Walking Away From The Typewriter

Dec 3 2012 @ 6:27pm

On news of Philip Roth's retirement, Michael Dirda weighs the pros and cons of quitting early:

Should older writers keep at it until they breathe their last? It’s a hard call. Sophocles supposedly brought out Oedipus at Colonus when he was in his 80s. The elderly Tolstoy turned himself into an Old Testament prophet, producing cranky attacks on Shakespeare and numerous political and religious tracts. Yet he also wrote Hadji Murad, one of his greatest works (and a particular favorite of Harold Bloom). …

Philip Roth reblossomed, after a period of relatively minor works, with The Human Stain and American Pastoral (and, a favorite of mine, that harrowing novella, The Dying Animal). In old age an artist, whether in paint, music, or prose, will sometimes cast aside his usual manner and indulge in some playful romp. Mann brought out his lighthearted paean to the counterfeit in Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man; Faulkner producted the rumbustious odyssey of The Reivers, Thornton Wilder reimagined his young self as a kind of amateur trouble-solver in Theophilus North. Matisse, though nearly blind, produced his glorious paper cut-outs. These works are distinctly exuberant, even comic, but other late works show us the artist confronting age, the loss of powers, and death. Just look at the final self-portraits of Rembrandt, or listen to Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs. The rest is silence.