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Philip Roth Quotes

Philip Milton Roth

Philip Roth quotes: the novelist and short-story writer’s best content.

“How easy life is when it’s easy, and how hard when it’s hard.”

“Everybody has a hard job.  All real work is hard.”

“You be greater than your feelings.  I don’t demand this of you – life does.  Otherwise you’ll be washed away by feelings.  You’ll be washed out to sea and never seen again.”

“There’s no remaking reality.  Just take it as it comes.  Hold your ground and take it as it comes.  There’s no other way.”

“All that we don’t know is astonishing.  Even more astonishing is what passes for knowing.”

“Seeing is believing and believing is knowing and knowing beats unknowing and the unknown.”

“You cannot observe people through an ideology.  Your ideology observes for you.”

“Other people’s weakness can destroy you just as much as their strength can.  Weak people are not harmless.  Their weakness can be their strength.”

“Obviously the facts are never just coming at you but are incorporated by an imagination that is formed by your previous experience.  Memories of the past are not memories of facts but memories of your imaginings of the facts.”

“Pain is like a baby crying.  What it wants it can’t name.”

“You have a conscience, and a conscience is a valuable attribute, but not if it begins to make you think you were to blame for what is far beyond the scope of your responsibility.”

“Things don’t have to reach a peak.  They can just go on.  You seem to see life as having a beginning, a middle, an ending, all of them linked together with something bearing your name.  But it isn’t necessary to give things a shape.  You can yield to them too.  No goals – just letting things take their own course.  You must begin to see it as it is: there are insoluble problems in life.”

“A life of writing books is a trying adventure in which you cannot find out where you are unless you lose your way.”

“My work happened also to be undoable.  Morning after morning for 50 years, I faced the next page defenseless and unprepared.  Writing for me was a feat of self-preservation.  If I did not do it, I would die.  So I did it.  Obstinacy, not talent, saved my life.”

“Of course you bank on your experience, but as a sounding board.  It isn’t that you write down what happens to you every day.  You wouldn’t be a writer if you did that.  But it gives you a sense – you know from your experience what life is like.  And you weigh what you invent against your sense of actuality.”

“That’s what you’re looking for as a writer when you’re working.  You’re looking for your own freedom.  To lose your inhibition to delve deep into your memory and experiences and life and then to find the prose that will persuade the reader.”

“I think I write and publish as often as I do because I can’t bear being without a book to work on.  I don’t feel I have this to say or that to say or this story to tell, but I know I want to be occupied with the writing process while I’m living.”

“It was my great problem to solve: how to write a book, you know.  And after you write one, you have to write another to prove to yourself you can do it again.”

“Nothing bad can happen to a writer.  Everything is material.”

“Eventually the writing takes time.  What I want to do is get the story down and I want to know what happens as I write my way into the knowledge of the story.”

“I turn sentences around.  That’s my life.  I write a sentence and then I turn it around.  Then I look at it and I turn it around again.  Then I have lunch.  Then I come back in and write another sentence.  Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around.  Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around.  Then I lie down on my sofa and think.  Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning.”

“I have a slogan I use when I get anxious writing, which happens quite a bit: ‘The ordeal is part of the commitment.’  It’s one of my mantras.  It makes a lot of things doable.”

“My goal would be to find a big fat subject that would occupy me to the end of my life, and when I finish it I’ll die.  What’s agony is starting, I hate starting books.  I just want to keep writing now and end when it ends.”

“Literature got me into this mess and literature is going to have to get me out of it.”

“If I don’t measure up as an American writer, at least leave me to my delusion.”

“Dreams?  If only they had been!  But I don’t need dreams, doctor, that’s why I hardly have them – because I have this life instead.  With me it all happens in broad daylight!”

“There is truth and then again there is truth.  For all that the world is full of people who go around believing they’ve got you or your neighbor figured out, there really is no bottom to what is not known.  The truth about us is endless.  As are the lies.”

“Stop worrying about growing old.  And think about growing up.”

“Everyone becomes a part of history whether they like it or not and whether they know it or not.”

“It’s best to give while your hand is still warm.”

“Life is just a short period of time in which you are alive.”

“You tasted it.  Isn’t that enough?  Of what do you ever get more than a taste?  That’s all we’re given in life, that’s all we’re given of life.  A taste.  There is no more.”

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