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.

Read more at Literary Hub

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

Israel’s Covert War on Iran’s Nuclear Program Is Impressive. But Is It Successful?

Sept. 26 2023

The Mossad’s heist of a vast Iranian nuclear archive in 2018 provided abundant evidence that Tehran was not adhering to its commitments; it also provided an enormous amount of actionable intelligence. Two years later, Israel responded to international inspectors’ condemnation of the Islamic Republic’s violations by using this intelligence to launch a spectacular campaign of sabotage—a campaign that is the subject of Target Tehran, by Yonah Jeremy Bob and Ilan Evyatar. David Adesnik writes:

The question that remains open at the conclusion of Target Tehran is whether the Mossad’s tactical wizardry adds up to strategic success in the shadow war with Iran. The authors give a very respectful hearing to skeptics—such as the former Mossad director Tamir Pardo—who believe the country should have embraced the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Bob and Evyatar reject that position, arguing that covert action has proven itself the best way to slow down the nuclear program. They acknowledge, however, that the clerical regime remains fully determined to reach the nuclear threshold. “The Mossad’s secret war, in other words, is not over. Indeed, it may never end,” they write.

Which brings us back to Joe Biden. The clerical regime was headed over a financial cliff when Biden took office, thanks to the reimposition of sanctions after Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal. The billions flowing into Iran on Biden’s watch have made it that much easier for the regime to rebuild whatever Mossad destroys in addition to weathering nationwide protests on behalf of women, life, and freedom. Until Washington and Jerusalem get on the same page—and stay there—Tehran’s nuclear ambitions will remain an affordable luxury for a dictatorship at war with its citizens.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, Mossad, U.S. Foreign policy