Saul Bellow, Cancel Culture, and the Dangers of Setting Limits on Imaginative Freedom

To the delicate sensibilities of the early 21st-century, the treatment of race relations in Saul Bellow’s 1970 novel Mr. Sammler’s Planet is, to put it politely, “highly problematic.” One could say the same of Bellow’s literary treatment of women. And that’s not to mention the works of his younger contemporary, Philip Roth, a biography of whom itself caused a scandal in the literary world. Howard Jacobson reminisces about his first encounters with Bellow’s fiction (“Mr. Sammler’s Planet, it has to be said, was not an encouraging novel for a first-time visitor to New York”), and the fate of Bellow’s work in our censorious present:

The pagan dramatists didn’t have to explain away their engrossment in deicide and incest. They had no stern moralizer God to answer to. Jewish novelists, on the other hand, forever pretending to be the hoodlums they’re not, have to make some sort of an apology for their imposture before taking art where art exists to go.

On the face of it, our age has grown a little too nice for both Roth and Bellow. And those recent encyclopedically candid biographies won’t do anything to improve their personal reputations. But as novelists, the future could be theirs. In showing a willingness to countenance what’s presently considered bad, their novels demonstrate the limits of what’s presently considered good.

I’ve never had the patience for the misogyny charge so often leveled at Philip Roth. Misogyny is not a literary sin. A novelist may dislike women as he may dislike Jews and still write sentences that light up the mind. . . . Bellow’s appreciation of women fares no better with those for whom reading is a species of invigilation. But the closeness of his scrutiny of those women, like Sammler’s scrutiny of the Black thief, can be visionary, as illuminatingly witty in its minuteness as Dickens or Henry James, as voluminous and glowing as Rubens. The scenes in which Herzog, [in the book of the same name], observes his ex-wife Madeleine applying makeup, or genuflecting upon entering church, are masterpieces of comic and devotional observation.

It’s a cop-out to explain away the novel’s improprieties on the grounds that they are of another age. Any novel is what it is for all time, and we must take the good and the bad of it on the chin. And besides, if there is a pure exultancy in ugliness, where will we go to find it when all ugliness is expunged from discourse? If we truly believe that an enlarged vision is the artist’s reward for rummaging among the dross (I mean their own no less than society’s), we have no business setting limits to imaginative freedom.

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewish literature, Cancel culture, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Sexism

Why the White House’s Plan to Prevent an Israel-Hizballah War Won’t Work

On Monday, Hizballah downed an Israeli drone, leading the IDF to retaliate with airstrikes that killed one of the terrorist group’s commanders in southern Lebanon, and two more of its members in the northeast. The latter strike marks an escalation by the IDF, which normally confines its activities to the southern part of the country. Hizballah responded by firing two barrages of rockets into northern Israel on Tuesday, while Hamas operatives in Lebanon fired another barrage yesterday.

According to the Iran-backed militia, 219 of its fighters have been killed since October; six Israeli civilians and ten soldiers have lost their lives in the north. The Biden administration has meanwhile been involved in ongoing negotiations to prevent these skirmishes from turning into an all-out war. The administration’s plan, however, requires carrots for Hizballah in exchange for unenforceable guarantees, as Richard Goldberg explains:

Israel and Hizballah last went to war in 2006. That summer, Hizballah crossed the border, killed three Israeli soldiers, and kidnapped two others. Israel responded with furious airstrikes, a naval blockade, and eventually a ground operation that met stiff resistance and mixed results. A UN-endorsed ceasefire went into effect after 34 days of war, accompanied by a Security Council Resolution that ordered the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to assist the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in disarming Hizballah in southern Lebanon—from the Israeli border up to the Litani River, some 30 kilometers away.

Despite billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer support over the last seventeen years, the LAF made no requests to UNIFIL, which then never disarmed Hizballah. Instead, Iran accelerated delivering weapons to the terrorist group—building up its forces to a threat level that dwarfs the one Israel faced in 2006. The politics of Lebanon shifted over time as well, with Hizballah taking effective control of the Lebanese government and exerting its influence (and sometimes even control) over the LAF and its U.S.-funded systems.

Now the U.S. is offering Lebanon an economic bailout in exchange for a promise to keep Hizballah forces from coming within a mere ten kilometers of the border, essentially abrogating the Security Council resolution. Goldberg continues:

Who would be responsible for keeping the peace? The LAF and UNIFIL—the same pair that has spent seventeen years helping Hizballah become the threat it is today. That would guarantee that Hizballah’s commitments will never be verified or enforced.

It’s a win-win for [Hizballah’s chief Hassan] Nasrallah. Many of his fighters live and keep their missiles hidden within ten kilometers of Israel’s border. They will blend into the civilian population without any mechanism to force their departure. And even if the U.S. or France could verify a movement of weapons to the north, Nasrallah’s arsenal is more than capable of terrorizing Israeli cities from ten kilometers away. Meanwhile, a bailout of Lebanon will increase Hizballah’s popularity—demonstrating its tactics against Israel work.

Read more at The Dispatch

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden