Monday, May 02, 2005
Some final Bellowing
Also, a note of puzzlement about Ian McEwan's valedictory op-ed piece in the New York Times of April 7. I admire McEwan, and as for his idolatrous take on Bellow, I second that emotion. But I continue to be perplexed by his favorite specimen of Bellovian prose, which he has not only memorized as a private mantra but used as an epigraph to Saturday. "Well, for instance," it begins, "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." And so on and so forth, for another nine sentences, most of them similarly blunt and hortatory. I have to say this is not first-rate Bellow. It sounds like a party plank. It reveals Bellow's sweet tooth for the sort of sociological analysis that almost scuttles Mr. Sammler's Planet. So what the hell, I'll haul out two of my own favorites. The first is from Ravelstein, and certainly serves as an artistic credo:
In my trade you have to make allowances, taking all sorts of ambiguities into account--to avoid hard-edged judgments. All this refraining may resemble naïveté. But it isn't quite that. In art you become familiar with due process. You can't simply write people off or send them to hell.The other one, from the second paragraph of Augie March, is more compact, but it still represents a major trade secret, whether you're a Bellovian maximalist or Borgesian minimalist or anything in between: "Everyone knows there is no fineness or accuracy of suppression; if you hold down one thing you hold down the adjoining." Amen.