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A Political Companion to Saul Bellow

A Political Companion to Saul Bellow

Gloria L. Cronin
Lee Trepanier
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    A Political Companion to Saul Bellow
    Book Description:

    Saul Bellow is one of the twentieth century's most influential, respected, and honored writers. His novels The Adventures of Augie March, Herzog, and Mr. Sammler's Planet won the National Book Award, and Humboldt's Gift was awarded the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. In addition, his plays garnered popular and critical acclaim, and some were produced on Broadway. Known for his insights into life in a post-Holocaust world, Bellow's explorations of modernity, Jewish identity, and the relationship between art and society have resonated with his readers, but because his writing is not overtly political, his politics have largely been ignored.

    A Political Companion to Saul Bellow examines the author's novels, essays, short stories, and letters in order to illuminate his evolution from liberal to neoconservative. It investigates Bellow's exploration of the United States as a democratic system, the religious and ideological influences on his work, and his views on race relations, religious identity, and multiculturalism in the academy. Featuring a fascinating conclusion that draws from interviews with Bellow's sons, this accessible companion is an excellent resource for understanding the political thought of one of America's most acclaimed writers.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4187-9
    Subjects: Political Science, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Series Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)

    Those who undertake a study of American political thought must attend to the great theorists, philosophers, and essayists. Such a study is incomplete, however, if it neglects American literature, one of the greatest repositories of the nation’s political thought and teachings.

    America’s literature is distinctive because it is, above all, intended for a democratic citizenry. In contrast to eras when an author would aim to inform or influence a select aristocratic audience, in democratic times, public influence and education must resonate with a more expansive, less leisured, and diverse audience to be effective. The great works of America’s literary tradition...

  4. INTRODUCTION: Saul Bellow’s Political Thought
    (pp. 1-8)
    Lee Trepanier and Gloria L. Cronin

    This volume looks at the political thought and milieu of one of the great American writers—perhaps the greatest—of the second half of the twentieth century: Saul Bellow. Not only does Bellow confront some of the major political themes of his and our time—religious identity, race relations, and multiculturalism—but the evolution of his own political thinking from Trotskyism to neoconservatism reflects some of the significant changes in mainstream American political thought and politics itself. In this sense, Bellow’s own political thought in his novels, short stories, and essays captures the general political shift in mainstream America from...

  5. 1 Trotskyism in the Early Work of Saul Bellow
    (pp. 9-28)
    Judie Newman

    Bellow’s enthusiasm for Trotskyism tends to be summarily dismissed as a youthful peccadillo, or as just one among many of the weltering ideas which populate his fiction. As Edward Shils commented, “If there’s a bad idea out there—Trotskyism, Reichism, Steinerism—leave it to our friend Saul to swallow it.”¹ Arguably, however, the later Bellow’s reputation as a neoconservative has obscured the importance to his life and writings of his early enthusiasm for Trotskyism. The 2010 publication of a selection of his letters opens with Bellow aged seventeen writing to Yetta Barshevsky, a fellow high school student who introduced him...

  6. 2 Bellow as Jew and Jewish Writer
    (pp. 29-56)
    Ben Siegel

    In the years following the publication of Herzog, with the 1960s drawing to a close, Saul Bellow could well take stock of his new position as a major American literary figure. When launching his writing career, Solomon Bellow had become Saul Bellow. Now, a quarter century after publishing his first stories and novels, he could lay claim to being an international man of letters. But recognition and success had not come easily. During his early professional years—the 1940s and 1950s, as well as the decades immediately preceding them—America’s most celebrated writers were resoundingly non-Jewish. John Dos Passos, F....

  7. 3 Saul Bellow and the Absent Woman Syndrome: Traces of India in “Leaving the Yellow House”
    (pp. 57-66)
    Michael Austin

    With increasing frequency, scholars are approaching Saul Bellow’s texts with an eye on his female protagonists. While the vast majority of these critics focus on the inadequacy of Bellow’s portrayal of women and the out-and-out misogyny evidenced in his male-female relationships, a few have tried to salvage something of the author’s reputation by locating strong female characters in scattered Bellow texts and attempting to read these characters as rare examples of Bellow’s ability to portray female characters with both sympathy and intelligence. With the publication of A Theft in 1989, Bellow critics were presented with a bona fide female Bellow...

  8. 4 The Politics of Art: The Colonial Library Meets the Carnivalesque in Henderson the Rain King
    (pp. 67-100)
    Daniel K. Muhlestein

    Saul Bellow is the author of more than a dozen novellas and novels. He has been awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature and is generally considered one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. Bellow’s work also reflects the aesthetics and ideology and politics of his era, and in recent years critics have begun to explore the possibility that Bellow’s most significant novels—many of which were written before and during the civil rights movement—contain elements of racism, either through overt description and characterization or through the strategic omission of black characters or...

  9. 5 The Jewish Atlantic—The Deployment of Blackness in Saul Bellow
    (pp. 101-128)
    Carol R. Smith

    When Charles Citrine, the central protagonist and narrator of Bellow’s 1975 novel Humboldt’s Gift, makes plans to visit Europe, his brother Julius asks him to bring back to America a painting of the sea. As is apparent from the description quoted above, the image desired by Julius is remarkable for, in Morrison’s phrase, its “significant and under-scored omissions.” The wish for such a seascape betokens a resistance to acknowledging the racialized history of Europe and America. What Julius wants in a European painting for his American house is a purified depiction of the sea, without a “rock”—no land; without...

  10. 6 “Washed Up on the Shores of Truth”: Saul Bellow’s Post-Holocaust America
    (pp. 129-152)
    Victoria Aarons

    In a 1987 letter to the American Jewish writer Cynthia Ozick, Saul Bellow, Nobel laureate and novelist of vast intellectual depth and complexity, acknowledged what for him was a failure of reckoning. The overwhelming event of the Holocaust, in Bellow’s words, “a crime so vast that it brings all Being into Judgment,” was met by American intellectuals in the years following the war with an unconscionable silence, a reprehensible disregard for that which defined the failure of the civilized world.¹ For Bellow, the silence imposed upon the known events of the Holocaust, “the destruction of European Jewry,” amounted to an...

  11. 7 Mr. Sammler’s Planet: Saul Bellow’s 1968 Speech at San Francisco State University
    (pp. 153-166)
    Andrew Gordon

    Saul Bellow was never a systematic political thinker. An autodidact, stubborn and independent, never much of a joiner, like Augie in his novel The Adventures of Augie March, he preferred to “go at things as I have taught myself, freestyle.”¹ As James Atlas writes, “always he resisted the party line.”² Bellow’s views on politics and the writer he outlined in his essay, “Writers, Intellectuals, Politics: Mainly reminiscence.” There he traces his political development from the influence on his thinking as a young man of Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky—he was a Trotskyist in the 1930s—through his gradual rejection of...

  12. 8 Biography, Elegy, and the Politics of Modernity in Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein
    (pp. 167-184)
    Willis Salomon

    Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein is a biographical roman à clef, an undisguised fictive account of the life and death of Bellow’s friend Allan Bloom. At the time of his death in 1992 from complications related to HIV/AIDS, Bloom was an infamous University of Chicago political philosopher, classicist, student of Leo Strauss, and cultural provocateur, who had infamously penned The Closing of the American Mind in 1987, for which Bellow had written a foreword. Ravelstein is an elegy for Bloom, a first-person fictive meditation on the significance of Bloom’s life and death, mediated in part by Bellow’s fictionalized account of his own...

  13. 9 Our Father’s Politics: Gregory, Adam, and Daniel Bellow
    (pp. 185-222)
    Gloria L. Cronin

    What follows here are three invaluable anecdotal accounts on Saul Bellow’s evolving cultural and political ideology as witnessed by his three sons, especially valuable because only inadequate biographical publications on Bellow exist. Given the gaps in age between the three brothers, Greg (b. 1944), Adam (b. 1957), and Daniel (b. 1964), these accounts offer progressive and overlapping chronological windows into some six decades of Saul Bellow’s political evolution. They cover Gregory Bellow’s perceptions of his father’s early Trotskyite affiliations and seeming belief circa 1937 in the equality of women, his temporary disaffiliation with his ancestral Judaism, and his later reaffiliation...

  14. Saul Bellow’s Politics: A Selected Annotated Bibliography, 1947–Present
    (pp. 223-276)
    Gloria L. Cronin
  15. List of Contributors
    (pp. 277-278)
  16. Index
    (pp. 279-286)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 287-288)