An Informative but Imperfect Biography of Saul Bellow

Oct. 11 2018

Reviewing the second volume of Zachary Leader’s two-volume biography of Saul Bellow, which covers the time from the publication of Herzog until his death in 2005, Jeffrey Meyers writes:

James Atlas’s biography, published in 2000, was unremittingly negative, even condescending. Zachary Leader’s work, though superior to Atlas’s and better than his first volume, still has some serious flaws. He swallows Keith Botsford’s absurd claim that his subject “is a direct descendant of Machiavelli” and misses [many of Bellow’s learned] allusions.

Leader constantly tries to connect every person and event in Bellow’s life to his or its fictional counterpart instead of emphasizing [the author’s] imaginative transformation of experience. In a typically sinking and superfluous sentence he writes of a minor novella The Actual: “Bellow identified Herb Passin, a friend since high school . . . as the model for Harry Trellman; Marilyn Mann, the second wife of Sam Freifeld . . . as the model for Amy Wustrin . . . and Freifeld himself as the model for Amy’s second husband, Jay Wustrin.” As Bellow wrote of a friend’s mediocre work, “It has too much extraneous data . . . too many lists of names. . . . So much lavish documentation makes the reader impatient.” . . .

Bellow punctured the pretentious, unmasked the delusions, and deflated the reputations of several intellectual phonies, blackballing LeRoi Jones, Edward Said, and Susan Sontag for MacArthur fellowships. He was severely condemned for his provocative but hilarious challenge: “Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus? The Proust of the Papuans?” But no one ever answered his attack on cultural relativism and he did not apologize. . . .

Leader defines Bellow’s recurrent themes as “the relative claims of life and work, the intensity of childhood experience, [and] sexual insecurity.” He could have added Jewish life and identity, the perils of matrimony, and the defects of modern civilization. Bellow vividly defines his settings and characters by minute particulars. In a frail and aged man, “only the pacemaker under his shirt had any weight.” An oppressive character “wouldn’t put you in his fish-tank for an ornament.”

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More about: American Jewish literature, Arts & Culture, Saul Bellow

Nikki Haley Succeeded at the UN Because She Saw It for What It Is

Oct. 15 2018

Last week, Nikki Haley announced that she will be stepping down as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at the end of the year. When President Trump appointed her to the position, she had behind her a successful tenure as governor of South Carolina, but no prior experience in foreign policy. This, writes Seth Lispky, turned out to have been her greatest asset:

What a contrast [Haley provided] to the string of ambassadors who fell on their faces in the swamp of Turtle Bay. That’s particularly true of the two envoys under President Barack Obama. [The] “experienced” hands who came before her proceeded to fail. Their key misconception was the notion that the United Nations is part of the solution to the world’s thorniest problems. Its charter was a vast treaty designed by diplomats to achieve “peace,” “security,” and “harmony.”

What hogwash.

Haley, by contrast, may have come in without experience—but that meant she also lacked for illusions. What a difference when someone knows that they’re in a viper pit—that the UN is itself the problem. And has the gumption to say so.

This became apparent the instant Haley opened her first press conference, [in which she said of the UN’s obsessive fixation on condemning the Jewish state]: “I am here to say the United States will not turn a blind eye to this anymore. I am here to underscore the ironclad support of the United States for Israel. . . . I am here to emphasize that the United States is determined to stand up to the UN’s anti-Israel bias.”

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More about: Nikki Haley, U.S. Foreign policy, United Nations, US-Israel relations