A Human Platitude Who Radiates Blandness

In Chapter 1 of American Pastoral by Philip Roth, two gentlemen are having dinner, and one guy describes the other — who's stunningly handsome, athletic, successful — this way:

I was impressed, as the meal wore on, by how assured he seemed of everything commonplace he said, and how everything he said was suffused by his good nature. I kept waiting for him to lay bare something more than this pointed unobjectionableness, but all that rose to the surface was more surface. What he has instead of a being, I thought, is blandness — the guy's radiant with it. He has devised for himself an incognito, and the incognito has become him. Several times during the meal I didn't think I was going to make it, didn't think I'd get to dessert if he was going to keep praising his family and praising his family…until I began to wonder if it wasn't that he was incognito but that he was mad.

Something was on top of him that had called a halt to him. Something had turned him into a human platitude. Something had warned him: You must not run counter to anything.

A helluva piece of writing, and captures the emotion I have felt when listening to some over-assured guy talk over dinner about how much he loves his family. Rare outward facing comments are doused in political correctness. You want to reach across the table (even if it means knocking over a glass or two), grab his shoulders with each hand, and give him a good shake.

The description continues:

To respect everything one is supposed to respect; to protest nothing; never to be inconvenienced by self-distrust; never to be enmeshed in obsession, tortured by incapacity, poisoned by resentment, driven by anger…life just unraveling for the Swede like a fluffy ball of yarn.

3 comments on “A Human Platitude Who Radiates Blandness
  • I rarely encounter people like this, but when I do, find it deeply disturbing. It’s chilling to think such an existence is possible, that people living it could come into my orbit, and that the condition may be infectious. I’m sure those individuals think there’s some there…there. How wrong they (we?) can be.

  • Blandness is infuriating.

    Try to imagine having sex with Ken and Barbie come to life– they have no zero appeal and all you want to do is rough them up a little.

    It’s people who go on about their dogs who inspire me with thoughts of murder.

    If I hear one more story about their precious Bowser I just may snap, and there’ll be hell to pay.

    My whole life I felt repulsed by the suffocating orthodoxy of societal expectations.

    I also feel grateful to them, now, though.

    The force of the repulsion actually saved me from Swede-like complacency by driving me off into an erratic orbit around my own heaving stars.

    I like it better out here in the bracing aether where you can really breathe.

    The only time anyone actually has ever grabbed my shoulders and shaken me, it was a mail-order minister of the Universal Life church who was outraged that I had worn a Greek Fisherman’s cap in his presence.

    He knew that the black wool cap had a red satin lining, and I knew that he believed in color symbology and preached that the colors red and black together were a sign of evil.

    When he grabbed the cap off my head, I was so outraged by this invasion of my personal space and assault on my physical integrity that I killed him.

    I slew him only in my mind, but it’s funny how he always comes back to haunt me.

    The madman still has a toehold on my little place in the sun.

    But it’s nice to have your own private immortal maniac that you can always beat down whenever the going gets rough.;-)

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