Philip Roth did an interview for Svenska Dagbladet and the NY Times Book Review a couple of weeks ago. There was one interesting question.
In some quarters it is almost a cliché to mention the word “misogyny” in relation to your books. What, do you think, prompted this reaction initially, and what is your response to those who still try to label your work in that way?
Misogyny, a hatred of women, provides my work with neither a structure, a meaning, a motive, a message, a conviction, a perspective, or a guiding principle. This is contrary, say, to how another noxious form of psychopathic abhorrence — and misogyny’s equivalent in the sweeping inclusiveness of its pervasive malice — anti-Semitism, a hatred of Jews, provides all those essentials to “Mein Kampf.” My traducers propound my alleged malefaction as though I have spewed venom on women for half a century. But only a madman would go to the trouble of writing 31 books in order to affirm his hatred.
It is my comic fate to be the writer these traducers have decided I am not. They practice a rather commonplace form of social control: You are not what you think you are. You are what we think you are. You are what we choose for you to be. Well, welcome to the subjective human race. The imposition of a cause’s idea of reality on the writer’s idea of reality can only mistakenly be called “reading.” And in the case at hand, it is not necessarily a harmless amusement. In some quarters, “misogynist” is now a word used almost as laxly as was “Communist” by the McCarthyite right in the 1950s — and for very like the same purpose.
Yet every writer learns over a lifetime to be tolerant of the stupid inferences that are drawn from literature and the fantasies implausibly imposed upon it. As for the kind of writer I am? I am who I don’t pretend to be.
Well, as for the interviewer’s question, “what prompted this reaction initially,” I can say what prompted it in me: it was reading his early novels, and in particular My Life as a Man, which is so frenzied in its loathing that it put me off reading him at all for decades. That’s what.