Page 28 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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Bellow gives an exp lana tion o f sorts in a recen t story
called“Cousins.” Here, too, there are pint-sized intellectuals who
resemble Zetland and, here too, their early passions and later
lives are spent among disciplines like anthropology:2
Why were the Jews such avid anthropologists? Among the
founders of the science were Durkheim and Levy-Bruhl,
Marcel Mauss, Boas, Sapir, Lowie. They may have believed
that they were demystifiers, that science was their motive
and that their ultimate aim was to increase universalism. I
don’t see it that way myself. A truer explanation is the near­
ness of ghettos to the sphere of Revelation, an easy move for
the mind from rotting streets and rancid dishes, a direct as­
cent into transcendence. This of course was the situation of
the Eastern Jews.
And, I would add, something of Bellow’s own situation as well.
More than any other Jewish-American writer, it was Saul Bellow
who brought “Europe” to American letters, who roughened the
syntax of “proper” English with street rhythms, with Yiddish
intonations, with an Old World vibrancy; and it was Saul Bellow
who introduced a transcendental note, a sense of grappling with
“significant issues” with high seriousness, a “European” sense of
cultural history.
To be sure, Bellow bristles at those who would paste conven­
ient labels on the products of his complicated imagination —
including those who make too much of his “Jewishness.”
The edu­
cation of Augie March
is, after all, more concerned with finding a
“fate good enough ,” with following the “axial lines” of his
picaresque, thoroughly American life, than it is with raising his
Jewish consciousness. Even more to the point, Bellow’s protago­
nists tend to fight their battles against that which passes too easily
for the Reality Principle. If Henry Adams looked at Failure with
an unflinching, jaundiced eye, characters like Moses Herzog,
Artur Sammler, Charlie Citrine and Albert Corde move beyond
2 Bellow himself graduated Northwestern University with honors in anthropol­
ogy and did graduate work in the subject at the University of Wisconsin. He
claims that he finally abandoned his studies because every time he worked on
his thesis, “it turned out to be a story.”One o f the more anthropological o f the
bunch was a brilliant novel entitled
Henderson, the rain king.