Saul Bellow, Jewish Literature, and Democratic Civilization

April 22 2015

Reviewing the first volume of Zachary Leader’s new biography of Saul Bellow, Ruth Wisse discusses the novelist’s debt to earlier Jewish writers and the political implications of his fiction:

In fact, one of the prototypes for [the title character of The Adventures of Augie March] may have come to Bellow early on when his father read the Yiddish works of Sholem Aleichem aloud to his family. Often likened to Huckleberry Finn, Augie may be more similar to [a Sholem Aleichem character:] Motl Peysi, the Cantor’s Son. When Motl’s father dies in the opening chapter, the boy exults, “I am lucky, I’m an orphan!” and describes how adults who would otherwise have punished his mischief protect and nurture him now that he is fatherless. Similarly, fatherless Augie is adopted by a succession of guides and guardians who engender in him none of the guilt that oppresses Bellow’s filial protagonists. Motl’s adventures circa 1906 take him from Europe to America, while Augie’s take him in the opposite direction, into postwar Europe. And yet Augie confronts the devastation of his people without any apparent Jewish awareness. Bellow released his hero from both familial and Jewish duty. . . .

In the years that followed [the publication of Herzog in 1964], Bellow’s critics condemned him for his insistence on civilization, which offended those whom his “reactionary” and “bourgeois” civilization allegedly oppressed. His anti-radical wit enraged the radicals. The pipsqueaks of forlornness objected to his easy optimism. Already the appearance of this biography, which ends with Herzog, is being used in some quarters as an excuse for reviving attacks on the fearlessly confrontational Bellow of Mr. Sammler’s Planet, published in 1970.

This proves, if proof is needed, how much Saul Bellow matters to our democratic society, which ignores its own fragility when it is not fortified by reminders of what individual freedom requires. Bellow believed that the novel was best equipped to deliver those reminders, and that he was destined to write them.

Read more at Commentary

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

The U.S. Is Trying to Seduce Israel into Accepting a Bad Deal with Iran. Israel Should Say No

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its quarterly report on the Iranian nuclear program. According to an analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security, the Islamic Republic can now produce enough weapons-grade uranium to manufacture “five nuclear weapons in one month, seven in two months, and a total of eight in three months.” The IAEA also has reason to believe that Tehran has further nuclear capabilities that it has successfully hidden from inspectors. David M. Weinberg is concerned about Washington’s response:

Believe it or not, the Biden administration apparently is once again offering the mullahs of Tehran a sweetheart deal: the release of $10 billion or more in frozen Iranian assets and clemency for Iran’s near-breakout nuclear advances of recent years, in exchange for Iranian release of American hostages and warmed-over pious Iranian pledges to freeze the Shiite atomic-bomb program.

This month, intelligence photos showed Iran again digging tunnels at its Natanz nuclear site—supposedly deep enough to withstand an American or Israeli military strike. This tells us that Iran has something to hide, a clear sign that it has not given up on its quest for a nuclear bomb.

Meanwhile, Antony Blinken today completes a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he is reportedly pressing the kingdom to enter the Abraham Accords. This is no coincidence, for reasons Weinberg explains:

Washington expects Israeli acquiescence in the emerging U.S. surrender to Iran in exchange for a series of other things important to Israel. These include U.S. backing for Israel against escalated Palestinian assaults expected this fall in UN forums, toning down U.S. criticism regarding settlement and security matters (at a time when the IDF is going to have to intensify its anti-terrorist operations in Judea and Samaria), an easing of U.S. pressures on Israel in connection with domestic matters (like judicial reform), a warm Washington visit for Prime Minister Netanyahu (which is not just a political concession but is rather critical to Israel’s overall deterrent posture), and most of all, significant American moves towards reconciliation with Saudi Arabia (which is critical to driving a breakthrough in Israeli-Saudi ties).

[But] even an expensive package of U.S. “concessions” to Saudi Arabia will not truly compensate for U.S. capitulation to Iran (something we know from experience will only embolden the hegemonic ambitions of the mullahs). And this capitulation will make it more difficult for the Saudis to embrace Israel publicly.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Antony Blinken, Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship