Monday, October 27, 2008

Philip Roth on labels

In an interview with a Danish journalist translated and printed in the Guardian a couple of years back, Philip Roth was asked about being perceived as an American-Jewish writer. He replied:

It's not a question that interests me. I know exactly what it means to be Jewish, and it's really not interesting. I'm an American. You can't talk about this without walking straight out into horrible cliches that say nothing about human beings. America is first and foremost ... it's my language. And identity labels have nothing to do with how anyone actually experiences life... I don't accept that I write Jewish-American fiction. I don't buy that nonsense about black literature or feminist literature. Those are labels made up to strengthen some political agenda.

We have a tendency to need to put labels on people. I've always tried to avoid them, so I can understand Roth's irritation.

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