Philip Roth on how to read a novel: “The thought of the novelist that matters most is the thought that makes him a novelist.”

“Whoever looks for the writer’s thinking in the words and thoughts of his characters is looking in the wrong direction. Seeking out a writer’s “thoughts” violates the richness of the mixture that is the very hallmark of the novel. The thought of the novelist that matters most is the thought that makes him a novelist.

The thought of the novelist lies not in the remarks of his characters or even in their introspection but in the plight he has invented for his characters, in the juxtaposition of those characters and in the lifelike ramifications of the ensemble they make — their density, their substantiality, their lived existence actualized in all its nuanced particulars, is in fact his thought metabolized.

The thought of the writer lies in his choice of an aspect of reality previously unexamined in the way that he conducts an examination. The thought of the writer is embedded everywhere in the course of the novel’s action. The thought of the writer is figured invisibly in the elaborate pattern — in the newly emerging constellation of imagined things — that is the architecture of the book: what Aristotle called simply “the arrangement of the parts,” the “matter of size and order.” The thought of the novel is embodied in the moral focus of the novel. The tool with which the novelist thinks is the scrupulosity of his style. Here, in all this, lies whatever magnitude his thought may have.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/books/review/my-life-as-a-writer.html?smid=fb-nytimes&WT.z_sma=BO_MLA_20140302

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One thought on “Philip Roth on how to read a novel: “The thought of the novelist that matters most is the thought that makes him a novelist.”

  1. Thanks for posting! Gives me more confidence in using Ricoeur in my work on an old epic. On the other hand, I imagine that at least several modern novelists would disagree with Roth’s assessment, pointing to post-structuralist theorists like Bhaktin instead of Aristotle. How does Roth’s account strike you as a novelist?

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