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Philip Roth Studies is a peer-reviewed semiannual journal published by Purdue University Press in cooperation with the Philip Roth Society. The journal publishes writing pertaining entirely or in part to Philip Roth, his fiction, and his literary and cultural significance.

Philip Roth Studies Volume 15, Issue 1, out this month, will be the final issue for executive co-editors Debra Shostak and David Brauner. We spoke to them about their experience, Philip Roth’s passing, and the future of the journal.

 


 

Q: PRS 15.1 is special for a few reasons; could you explain its significance?

 

Debra Shostak and David Brauner: The spring 2019 issue of Philip Roth Studies, volume 15, is professionally and personally momentous for us as editors, and we hope it will be as meaningful to our readers as it is to us. PRS 15.1 is valedictory, not only because it is the last issue we will have overseen before turning the Executive Co-editorship of the journal over to the capable hands of Aimee Pozorski and Maren Scheurer, but also, and even more movingly for us, because we are honoring the late Philip Roth, who died in May of 2018, with a special memorial issue.

To remember Roth as a writer who has brought so many of us together within the pages of PRS over nearly fifteen years, we invited reflective essays from eighteen scholars who have contributed significantly to the study of his work, mostly in monographs devoted significantly or wholly to Roth. We are also thrilled to publish what we think may be the last scholarly interview Roth granted, to Elèna Mortara, who has edited the Italian editions of his work for the prestigious literary series Meridiani Mondadori. Our line-up of contributors is stellar—in alphabetical order, Victoria Aarons, Ann Basu, Alan Cooper, David Gooblar, Jay Halio, Patrick Hayes, Brett Ashley Kaplan, Michael Kimmage, Pia Masiero, Maggie McKinley, Catherine Morley, Ira Nadel, Patrick O’Donnell, Timothy Parrish, Aimee Pozorski, and Matthew Shipe—and their offerings are brilliant, heartfelt, at times humorous (and we two have exploited our executive editor privilege to include our own reflections as well). The essays run from memories of meeting Roth and of attending his funeral, to musings on the profound, often disorienting, effects of his fiction on us as readers and critics. Contributors meditate on Roth’s attachment to Newark, New Jersey, on the sexual politics of his fiction, on his allusions to children, on his deep and troubled connection to the American history to which he faithfully, sometimes mercilessly, bore witness, on how he speaks to the present moment, on his devotion to literary pleasures, and on his fictive conversations with his literary forebears. Others revisit The Human Stain, Sabbath’s Theater, and American Pastoral. Without exception, the essays demonstrate Roth’s vital, unabated presence among us all—in his language, his stories, his inexhaustible formal invention, his integrity, his daring—even though he is no longer living among us to delight us yet again.

We, David and Deb, are bidding farewell to the many pleasures of editing Philip Roth Studies, but we will never bid farewell to the boundless, bottomless Philip Roth.

 

Q: What got you interested in studying Philip Roth? Was there a particular work that you feel most inspired your interest?

 

 

David: I first encountered Roth’s work when, as a teenager, I picked up a copy of Portnoy’s Complaint at random from my parents’ bookshelves, knowing nothing about it. In spite of the temporal and geographical gap between my own circumstances—growing up in a London suburb in the 1970s and 80s—and those of the protagonist—growing up in New Jersey in the 1940s and 50s—I felt an immediate thrill of recognition. It articulated brilliantly—and hilariously—what I later called a “transnational Jewish sensibility,” the profound ambivalence of Jews in the post-war period towards both their own Jewishness and the larger culture. There was then a hiatus of a number of years before, as a graduate student, I read The Counterlife. That was the book that got me hooked—I went on to read, systematically, everything that Roth had written and I began to write about his work. What struck me most powerfully about The Counterlife was the way it combined ingenious metafiction with compelling domestic drama and big political, historical, and existential questions. Later, Sabbath’s Theater was the novel that cemented my conviction of Roth’s pre-eminence among contemporary novelists: I remember vividly as I read it the first time thinking “this is one of the greatest novels I’ve ever read” and each successive re-reading has only reinforced my belief that this is Roth’s masterpiece.

 

Deb: My encounter—and fascination—with Roth’s work runs parallel to David’s in several ways. I remember seeing the vivid yellow cover of Portnoy’s Complaint on my parents’ bookshelves during my early adulthood, but I never picked it up. Instead, after hearing a casual recommendation in the late 1980s, I read The Counterlife. I was at once enthralled—by Roth’s dizzying formal experiment, his antic humor, his unique voice, and the magical touch by which he could make that most reflexive of novels seem like familiar realism in its treatment of family, history, and selfhood. I never anticipated how much that book would reshape my professional life. I felt driven to try to write about it, and then, reading through all of Roth’s work and eagerly awaiting each new volume, I never looked back. I was captivated by the hard questions he asked about American history, politics, and manhood, and by the many pleasures of his sentences. Like David, I judge Sabbath’s Theater to be Roth’s masterpiece, but for me, Operation Shylock runs a close second. If I had to guess which novels will most centrally keep Roth’s work alive for readers in the coming years, though, I’d probably point to his powerful treatment of twentieth-century America, “real” and all-too-real: in the American Trilogy and The Plot Against America.

 

Q: How do you think Roth’s death will affect the study of his work?

 

Deb and David: In the short term, it will stimulate scholarship, as critics reassess his work and his legacy in the round. In the longer term, there is a danger that interest in his work may wane—we have seen this happen with a number of his contemporaries, such as Saul Bellow and John Updike. However, our gut instinct is that this won’t be Roth’s fate—we think his work is more thoroughly embedded in the canon than that of any of his peers and, as we have seen with the recent renewed attention paid to The Plot Against America since Trump’s election, it continues to resonate powerfully in our contemporary moment.

 

Q: What do you feel have been your greatest achievements with the journal during your tenure, and what are you excited to see from the journal moving forward?

 

Deb and David: We are particularly proud of the number of younger scholars we have featured in the journal over the period of our editorship. One of these, Maren Scheurer, has now, together with Aimee Pozorski, taken over from us as Executive Co-Editor of the journal, and many others, who published their first peer-reviewed pieces with PRS, have gone on to establish themselves as important new voices in the discipline. Other notable features of our tenure have been the number of excellent special issues we have published and the range of other authors with whose work Roth’s has been placed in dialogue. Overall, the last five years have seen a significant extension of the parameters of Roth studies and we are proud that the journal has been at the forefront of this work. We are confident that Aimee and Maren will build on this legacy and continue to take Roth studies in new and exciting directions.

 


 

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