London’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas

Past Events

Promiscuous - a Biography of Portnoy’s Complaint
Bernard Avishai , Chair: Josh Cohen
Sunday, 24 February 2013

Experience the event as it happened:

Gallery Audio

Portnoy's Complaint provoked instant, powerful reactions when first published in 1969 and it retains an enduring hold over the imagination today. It blasted Philip Roth into international fame, subjected him to unrelenting personal scrutiny and conjecture, and shocked legions of readers -- some delighted, others appalled.

The book gave new meaning to the words “liver”, “couch” and “shrink”. Alexander Portnoy and other main characters became instant archetypes, and Roth himself a touchstone for conflicting attitudes toward sexual liberation, Jewish power, political correctness and bourgeois disgust.

In Promiscuous Bernard Avishai offers a definitive biography of the satiric masterpiece, based on Roth’s own writings, teaching notes, and personal interviews.

Avishai came to Jewish Book Week to discuss the Jewish community’s outrage over the book and how Roth survived it. He suggests that Roth left us questioning who, or what, was the object of the satire and that the work proves the serious ways we construct fictions about ourselves and others.  

Bernard Avishai is adjunct professor of business at Hebrew University and author of three books including The Hebrew Republic and articles for Harper’s, The New Yorker, Harvard Business Review and other publications.

Josh Cohen is Professor of Modern Literary Theory at Goldsmiths University of London. 

 Sponsored by the Israeli Embassy

To buy a copy of Promiscuous and any other books related to this session, visit:

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