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“Philip Roth’s Succès de Scandale”

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Organizer: Maggie McKinley

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The Philip Roth Society invites submissions for a seminar entitled “Philip Roth’s Succès de Scandale.” While the subject of “literature and scandal” seems to be an emerging trend within studies of European literature, relatively few academic works focus on American literature and scandal. Thus, this panel seeks to examine how Philip Roth, both the subject of scandal and one of its keenest interrogators, can shed new light on this conversation. 

Roth’s earliest short storiesscandalized Jewish communitiesand in 1969, the bestseller Portnoy’s Complaint proved even more shocking. Roth mocks American political scandal in Our Gang; connects sexual excess and artistic provocation in Sabbath’s Theater; and triangulates political correctness, public shaming, and sexual indiscretion in The Human Stain. Roth’s engagement with scandal extended beyond national boundaries, as evidenced by his efforts to illuminate the work of oppressed writers in 1970s Prague—where literature and art was considered to be politically scandalous by the totalitarian regime. Moreover, Roth recasts many of his own experiences with scandal in his fiction, examining the state of being scandalized/being considered a scandal in works such as The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, The Prague Orgy, and Indignation.

Roth’s preoccupation with scandal invites interdisciplinary study of cultural and historical context in order to illuminate shifts in norms and values across time, place, and cultures. With this in mind, the Roth Society invites papers that examine theoretical, cultural, historical, and/or literary dimensions of scandal as it features in Roth’s life and work. Paper topics might include (but are not limited to): American politics; depictions of Jews; sexual desire; identity politics;  and the role of artists as as both provocateurs and victims. 


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