Keep up appearances. For a long time the term alluded to caring for one’s fame in a context of double standards. The man or woman who feigns erotic disinterest in other people, who has no extramarital experiences (or takes care of their privacy) and who reproduces the expectations of a bourgeois society keeps up appearances. In this way, the violation of the commitment of fidelity in marriage could be resolved in two ways. One is to show that such a thing has not happened (look the other way) and the other is to simulate surprise and scandal … in the face of a reality that everyone knows is widespread. Making an infidelity public implies a social ceremony that pays the honor of a person: “I can’t believe I did that”, this being something that everyone knows happens everywhere. All the time.
Today “keeping up appearances” also has another meaning: avoiding not being caught in an abuse. That is, to hide under the rug that a man exercises or exercised (we exercise or exercise) violence against women, to do so in collusion with our environment (often also female) and to simulate collective outrage, in a kind of performance ritual that repays the reputation of a subject (what we know as the culture of cancellation). When Philip Roth was asked shortly before his death about the #MeToo movement, his response caught attention: “I’m not surprised,” he said. Roth knew the masculine condition, which he had written about for decades, and none of this was alien to him. The controversial publication of his biography, signed by Blake Bailey, as well as the dramatic consequences unleashed, speak directly to that moment, and pose a series of rich moral dilemmas about power and about the bridges between life and work.
Bailey’s text has caused a double corkscrew. It is a book that from an openlyrothiana, heeled on the portrayed subject, portrays the sexual and misogynistic alienation of the writer, which we may no longer be able to access because the publisher has suspended its distribution: after the publication of the book, several alleged cases of violence came to light just days ago sexual starring Bailey, so that a text that could bring us closer to the bridges between the work and the person of Roth is no longer available … because of the alleged criminal conduct of the discoverer. Is all this surprising? Quoting Roth himself about Weinstein, we could say that we are, first of all, with a ceremony of surprise. Bailey and Roth have written thousands of pages about men acting out of male narcissism and… well, that’s what they turned out to be. Probably the biggest lie in literary criticism since Proust is that life and work have to be separated. It is in everyone’s interest to do so.
Years ago, Mary Karr spoke openly of her violent relationship with David Foster Wallace – DT Max, by the way, had already detailed that the author of the superb study on masculinity Short interviews with repulsive menhe had been about to throw her out of a moving car. Months ago, Hélène Devynck, Carrère’s ex-wife, accused the author of Yogato manipulate the facts and to have a despotic ego, among other things. When we read that even Roth’s therapist told him that his penchant for young women was because “a mature woman wouldn’t put up with your shit,” or, in Bailey’s words, that Margaret Martinson interrupted him “on any pretext (Can you go out to buy some Parmesan?) ”, we found amodus operandithat we’ve already seen a thousand times before. Surprise only fits here as dramatic art. And go ahead too, by the way, that Roth was a superb female character writer.
In the just publishedThe Adventures of Genitalia and Normativa, Eloy Fernández Porta proposes that the transgressor today is not going against the rules, but establishing them. The idea serves to explain widely held conversations today such as trans law or the post-MeToo . In both cases, we are witnessing general changes in consciousness and law, which retroactively subvert our history. “Today,” the narrator ofOne hundred nights, by Luisgé Martín—, in our time, that act would have been classified (…) as a violation. In those years, however, it was a normal procedure. Rape committed without violence was only an act of love ”. In other words, it is as if we men have spent centuries recycling glass in the blue container, and suddenly we discover that the right color was green. What all these cases confirm is that a man who says that he has not used violence against women is like a man who says that he has never desired any woman other than his own: a liar. From here, we can continue to keep up appearances and pretend not to, or try to be honest for the common good.
In the context of this story, one of the most poignant love triangles in American culture is the one that brought together Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, and Philip Roth. Roth and Allen could not stand each other because Farrow had been at different times with both, although, paradoxically, Roth and Allen could pass for the same person: same themes, same megalomania, same intelligence, same talent, same neurosis … In a text entitledPhilip Roth’s revenge fantasy, Laura Marsh says that Roth’s biographical project emerged as revenge against the memories of his ex-wife Claire Bloom,Leaving a Doll’s House—Evident nod to Ibsen’s feminist classic,Doll’s House-,Which, of course, did not put Roth in a good place. “Roth,” writes Marsh, “seemed to have classified women into two groups: those who could help and work for him — facilitators of theRothworld– and those who dared to ask him for things. This group is not doing well ”. How, then, to reconcile the world and the work of Farrow, Roth’s lover and Allen’s adversary, with the world and the work of Bloom, whose life with Roth turned out to be a nightmare?
That the charming man with one woman turns out to be another’s nightmare constitutes one of the most twisted moral crossroads in this story, and in public life in general. Again, “I can’t believe I did that” is the kind of statement that expresses false surprise, even if we talk about adultery or abuse. That is something that men have always done. Where is the surprise? Or as Despentes would express quite roundly: “If I am surrounded by raped friends, of course I also have rapist friends.” From here, two paths open: cancellation or reparation, punitivism being an attitude that is badly in tune with progressive budgets, and reformism a change that often does not bear good fruit either. Should we keep reading Roth? Should we keep reading men? Perhaps the cancellation does not always make sense, at least if we are aware that behind every great man there was always … a Claire Bloom. Only from the negative reputational balance will we avoid continuing to pretend that the ordinary seems extraordinary to us.
Antonio J. Rodriguezis a writer. His latest book isThe old new masculinity(Anagram).