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Philip Roth’s Postmodern American Romance

Critical Essays on Selected Works- Foreword by Derek Parker Royal


Jane Statlander

The central thesis of this book is that Philip Roth’s work is most accurately viewed as postmodernist American Historical Romance, rather than marginalized as Jewish-American. Four works are analyzed in relation to this thesis and to the specific idea that Roth’s contribution is entirely within mainstream American literature and culture. Emphasizing the importance and influence of Hebrew Scripture, the author demonstrates that, paradoxically, Roth’s Jewishness locates him squarely within the canon of (a Hebraic) America and its letters.


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Chapter One. Introduction 1


Introduction Amid the ongoing debate regarding just how Jewish or anti-Jewish, gentile or anti-gentile the writing of this Newark, Jewish born-and-bred American really is, it is evident that his work encapsulates and reflects historical romance, one of the two major literary streams in American letters. Furthermore, this investigation covertly re-designates “American Historical Romance” as “American Hebraic Historical Romance.” More specifically, it is this book’s underlying assumption that the all- pervasive influence of Hebrew Scripture on Puritanism and American culture places the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets, and all Hebrew Scriptural Writings at the heart of this romance genre. The other major literary direction, Realism—albeit permeated as well with American culture’s Puritan foundations—scrupulously recorded the Material world: Reality could be represented through the exclusive employment of mimetic forms. The Hebraic American historical romance, on the other hand, describes a genre that both encompasses and excludes mimesis’ imitation of the natural world, historicity, and temporality. Hebraicism and, therefore, Puritanism prohibit the imitative visualization of God’s physical world, which is viewed as a competitive act that challenges God as supreme Creator of the universe. In parallel, however, in both subscribing to a polemic of Hebrew Scripture and a man-God Hebrew-Scripture-based Puritanism both affirmed the supremacy of Hebrew Scriptural truths and antithetically shunned the flesh and materiality that Hebrew Scripture affirmed and exalted as the goodness, abundance, sensuality, and voluptuousness of God’s created universe. Hebrew Scripture’s commandment to be fruitful and multiply has a specifically physical and referential point. Historical romance,...

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