From The Archives

Roth on Dick

In a 1974 Voice essay, Philip Roth lamented the absurdity of Richard Nixon’s pardon


Author Philip Roth, who died on May 22 at the age of 85, was a frequent presence in the Village Voice. Often, he was the subject of a review or a profile. Sandra Hochman’s review of Portnoy’s Complaint in the February 27, 1969, issue of the Voice summed up the novel: “Roth, through his anti-hero Portnoy, captures America in the middle of its agony. The author aims at everyone and everything: Freud, Jewish Mothers, society debutantes, Mayor Lindsay…his aim is perfect.”

As always with Roth, there was more agony for him and America to come. And his aim continued to be perfect.

While he frequently appeared as a subject, Roth also wrote for the Voice. In September 1974, Roth seemed particularly disgusted with President Gerald Ford’s decision to pardon Richard Nixon for all crimes related to the Watergate scandal. He was inspired enough to write an essay about it in our September 19, 1974, issue, which carried the headline: “Nixon’s pardon: Our Castle.” In the piece, Roth compared the state of American politics to the Frank Kafka novels The Castle and The Trial

And there is, as I see it, another telling Kafkaesque dimension to Watergate now that President Ford has given us his version of an ending. It is the enormity of the frustration that has taken hold in America ever since Compassionate Sunday, the sense of waste, futility, and hopelessness that now attaches to the monumental efforts that had been required just to begin to get at the truth. And along with the frustration, the sickening disappointment of finding in the seat of power, neither reason, or common sense, or horse sense — and certainly not charity or courage — but moral ignorance, blundering authority, and witless, arbitrary judgment.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more apt description of the current state of politics in America.