So, I read Other Men's Daughters by Richard G. Stern and though it was certainly consistent with the time it was released (1973) I enjoyed it. It reminded me of some of people my parents knew when I was very young. Not that they fiddled with students, but intellectuals living a thinking life in a culture that was changing, but still male dominated.
The forward to the book was by Philip Roth. A person I'd always assumed was something of an egomaniac and intellectual elitist. However, in his forward he fondly remembered his friend Stern and wrote with kindness.
I was in a nostalgic mood and had never read any of Roth's work, so I picked up Portnoy's Complaint.
- It is very good.
- It is relentless and persistent in its obscenity.
- It takes Jewish family angst to an extreme level.
- It explores a view of women as object that is also relentless.
It is not written for feminists or necessarily women. I imagine it has angered women, especially feminist women. In fact, given the context of the current day when a number of well-deserving men are being held accountable for horrible behavior that is clearly, inexcusably horrible, reading Portnoy's Complaint couldn't help but spark some thought.
Roth wants to tell a truth and comment on contemporary culture in 1968 through an extremely toxic protagonist. It is well-written, but is it moral and ethical or should it be avoided? Does it or does it not have a place the American literary mainstream? Not sure. Still digesting.
What I will offer is that his book is sometimes (often?) presented to male audiences as something of a must read for men. Most of the time there is a responsibility taken to say that the representations in the book are extreme, but cut to meaningful truths. The protagonist's actions are ugly and wrong, but they are used to make a valid comment.
However, sometimes the book is represented as a strictly masculine form of writing and storytelling.
There is a line that gets crossed where the writing and meaning behind it is conflated with what some believe it means to be male. An attitude of take what you want from women.
This is not Roth's point. His point is to use an extreme example to comment on the conflict Jewish men felt between a more sexually free society and what their parents wanted from them in 1968. This was true for a lot of people--men and women--who were freed to explore desire, but constraint by their upbringings.
Today, it is obvious that a number of men have used wealth and power to adopt an attitude of I can take what I want from women. They are a thing and like all things, they can be used, taken, possessed, etc. There is Trump the master liar and bigot followed by Harvey Weinstein, even a ranking member of NPR news. These people point to an illness in our culture in the same way that so many mass shootings and adoration and veneration of guns and violence is a sickness.
Not everyone is ill, but these are uniquely male illnesses. They are cancers eating away at the fabric and qualities of good that Americans have relied on even during some very ugly times. Unfortunately, with Trump and Republicans acting as amoral, greedy, power mad autocrats, we are also losing a lot of what was good in our culture and protected us from people such as Trump and the Republican leaders.
We live in a time where the defining political goal of forty percent of the country is greed through tax cuts and wealthfare AND to piss off the other sixty percent as much as possible. If a policy and/or statement is so ugly and dishonest it gets a rise out of the other half of the country (coastal elites and the rest of that bullshit) then they have accomplished their goal. It's not a bug, it's the feature.
And, as these men (and many women) work for anger and greed, there are men who are liberal, supposedly supportive of equality, etc. who are using their station in life as a weapon to take from women and others. They may have a different political philosophy from Trump and Republicans, but they share an attitude of greed and selfishness that enables harming others (women).
Where does Roth and Portnoy fit into all of this? There is a large number of men who I believe are not able to figure out that Roth is making a valid comment as opposed to displaying a valid attitude. And this is a book from 1968. What about music, movies, magazines, websites, and on and on that today lead people to very dark destinations? people (mostly men, but many, many women too) to willingly accept and allow themselves to toss their own intellect aside to fall for destructive and idiotic ways of thinking.
Have we reached a point where saying you are presenting art or argument to make a valid point is irresponsible if the art or argument is meant to provoke? The reason being, in this day and age, too many people can't distinguish between the point and the ugliness in the art or argument? Or maybe, you just want to piss people off and sow even more division and toxin?