Tuesday, April 26, 2005

In memory of Bellow

Saul Bellow, who passed away in the first week of April, was a giant of American letters. One of the best places to get a sense of his work is the New York Times special page on him, which features reviews of all his novels from the years in which they first came out (beginning 1944), interviews by Times writers with Bellow spread over several decades, and several pieces by Bellow himself, including How I Wrote Augie March's Story and The Civilized Barbarian Reader. If you're fond of Bellow, you could easily spend a whole day trawling through this archive.

Bellow loved literature, and was savage in his contempt for the tendentious meanings imputed to literary works by some kinds of intellectuals, making the sharp observation that 'they prefer meaning to feeling'. In this piece from the late fifties, Bellow warns against various kinds of 'deep reading' of literature that were becoming fashionable in the universities:

Are you a Marxist? Then Herman Melville’s Pequod in “Moby Dick” can be a factory, Ahab the manager, the crew the working class. Is your point of view religious? The Pequod sailed on Christmas morning, a floating cathedral headed south. Do you follow Freud or Jung? Then your interpretations may be rich and multitudinous. I recently had a new explanation of “Moby Dick” from [a] young man. “Once and for all,” he said. “That whale is everybody’s mother wallowing in
her watery bed. Ahab has the Oedipus complex and wants to slay the hell out of her.”

1 comment:

Himalee Vyas said...

beautiful. i cherish all your views and reviews on such a wide variety of topics. esp., i loved your interpretations on some of bellow's works. thank you so much for giving us a sight to explore deeply into this world!