The Professor of Desire
Can the provisions of sexual desire ultimately lead to happiness?
The professor in Philip Roth's PROFESSOR OF DESIRE --- David Kepesh
--- explores that question and its implications in this witty and
erudite novel that begins, quite literally, with a hilarious
display of "bathroom" humor and ends with the pathos of a man
reflecting on the ramifications of his personal history.
David Kepesh has only two things on his mind: women and literature.
When he wins a Fulbright fellowship to study in London, Kepesh
indulges himself in the erotic possibilities of his life while
trying to keep his academic status on the up-and-up. During his
adventures, he meets Elisabeth, who eventually becomes his wife.
Yet, for everything they share in the sexual arena, there is not
enough common ground in the rest of their life to provide a
balance, so eventually they divorce.
The event sends Kepesh into a period of depression and
self-reflection. His job as professor of comparative literature is
the art of sustenance on which his sanity hangs. He puts his energy
into his work and it is there, after a period of reasonable
stability, that he is introduced to Claire.
It is in the development of David and Claire's relationship that
Roth really begins to shine. Poised between the bookends of
Kepesh's literary heroes --- Kafka and Chekov --- David and Claire
play out a drama that dances among the shadows of both writers in
its search for the happy light of a common sun. The result is that
THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE moves from the shelf of mere entertainment
to a philosophical rendering of the dilemmas encountered as love
and lust do battle in a war of the heart.
Reviewed by Vern Wiessner on January 23, 2011