SteadyBlogging on Twitter (SteadyTweets?)

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Saul Bellow roundup

I'd been thinking about blogging something about Bellow after a spate of essays about Augie March appeared last year, with the 50th anniversary of its publication. Below are a bunch of links that appeared after Bellow died last week.

First, for reference: the lengthy NYTimes obituary.

Also in NYTimes: A nice essay by Ian McEwan that ran on the op-ed page, centered around the barking dog of The Dean's December, touching on Bellow's stature among contemporary British writers. McEwan mentions this edition of Augie March with an introduction by Martin Amis which I'd like to pick up (searching for that link turned up links to this edition with an intro by Hitchens, and this nice Amazon feature by Aleksandar Hemon).

McEwan's essay includes a passage from Herzog which is, interestingly, as Hitchens cites in his Bellow obit ("He Was an American, Quebec-Born: Saul Bellow's legacy"), the epigraph of McEwan's new novel Saturday. More on Saturday in a later post (incl Hitchens' review of it), but for now back to Bellow--here are the famous lines from Herzog:

"Well, for instance, what it means to be a man. In a city. In a century. In transition. In a mass. Transformed by science. Under organized power. Subject to tremendous controls. In a condition caused by mechanization. After the late failure of radical hopes. In a society that was no community and devalued the person. Owing to the multiplied power of numbers which made the self negligible. Which spent military billions against foreign enemies but would not pay for order at home. Which permitted savagery and barbarism in its own great cities. At the same time, the pressure of human millions who have discovered what concerted efforts and thoughts can do. As megatons of water shape organisms on the ocean floor. As tides polish stones. As winds hollow cliffs..."

Of Bellow's novels, I've only read Augie March (in the summer after my first year of grad school, spent back at home in MN) and Ravelstein (about a year ago). I didn't feel like I really "got" either--in particular, I never really cracked Bellow's peculiar language. Which was the reason I gave up on Henderson the Rain King about 50 pages in. But in addition to a re-reading of Augie March, I'm adding Herzog (and perhaps The Dean's December and Mr. Sammler's Planet) to the near-term reading list.

Herzog is cited by Dave Eggers as "my favorite book, by anyone, anywhere, anytime" in this Slate collection of Bellow reminscences, which also has short pieces by Stanley Crouch, Hilton Als, James Atlas. While those were written in the days after his death, Salon's collection culled their selections from writers recounting their impressions of Bellow over the past 50 years. Slate also ran a piece about "Editing Bellow."

Returning to the NYTimes: there was the obligatory highbrow literary appreciation by uber-critic Michiko Kakutani ("Saul Bellow, Poet of Urban America's Dangling Men"), and two shorter, more anecdotal pieces: one by Brent Staples ("Mr. Bellow's Planet")
and one by Edward Rothstein ("Saul Bellow, Saul Bellow, Let Down Your Hair"). (Seems as if it's obligatory to headline these Bellow pieces with an allusion to a Bellow title--in which case I don't the last one.)

Both Staples and Rothstein were grad students at the UofC--their pieces come out of their (rather different) interactions and encounters with Bellow in Hyde Park. For my own small remembrance of Bellow, I was thinking I would pull out my copy of Staples's memoir Parallel Time and read the chapter about his stalking of Bellow in streets of Hyde Park. The piece above complements the Parallel Time chapter, with Staples evoking gossipy discussions of Bellow's latest novels taking place in Jimmy's. (As I've written before, I'm a fan of Staples's writing. I included in that entry links to two more of Staples' literary essays, one about Naipaul and one about Phillip Roth & Anatole Broyard.)

Finally, Bellow's city is of course Chicago (one of the reasons I feel a connection to him, even if I don't feel as if I have any sort of deep appreciation of his work). But the Times tries to claim him as <"A Writer Captivated by the Chaos of New York" as well.

No comments: