… wins the PEN Saul Bellow Award.

Excerpts from a PEN interview with him:

I still have my old paperback copy of Herzog (Fawcett Crest, $0.95), a novel I recall reading with great pleasure. It wasn’t the first Bellow novel I encountered—that was The Victim, whose opening sentence (“On some nights New York is as hot as Bangkok.”) seemed a novel in itself…

The theme that seems to have evolved in my work during the past decade concerns time—time and loss. This was not a plan; the novels have simply tended to edge in that direction. Some years ago I had the briefest of exchanges with a professor of philosophy. I raised the subject of time. He said simply, “Time is too difficult.” Yes, time is a mystery and perhaps best examined (or experienced by my characters) in a concise and somewhat enigmatic manner…


So…. maybe we make a little mixed cocktail? A little Bellow, a little Mitchell Heisman, author of Suicide Note [details here].

In Herzog (UD‘s got the same old Fawcett Crest edition DeLillo’s got, and she’s been pawing through it), our seriously fucked up hero, Moses Herzog (his name taken, as you may already know, from a very minor character in James Joyce’s Ulysses) is visiting his seriously fucked up friend Luke, a University of Chicago scientist who can’t deal with people at all, but who so loved his recently deceased monkey that as the monkey was dying he gave it mouth to mouth resuscitation.

Since the monkey’s death Luke has been deeply, dangerously depressed.

“It really threw me into a spin. I thought that palling around with Rocco was a gag. I didn’t realize how much he meant to me. But the truth is, I realized that no other death in the world could have affected me so much. I had to ask myself whether the death of my brother would have shook me up half as much. I think not. We’re all some kind of nut or other, I realize. But…”

He finds a psychotherapist who tells him to imagine himself dead, in a coffin, with all the people who meant something to him in his life passing by his body. He’s supposed to think of what he wanted to tell them in life, what the real truth was between them, within him, etc.

But it doesn’t work. All he can think about are memories of farcical events involving fat aunts and cornfed showgirls from his urban youth…

Herzog says to him:

A man may say, ‘From now on I’m going to speak the truth.’ But the truth hears him and runs away and hides before he’s even speaking. There is something funny about the human condition, and civilized intelligence makes fun of its own ideas…

Human life is far subtler than any of its models. …

Do you have to think yourself into a coffin and perform these exercises with death? As soon as thought begins to deepen it reaches death, first thing. … I really believe that brotherhood is what makes a man human…. When the preachers of dread tell you that others only distract you from metaphysical freedom then you must turn away from them. The real and essential question is one of our employment by other human beings and their employment by us. Without this true employment, you never dread death, you cultivate it. And consciousness when it doesn’t truly understand what to live for, what to die for, can only abuse and ridicule itself.

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2 Responses to “UD’s beloved DeLillo…”

  1. Richard Says:

    Humboldt’s Gift is also terrific on death.

    ‘In the next realm, where things are clearer, clarity eats into freedom. We are free on earth because of cloudiness, because of error, because of marvelous limitation, and as much because of beauty as of blindness and evil. These always go with the blessing of freedom. But this is all I have to say about the matter now, because I’m in a hurry, under pressure—all this unfinished business!’

    Clarity eats into freedom is great.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Richard: The passages you and I have cited remind me, as well, of the way both Bellow and DeLillo are sometimes attacked as “ideas” novelists who — like, say, Thomas Mann — or, in drama, like G.B. Shaw — create characters whose speech sounds like essays rather than speech. Who are simply vehicles for ideas.

    This danger does of course always exist for writers who want to produce novels or plays that are, among other things, morally and philosophically serious. It’s always possible that their characters will be flat, be mere mouthpieces. And that their plot will slow to a halt amid the mini-essays, etc.

    But I’ve never had this feeling about any of the writers I’ve mentioned.

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