How Many C Words Is Too Many C Words?
We’ve talked about this before in terms of literature that glorifies a subject, but I want to touch on it again today.
When it comes to literature, I believe we all have a limit to how much obscenity we’ll put up with. Even the most liberal and “open-minded” of us have a limit, I believe. The issue being that we all define “obscenity” in different ways. It’s subjective.
I bring this up because, with Portnoy’s Complaint, I think I’m right at the edge, if not over, my limit. I definitely wouldn’t have finished this novel had it not been a part of the list.
But what exactly do I mean by “obscenities?”
First, I’m no prude. I’ve read a lot of words during this journey and even before, and I believe my boundaries are more liberal than most. So I’m not talking about normal run-of-the-mill stuff.
We’re not talking about stuff you hear on cable TV or The Sopranos or even the most over-the-top movies: The F bomb. The MFer and all the variations thereof.
Portnoy’s Complaint, at times, is somewhere along the lines of what I imagine a transcript of a porn movie would read like. I’ve read the “C-word”—yes, that C-word—more times while reading this novel than I have through the entirety of my life. And I’m not exaggerating about that.
By comparison, the C-word is used in Atonement once. But, if you’ve read the book, you know it fits there. It’s in context and the word makes sense. Robbie is writing a note that he believes Cecilia will never see.
With Portnoy’s Complaint, though, Philip Roth had verbal diarrhea of the C-word. The C-word rains down in this novel like confetti at the end of the Super Bowl.
C-word everywhere. At the beginning of sentences. At the end of sentences. In chapter headings. In dialogue. In narration. C-word. C-word. C-word.
And the question I have for Philip Roth: Why?
What’s the point? Okay, so you use the word here and you use the word there and you use the word another dozen or so times. But I think it’s fairly safe to say that the C-word is used, literally, hundreds of times during Portnoy’s Complaint. Hundreds.
Now I’m not talking about censorship or banning the novel. I’m not in that camp.
But it’s just too much. The obscenity and just—there’s no other way to put it—“vulgarness” of this novel is so over the top that it makes Lolita seem like a Dr. Seuss book. And it’s not just the use of that one word.
That’s just the beginning of the wildness that is Portnoy’s Complaint. Every slang, derogatory variation of name for both male and female genitalia is used here.
I understand that it was written in 1969, perhaps the height of the sexual revolution, a theme the novel certainly doesn’t shy away from. But man.
So…my question here is: Where’s your limit? Would 147 uses of the C-word bother you? Or maybe there’s not a word in the English language that offends you, maybe it’s certain types of content, like rape or pedophilia or something else along those lines.
Do we all have a personal limit?