . . All I can tell you with certainty is that I, for one, have no self, and that I am unwilling or unable to perpetrate upon myself the joke of a self. It certainly does strike me as a joke about -my- self. What I have instead is a variety of impersonations I can do, and not only of myself -- a troupe of players that I have internalised, a permanent company of actors that I can call upon when a self is required, an ever-evolving stock of pieces and parts that forms my repertoire. But I certainly have no self independent of my imposturing, artistic efforts to have one. Nor would I want one. I am a theater and nothing more than a theater.”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Counterlife

“There was no other explanation for such an illness in a man otherwise so young and fit. It was the consequence of failing to find the ruthlessness to take what he wanted instead of capitulating to what he should do.”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Counterlife

About the author

Philip Roth
Born place: in Newark, New Jersey, The United States
Born date March 19, 1933
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