Lifestyle & Belief

Philip Roth angered by battle to edit own Wikipedia entry


Wikipedia is only one of thousands of websites that have gone dark to protest SOPA.

Wikipedia is hardly known for being overly-scrupulous when it comes to the credibility of its entries. Thus the irony in US author Philip Roth being informed by a Wikipedia administrator that he "was not a credible source" to edit items about his own books. 

Roth has not let it pass without comment. A full 2,655 words of comment, to be precise, which can be viewed in their wrathful entirety at The New Yorker.

The Wikipedia entry in question -- "The Human Stain," Roth's 2000 novel -- was quickly amended following the Friday publication of Roth's letter, according to BBC News.

It all began when Roth noticed "a serious misstatement" in the entry that he requested be removed. ("This item entered Wikipedia not from the world of truthfulness but from the babble of literary gossip—there is no truth in it at all," he couldn't resist adding.)

The response? "'I understand your point that the author is the greatest authority on their own work, but we require secondary sources,'" Roth said the Wikipedia Administrator told him. 

Wait, what? That Wikipedia response doesn't even make sense. (This is where BBC tactfully notes reports indicating the "number of people being approved to run the [Wikipedia] site is on the decline.")

Anyway, most of Roth's letter involves clarifying, elucidating, explaining, defending, or denying various points related to the entry on his novel, particularly the claim that Roth had based a key character in the book on author Anatole Broyard, who died in 1990. 

This, Roth says, is actual fiction. "As for Anatole Broyard...[h]e and I barely knew each other," he wrote, adding Captian Obvious style, "to be inspired to write an entire book about a man’s life, you must have considerable interest in the man’s life."

"Novel writing is for the novelist a game of let’s pretend," Roth concluded, finally sputtering to the end of his detail-ridden defense. Any author needs to know "five thousand" details about anyone related to his main character -- far more than Roth says he ever knew about Broyard.

Wow. So this is what happens when a serious author gets seriously annoyed. Still, you can't really blame Roth. After all, he was suspected on potentially fictionalizing his own fiction entry. Probably the brave few accuracy-obsessed Wikipedia administrators should stick to, say, history entries.