Saul Bellow: “Jewish Writer in America”

While the novelist Saul Bellow once referred to the phrase “Jewish writers in America”—often used to include himself, Bernard Malamud, and Philip Roth—as “a repulsive category,” he remained unwavering in his commitment to the Jewish people. Cynthia Ozick, reviewing a collection of Bellow’s letters, writes about why his work endures, and about his place as a Jewish writer:

[T]here was personal warmth and varying degrees of literary admiration for his confederates in the triumvirate he parodied as “Hart, Schaffner & Marx,” a quip that has survived the decades. What reluctantly united all three—Bellow, Roth, Malamud—was a concept imposed on them by the celebrity-sloganeering of the journalists: “American Jewish writers.” But the link was both superficial and specious: each invented his own mythos and imagined his own republic of letters. It was not the complexity of heritage Bellow was resisting in his tailor-made mockery, but its reduction to a narrowing palliative, nowadays fashionably termed “identity.” . . .

[W]hen, not yet out of their teens, Bellow and Isaac Rosenfeld dissolved the solemn ironies of T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” into a hilariously lampooning Yiddish ditty, it may have marked the signal moment when writers born Jewish and awakened into America would refuse to be refused by Western history.

Bellow’s capacity for what might (in quick march) be called Jewish intelligence summoned deeps far beyond where the journalists could follow: the literary talent that rose up, in puzzling if impressive flocks, out of what appeared to be a low immigrant culture. Bellow was distinctive in transcending—transgressing against—the archetype of the coarse and unlettered ghetto greenhorn. The greenhorns in their humble trades were aware that they were carriers of a moral civilization. (“You are too intelligent for this,” [the title character of Herzog] protests to his vaporously over-theorizing friend Shapiro. “Your father had rich blood. He peddled apples.”)

Though he had repeatedly declared himself, as an American, free to choose according to will or desire, Bellow also chose not to be disaffected. He was in possession of an inherited literacy that few novelists of Jewish background, writers of or close to his generation, could match, however sophisticated otherwise they might be. His range spanned an inclusive continuum . . . ; Western learning and literature had also to mean Jewish learning and literature. He was at home in biblical Hebrew, was initiated into the liturgy from early childhood, and read and spoke (always with relish) a supple Yiddish.

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More about: American Jewish literature, Arts & Culture, Cynthia Ozick, Isaac Rosenfled, Saul Bellow, T.S. Eliot

 

Why Is Iran Acquiring Property in Venezuela?

In June Tehran and Caracas concluded a major twenty-year cooperation treaty. One of its many provisions—kept secret until recently—was the transfer of 4,000 square miles of Venezuelan land to Iranian control. Although the territory is ostensibly for agricultural use, Lawrence Franklin suspects the Islamic Republic might have other plans:

Hizballah already runs paramilitary training centers in restricted sections of Venezuela’s Margarita Island, a tourist area northeast of the country’s mainland. The terrorist group has considerable support from some of Venezuela’s prominent Lebanese clans such as the Nasr al-Din family, who reportedly facilitated Iran’s penetration of Margarita Island. . . . The Maduro regime has apparently been so welcoming to Iranian intelligence agents that some of Hizballah’s long-established Latin American network at the tri-border nexus of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay has been overtaken by Hizballah activities on Venezuela’s Margarita Island.

Iran’s alliance with Venezuela most importantly provides Tehran with opportunities to target U.S. interests in Latin America and potentially the southern United States. Iran, along with the Chinese Communist Party, is in the process of strengthening Venezuela’s military against the U.S., for instance by deliveries of military drones, which are also considered a threat by Colombia.

While air and seaborne arms deliveries are high-profile evidence of Iran’s ties with Venezuela, Tehran’s cooperation with Venezuelan intelligence agencies, although less visible, is also intense. The Islamic Republic’s support for Hizballah terrorist operations is pervasive throughout Latin America. Hizballah recruits from Venezuela’s ten-million-strong Lebanese diaspora. Iran and Hizballah cooperate in training of intelligence agents and in developing sources who reside in Venezuela and Colombia, as well as in the tri-border region of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

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More about: Iran, Latin America, Venezuela