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اثر فیلیپ راث از انتشارات نیماژ - مترجم: سهیل سمی-داستان تاریخی

In quest of the unpublished manuscript of a martyred Yiddish writer, the American novelist Nathan Zuckerman travels to Soviet-occupied Prague in the mid-1970s. There, in a nation straightjacketed by totalitarian Communism, he discovers a literary predicament, marked by institutionalized oppression, that is rather different from his own. He also discovers, among the oppressed writers with whom he quickly becomes embroiled in a series of bizarre and poignant adventures, an appealingly perverse kind of heroism.

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Degno epilogo alla serie di libri su Zuckerman, lOrgia di Praga tira le fila di molti temi “zuckermaniani”, primo fra tutti quello del rapporto con la figura paterna, che nei tre libri precedenti era rimasto irrisolto; qui il nostro Nathan cerca di recuperare, andando a Praga per portare in salvo il manoscritto del padre di uno scrittore ceco esule in America, Sisovsky. Certo, si tratta del padre di Sisovsky e non del suo, è un manoscritto in yiddish che Zuckerman non è neanche in grado di leggere, ma forse proprio questa inaccessibilità lo rende un simbolo.

«Ancora il figlio, ancora il bambino, che cerca strenuamente laffettuosa risposta del padre? (Anche quando il padre è quello di Sisovsky?)»

Daltro canto, il fatto che il padre non sia suo non è neanche tanto rilevante: sappiamo che Zuckerman tende a specchiarsi negli altri personaggi, a mescolare la propria identità con la loro, e questo avviene anche con Sisovsky, ovviamente:

«Il fatto che Sisovsky pretendesse di essere la mia controparte nel mondo cui era sfuggita la mia fortunata famiglia non significava che dovessi provare che lui aveva ragione precipitandomi a cambiar posto con lui. Io assumo il suo destino e lui assume il mio: non era un po questa la sua idea, fin dallinizio?»

È una dinamica già vista nei libri precedenti con Carnovsky o Appel, tanto per fare gli esempi più lampanti. È, in fondo, il tema della personalità irrisolta, della non accettazione di sé, che spingeva Zuckerman a passare da un alter ego allaltro. Anche questo tema viene affrontato di petto in questo ultimo libro, con unaccettazione che interrompe la spirale di duplicazione: «No, la propria storia non è una pelle di cui ci si possa spogliare: non le scappi, fa parte del tuo corpo e del tuo sangue. E continui a raccontarla finché campi, questa storia venata dei temi della tua vita, questa storia sempre ricorrente che al tempo stesso è una tua invenzione e linvenzione di te.»

Zuckerman, insomma, è alla fine diventato Zuckerman. Forse, per farlo, aveva solo bisogno di mettere le distanze tra lui e New York, di spostarsi in un altro mondo, in cui, per affermare la propria identità, gli è bastato essere se stesso.

مشاهده لینک اصلی
Well, this was one little gem of a dark, poignant nightmare. Roth’s story is laced with his personal diatribes which add color and poignancy to this romp through Prague. The third in the Zuckerman sagas, the acclaimed and shockingly successful Jewish author visits the otherworldly Prague in 1976 ostensibly to retrieve a recently americanized half-jew’s long lost stories from his father. He meets a society of paranoid misfits and sexual deviants who coerce and cajole through a long night of surveillance and oppression. He imagines not being able to leave, becoming a janitor as others in this land of communist oppression. State control over all thought and mutual self-distrust pervades the entire society in a bleak, dystopian city which is (I have no doubt) perfectly accurate for its time and place. Roth puts the views of those in power fairly alongside the deviants (in thought and deed, with nothing but the pleasures of the flesh to assuage their inability to express the truth of their art authentically). He tells of a time and a place in a riveting fashion, another testament to Roth’s prodigious gifts.

I had read this in 2012, and I almost never re-read, but needed a jumpstart back into the Zuckerman series….

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Trivial note: In the history of cinema, Philip Roths double-goer, Nathan Zuckerman, has been portrayed by just two men. These men are the noted thespians Gary Sinise and...Mark Linn-Baker. Which means - must mean - that in some way Roth is a bit Lt. Dan, a bit Cousin Larry. The Zuckerman of this novella (in the Library of America edition of Zuckerman Bound, The Prague Orgy is a little over 50 pages) is more Sinise. Sinise, the smooth operator. Zuckerman is out doing a bit of literary spywork, footwork, tracking down the misplaced manuscript of an obscure Yiddish chessmaster who was gunned down by a Nazi. An anecdote which reads on the page, no doubt accidentally, like a semitic-deprecating joke written by Woody Allen but told with all the give-a-shit-whos-listening-these-handcuffs-are-tight-got-a-light? darkness of a drunken Mel Gibson. But fear not: throughout the Zuckerman novels of the 70s and 80s, there are a few Linn-Baker moments. Theres slapstick. Theres diving into mailboxes.

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(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

Regular readers know that Im in the process of getting through Philip Roths remarkable nine-book autobiographical @Nathan Zuckerman@ series, a slew of novels written from the 1970s through early 2000s that essentially record the entire history of the Postmodernist Era, by looking very pointedly at Roths own life as a major tastemaker of these Postmodernist decades. And in fact for a long time, the short 1985 novella The Prague Orgy was the official endcap of what was known then as the @Zuckerman Trilogy@ (consisting of The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound and The Anatomy Lesson), although the reason its getting such a short write-up today is because theres simply not much to it; more a glorified short story than a standalone book, it tells the tale of Zuckerman traveling to an academic conference in 70s Communist Czechoslovakia, where in usual style he falls in with an absolutely insane femme fatale, gets dragged to a group-sex party held by one of the bright lights of the Czech intelligentsia, and eventually runs afoul of the local secret police, getting whisked away in the middle of the night and unceremoniously dumped on the first plane back to America. An interesting little ditty for what it is, it can nonetheless be charitably called the least essential Zuckerman book of the entire series, and can be pretty easily skipped unless coming across it in the famed 80s four-book compilation known as Zuckerman Bound; and this finally leads us to whats the most exciting part of the entire Zuckerman series, when in the 90s Roth started using this character merely as an everyman narrator for what is widely considered the best books of his career -- 1997s American Pastoral, 1998s I Married a Communist and 2000s The Human Stain. Expect write-ups of those to slowly start appearing here over the next year.

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Roths Epilogue To @Zuckerman Bound@

Philip Roth wrote three novels at three different times, @The Ghost Writer@ (1979), @Zuckerman Unbound@ (1981), and @The Anatomy Lesson@ (1983) which, in 1985, he grouped together as a trilogy, @Zuckerman Bound@. Roth also wrote and added a considerably shorter work to the trilogy, @The Prague Orgy@ which he described as an @Epilogue@. Usually printed as part of @Zuckerman Bound@, @The Prague Orgy@ was published as a stand-alone work in 1996.

The primary character in each of these four works is Nathan Zuckerman, a novelist from Newark, New Jersey who bears resemblances to Roth himself. Each of the three full-length novels take place in the United States as Zuckerman at various points in his life reflects upon his writing, the relationship between imaginative writing and experience, and sex. The series pivots on Zuckermans successful novel @Carnovsky@ which garnered both high praise and sharp criticism. On his deathbed, Zuckermans father cursed his son for the book. @Carnovsky@ is a thinly-veiled reference to Roths own @Portnoys Complaint@.

@The Prague Orgy@ extends its predecessors but differs from them as well. Roth sets most of the book in Prague, 1976, when Czechoslovakia was in the midst of the Soviet Unions communist domination. Much of the book turns on the plight of the writer under a ruthless communist regime and thus shifts from Zuckermans preoccupation with his own writing and its relationship to his experience in the United States. The tension between the character Zuckerman and the author Roth also seems of less importance in this Epilogue than in the three books of the trilogy.

Roth tends to be an inconsistent writer with his strong and weak moments. Readers frequently disagree about the merits of his various works. With respect to @The Prague Orgy@ Harold Bloom has praised the work highly as the climax of @Zuckerman Bound@ while many other readers are puzzled by the book and find it a trifle. While the book is short, funny, and sharply written, I found it the most difficult work to read in @Zuckerman Bound@. It is disjointed and episodic, deliberately so, and @Kafkaesque@ to use an overworked term. The justification for the trite term is the prominent role given to Kafka and his Prague in the story.

Roth presents the story as drawn @from Zuckermans notebooks@ which gives it its rambling, draft-like character. Zuckerman speaks in the first person. The book is in three sections, the first of which is set in New York City in January, 1976, while the two subsequent sections take place over two turbulent days in Prague on February 4-5, 1976.

There is a tendency to rush over the New York section of the book as a prelude to what follows, but it is important in its own right. Zuckerman meets two Prague emigres,a man named Sisovsky and his female companion Eva Kalinova. Sisovsky wrote a book in 1967 which the communists suppressed, destroying his literary career. Kalinova was a renowned actress who left her husband for Sisovsky. The trio engage in much discussion about Zuckerman and the reception of @Carnovsky@ while contrasting it with readers and the fate of writers under the communists. As the conversation progresses, Sisovsky says that his father had written several hundred stories in Yiddish that are hidden away with Olga, Sisovskys ex-wife. He claims that his father had been murdered by the Nazis and asks Zimmerman to try to retrieve the stories so that they may be saved and published.

The remainder of the book recounts Zimmermans efforts in Prague. The book opens with the @orgy@ as disinherited and rejected writers and intellectuals meet clandestinely every week to commiserate and to engage in various forms of sex. Zimmerman meets Olga who immediately wants to sleep with him. In his brief sojourn, Zimmerman sees a society full of repression of thought, imposed conformity, but, apparently modest material prosperity on behalf of the populace. He is also followed and under immediate suspicion from the regime which deports him @back to the little world around the corner.@

There is much in the story about the differing role of the artist in the United States and under communism, much surrealistic conversation among the many characters in this cluttered book, and much reflection by Zuckerman himself. The book is tinged with layers of irony. As the Czech minister of culture is about to throw Zuckerman out of the country he lectures on the nature of literature:

@In this small country the writers have a great burden to bear; they must not only make the countrys literature, they must be the touchstone for general decency and public conscience. They occupy a high position in our national life because they are people who live beyond reproach. Our writers are loved by their readers. The country looks to them for moral leadership. No, it is those who stand outside of the common life, that is who we all fear. And we are right to.@

This is the voice of totalitarianism stifling thought and criticism. The irony, however, is that the culture ministers discussion of the function of literature has a good deal to commend it in a free democracy. The book suggests that American writers, with their freedom, tend to be too quick to criticize their country without trying to appreciate the virtues of a free, open culture. In his experience in Czechoslovakia, Zuckerman learns somehow about both the nature of communist repression and about the role of the writer in a free society, a subject which is implicit in the three books of the trilogy.

This is my understanding of the short, elliptical Epilogue to @Zuckerman Bound@. The work seems to me best read as initially intended as an epilogue to the three Zuckerman books rather than as a separate work in its own right.

Robin Friedman

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