Robin Yassin-Kassab

Posts Tagged ‘Saul Bellow

Why I Love Saul Bellow

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Written five years ago, on the wonderful, appalling Bellow.

saul bellow - Fay Godwin Archive at the British LibraryThere are many reasons for loving Saul Bellow’s work, and some reasons not to. I was first directed to Bellow by a friend of mine who is Jewish, the English-speaking grandchild of Russian immigrants, and interested in his heritage. He therefore has one easy point of access to Bellow, whose protagonists are usually first or second generation Jewish immigrants, which I do not. My friend suggested I read “Ravelstein.” Because I trust his literary judgment, I dutifully struggled through. Not a lot happens in this slim volume, but a lot of details, a lot of memories, are accumulated around the eponymous professor, an opinionated neo-conservative flaunting his newly acquired wealth in Paris. There are many references to expensive brand names and other status symbols. Ravelstein receives updates on the 1991 Gulf War from a previous student who is now important at the Pentagon. (I later discovered that Ravelstein is a fictionalized Allen Bloom, one of  Mrs Thatcher’s favourite thinkers, and his pentagon protégé is based on Paul Wolfowitz). None of this endeared the character to me. I get emotional about neo-conservatives. I spit when I hear Wolfowitz’s name. Although there is a great deal of irony – and serious comment on social mobility – in the treatment of these arriviste Jews (the transformation of the Turnbull and Asser clothing label into Kisser and Asser is only the most obvious of the gags), all the luxury in the novel irritated me.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

September 30, 2009 at 10:28 pm

Posted in Culture

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Writer Talk

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Notes for a talk to the Dumfries Writers Group tonight. It’s pretty narcissistic, but narcissism is what I do. I’ll also talk about the practicalities of finding an agent and a publisher, and about blogging.

Where does the urge to write come from?

It comes from the fear of death. From where all human effort beyond eating comes from. Maybe eating too. But the fear of death is only one way to say it. Writing is the attempt to control what can’t be controlled, to impose pattern on confusion, to battle time by recording it, to immortalise thought and sensation, and so to make them sacred. A vain but very human enterprise.

The film director Werner Herzog said, “I believe you can discover a very deep, ecstatic truth by fabricating.” I’m not sure what this means, but I’m sure I agree with it.

Also, for me, fabrication is a channel for passion which might otherwise express itself as anger.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 21, 2009 at 1:28 am