June 2013

This issue's contents Current issue Index Search



I go back a rather long way with Philip Roth, the author of PATRIMONY, ---and many other books--- who has just created quite a literary stir with the announcement of “retirement” from writing any more works of fiction. In essence he declares the fatuousness of the novel in this age of rapid transition of modes of communication and literary expression. The written word and its promulgation will gradually keep losing its primacy; other modes will keep eroding its place as the preeminent cultural mode of expression, and enlightenment. And with considerably less effort! Radio and television have already made considerable inroads, but the cell phone, face book and twitter are hovering all around, hungry for inevitably more use in this most competitive atmosphere. The demise or great diminution of newapapers and magazines is already beginning to seem inevitable. The prior golden image of leisurely reclining under the golden summer or early fall boughs of a tranquil tree and absorbing eternal verities is replaced now by somewhat concrete images in a handheld more prosaic “app” which regurgitates the required cold, hard facts but many times stifles the ephemeral truths that lie beyond and or beneath one’s wistful grasp.

Philip Roth’s memoir is of his father’s life and death struggle with his slowly spreading but implacable tumor, which was not metastasizing but simply growing around other cranial structures that were vital, with the inevitable loss of his 87 year old father, Herman Roth. While of small epic moment, his basic motor and visual functions were gradually impaired as the size of the tumor became more dominant and Herman Roth more powerless. Son Philip, a most celebrated author by now, tries vainly to stay calm as his father tries to maintain poise and equilibrium---both physical and mental!—when he tries to pester and correct his dutiful, patient paramour, Lil, on the proper technique of routine kitchen chores, just as when his late wife was still alive. Indeed, this action by the somewhat overbearing convalescent Herman was really a positive sign that he was still searching for some input into the routine of daily , normal living. Actually, many years before, this was Herman’s true mode of normal function in being in control of a large cadre of Metropolitan Life workers at their major Newark office. Indeed adult son Phil listened to his complaining mother,---Bessie-- complaining many times that her husband tried to instill and install the same mechanical regime in their household life; treating her as if by rote, mechanically and indifferently. In fact divorce was even conjectured. But a still loving Bessie backed off, knowing that her somewhat imperiously acting husband could not stand such a blow. And later on, even before his beloved Bessie passed on, his doctor was giving him a much needed pep talk. “Look, count your blessings; except for a being blind in one eye, having a deaf ear, and a half paralyzed face you’re as healthy as a man twenty years younger!”

The essence of the book details some of the core events in the in the father son relationship. Mostly it is more of the unique “oddness” of the father Herman, but we have a growing respect for the patience, tolerance and respect of son Philip, and even of “going the last mile” with their finally decrepit, wheel chair bound patient. Toward the end an almost sad, perhaps inevitable, old age physical event occurs. In the words of the apologetic father “ I beshat myself”---really an uncontrollable diarrihea incident that Philip and his wife, the actress Claire Bloom, strain mightily to eliminate. “I carried the bag out to the car and dumped it in the trunk to take to the laundry. And why this the right and as it should be, couldn’t have been plainer to me, now that the job was done. So that was the patrimony. And not because cleaning it up was symbolic of something else, because it was nothing more or less then the lived reality that it was. There was my patrimony; not the money, not the tefillin, not the shaving mug, but the shit!”

Roth’s testimonial of his respect and love for his father rings true on almost every page of the book. The last paragraph--perhaps almost a foot note, is….. “in the morning I realized that I had been all the while he was ill and dying, due to the unseemliness of my profession, I have been writing this book, and the dream that was telling me that in my books or my life, I at least in my dreams, would always be his little son……and he would remain the father sitting in judgement on whatever I do”.

But now some final foot notes of my own, also perhaps serendipitous. They are of the “whatever goes around comes around again” variety. I have never set foot in Newark, but many eons ago the memory of it lingers on. Many times I would wait for the train to Newark with my then most youthful girl friend, Ruth, whom I had dated around Penn Station in New York. Her folks lived in the Wequoic section of Newark—a rather upscale area, I understand—where her father would pick her up. Many times, in other of Roth’s books, that section of Newark, which I may be misspelling somewhat, is mentioned most affectionately. Most probably his birth place. But I do not have an overwhelming complex of final eternal father dominance. I am still of the old fashioned “my soul goes back to God”, school of prayerful hope, or of Robert Brownings’ Rabbi Ezra’s “Come along with me, the best is yet to be” or “God’s in his Heaven all’s right with the World”

So, in essence, welcome to the universal after Planet Earth existence, whether it be Einsteinian, Quantum, or beyond. And many other visionary views, well beyond our current rather meager understanding. But still validating Einstein’s hope “That God does not play dice with the Universe”! There are now, at least, many galaxies, and as if fleeing apart in what could be a ceaseless expansion. Among which there could be a few Planet Earth situations, successful in new neophyte phases of mortal growth and new Edenic wisdom that will finally overthrow the dismal dreariness of death as we know it and evolve to that higher level of sanctity ---or holiness, if you will---that is truly the ultimate reality that we certainly are capable of being. And much more of the immortality of we mere mortal souls, and not as fragile and frail spiritually as we now are.