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Old 14th Aug 2008, 8:37   #11
amner
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Default Re: Book 55: THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE by Philip Roth

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Yes I saw a review of Elegy today. I was surprised to see Penelope Cruz playing, er, whatsername, as I remember reading The Dying Animal and having a very strong image of Salma Hayek in my head. Roth does specify, ahum, large breasts for the character. It's even relevant!
Believe me, Cruz does not disappoint in that regard.
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Old 24th Aug 2008, 10:14   #12
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Default Re: Book 55: THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE by Philip Roth

It's seems that this book, this thread, is destined to either fizzle out, morph into comments on Elegy, or become a meditation on Cruz's anatomy. Yes, I know it is BLL time but surely Roth deserves a little better than that, particularly from those who voted for it to be on the reading list. I finished it last week on holiday and will finish my notes when I return from the EIBF.

As for the few comments so far:

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I enjoyed the professor's reading of Chevkov and Kafka and his musings more generally on the relationship between literature, reading, teaching, and desire. The lack of meditation on the notion of "fiction" and a sense of distance or what I was calling irony before, made me a bit uneasy. To what degree, in the lecture notes written in Prague or elsewhere (the thoughts on Colette, for example), does the "fiction" become metafictional?
Fair point in the beginning. Perhaps Roth, like many authors, is asking the reader to meditate on the nature of fiction, of metafiction, of form, of his ventroloquism etc etc ?

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I was reading some reviews of Roth on Facebook's Visual Bookshelf application and found this brilliant one for The Dying Animal

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sex view from old people perspective. Yuck!
I can only imagine that this came from the under-10s section, judging by its inanity, its construction, and its expletive.

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Old 24th Aug 2008, 15:05   #13
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Default Re: Book 55: THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE by Philip Roth

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It's seems that this book, this thread, is destined to either fizzle out, morph into comments on Elegy, or become a meditation on Cruz's anatomy. Yes, I know it is BLL time but surely Roth deserves a little better than that, particularly from those who voted for it to be on the reading list. I finished it last week on holiday and will finish my notes when I return from the EIBF.
I would hate to see the discussion fizzle out as well, Quink and truly look forward to your comments. I think the novel is a bit of a toughie because of its referential elements, certainly more difficult for myself as opposed to others here who are more widely read. I've eeked through much more Chekhov, no more Kafka, and a bit of Colette since first reading The Professor of Desire, and that has allowed me to move from reading the novel as a lament to soaking it in as praise.


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Perhaps Roth, like many authors, is asking the reader to meditate on the nature of fiction, of metafiction, of form, of his ventroloquism etc etc ?
I think that this is exactly what happens in the novel, beginning with the notes to his classes. I view the entire thing as structured somewhat like this:



I hope I'm not being glib. The early chapters- dense, tightly woven with irony, self-absorption, and pain mingled, of course and always, with sexual desire. The mid-section- his first marriage, the development of the notes (something I see as the crux of the whole thing and the heart of the novel). All leading to the expansive ''feel'' of the last part- his love for his parents, his more cohesive and less panicked expression of the fear of death, his love for Claire, the beautiful, breathtakingly beautiful (for this reader) section where he writes of the glory that accompanies their simple, daily routine (ooh la la, Bach!). All of this last section cast, thrown like a shawl to hide a stain, over David's abiding Frostian knowledge that nothing gold can stay, except words, thought, literature. I love this novel in all its fits and starts, because that is how David is, after meeting him when he became The Breast. His style is a bit more chaotic than Nathan Zuckerman's, or am I wrong?
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Old 24th Aug 2008, 19:03   #14
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Default Re: Book 55: THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE by Philip Roth

I think I feel that this book is too clever for me. I can't remember any of the Chekov I've read, have read no Kafka or Colette, and am uncertain of the traditions or otherwise of metafiction. I did appreciate what Beth describes in her last paragraph above - I got that sense of perspective and widening but if that points to something other than the pattern of many lives which begin with tight certainties and broaden into easier routines and simpler pleasures, then it's beyond me (but I'm happy for others to understand it on other levels). I've only read Everyman besides this so have no Zuckerman comparisons to make.

But a note about the choice of book: it's not done by popular votes, so it might be that only one person suggested it and the admin (who do the choosing) thought a Roth was a good option.
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Old 25th Aug 2008, 20:15   #15
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Default Re: Book 55: THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE by Philip Roth

Another Roth to dig out, then. Not heard of this one before. Of all the Roths I've read, Everyman is still by far and away my favourite. Its savage, brevity and directness - especially given the subject matter - are much to my liking. Because much as I admire Roth and have a fondness for his uncompromising bitterness and anger (at mankind? at himself?) that underpins so much of what he writes, I struggle occasionally when he 'goes off on a one" - usually an extended deviation from the plot which often becomes more of a diatribe than anything else that eventually peters out. In Everyman, he didn't do that and as a consequence, the brutality of compound physical and mental decline in the years approaching death was punched home all the better.

Despite his own advancing years, he's clearly still writing with great steam. As prolific as ever. I wonder if his own physical and mental frailties - the loss of recent memory etc - are lending an urgency to his writing these days ...
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Old 28th Aug 2008, 13:18   #16
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Default Re: Book 55: THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE by Philip Roth

In this, the second of Roth’s Kepesh books, the self-styled "Professor of Desire" refers to Kepesh’s teaching of the masterpieces “concerned with illicit and ungovernable passions”, (Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, to name but two). However Kepesh’s real subject is Kepesh himself, and his failure to find satisfaction (I Can’t Get No … would have been a good title for a proper review of this book) in a world that exists only to create desire. So between the reality of the stimuli and the elusiveness of the satisfaction, Kepesh struggles on, examining and analysing his life in the hope of resolving the conflict. From the whore in Shepherd’s Market in London, the Brigitta Svanstrom & Elisabeth Elverskog double act, his first wife Helen Baird, to his relationship with Claire Ovington, it is all to no end. The final pages give out an exasperated acknowledgement of his failure, (as he imagines returning to his therapist):
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“Did all you said, followed every instruction, unswervingly pursued the healthiest of regimens – even took it on myself to study the passions of my classroom, to submit to scrutiny those who have scrutinized the subject most pitilessly … and here is the result ! I know and I know and I know, I imagine and I imagine and I imagine, and when the worst happens, I might as well know nothing ! You might as well know nothing.”
I might as well know nothing. This is Kepesh’s tragedy: for all the self-awareness, the self-critical investigation and his intellectual energies, he is unable to resolve the conflict. Rather than be a professor in any way which would suggest expertise or mastery of the subject, he is little more than the subject itself. At the end of the trail he is tantalisingly close to resolution in the embodiment of all that is the character of Claire Ovington, yes even unto “those breasts, those breasts”. But already he fears the death of his passion for her, ending the final section of the book gloomily, and without optimism for himself.

The Professor of Desire is a book completely enclosed around Kepesh, in which there is never an attempt to travel beyond the bounds of his own id or his own ego. In comparison to Zuckerman, Kepesh revels in the world a layer or two down, giving us the mucky details that Zuckerman spares us. Nevertheless I found Kepesh’s voice to be softer at times, more lyrical perhaps, than Zuckerman’s. And just as enjoyable.
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Old 5th Oct 2008, 16:12   #17
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Default Re: Book 55: THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE by Philip Roth

Ang, I can't wait to hear what you think of this. Is this your first Roth?
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Old 5th Oct 2008, 16:16   #18
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Default Re: Book 55: THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE by Philip Roth

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Ang, I can't wait to hear what you think of this. Is this your first Roth?
No, but it is only my second... I read Everyman in 2007 and gave it 5 stars, but I remember none of it!
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Old 12th Oct 2008, 8:46   #19
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Default Re: Book 55: THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE by Philip Roth

I pitied Kepesh with his addiction to desire above all else. I cringed at the thought of him telling all about his sexual history to his university class - I hope he didn't go through with it - the book ends before he would go back to the start of the academic year.

My favourite part of the whole book was at the very end of the first section, page 94 in Vintage copy, a student's summary of "Anton Chekhov's overall philosophy of life."
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"We are born innocent," the girl has written, "we suffer terrible disillusionment before we can gain knowledge, and then we fear death - and we are granted only fragmentary happiness to offset the pain."
Kepesh wonders how he could have taught her this as he is only beginning to learn it himself. I haven't read Chekhov but I can see truth in what the girl writes. Kepesh is so full of his own prowess that he doesn't realize his students might understand some things that he does not himself. Not unlike his need for desire above all else - self-centered and, in "real" life, dull but as a fictional character, quite intriguing.

All-in-all a good character (in a bad way) and a good book.

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Old 8th Mar 2009, 16:21   #20
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Default Re: Book 55: THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE by Philip Roth

Having now gone through this thread, after finishing The Professor of Desire yesterday, I have to wonder why I found this novel to easily be the best novel by Roth I've read so far. Not that anyone else here hated it, or anything close to that, but I actually found this to be much less of a chore than, say, The Prague Orgy, which nevertheless took me no time at all to read.

I thought The Professor of Desire was deeply and brilliantly uncomfortable. I think my first indication that this was a truly great novel was after completing the section that dealt with Kepesh's feud with the Schonbrunn's -- which, among other things, I found to be a great source of gripping drama -- and his subsequent near-spiral into a near-Inferno alongside the creepy Baumgarten. The simple, uncluttered language Roth uses to describe Kepesh's shame over his involvement in the nude photography of a 15 year-old girl was devastating, and made my skin crawl a little.

And then, later, is the long, beautiful, and sadly joyful day out with Kepesh, his father, Claire and Mr. Barbatnik. That part of the book just sailed for me. I love the joy Kepesh's father felt when he presented his son with corny but touching gift of the Shakespeare coins, and Kepesh and Claire's selfless and gracious acceptance of them. Part of me wanted the book to end there, on an up note (having some inkling of what's in store for me in The Dying Animal), but I sort of knew that Kepesh wouldn't allow that to happen. Oh, what a kick in the head this book is.

And I see that some of you have taken issue with Kepesh's erotically obsessed approach to literature, and I can understand why, but I would be surprised if a guy like Kepesh could see literature any other way. The erotic parts of the world and his brain, and his attempts to deal with them, have just about ruled and ruined everything else in his life, so why wouldn't he see it everywhere at once, or even seek it out almost exclusively, in his reading?

Oh, also, seeing as, chronologically speaking, The Professor of Desire is the first Kepesh story, part of me kept expecting to read, "And then there was that time when I turned into a breast." Didn't happen, though.
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