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HELIOGABALUS: HIS SUNHOOD

The section on this unpublished work of Roth's was self-edited far too much, and far too timidly, in Samuel Roth, Infamous Modernist. I want to publish it here in its entirety.

Sam Roth was well along in his 70s when he wrote this 341-page typescript, under his pseudonym Norman Lockridge, about the teenaged 2nd century A.D. Roman emperor. The eponymous protagonist was, as a child, a royal priest of the sun god Eliogabalus in Syria. He came to the throne at 15 as a charismatic prodigy, renown as the handsomest man in the empire, and indulged in sybaritic revels that revealed him to be a transgender (possibly even transsexual) person with two “husbands” (both slaves). In addition, he performed in “barbarian” Phoenician rites devoted to his god, wore outlandish costumes, assumed effeminate gestures and speech, and violated such taboos as having sex with vestal virgins. At 19, he was murdered by a mob incited by the next emperor, his cousin Alexander Severus.  Read More 
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Jesus in modern Jewish literature

Red Cavalry
For SR, Yeshea (Rabbi Jesus) was a life-long presence. He was a father-substitute without the authoritarian demands, allowing “Mishillim” (Roth’s Hebrew name, used when contemplating his spiritual existence) to live in “his own sweet [sensual] state of chaos.” In My Friend Yeshea, for example, Yeshea gave Mishillim, as his companion on the final  Read More 
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Wil Eisner's _A Contract with God_

This graphic novel features caricatures, sentimentality, melodrama, irony, and parable. Not so different from the tales of the Hasidic masters of eastern Europe, and the early Yiddish stories of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Bronx in the 1930s is, as Eisner draws it, a successor to a shtetl in Jewish Poland; “a noisy neighborliness not unlike the life-style the newcomers had left on the ‘other side,’” he wrote. While the American immigrant did not share the "old country" danger of pogroms and yearly attacks on good Friday (“the iron night”), he and she—Jewish, and even more so Irish, Afroamerican, Polish, Italian)-- had more anxiety about what to do to avoid a helpless and despairing immersion in poverty.

The story begins in a flood and ends with searing lightning and wind. God is in the storm, and in the head of Frimme Hersh: the God of Sinai, terrible in His glory, which not even Moses was allowed to see. In Eisner's first panel, Hersh lumbers through the deluge and climbs the tenement steps, which are overflowing like a steep hillside with runoff. He has returned from burying his daughter. A devout young man in Russia (“God will reward you”), just before leaving for America, he asks a tzaddik the wrong question (“If I am good, will God know it?”). The wise man tells him “God is all-knowing.” Frimme writes out a contract with God on a piece of stone, his own personal One Commandment.

Arriving in the Bronx, he continues his piety and charity. For this reason, a despairing mother leaves her baby at Frimme’s door. (The God of Sinai is everywhere in this story, even more so b/c it is Eisner’s genius to be able to put draw his reader into his personal vision of the mundane world of the depression-era Bronx.)

There passed many years of joy. Then the girl dies “in the springtime of her life.” Frimme spits on the contract he had written in stone, as the entire tenement block rocks with the timbre of this justice-demanding Dropsie Avenue Job.  Read More 
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MICHAEL CHABON DOES SAMUEL ROTH

Michael Chabon’s best-selling 2000 novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay is about the business of writing and publishing of comic books, and beyond that about the joy and tsouris [trouble] involved in the creation of an American art form. The heroes, late in the story, are concerned about the 1954 Kefauver Hearings on Comic Books, at which Samuel Roth begged off testifying concerning his attempt to solicit from Alex Segal, a distributor of comic books, a list of names of children who sent in coupons advertised therein. In addition, there was one “sex book” advertised in one of Segal’s comics.

Segal did not say who had solicited his list or placed the ad. Kefauver wanted to know, and subpoenaed Roth, who did not take the Fifth, but who could not testify unless given immunity, because he was under indictment. Here is Chabon’s observation about Roth: “A wall eyed loser;” “pornographer”; “comically shifty looking,” who sweated profusely.

Chabon is not a reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper but a super-engaging writer. He has delivered an über-comic book in the form of a novel. He has drawn Roth seamlessly into his web, making another cartoon character out of him. . Read More 
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UNPUBLISHED NOVEL BY CLAUDE McKAY DISCOVERED IN ROTH ARCHIVE


http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/15/books/harlem-renaissance-novel-by-claude-mckay-is-discovered.html?ref=arts&pagewanted=all

Note that the great detective work by the grad student, J. C. Cloutier, includes his restraint in discussing Roth with the NY Times journalist. It is true that Roth published "work without permission," and he was a kind of "literary pariah" (and so was the man who fought Lady Chatterley's Lover through the courts in the late 1950s, Barney Rosset) . Both Roth and Rosset might well have been proud of being literary pariahs.

What J.C. Cloutier did not say--and I bet the Times would have been glad to report otherwise--is that Roth was a pirate. This is more than a formality, b/c neither Ulysses or Chatterley were copyright in this country. Read More 
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