Friday, July 11, 2008

The Dying Animal ....was Incubus

Roth has always been shocking in his writing about sex. In fact he has always written about sex as John Updike has done (Once the Economist introduced Updike to its reader as, “the write of mostly salacious books set in a fictional town of New England”). But I would say that the brainiest “salacious” book I have ever read was The Couples by Updike. One only has to read "Portnoy's Complaint" (defined as, "A disorder in which strongly-felt ethical and altruistic impulses are perpetually warring with extreme sexual longings, often of a perverse nature...") to see it. My American friends tell me that the copy of this book used to be kept away by their parents as if it was published by Heffner & Co. And they were so curious that when they started reading it was one of the first book they read.

To start with the cover painting Le grand nu of girl with that tussocky underbelly nestled between the accentuate hips and the carelessly rolled down bulbous breast by Amedeo Modigliani does the job of enticing you to take the book. Every time I took the book I sighed and smiled at the same time looking at cover before getting deeply satiated by the prose inside the book.

Roth is not like other writers to hide his motive and theme behind a plot but lashes out like a torrential rain his unabashed, frank and shockingly raw feelings on the pages be it Jews sex or blacks. While reading certain description once I thought that I am reading George Bataille but as Aristotle said about bending a stick, for a timid and so called "cultured" this might seem like an obscene book frothing on the verge of scatology and a direct anathema to Nabokov's Lolita. I found some parallels between The Dying Animal and Lolita. May be it’s the time when these two books were written or the culture in which these authors were born (while Roth never left new York, Nabokov a Russian by origin lived in France before moving to Manhattan…that’s when he wrote Lolita, so was it American culture that inspired him to write such shockingly bold book?) or lived or the age of female characters who made them approach the story in such crass and direct language and with single layer in case of Roth and so subtle, and multilayered in case of Nabokov.

Even though both book involve same fascination of young girls by older professors (this seems to be fantasy of many old writer since The Disgrace by Nobel prize winner south African writer J M Coetzee has the same theme) but having a female character of legally adult age gave Roth the freedom to transgress the civility of language while describing certain passages by which Nabokov had to restrain himself having a minor female character. Such a loss ....for Nabokov for not only shocking the literary agents but shocking the simple minded folk too (to whom these literary agents tell what is shocking) had Nabokov written something like this with a legally adult age character and at that time.

It also shares first the fear of losing such Precious Little Thing and later humiliation of trying to get it as in Lolita. While the humiliation of losing was greatly portrayed in Lolita which made Humbert Humbert first delusional and then mad it was the fear of losing the girl while Kapesh had her that makes him say that you never know old age till you are old. What really bothered me in the movie version of Lolita was the scene in hospital when one night in his sleeping gown Humbert is pushed and humiliated by hospital staff when he tries to find if Lolita has ran away. And would like to see how they portray David Kapesh’s fear of losing Consuela while he is having her in the movie version of the book The Elegy.

But, as I was describing to someone, reading this book was like having a cerebral orgasm and that was not because of that raw and un-intimidated sex but because of some of the passages (which were never lost in the sketchy plot) where he traces the 60’s sexual march to have the seeds in 200 year old incidents and famous people and in fact to entire south America.

Being an American he exhorts a lot about Philogyny that too with such force an conviction, like a god that he might have started a religion somewhere else since America has no rarity of such men and that was the reason why he wrote those things. I could trace this vehemence towards family in the existing American society where almost everyone is married twice if they are married and half of kids not having half of the parents.

In fact the first most modern dialogue kind of prose I read was Deceptions by him and while reading that first time I came to know that Jewish-ness is an issue not only in Middle East but also in America. Despite the fact that I enjoyed all racial slur against them in comic sitcoms like The Family Guy I never really quite digested the intellectual jewish-ness hysteria drummed up by Roth in his books and Woody Allen in his movies.