Friday, May 11, 2012


"You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you're anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you're with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of mis-perception. And yet what are we to do about this terribly significant business of other people, which gets bled of the significance we think it has and takes on instead a significance that is ludicrous, so ill-equipped are we all to envision one another's interior workings and invisible aims? Is everyone to go off and lock the door and sit secluded like the lonely writers do, in a soundproof cell, summoning people out of words and then proposing that these word people are closer to the real thing than the real people that we mangle with our ignorance every day? The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It's getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That's how we know we're alive: we're wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that-- well, lucky you."

-American Pastoral, Philip Roth


  1. Good quote. Makes it seem like an interesting book, although having read some Roth I'm a little reticent to go down that road again. Would you recommend it?

    Moody Writing
    The Funnily Enough

  2. Mood, I'm only about 80 pages in, and yes, it does meander quite a bit. But among the digressions are many passages like this one, nicely written and remarkably insightful, that make it all worth it.

  3. This is Roth's best book, in my opinion. I've read a 13 books of his, and this is by far the best. Holds up well on a second reading, as well.

  4. My favorite Roth book. His description of glove-making was superb. Very sad but rang true for me.