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John Holbo - Editor
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cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

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cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

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What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

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Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

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Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

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William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

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Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

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Monday, April 11, 2005

Brooks on Bellow

Posted by John Holbo on 04/11/05 at 08:57 AM

David Brooks’ latest gets a comment box:

The tension that propelled Bellow’s work is now mostly absent from American life. On the one hand, you have a generation of students who are educated in a way that doesn’t bring them into contact with the European canon, the old “best that has been thought and said.” They don’t have a chance to push back and assert their own Americanness. On the other hand, there are those in the academic and literary stratosphere who are part of the global circuit of conferences and academic appointments. They seem aloof from or ashamed of America, so they are not driven to define, the way Bellow did, an American identity.


Comments

Methinks he doth protest too much.

I think Buckminster Fuller was about as American as possible, and his idea/image of one Spaceship Earth will only become more and more resonant. Culturally and otherwise.

By pierre on 04/11/05 at 11:06 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Agh!  The loathsome Brooks.  This was just the sort of thing I feared when I predicted lamentation ahead.  The high-mindedness, the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone, and--as always with Brooks--the eagerly reductive categorization.  Worst kind of piety.

Which reminds me of what I was trying to say with my off-the-cuff remarks about Bellow.  I don’t really buy that he is, as Brooks claims, a novelist of ideas, in any significant way.  The intellectual allusions are filigree.  The most famous line from Herzog--the line about the quotidian fall--is a good example.  Everyone quotes it, because it’s a great one-liner. But it is (even more than Fitzgerald’s divot metaphor) sheer burleque.  This isn’t the novel of ideas, in other words.  It’s someone showing off with ideas. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I like that.  I think it’s funny and revealing in a kind of sociological and, er, characterological way.  (Like the best of Woody Allen’s stuff.) I.e., we don’t get intellectuals, but people who want to be intellectuals, or to play them on tv.  Bellow’s characters strive for an image and, sometimes even a substance, of a higher life.  But it is striving not substance. 

(Maybe this is ungenerous, but my feeling--even though as a youngster I tried to plow through some theosophy just because I loved Bellow--is that Rudolph Steiner was not a philosopher we need to worry much about.)

I won’t deny that Atlas’s bio of Bellow was peevish and envious.  But I suspect that one reason he got brickbats was that he caught the way Bellow was more about intellectual posing than about the novel of ideas.  He showed, in other words, that Bellow could not only be, say, self-involved (big surprise), but that he was a brilliant storyteller who couldn’t stop wanting to be a philosopher and who wasn’t really a serious intellectual--as Chick of Ravelstein repeats obsessively.  (In all ways, I think, he looks, as it happens, a lot like Fitzgerald.) I think that is itself a great subject and made for some fine books, but that it’s exactly the kind of thing that the reverence of someone like Brooks obscures.

By on 04/11/05 at 11:47 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Thought we were going to talk about books, not Brooks.

By Doug on 04/12/05 at 06:13 AM | Permanent link to this comment

.. . .contact with the European canon, the old “best that has been thought and said.” They don’t have a chance to push back and assert their own Americanness. . . .

Sorry, but I will decide what my own Americanness is.  A country of immigrants ever renews itself.  Don’t doubt me.  I love the European canon, but when somebody like Brooks says that, I doubt he is talking about Kundera or Szymborska, Gogol, Singer,or any number of unnamed women. And the Italians and French are probably locked safe away in centuries past, where they cannot challenge “americnness.”

What americaninanity. Or is it americinsanity?  Oy.

By on 04/14/05 at 01:09 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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