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Page 77

Foreshadowing a concept central to the entire novel and which will be explicitly explored

towards its end, Henry finds pretending to be himself exhilarating precisely because, by

acknowledging that his identity is provisional and that it depends on (artistic) choice rather than

being grounded in an inescapable essentialism, he also becomes free to endlessly remake himself

anew. And indeed, both Henry and Nathan will be repeatedly made anew in the course of the

following chapters, staging a succession of performances scripted by Nathan’s imagination in

order to fully understand who they are.

3.3 “Judea” and “Aloft”: First Contradictions and the Multiplicity of the Jewish-American


Alerted to the possible counterfactual nature of the events comprised in the novel by the

paratextual indications offered both by its title and by its chapter headings, as well as by the

textual clues present throughout “Basel,” readers of The Counterlife are, nonetheless, likely to

find themselves disoriented shortly after entering the world of “Judea.” The first difference from

the previous narrative material to be found in this second chapter is a formal one, as the events

are now presented through Nathan Zuckerman’s first-person narration. Despite this shift in

narrative situation, however, “Judea” can initially be mistaken as introducing a coherent

continuation of “Basel,” since no contradictions to the facts previously presented arise for a few

pages. Back to Israel after eighteen years, Nathan now recalls the occasion for his previous

journey to the country: “Because Higher Education, my first book, had been deemed

‘controversial’—garnering both a Jewish prize and the ire of a lot of rabbis—I’d been invited to

Tel Aviv to participate in a public dialogue: Jewish-American and Israeli writers on the subject

‘The Jew in Literature’” (TC 54). While the purpose of his current visit remains, for the moment,

unknown, Zuckerman’s mention of his first book and of the sensation this had caused traces a

continuity with events already familiar to Roth’s readers from the previous Zuckerman novels,

supporting the inference that the narrative of “Judea,” just like “Basel,” will develop coherently

from them. Throughout this and the following chapter further allusions to Nathan’s past—

occurring, for example, in his encounter with Jimmy, an enthusiastic fan praising Higher


Page 152

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