The preparations for the exhibition R.B. Kitaj (1932–2007) Obsessions at the Jewish Museum Berlin have brought me back to Philip Roth. I try to re-read him about every ten years.
Why? Out of curiosity; to test my feminist – or better and more simply, my feminine – distaste for Roth; to see if my increasing maturity has stimulated some new cognitive process that allows me to encounter the aging, sex-obsessed, white, male ego of the Roth hero with more empathy; or at last to discover exactly why Roth is a reigning great of American literature, which he undisputedly is. It is said that the lecherous puppeteer Mickey Sabbath of “Sabbath’s Theater” is modeled on the author’s neighbor and friend, R.B. Kitaj, but others of Roth’s characters bear traits or biographical details in common with the artist. To sum up, I can’t yet confess that Philip Roth’s characters appeal to me, but I do notice that they have become in a way “historical,” a portrayal of their time. It isn’t dissimilar to the way one enjoys the groping chauvinists of Mad Men, without necessarily wishing to return to the age of oversexed secretaries and mousy housewives. In any case, the projected figure of the artist R.B. Kitaj has grown more vivid, more three-dimensional in my imagination – and I’m all the more excited to get acquainted with the “real” Kitaj beginning in September through the paintings at the Jewish Museum.
For more on R.B. Kitaj, see: www.jmberlin.de/kitaj/en
Signe Rossbach, Events curator