La semana de Everyman

Parece consenso absoluto: Philip Roth era un escritor enorme desde sus primeros libros, que incluyeron un éxito mundial inmediato como Portnoy´s Complaint (El lamento de Portnoy).

Era un autor con un lugar asegurado en la historia de la novela contemporánea con sus obras de madurez, las protagonizadas por su alter ego Nathan Zuckerman y reunidas en Zuckerman Bound (Zuckerman Encadenado).

Pero se ha convertido en un clásico, uno de los novelistas clave del último medio siglo, con las ficciones que está escribiendo, incansablemente, en los años recientes.

Cuando Salman Rushdie pasó por por Bowdoin College, hace unos tres meses, ante una pregunta al final de su conferencia, dijo que había sólo tres o cuatro novelistas extraordinarios en el mundo hoy, pero que uno de ellos estaba en un nivel muy distinto a los demás: Philip Roth.

Han pasado casi tres meses desde de que ese prestidigitador de las reseñas que es Rodrigo Fresán comentara, antes de su lanzamiento y leyendo un ejemplar de prueba, la novela más reciente del genio judío de New Jersey, Everyman. Ahora, por fin, Everyman llega a las librerías americanas pasado mañana (mi ejemplar llega un par de días después: ya tendré tiempo de comentarles algo acerca de esta novela, cuya historia, por cierto, no viene de la mano de ninguno de los narradores rothianos habituales, Zuckerman, Roth o el insoportable Kepesh).

El New York Times de hoy, rindiendo homenaje a la talla de este perpetuo candidato al Premio Nobel (él y Vargas Llosa son los voceados con mayor fuerza desde hace mucho tiempo), ha publicado una reseña de Everyman escrita, precisamente, por una ganadora del Nobel: Nadine Gordimer. Quienes no puedan acceder a esa reseña en el website del NYT la encontrarán aquí, en inglés obviamente, como primer comentario de este post.

A ratos, en su reseña, la novelista sudafricana parece estar firmando, en nombre de todos los escritores del mundo, una capitulación en favor de Roth, reconociéndolo como un ser superior. El comentario termina expresivamente: "Philip Roth es un triunfador magnífico en su intento de probar que Georg Lukacs estaba equivocado cuando formuló su sentencia acerca de la imposible meta del escritor que quiere abarcar en su obra la vida entera".

Imagen: caricatura-fotomontaje gfp sobre una fotografía promocional de Random House.

8 comentarios:

Gustavo Faverón Patriau dijo...

(Tomada del NYT)


'Everyman,' by Philip Roth
Lust and Death

Published: May 7, 2006

"Nor dread nor hope attend / A dying animal. . . . / Man has created death."

Philip Roth quotes not these lines from Yeats but those of Keats as epigraph to his latest novel: "Here where men sit and hear each other groan; / Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs, / Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies; / Where but to think is to be full of sorrow."

For three of the world's best novelists, Fuentes, García Márquez and Roth, the violent upsurge of sexual desire in the face of old age is the opposition of man to his own creation, death.

The final kick of the prostate, my old physician friend called it.

But it cannot be summed up, so wryly and glibly, when it is the theme of contemporary fiction by these writers from the two Americas. García Márquez's "Memories of My Melancholy Whores," Fuentes's "Inez," Roth's "Human Stain" and "The Dying Animal" and now "Everyman" have in common in their wonderful transformations the phenomenon — presented as similar to that of adolescence — of late sexual desire. The last demanding exuberance in the slowly denuded body, when "to think is to be full of sorrow": the doubt that comes about the unquestioned superiority of the rewards of the intellect. David Kepesh in "The Dying Animal" claims the phenomenon as the undeniable assertion of "erotic birthright," and this holds good for Philip Roth's unnamed — perhaps because he is, Roth forces us to admit — Everyman.

His story begins when he is dead. But we recognize him immediately: he's in a cultural profession (if a doubtful one), advertising, with an avocation as an amateur painter; he's been married several times; he has adult progeny with whom he is in various states of lack of relationship. He's the man Roth has long chosen to take on our human burdens, as a writer has always to select particular beings from among us for attention. The Cultural Journalist in the grave has been a resident in a retirement village for several years before his death. The relatives, an ex-wife, etc., are at the graveside. It has been the decision of his most-loved child, Nancy, to bury him in a half-abandoned Jewish cemetery although she knows he was an atheist: he loved his parents and he will be close to them in their graves.

Roth takes the writer's free acknowledgment of many literary modes while unceasingly experimenting with his own. From the graveside nod to Dickens, the man unseen there is tracked back to life and even before his individual conception. Here, the chronology of living isn't that of a calendar but of cross-references; soon we're at an earlier graveside. After a re-creation of the Cultural Journalist's childhood as he waits for one of the medical "interventions" that maintain his geriatric body, he turns back the pages of self to the day of his father's funeral. It is in the same cemetery, the old Jewish one founded by immigrants. That day, as he watches, his father's jewelry store is vividly present. It opened in 1933 with an immigrant's audacity as the only capital: "Diamonds — Jewelry — Watches." In order to "avoid alienating or frightening away the port city's tens of thousands of churchgoing Christians with his Jewish name, he extended credit freely . . . he never went broke with credit, and the good will generated by his flexibility was more than worth it." A good man, as his son recognizes.

Perhaps it's possible to be good only in a life with a number of limitations? So much is intriguing, left for the reader to ask himself or herself in Roth's writings. The reason to risk opening a store in the bad times of the Depression "was simple": he "had to have something to leave my two boys." This, in Roth's context, is not sentimental; it's an unstated principle of survival with connotations waking the reader to the unending presence of the immigrant, generation after generation, country to country, Jew, Irishman, Muslim, no roots but shallow ones scratched into someone else's natal soil.

If descriptive amplitude went out with the 19th century, Philip Roth, who strides the whole time and territory of the word, has resuscitated it — in description revved with the power of narrative itself. This father's graveside is — for the canny reader, not the son — a post-premonitory experience, intended to lead back to the graveside at which Roth chose to begin the son's life, a tug at the lien between the son and his antecedents ignored by him. He has never before witnessed the Jewish Orthodox ritual whereby the mourners and not the cemetery professionals literally bury the coffin. What he sees is not a symbolic sprinkling of a handful of dust, but the relatives and friends heaving shovels of earth to thud on the coffin, filling the hole to obliteration. As he becomes "immersed in the burial's brutal directness" what comes to him is not reverence but horror. "All at once he saw his father's mouth as if there were no coffin, as if the dirt they were throwing into the grave was being deposited straight down on him, filling up his mouth, blinding his eyes, clogging his nostrils and closing off his ears." "He could taste the dirt coating the inside of his mouth well after they had left the cemetery and returned to New York." The taste of death.

"Professor of Desire." One may so name Philip Roth, writer, without disrespect and in admiration, with an epithet that was the title of one of his earlier novels. Roth has proved by the mastery and integrity of his writing the difference between the erotic and the pornographic, in our sleazy era of the latter. The premise of his work is that nothing the body offers is denied so long as it does not cause pain. With rather marvelous presumption he seems unknowingly to have written the Kama Sutra of the 20th and 21st centuries. He asserts the joy of loving sexual intercourse, the splendid ingenuity of the body. His men are not disciples of de Sade, though it may be difficult to accept (in "The Dying Animal") the man licking a woman's menstrual blood off her legs as not exploitation of the privacy of a bodily function, quite different from the evocation of "the simplicity of physical splendor" which is manifest in sexual desire, and beautifully celebrated for all of us in his latest novel.

If Portnoy has never been outgrown, only grown old, he is, in his present avatar, an everyman whose creator makes the term "insight" something to be tossed away as inadequate. What Roth knows of the opposition/apposition of the body and the intellect is devastatingly profound and cannot be escaped, just as Thomas Mann's graffiti on the wall of the 20th century cannot be washed off: "In our time the destiny of man presents its meaning in political terms." Roth has dealt with this other great theme in human existential drives — politics — as searchingly as he has sexuality. Roth's people, whether politically activist or not, live in our world — and the bared-teeth decorum of academe is its gowned microcosm — terrorized by fear of the Other abroad and State authoritarianism at the throat at home. His superbly matchless work, "The Plot Against America," has the power of political fantasy moving out of literature into the urgent possibilities of present-day reality. With that novel he conveyed the Then in the Now. Hero-worship of Charles Lindbergh makes it feasible that he becomes president of the United States, despite his admiring embrace of Hitler; Bush never embraced Nazis, but the enthusiasm he elicits, through instilling fear in Americans who voted him into power and whose sons have come back in body bags along with the gruesome images of Iraqi dead, is no fantasy. And Lindbergh's anti-Semitism foreshadows the fundamentalisms that beset us in 2006.

One comes away from the strong political overtones in "Everyman" with the open truth that subservience, sexual connotations aside, is a betrayal of human responsibility. The strength of resistance derives from even further back within us than the drive toward freedom. Terminal Everyman's memory of a sensuous experience, relived, invokes the glory of having been alive even while "eluding death seemed to have become the central business of life and bodily decay his entire story." "Was the best of old age . . . the longing for the best of boyhood, for the tubular sprout that was then his body and that rode the waves from way out where they began to build, rode them with his arms pointed like an arrowhead and the skinny rest of him following behind like the arrow's shaft, rode them all the way in to where his rib cage scraped against the tiny sharp pebbles and jagged clamshells . . . and he hustled to his feet . . . and went lurching through the low surf . . . into the advancing, green Atlantic, rolling unstoppably toward him like the obstinate fact of the future."

Another ecstasy. Not to be denied by mortality. Philip Roth is a magnificent victor in attempting to disprove Georg Lukacs's dictum of the impossible aim of the writer to encompass all of life.

Carlos M. Sotomayor dijo...

Gustavo: en el mismo NYT apareció una crítica de Michiko Kakutani sobre Everyman. Nada auspiciosa, a mi pesar. Aprecio mucho la narrativa de Philip Roth (autor al que llegué gracias a un acertado consejo de Félix Reátegui). Sería interesante comentar ambos textos: el de Gordimer y el de Kakutani.

Daniel Salvo dijo...

En Lima (no se si en otros lugares del Perú) se puede encontrar "La conjura contra América", la incursión de Philip Roth en la ciencia ficción. En dicha novela, un antisemita Charles Lindbergh (piloto que se convirtío en ídolo nacional norteamericano al ser el primero en cruzar el Atlántico) se convierte en presidente de los Estados Unidos en 1940, formalizando un pacto de no agresión con Hitler. El libro describe las vicisitudes de una familia judía en este nuevo marco histórico.

Mario Michelena dijo...

Comprendo el aprecio de Daniel Salvo por la ciencia ficción pero, hasta donde entiendo, "La conjura contra America" no es ciencia ficción sino ficción histórica.

Daniel Salvo dijo...

¿Entonces Lindbergh realmente fue presidente de los Estados Unidos? ¡Dios mío! ¡Estoy en un mundo paralelo!

Julio Montero dijo...

Creo que a lo que Mario Michelena y Daniel Salvo se refieren es a la ucronía. Cito Wikipedia: "La ucronía es un subgénero de la ciencia ficción que también podría denominarse novela histórica alternativa, ya que se caracteriza porque la trama transcurre en un mundo desarrollado a partir de un punto en el pasado en el que algún acontecimiento sucedió de forma diferente a como lo ha hecho en realidad (por ejemplo, los perdedores de determinada guerra son los ganadores, etc)." Además, da como ejemplo que el primer ucronista es Tito Livio, que relata una supuesta guerra entre el imperio de Alejandro Magno y el romano en el siglo IV a.C. Creo que vale la pena revisarlo.

Daniel Salvo dijo...

Puesto que Victor Coral no permite comentarios en su blog, habría que destacar que en Moleskine (que tampoco permite comentarios) apareció la portada de su novela "Rito de paso" y un comentario de Ivan Thays acerca del texto de la contraportada, que se lee bastante esotérica (el libro consigue equilibrar "lo deshumanizado con el lirismo, Kafka con Calvino").
Provoca leer cómo se verá Lima en unos cientos de años...

Tanque de Casma dijo...

Jorge Eduardo Benavides sería un escritor de ciencia ficción según tu concepto de ucronía, al menos en Nuestros años inútiles. Si recuerdas esa novela, se crea todo un universo muy similar al Perú de fines de los 80 pero con un par de cambios significativos.