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The Dying Animal (2002)

The Dying Animal (2002)

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3.6 of 5 Votes: 1
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0099422697 (ISBN13: 9780099422693)

About book The Dying Animal (2002)

Man of the WorldIn the third of Philip Roth's David Kepesh novels, David is a divorced, semi-retired professor, philanderer, libertine and man of the world. He teaches a class in Practical Criticism and does book reviews on NPR. To his students, especially the female ones, he possesses an intellectual and journalistic glamour: "They are helplessly drawn to celebrity." He reciprocates their attention, being "very vulnerable to female beauty".At the time the novel is narrated, David is 70. However, the subject matter is an affair that started eight years earlier and lasted over 18 months. Consuela Castillo is a 24 year old student when he meets her in his class. As he has done for the last 15 years, he targets Consuela for his advances, but resolves not to start a physical relationship until she has sat her exams and received her grade. This is his concession to propriety.Duchess in a D CupConsuela's appeal is most immediately physical. David first spots her beautiful cleavage, then her gorgeous breasts, then her ample buttocks. Overall, she is a tall voluptuous Cuban; statuesque, marvelous, enticing and alluring:"She knew what her body was worth...She has a D cup, this duchess, really big, beautiful breasts, and skin of a very white colour, skin that, the moment you see it, makes you want to lick it."Her appeal is, however, more than physical:"She's not a demi-adolescent, she's not a slouching, unkempt, 'like'-ridden girl. She's well-spoken, sober, her posture is perfect...she dresses carefully, with quiet taste...not to desensualise herself, but more, it would seem, to professionalise herself..."David implicitly differentiates himself from Humbert Humbert, because Consuela is adult, cultured, mature, not a minor, not a nymphet, not a victim, supposedly not an inappropriate object or target, academic propriety and age aside. But she is an object, a target nevertheless.Amadeo Modigliani - "Le Grand Nu"A Whopping InvitationDavid starts off interpreting Consuela's body as both a display and a "whopping invitation" that tells him "that I need no longer suppress the wish to touch". Apparently she has one of those bodies that articulates to sexually-active men:"That body is still new to her, she's still trying it out, thinking it through, a bit like a kid walking the streets with a loaded gun and deciding whether he's packing it to protect himself or to begin a life of crime."Consuela doesn't resist David's approach. She does specify one constraint though: "I can never be your wife." He can never legitimate his conquest in a convention.So far, perhaps, so bad. There is a lot of frank sexual description (not to mention psychoanalysis), at least of the women, in the novel.Up to this point, Roth seems to have created some mischievous, but good-natured, septuagenarian version of lad lit.If this were all you knew about Philip Roth and his writing, you'd be tempted to dismiss the novel as sexist and misogynistic. However, ultimately, there's more at stake, and the novel is more sophisticated and nuanced, even Proustian, than you would expect.The Gift of StatureAlthough David is the first person narrator, Roth delves into the basis of the relationship from both points of view, via his narration. David is an astute, if self-interested, observer.The relationship is nevertheless defined in terms of the male gaze. Consuela, initially, is something for David to look at, to watch over. She is not so much a sex object as an objet d'art.What Consuela gets from David in particular, in his opinion, is the authority of his educated gaze. He purports to judge her professionally:"I had pronounced her a great work of art, with all the magical influence of a great work of art...she had only to be there, on view, and the understanding of her importance flowed from me. It was not required of her...that she have any sort of self-conception. That's what I was for: I was Consuela's awareness of herself."He admires her simplicity, her lack of complexity, even if it's not strictly correct to say that she lacks a self-awareness of her own.Moreover, it's David "who fired up her senses, who gave her her stature, [and] who was the catalyst to her emancipation..."The Professor of Desire sees his age-derived authority as mutually beneficial to his student(s):"They do it for the age and my status give her, rationally, the licence to surrender, and surrendering in bed is a not unpleasant sensation...she gets both the pleasures of submission and the pleasures of mastery."Of course, this perspective is still David's. Surrender seems to be more than succumbing to David's initial proposal. There is both submission and mastery present in the eventual relationship itself, one that Roth paints in terms of a (pleasurable and emancipatory?) master/slave relationship.The Author of Her MasteryAs the relationship progresses, Consuela starts to see through David. She calls him:"Mr Arrogant Intellectual Critic, the great authority on everything, teaching everybody what to think and setting everyone right!"Conversely, he realises that "she didn't desire me...she experimented with me, really, to see how overwhelming her breasts could be." Of course, breasts will win out every time!Inevitably, David feels he has lost whatever authority he had ever had in the relationship. He knows because for the first time he experiences jealousy. Ironically, his own authority is at the heart of the problem. It has succumbed to her mastery:"[I had] inaugurated her into the sinister dream, the full amorous truth. The instinctual girl bursting not just the container of her vanity but the captivity of her cozy Cuban home. It was the true beginning of her mastery - the mastery into which my mastery had initiated her. I am the author of her mastery of me."The master has become the slave at his own behest. (Or is each lover always both master and slave? Is this the amorous truth?)The Fracture of LoveWhether or not David realises it, he has undertaken a journey of his own. His starting point is a pretty masculine mindset:"He who forms a tie is lost, attachment is my enemy."Inevitably he becomes attached. However, his friend, George, a Pulitzer Prize winner, questions what has happened to him. He diagnoses his plight in the following abstract and intellectual terms:"You violated the law of aesthetic distance. You sentimentalised the aesthetic experience with this girl - you personalised it, you sentimentalised it, and you lost the sense of separation essential to your enjoyment...what lies behind the comedy of this Cuban girl taking a guy like you, the professor of desire, to the mat?'s falling in love..."People think that in falling in love they make themselves whole. The Platonic union of souls? I think otherwise. I think you're whole when you begin. And the love fractures you. You're whole and then you're cracked open. She was a foreign body introduced into your wholeness. And for a year and a half you struggled to incorporate it. But you'll never be whole unless you expel it. You either get rid of it or incorporate it through self-distortion. And that's what you did and what drove you mad."Haunted by the Pastness and the Still-BeingOnce again, there's a misogynist overtone to this perspective. However, it has to be assessed in the context of the last third of the novel. Just as David's self-conscious about his age, Consuela at the premature age of 32 becomes ill and for a time must confront her own mortality.As David ages, his attitude towards time has changed. This is his view at the beginning of the novel (the language both resembles and questions that of Heidegger, at least in its embrace of the past tense):"To those not yet old, being old means you've been. But being old means that despite, in addition to, and in excess of your beenness, you still are. Your beenness is very much alive. You still are, and one is as haunted by the still-being and its fullness as by the having-already-been, by the pastness."In contrast, David believes that the young focus on the past as the evidence of their life and vitality. There is less concern about the future, because it's assumed that it will just happen inexorably, and that it will take and last a long time. Sailing to ByzantiumOnly this doesn't recognise the risk of illness. When you become ill, your perspective necessarily changes:"Time is now how much future [you have] left, and [you don't] believe there is any."Until now David has always enjoyed good health and has pursued a life of absolute freedom within which he has only been accountable to his own (masculine) desire. More recently, he has known "the sickness of desire...fastened to a dying animal" that Yeats speaks of in a poem that gives the novel its title (see comment 1 in the thread below this review). Now David has started to experience feelings of genuine "longing, doting, possessiveness, even of love." Ultimately, Consuela forces David to look at her breasts in a different way, just as she has had to. (I won't say more than this because of spoiler concerns.)David realises that his concern about his own death sometime in the unforeseeable future is nothing compared with the more immediate terror confronting Consuela because of her illness.As a result, he surrenders some of his freedom, some of his libertarianism for the sake of a better relationship. While David's perspective is undeniably male, "The Dying Animal" examines many Proustian concerns, only from a more overtly heterosexual point of view. That doesn't necessarily mean the novel itself is sexist or misogynistic. It's arguable that it is quite the opposite, that it is critical of the attitudes of David and George, and ultimately respectful of the women in the novel.David finally recognises that he has stood in the way of Consuela's real liberation, as well as his own. Whatever the sexual revolution might have achieved in the sixties, only when men retreat from patent selfishness and egotism will a non-sexist relationship be possible for women or men. To this extent, the novel concludes as an argument for the (sexual) liberation of women (even if it must be at the expense of men), not against it.This is often a highly stimulating and enjoyable work, if you're prepared to look and explore beyond the rudeness and lewdness of the male gaze.Madeleine PeyrouxSOUNDTRACK:(view spoiler)[Lisa Gerrard - "Sailing to Byzantium" Butler Yeats - "Sailing To Byzantium" Mac - "Man of the World" - "The Most Beautiful Girl In The World" Peyroux - "Dance Me to the End of Love" Reed - "Call on Me" Laurie AndersonLou Reed was 61 when he released the album ("The Raven") upon which "Call on Me" and "Who Am I" appear.Lou Reed - "Call on Me" [Live on 22 May, 2003] AnthonyLou Reed - "Who Am I" (Tripitena's Song) Reed and David Bowie - "Dirty Blvd." [Live] (hide spoiler)]

I definitely did not like this book. Not very surprising though, pretty much anyone could've told you that this just isn't a book for me. But I had to read this for school, so I didn't really have a choice. It wasn't like I hated the whole book; at times it was quite enjoyable. The writing wasn't that bad either, it's just that I couldn't stand the story. Yeah, not just the protagonist, but the whole story. I'm sorry (and like I said, these kind of books aren't for me) but it just felt like such a pathetic, ridiculous and pretentious book. You have this old, white, misogynistic professor who's constantly either whining about life and how it works or he's fucking young women.But then, he ''falls in love'' with Consuela. Yeah, not really. He actually just gets obsessed with being with her and her breasts. In this book, women are only pretty objects Kepesh can use to make himself feel better, just like men are apparently bound to cheat at least once in their married lives. He's constantly saying things like ''Oh well it's in a man's nature and hey man, this is America, land of freedom, why the hell would you fuck only your wife lmao''. That's really problematic. And the book is just completely about that philosophy. It was incredibly annoying and even more boring.But I really can't get over the ridiculousness of this book. At one point, he asks Consuela to take out her tampon and watch her bleed. And then he fucking licks the blood of her thighs. I was quite disturbed. (Though the author has never probably done this himself, because menstruation blood doesn't just flow at once out of your vagina and over your legs. Seriously wtf. That's not how it works, Roth.)And Consuela always just did whatever the fuck Kepish wanted her to do. She wouldn't even say a word. She literally was his object to use. And what was even more annoying, was that Kepish was constantly thinking things like ''Consuela does this and that because she is like this and that and women always do this and that, and yes obviously I know everything about her because I'm an old white male, I know everything about the world and how it works duh <3''. Just stop please. And then Consuela leaves him and he is soooo upset and can't get his life to be normal again, because he was so obsessed with her. It's not even her personality he misses; he never speaks a word of that. It really is because of her magnificent body that it takes him three years to get over her. And even then he's still not completely over her.But then after 5 years, Consuela suddenly calls him. Because she has breast cancer. Of course she has. Everything about this book is about her breasts. So in the last 50 pages of the book, the only thing Kepish talks and thinks about are her breasts. ''Oh no, she'll lose a bit of them''. Because, as everyone knows, that's the real problem with breast cancer. Not the big chance of dying, but the surgery. Ugh. Someone get this book away from me please.

Do You like book The Dying Animal (2002)?

In his recent spate of short novels, Roth does not beat around the bush anymore and drives his point home eloquently, ignoring novelistic conventions. Perhaps like his protagonist David Kepesh, mortality is sounding its alarm bells and there is no more time to "dick around," although there is plenty of that kind of activity in this book.David is an aging academic who has spent most of his life bedding his students upon their graduation, having deserted his wife and son at the dawn of the Age of Aquarius. Sex is revenge for him. Then he meets Consuela, a Cuban student, and actually starts to care. Their relationship is one of power and the loss of it: she gains physical mastery over this man of culture, while he goes mad with anxiety in the knowledge that she adores him but does not desire him. And their sexual acts are degrading, for him, but he laps them up, if but to keep her. This book is written as a confession by David to an unknown third party on how he moved from sexual animal to caring animal to dying animal. Part-way Roth intervenes to conduct a discourse on the freedom of the individual that goes back to the Puritans. He also deviates to talk about the rise of feminism in the '60's that Consuela's generation has inherited. There is a side plot with the abandoned son who is the opposite of his father, locked into a loveless and miserable marriage but unwilling to repeat history and leave it. And there are observations on the more mature lovers in David's stable (students of a generation ago) who have now built professional lives but have no success with relationships and "drop in" on their old master from time to time for a quickie and some sympathy in between business meetings.Concluding, Roth claims life, purpose and some sympathy for his protagonist (and probably for himself too) when it is Consuela who faces the life threatening illness and David is forced to examine his conscience and reach out, and discover that, deep down, he does have feelings.

Right after I finished this book I watched Elegy, which is a movie based on the book. I'd say you could skip the book and go straight to the DVD.It's not that I didn't enjoy it. I just don't know that I would have enjoyed it if I didn't know as much about Roth's background as I do. Because you see, it was based directly on a situation in his life.That situation is basically that he's an old man but he still loves the young ladies. He is a professor at a major university, sets his sites on a Cuban girl in his class and begins sleeping with her. Eventually he does weird things like lick blood off of her legs.The book is a pretty self-indulgent undertaking. It is clearly just him trying to make sense of the affair and an attempt to discern why it affected him so much. I don't think he quite accomplishes that but I did end the book feeling like I'd gotten some useful insight into his own life and how it's affected a few of his other books. Overall : I would not recommend this to anyone who is just starting out with Roth. In fact, I wouldn't even recommend it to a Roth fan who hadn't read both The Professor of Desire and The Breast.
—Agnes Mack

***"Porque no sexo não existe nenhum ponto de estase absoluta. Não há nem pode haver qualquer igualdade sexual, nenhuma decerto em que as quotas-partes sejam iguais, em que o quociente masculino e o quociente feminino estejam em perfeito equilíbrio. Não há maneira alguma de lidar mensuravelmente com esta coisa selvagem. Não é meio por meio como numa transação comercial. É do caos do eros que estamos a falar, da desestabilização radical que é a sua excitação. Com o sexo regressamos à selva"...(Philip Roth)***
—Rosa Ramôa

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