Philip Roth’s next-to-last novel is really more of a novella. Slim little thing called The Humbling. Probably 30k words. The UK pocket paperback is literally about the size of a cell phone. The story’s about an actor named Axel something, very esteemed and I think well into his sixties or seventies, when one day (as the novella begins) he “[loses] his magic.”
And he never acts again.
For the next hundred-odd pages he converts a young lesbian and eventually blows his head off. The book’s not very good. The one that follows it wasn’t a whole lot better, a slightly more substantive thing called Nemesis, but, as Roth’s biographer Blake Bailey put it in a Times of Israel interview, “Thank God he didn’t end on The Humbling.”
I’m nearing the end of my tenure at the Little Havana apartment with Laz, and, looking back on the year, I see it as being really formative and culturing and fun, kinda revelatory, and most importantly I see it mostly as like an education in different types of humility. There was a romantic kind (in fucking spades) but also financial and artistic and social—of which the financial has been the most enduring.
Not having the money for this or that. Needing to ask for help with stuff: asking for patience, for extensions, for raises. Reminding people they owed me money. Cutting myself off from pleasures I’d taken for granted because I just couldnt afford it anymore.
But if I can say anything to The Humbling’s credit, a book I’ve read three times now cuz it’s short and it came out at a time when I would still bend over backwars trying to like something, it’s this: whenever I’m stressed or embarrassed (sometimes humiliated) about the money thing, I think of Axel’s story, the agony wrought by the loss of his craft, and I realize–and appreciate–that I’ve still got mine. I can always still write, I’ve still got my platform.
I can still always do my thing.
Kevin Smith used to always quote the Little Drummer Boy in defense of his art. That he’s got no gifts to bring, just this little song to sing.
Pa rum pum pum pum & shit.