In the social sciences the research on men and experiences of ageing is sparse. In literature, however, we are spoilt for choice. For many reasons I take as my key witness to one form of ageing masculinity the perennially controversial writer and recent winner of the International Booker prize for literature, the man who has often been called America’s greatest living novelist, the now septuagenarian Philip Roth. Through the voices of his reappearing protagonists, who age over the decades along with their creator, Roth is a writer who rarely strays far or for too long from his depictions of the vulnerabilities shadowing the phallic fears and yearnings that trouble and endanger men such as himself as they journey onwards from youth into middle and then old age. Roth’s conceit is that he is speaking on behalf of all his fellow men, or at least of those who live with the choices that have opened up in the contemporary Western metropolis. Moreover, many of his male fellow writers and reviewers have tended to accept his view, as here in the words of one of our own leading literary commentators, Tim Adams: ‘For a decade now, we have lived with the glory of late Philip Roth ... Roth has developed a periodic habit of making a sharp inward turn, an unblinking memento mori, as if to stir in himself the urgency for another major assault on his times’. Tim Adams is reviewing Everyman (2006) here, published when Roth was 72.
In this, his twenty-seventh book, Roth sets out once more to tell the story of the ageing male psyche. It is one in which the often painful, inappropriate and rash desires of youth last the whole life through, but become increasingly unrealizable. In Roth’s view, the precise aim or object of such desire changes very little, if at all, as men age. This remains the case even when, as he depicts in abject or hubristic detail in every recent book, the men who continue to be importuned by lust for young women possess no more than a useless ‘spigot of wrinkled flesh’ between their legs. That spigot, emblematic of masculinity, marker of sexual difference, and hence the thing valued above all else, Roth sees as always on men’s minds. Its presence is felt, even when entirely out of action, ‘like the end of a pipe you see sticking out of a field somewhere, a meaningless piece of pipe that spurts and gushes intermittently, spitting forth water to no end, until a day arrives when somebody remembers to give the valve the extra turn that shuts the damn sluice down’.
On June 27th, 2014, writer and curator Justin McGuirk, author of Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture, presented his ideas on radical Latin American city-building in the Serptentine Pavilion 2014, designed by Chilean architect Smiljan Radić.
Justin McGuirk is a writer, critic and curator based in London. He is the director of Strelka Press, the publishing arm of the Strelka Institute in Moscow. He has been the design critic of the Guardian, the editor of Icon magazine and the design consultant to Domus. In 2012 he was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture for an exhibition he curated with Urban Think Tank.
Dawn Foster is deputy features editor of Inside Housing and editor of Sustainable Housing magazine, having previously worked at the Guardian. She writes on politics, social affairs, and economics. Recent articles have focused on the rent/housing crisis in the UK, the role of miners' wives during the infamous strike of '84, benefit cuts and bedroom tax. In this new Five Book Plan she presents her top 5 books on inequality in the UK today.