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the apogee of the individual & the character - in literature

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  • Siobhan
    The only Saul Bellow book I ve read was To Jerusalem and Back , his first non-fiction. It was okay for me, a gentile, who couldn t quite resonate with the
    Message 1 of 3 , Apr 7, 2005
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      The only Saul Bellow book I've read was "To Jerusalem and Back", his
      first non-fiction. It was okay for me, a gentile, who couldn't quite
      resonate with the cultural dilemma of non-Israeli Jews. It made me
      think about Louise's seeming indignation over my post about tolerance
      which itself was inspired by Knott's post about how some people think
      they have superior ideas. The tolerance post was directed more at
      avoiding discussion of conflicting ideas rather than the physical
      moving away from people and places which isn't always possible or
      practical. But somehow I think it might be those impossible
      situations which serve as impetus for migrations and the pioneer
      spirit. We're fast losing habitable spaces for fleeing to. Making the
      very difficult decision to move from unsatisfactory and unpleasant
      situations comes with a price whether emotional or financial or both.

      Anyway, this excerpt from Bellow's Nobel lecture concerns the
      individual as character in literature, and this all seems to tie
      together, at least in my own peculiar brain.

      Siobhan

      "I was a very contrary undergraduate more than 40 years ago. It was
      my habit to register for a course and then to do most of my reading
      in another field of study. So that when I should have been grinding
      away at "Money and Banking" I was reading the novels of Joseph
      Conrad. I have never had reason to regret this. Perhaps Conrad
      appealed to me because he was like an American - he was an uprooted
      Pole sailing exotic seas, speaking French and writing English with
      extraordinary power and beauty. Nothing could be more natural to me,
      the child of immigrants who grew up in one of Chicago's immigrant
      neighborhoods of course! - a Slav who was a British sea captain and
      knew his way around Marseilles and wrote an Oriental sort of English.
      But Conrad's real life had little oddity in it. His themes were
      straightforward - fidelity, command, the traditions of the sea,
      hierarchy, the fragile rules sailors follow when they are struck by a
      typhoon. He believed in the strength of these fragile-seeming rules,
      and in his art. His views on art were simply stated in the preface
      to "The Nigger of the Narcissus". There he said that art was an
      attempt to render the highest justice to the visible universe: that
      it tried to find in that universe, in matter as well as in the facts
      of life, what was fundamental, enduring, essential. The writer's
      method of attaining the essential was different from that of the
      thinker or the scientist. These, said Conrad, knew the world by
      systematic examination. To begin with the artist had only himself; he
      descended within himself and in the lonely regions to which he
      descended, he found "the terms of his appeal". He appealed, said
      Conrad, "to that part of our being which is a gift, not an
      acquisition, to the capacity for delight and wonder... our sense of
      pity and pain, to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation -
      and to the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits
      together the loneliness of innumerable hearts... which binds together
      all humanity - the dead to the living and the living to the unborn."

      This fervent statement was written some 80 years ago and we may want
      to take it with a few grains of contemporary salt. I belong to a
      generation of readers that knew the long list of noble or noble-
      sounding words, words like "invincible conviction" or "humanity"
      rejected by writers like Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway spoke for the
      soldiers who fought in the First World War under the inspiration of
      Woodrow Wilson and other rotund statesmen whose big words had to be
      measured against the frozen corpses of young men paving the trenches.
      Hemingway's youthful readers were convinced that the horrors of the
      20th Century had sickened and killed humanistic beliefs with their
      deadly radiations. I told myself, therefore, that Conrad's rhetoric
      must be resisted. But I never thought him mistaken. He spoke directly
      to me. The feeling individual appeared weak - he felt nothing but his
      own weakness. But if he accepted his weakness and his separateness
      and descended into himself intensifying his loneliness, he discovered
      his solidarity with other isolated creatures.

      I feel no need now to sprinkle Conrad's sentences with skeptical
      salt. But there are writers for whom the Conradian novel - all novels
      of that sort - are gone forever. Finished. There is, for instance, M.
      Alain Robbe-Grillet, one of the leaders of French literature, a
      spokesman for "thingism" - choseisme. He writes that in great
      contemporary works, Sartre's "Nausea", Camus' "The Stranger", or
      Kafka's "The Castle", there are no characters; you find in such books
      not individuals but - well, entities. "The novel of characters," he
      says, "belongs entirely in the past. It describes a period: that
      which marked the apogee of the individual." This is not necessarily
      an improvement; that Robbe-Grillet admits. But it is the truth.
      Individuals have been wiped out. "The present period is rather one of
      administrative numbers. The world's destiny has ceased, for us, to be
      identified with the rise and fall of certain men of certain
      families." He goes on to say that in the days of Balzac's bourgeoisie
      it was important to have a name and a character; character was a
      weapon in the struggle for survival and success. In that time, "It
      was something to have a face in a universe where personality
      represented both the means and the end of all exploration." But our
      world, he concludes, is more modest. It has renounced the omnipotence
      of the person. But it is more ambitious as well, "since it looks
      beyond. The exclusive cult of the 'human' has given way to a larger
      consciousness, one that is less anthropocentric." However, he
      comforts us, a new course and the promise of new discoveries lie
      before us."

      Saul Bellow – Nobel Lecture
      December 12, 1976

      <http://nobelprize.org/literature/laureates/1976/bellow-lecture.html>
    • Aija Veldre Beldavs
      ... here s a Saul Bellow quote i like: A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep. /Saul Bellow/ i see what
      Message 2 of 3 , Apr 7, 2005
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        Saul Bellow quoted by Siobhan:

        > But Conrad's real life had little oddity in it. His themes were
        > straightforward - fidelity, command, the traditions of the sea,
        > hierarchy, the fragile rules sailors follow when they are struck by a
        > typhoon. He believed in the strength of these fragile-seeming rules,
        > and in his art.

        > I belong to a generation of readers that knew the long list of noble or
        > noble- sounding words, words like "invincible conviction" or "humanity"
        > rejected by writers like Ernest Hemingway.

        > Hemingway's youthful readers were convinced that the horrors of the 20th
        > Century had sickened and killed humanistic beliefs with their deadly
        > radiations. I told myself, therefore, that Conrad's rhetoric must be
        > resisted. But I never thought him mistaken.

        here's a Saul Bellow quote i like:
        "A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need
        for illusion is deep."
        /Saul Bellow/

        i see what Saul Bellow is saying, but i can get something out of
        both Conrad & Hemingway without getting into the angst Bellow does
        because i don't have the same problem with authenticity.

        if this listserv subscribes to seeing things in terms of individuals, why
        generalize about generations & epochs as if everyone were the same? i'd
        say any one culture is really a number of cultures and there have been
        situations in the past, not only now, when people had multiple identities.
        even the reaction to unspeakable horrors don't seem to be universally the
        same. (there was a recent NYT article on Vietnamese having put the war
        and Western aggression behind them, which the author as a self-proclaimed
        westerner found remarkable.)

        btw i also happened to see the Jane Fonda interview (don't usually watch
        tv much & am not a particular fan of either Fonda) & again, if you're
        seeing in terms of individuals what does it mean to say someone is
        irrelevant & an anachronism? i'd expect they're just they being what they
        are no more or less interesting unless you've set up some firm criteria.

        > I feel no need now to sprinkle Conrad's sentences with skeptical
        > salt. But there are writers for whom the Conradian novel - all novels
        > of that sort - are gone forever. Finished.

        yeah, well, i don't see how that makes Hemingway any more authentic than
        Conrad - both had a lot more extreme experiences in real life than many
        armchair fantasy writers and equal in writing skill.

        aija
      • Bob Keyes
        Good Post,, felt I had to add a few comments however. Bob.. ... From: Aija Veldre Beldavs [mailto:beldavsa@indiana.edu] Sent: Thursday, April 07, 2005 4:11 PM
        Message 3 of 3 , Apr 7, 2005
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          Good Post,, felt I had to add a few comments however.
          Bob..
          -----Original Message-----
          From: Aija Veldre Beldavs [mailto:beldavsa@...]
          Sent: Thursday, April 07, 2005 4:11 PM
          To: existlist@yahoogroups.com
          Subject: Re: [existlist] the apogee of the individual & the character - in
          literature



          Saul Bellow quoted by Siobhan:

          > But Conrad's real life had little oddity in it. His themes were
          > straightforward - fidelity, command, the traditions of the sea,
          > hierarchy, the fragile rules sailors follow when they are struck by a
          > typhoon. He believed in the strength of these fragile-seeming rules,
          > and in his art.

          > I belong to a generation of readers that knew the long list of noble or
          > noble- sounding words, words like "invincible conviction" or "humanity"
          > rejected by writers like Ernest Hemingway.

          > Hemingway's youthful readers were convinced that the horrors of the 20th
          > Century had sickened and killed humanistic beliefs with their deadly
          > radiations. I told myself, therefore, that Conrad's rhetoric must be
          > resisted. But I never thought him mistaken.

          here's a Saul Bellow quote i like:
          "A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need
          for illusion is deep."
          /Saul Bellow/



          [Bob Keyes] True, but is it advantageous to the species ?







          i see what Saul Bellow is saying, but i can get something out of
          both Conrad & Hemingway without getting into the angst Bellow does
          because i don't have the same problem with authenticity.

          if this listserv subscribes to seeing things in terms of individuals, why
          generalize about generations & epochs as if everyone were the same?



          [Bob Keyes] This a great Point. Even our Kids will not have the same
          outlook, things change that fast. All Past thinking must incorporate the
          context .





          i'd
          say any one culture is really a number of cultures and there have been
          situations in the past, not only now, when people had multiple identities.


          [Bob Keyes] Multiple Identities ? What you talking about Willis.




          even the reaction to unspeakable horrors don't seem to be universally the
          same.

          [Bob Keyes] Of course not, would you expect them to be so ? Not me.




          (there was a recent NYT article on Vietnamese having put the war
          and Western aggression behind them, which the author as a self-proclaimed
          westerner found remarkable.)


          [Bob Keyes] I don't know why, Humans don't even care to think about their
          family tree enough to write it down for Future Generations, and the Kids
          don't care to know it. The Only thing Common to Humans (opinion of course- I
          know Louise hates that - and only speaks empirical facts) is Emotional
          Drives, which Manifest themselves in Varied Human behavior.




          btw i also happened to see the Jane Fonda interview (don't usually watch
          tv much & am not a particular fan of either Fonda) & again, if you're
          seeing in terms of individuals what does it mean to say someone is
          irrelevant & an anachronism? i'd expect they're just they being what they
          are no more or less interesting unless you've set up some firm criteria.

          [Bob Keyes] Don't Understand ??? I am sure it is not you, just pointing
          out I don't get what your trying to say.



          > I feel no need now to sprinkle Conrad's sentences with skeptical
          > salt. But there are writers for whom the Conradian novel - all novels
          > of that sort - are gone forever. Finished.

          yeah, well, i don't see how that makes Hemingway any more authentic than
          Conrad - both had a lot more extreme experiences in real life than many
          armchair fantasy writers and equal in writing skill.


          [Bob Keyes] A Complex, non provable Comparison, which could mean virtually
          anything...

          Well this is is the end of My thoughts...
          p.s. Does anybody know of any good Mail Lists ?



          aija





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