In response to:
The Play that Dare Not Speak Its Name from the February 25, 1965 issue
To the Editors:
Philip Roth is correct about the underlying intentions of Tiny Alice, but why does he write as though it were a dirty little secret which Albee cannot face? The very title of the play itself is, within homosexual circles, a phrase for a masculine derrière. Obviously Albee is not seeking concealment, is seeking rather more striking imagery and situations for the truths he wishes to impart than the bare “homosexual hero” Roth asks for can ever suggest.
And is Roth, by pointing to the homosexuality of the play, pointing to its meaning? Or has Roth really stopped short, with this disclosure, blandly satisfied with a simple understanding of a commonplace Freudian structure that ought to be seen as the starting point of the play, not its conclusion.
New Haven, Connecticut
Philip Roth replies:
What Professor Hagopian thinks of as “symbolism,” I consider decoration; what seems to him “a metaphysical theme” seems to me a banal cliché. Why must man embrace his animal nature? To be happy? To be good? To survive? And why assume sexuality is “animal” as opposed to human? And how difficult an “embrace” is it? how costly? how likely? And what makes Julian a representative of “man”? I don’t see where Albee attends to any of these questions by putting a birdcage on the stage, or sticking a mouse in a castle. Maybe Professor Hagopian shouldn’t be so quick to assume he is the one with the “metaphysical” bias, that is not how I would describe the interests of someone so enthralled by what is remote and artificial, and so off-hand and removed about “just plain homosexuality.”
And he misreads my last sentence if he thinks I am calling for plays of social protest, or for a defense of homosexuality on the stage. Rather, I was suggesting an approach that has so far seemed beyond the homosexual playwright in America—that is, less defensiveness. There, after all, is one of the ways a person begins to embrace what is unusual in his nature, or to defy it. Probably the professor would have gotten my meaning immediately, if only I had been more obscure.
Mr. Skir has worked himself into a lather of high-mindedness by ascribing to me a point of view I do not hold, and which was neither stated nor implied in my review.
If Mr. Belsnick is right about the homosexual argot, and if the pun was intentional, then the play is even worse than I thought it was.