Saul Bellow’s Indelible Judaism

Jan. 17 2019

Zachary Leader, having recently completed the second volume of his two-volume biography of Saul Bellow, discusses with his interviewer Robert Siegel the role of Jewishness in the Nobel Prize-winning author’s work and thought:

I think [Bellow] viewed [being Jewish] as an indelible fact of his life. Certainly for the first half of his life, a major part of his struggle was to gain the position of a writer who was not a hyphenate, who wasn’t limited by his background. He said, “I never felt it necessary to sacrifice one identification for another. I’ve never had to say that I was not a Canadian. I never had to say that I was not Jewish. I never had to say I was not an American.” But early on, being designated a Jewish-American writer was seen as a sort of ghettoizing. He didn’t want to be in the suburbs of literature. . . .

In the early part of his life, [Bellow] felt that the literary and academic establishment he wished to enter was dominated by WASPs and that he was at a disadvantage because of his Jewish background. There’s a famous story about when he finished as an undergraduate at Northwestern University: he asked whether he should do graduate work in English, and the head of the department said, “I don’t think it is a good idea. It isn’t your language [Bellow was born in Canada and wrote in no other language], and people would find it hard to give you the authority that you would need as a professor of English. Why don’t you do anthropology?” He did go on to study anthropology in Wisconsin. So the anti-Semitism part was there from the start.

And in the literary establishment, though it’s true that New York Jewish intellectuals were a power in the literary world, there were also the gentlemanly Southern Agrarians and the notion of New England WASP-dom. He felt he had to struggle to gain his position against anti-Semitic feeling.

Leader concludes the interview by noting that the current literary establishment has again excluded Bellow, thanks to what Bellow’s friend Allan Bloom famously called the “closing of the American mind”—in a book with a foreword written by Bellow himself.

Read more at Moment

More about: Allan Bloom, American Jewish literature, Anti-Semitism, Arts & Culture, Saul Bellow

In the Aftermath of a Deadly Attack, President Sisi Should Visit Israel

On June 3, an Egyptian policeman crossed the border into Israel and killed three soldiers. Jonathan Schanzer and Natalie Ecanow urge President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to respond by visiting the Jewish state as a show of goodwill:

Such a dramatic gesture is not without precedent: in 1997, a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli schoolgirls visiting the “Isle of Peace,” a parcel of farmland previously under Israeli jurisdiction that Jordan leased back to Israel as part of the Oslo peace process. In a remarkable display of humanity, King Hussein of Jordan, who had only three years earlier signed a peace agreement with Israel, traveled to the Jewish state to mourn with the families of the seven girls who died in the massacre.

That massacre unfolded as a diplomatic cold front descended on Jerusalem and Amman. . . . Yet a week later, Hussein flipped the script. “I feel as if I have lost a child of my own,” Hussein lamented. He told the parents of one of the victims that the tragedy “affects us all as members of one family.”

While security cooperation [between Cairo and Jerusalem] remains strong, the bilateral relationship is still rather frosty outside the military domain. True normalization between the two nations is elusive. A survey in 2021 found that only 8 percent of Egyptians support “business or sports contacts” with Israel. With a visit to Israel, Sisi can move beyond the cold pragmatism that largely defines Egyptian-Israeli relations and recast himself as a world figure ready to embrace his diplomatic partners as human beings. At a personal level, the Egyptian leader can win international acclaim for such a move rather than criticism for his country’s poor human-rights record.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: General Sisi, Israeli Security, Jordan