Uit: The Moronic Inferno: And Other Visits to America
“The heroes of Saul Bellow’s major novels are intellectuals; they are also (if you follow me) heroes, which makes Bellow doubly remarkable. In thumbnail terms, the original protagonists of litera¬ture were gods; later, they were demigods; later still, they were kings, generals, fabulous lovers, at once superhuman, human and all too human; eventually they turned into ordinary people. The twentieth century has been called an ironic age, as opposed to a heroic, tragic or romantic one; even realism, rock-bottom realism, is felt to be a bit grand for the twentieth century. Nowadays, our protagonists are a good deal lower down the human scale than their creators: they are anti-heroes, non-heroes, sub-heroes. Not so with Bellow. His heroes are well tricked out with faults, neuroses, spots of commonness: but not a jot of Bellow’s intel¬lectuality is withheld from their meditations. They represent the author at the full pitch of cerebral endeavour, with the simple proviso that they are themselves non-creative – they are thinkers, teachers, readers. This careful positioning allows Bellow to write in a style fit for heroes: the High Style. To evolve an exalted voice appropriate to the twentieth century has been the self-imposed challenge of his work. It began with The Adventures of Augie March (1953), at times very shakily: for all-its marvels, Augie March, like Henderson the Rain King, often resembles a lecture on destiny fed through a thesaurus of low-life patois. Herzog erred on the side of private gloom, Humboldt on the side of sunny ebullience (with stupendous but lopsided gains for the reader). Mr Sammler’s Planet (1970) came nearest to finding the perfect pitch, and it is the Bellow novel which The Dean’s December most clearly echoes. The High Style is not a high style just for the hell of it: there are responsibilities involved. The High Style attempts to speak for the whole of mankind, with suasion, to remind us of what we once knew and have since forgotten or stopped trying to regrasp. ‘It was especially important’, Corde reflects, ‘to think what a human being really was. What wise contemporaries had to say about this amounted to very little.’ The Bellow hero lays himself open to the world, at considerable psychological cost. Mr Sammler is ‘a delicate recording instrument’; Herzog is ‘a prisoner of perception, a com¬pulsory witness’. All that can be done with these perceptions, these data, is to transform them into – into what? Humboldt suffered from ‘the longing for passionate speech’. Corde, like Sammler, aches to deliver his ‘inspired recitation’. It is the desire to speak, to warn -to move, above all. Albert Corde is ‘an image man’, ‘a hungry observer’. He has a ‘radar-dish face’, for ever picking up signals ‘from all over the universe’.”
Stone Canyon Nocturne
Oude van dagen, oude vriend, niemand gelooft dat je terug zult komen.
Niemand gelooft meer in zijn eigen leven.
De maan hangt als een dood hart, koud en onstartbaar aan een zijden draadje
Aan de rand van de aarde
Eindelijk ontrouw, spottend over de varens en de roze struiken.
In de andere wereld maken kinderen de knopen in hun snaren los.
Ze zingen liedjes en hun vingers vervagen.
En hier, waar de zwaan neuriet in zijn holte, waar bloedwortel
En belladonna erop aandringen ons te troosten,
Waar de vos in de muur van de canyon onze handen leegrooft, extatisch voor meer,
Wentelt de Genezer als een parel van heldere olie door de nachtwind,
Deels oog, deels traan, niet bereid ons te herkennen.
Vertaald door Frans Roumen