Reading Philip Roth: Anxiety and Comedy

at Brooklyn Institute for Social Research - Williamsburg

Course Details
$315 3 seats left
Start Date:

Wed, Jan 29, 6:30pm - Feb 19, 9:30pm (4 sessions)

Williamsburg, Brooklyn
381 Hooper St
At S 1st St
Brooklyn, New York 11211
Class Level: All levels
Age Requirements: 21 and older
Average Class Size: 14
Teacher: Danielle Drori

What you'll learn in this literature class:

What kind of writer was Philip Roth? His fiction deals unquestionably with problems of Jewish cultural difference: parochialism, assimilation, conversion, anxiety, whiteness. Yet, Roth famously disavowed the categorization “Jewish-American.” For others, Roth is a quintessentially all-American literary icon—a novelist who, in dealing forcefully with questions of status, sex, race, and politics, helped craft the “American” fictional idiom. Finally, there’s Roth’s “masculinity”: his “heteronormative” male voice, male view, and male relation to objects of sexual desire. Can Roth be read usefully as Jewish, American, or male? Was Roth a satirist of identity, or a defender of its salience? What, indeed, are the elements of comic writing? To extent do Roth’s innovations in comic form, style, and plot owe themselves to the “identities” with which Roth felt himself inexorably bound up? And, what can his fiction tell us, if anything, about sex, race, and religion today?

In this course, we’ll focus on Roth’s early work, from the eponymous novella and stories in the anthology Goodbye, Columbus (1959) to Roth’s first bestselling novel, Portnoy’s Complaint (1969). Each attracted praise and scorn: prominent literary figures such as Saul Bellow and Alfred Kazin encouraged Roth to write more, while a number of rabbis asked: “What is being done to silence this man?” Reading Roth as well as several of his critics, we’ll ask what Goodbye, Columbus and Portnoy’s Complaint can teach us about idiom, voice, realism, satirical form, American history, and the salience and limits of identity. Is Roth’s a consummately “male” subjectivity, or can the work be read “universally”—as a wider window into basic experiences of anxiety, guilt, ambition, and sexual desire? What connects and differentiates, thematically and stylistically, Goodbye, Columbus and Portnoy’s Complaint? How might both books be read with and against contemporary conceptions of gender and identity? Can Roth still make us laugh?


There *is* no physical Brooklyn Institute. We hold our classes all over (thus far) Brooklyn and Manhattan, in alternative spaces ranging from the back rooms of bars to bookstores to spaces in cultural centers, including the Center for Jewish History, the Goethe-Institut, and the Barnard Center for Research on Women. We can (and do) turn any space into a classroom. You will be notified of the exact location when you register for a class.

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Refund Policy
Upon request, we will refund the entire cost of a class up until 1 week before its start date. Students who withdraw after that point but before the first class are entitled to a 75% refund. After the first class: 50%. After the second: 25%. No refunds will be given after the third class.


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Start Dates (1)
Start Date Time Teacher # Sessions Price
6:30pm - 9:30pm Danielle Drori 4 $315
This course consists of multiple sessions, view schedule for sessions.
Wed, Feb 05 6:30pm - 9:30pm Danielle Drori
Wed, Feb 12 6:30pm - 9:30pm Danielle Drori
Wed, Feb 19 6:30pm - 9:30pm Danielle Drori

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School: Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research was established in 2011 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. Its mission is to extend liberal arts education and research far beyond the borders of the traditional university, supporting community education needs and opening up new possibilities for scholarship in the...

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