Philip Roth on Age, Being Alive, Talent, and What Creative Work is Really Like



We found some wonderful thinking in No Long Writing, Philip Roth Still has Plenty to Say, a New York Times interview with the legendary 85-year-old novelist, who retired from writing several years ago…

When asked, what growing old has been like, Roth lends a perspective useful at any age:

Right now it is astonishing to find myself still here at the end of each day. Getting into bed at night I smile and think, “I lived another day.”

And then it’s astonishing again to awaken eight hours later and to see that it is morning of the next day and that I continue to be here. “I survived another night,” which thought causes me to smile once more. I go to sleep smiling and I wake up smiling. I’m very pleased that I’m still alive.

Moreover, when this happens, as it has, week after week and month after month…it produces the illusion that this thing is just never going to end, though of course I know that it can stop on a dime. It’s something like playing a game, day in and day out, a high-stakes game that for now, even against the odds, I just keep winning. We will see how long my luck holds out.


On retiring from writing after more than 50 years as a novelist, Roth has a rare clear view of the longevity of talent:

Every talent has its terms — its nature, its scope, its force; also its term, a tenure, a life span.… Not everyone can be fruitful forever.”


Roth’s description of his life as a writer is as apt a description of the creative process as we’ve read:

Exhilaration and groaning. Frustration and freedom. Inspiration and uncertainty. Abundance and emptiness. Blazing forth and muddling through. The day-by-day repertoire of oscillating dualities that any talent withstands — and tremendous solitude, too. And the silence: 50 years in a room silent as the bottom of a pool, eking out, when all went well, my minimum daily allowance of usable prose.

…”the oscillating dualities that any talent withstands”…   Perfectly said.

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