The Human Stain

Some quotes from Philip Roth's superb The Human Stain (NY: Vintage Books, 2000)

On identity:
"Overnight the raw I was part of a we with all of the we's overbearing solidity., and he didn't want anything to do with it or with the next oppressive we that came along either. You finally leave home, the Ur of we, and you find another we? Another place that's just like that, the substitute for that? … You can't let the big they impose its bigotry on you any more than you can let the little they become a we and impose its ethics on you. Not the tyranny of the we and its we-talk and everything that the we wants to pile on your head. Never for him the tyranny of the we that is dying to stuck you in, the coercive, inclusive, historical, inescapable moral we with its insidious E pluribus unum" (108).

On sex:
"Was it the act itself that did it, the absolute intimacy of it, when you are not just inside the body of the other person but she is tightly enveloping you? Or was it the physical nakedness? You take off your clothes and you're in bed with somebody, and that is indeed where whatever you've concealed, your particularity, whatever it may be, however encrypted, is going to be found out, and that's what the shyness is all about and what everybody fears. In that anarchic crazy place, how much of me is being seen, how much of me is being discovered?" (113).

On the human stain:
"We leave a stain, we leave a trail, we leave our imprint. Impurity, cruelty, abuse, error, excrement, semen -- there's no other way to be here. Nothing to do with disobedience. Nothing to do with grace or salvation or redemption. It's in everyone. Indwelling. Inherent. Defining. The stain that is there before its mark. Without the sign it is there. The stain so intrinsic it doesn't require a mark. The stain that precedes disobedience, that encompasses disobedience and perplexes all explanation and understanding. It's why all the cleansing is a joke. A barbaric joke at that. The fantasy of purity is appalling. It's insane. What is the quest to purify, if not more impurity" (242).

On education:
"In my parent's day and well into yours and mine, it used to be the person who fell short. Now it's the discipline. Reading the classics is too difficult, therefore it's the classics that are to blame. Today the student asserts his incapacity as a privilege. I can't learn it, so there is something wrong with it. And there is something especially wrong with the bad teacher who wants to teach it. There are no more criteria, only opinions" (330-1).

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