Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow, the Nobel laureate and self-proclaimed historian of society whose fictional heroes - and whose scathing, unrelenting and darkly comic examination of their struggle for meaning - gave new immediacy to the American novel in the second half of the 20th century, died today at his home in Brookline, Mass. He was 89.
Saul Bellow was pretty genius. I took Jewish American Literature last semester and of all the writers we studied and works we read, I took a liking to Bellow the most. Granted, Philip Roth’s American Pastoral had some great passages (one of which has become my favorite quote), but Bellow’s whole Ravelstein is incomparable.
The book Ravelstein was written as if it were fiction. Ravelstein asks Chick, the narrator, to write his biography when he dies:

"You could do a really fine memoir. It's not just a request," he added. "I'm laying this on you as an obligation. Do it in your after-supper-reminiscence manner, when you've had a few glasses of wine and you're laid back and making remarks. I love listening when you are freewheeling about Edmund Wilson or John Berryman or Whittaker Chambers when you were hired at Time in the morning and fired by him before lunch. I've often thought how well you deal with a story when you're laid back."
There was no way I could refuse to do this. He clearly didn't want me to write about his ideas.

Only, this wasn't a fictional character. Ravelstein is based on his friend Allan Bloom because Bloom really had asked Bellow to write his biography. It seems, after reading the book, that Bloom's character was so intense that Bellow was a genius for having framed the biography in the way he had--as a narrator asked to write a biography on a friend but not his ideas when the friend who had asked was all about ideas. Comprende? I think I lost my point.
Regardless, any Elder in training is required to read Bellow's Ravelstein because if there ever was a real Elder, it was Bloom--the character "played by Ravelstein." Although, he'd probably cringe if he heard me say that because as he put it (in a quote I tend to reuse often)...

"And there's a difference standard for Americans. And you're a Jew, besides. The Jews had better understand their status with respect to myth. Why should they have any truck with myth? It was myth that demonized them. The Jew myth is connected with conspiracy theory. The Protocols of Zion for instance. And your Radu has written books, endless books, about myth. So what do you want with mythology, anyway, Chick? Do you expect to be tapped one of these days and be told that you have now become an elder of Zion? Just give a thought now and then to those people on the meat hooks."

But my intention was not to write about Bloom, but to write about Bellow. So I will quote once more from Ravelstein, the only Bellow work I've studied, with something I think works well here:

Anyway . . . this was the world. I had never seen it before. Its first gift was the gift of itself. Objects gathered you to themselves and held you by a magnetic imperative that was simply there. Is was a privilege to be permitted to see--to see, touch, hear.

Baruch Dayan emet and rest in peace Saul Bellow.

3 Shpeils


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like Portnoy's Complaint a lot, speaking of Philip Roth. But then again, I have a pretty weird sense of humor. Other than that, the problem with Philip Roth is that's made a career essentially being the literary version of Woody Allen.

As far as Saul Bellow...well...I've never read anything by him.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005 10:58:00 PM  


Anonymous Anonymous said...

And by "that's," I mean "that he's".

Tuesday, April 05, 2005 10:58:00 PM  


Blogger BrownsvilleGirl said...

Try Ravelstein, I tell you.
Totally fun (although it's not very humorous).

Wednesday, April 06, 2005 2:02:00 AM  

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