“You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you're anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you're with them; and then you go home and tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception. And yet what are we to do about this terribly significant business of other people, which gets bled of the significance we think it has and takes on instead a significance that is ludicrous, so ill-equipped are we all to envision each other's interior workings and invisible aims? Is everyone to go off and lock the door and sit secluded like the lonely writers do, in a soundproof cell, summoning people out of words and then proposing that these word people are closer to the real thing than the real people that we mangle with our ignorance every day? The fact is that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It's getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That's how we know we're alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that - well, lucky you.”
One of Roth’s most effective techniques is to have a character systematically build an argument that seems irrefutable, and then for another character to come along and, tank-like, destroy it. A second, equally persuasive, argument is constructed — only to be demolished and replaced by a third argument, et cetera. In “Operation Shylock” — besides “The Human Stain,” Roth’s most explicit novel about imposterhood (tagged with the impish subtitle “A Confession”) — he goes on and on with this game, first building and then dismantling, first conviction then discredit, like some parodic refutation of the Hegelian triad, thesis and antithesis lurching ever onward with no chance of generative reconciliation. Twenty-seven years ago, in “The Counterlife,” Roth applied this technique to the art of narrative itself, hammering home the idea that even our lives are fragmentary, misunderstood, and unknowable.
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