[Marxism] Saul Bellow

Ian Pace ian at ianpace.com
Thu Apr 7 09:23:08 MDT 2005

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Jim Farmelant" <farmelantj at juno.com>
To: <marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu>
Sent: Thursday, April 07, 2005 4:01 PM
Subject: Re: [Marxism] Saul Bellow

> On Thu, 7 Apr 2005 10:36:37 -0400 "Charles Brown"
> <cbrown at michiganlegal.org> writes:
>> From: Louis Proyect
>> Like any other reactionary author, Bellow's work has to be judged
>> solely on
>> literary merit.
>> ((((((((
>> CB: This issue is always a bit of a mystery to me.  I can't
>> understand how
>> the important questions that fiction raises can be separated
>> completely from
>> political questions. In this example, how could Bellow be wise about
>> evaluating personality while retaining a reactionary ideology ? How
>> is it
>> that his incites into characters don't prevent him from being a
>> racist ?
>> It's quite a paradox. The personal is political.
>> I realize Lenin praised Tolstoy, etc.
> And Marx praised Balzac, who was a Catholic and
> a royalist, and Marx thought very highly of Goethe
> who was a conservative.  Sometimes reactionaries
> like Balzac, or to take a more recent author, Evelyn Waugh, have
> deeper insights into their societies than authors
> who are more politically progressive, perhaps
> because their reactionary ideology helps to
> give them the distance necessary to assess
> the world around them in a clear-eyed, realistic
> manner.
That was very much Gyorgy Lukacs's position, which informed his praise of 
Balzac, Sir Walter Scott and other non-socialist authors. However, Lukacs 
wasn't prepared to engage dialectially with the formal aspects of a literary 
or other artistic work, only with its explicit content - leading him to 
dismiss most literature that didn't fit into the realistic tradition (this 
placed great distance between him and Adorno, Benjamin, Brecht and Bloch, 
for all their own substantial internal differences). Adorno came up with the 
penetrating insight that explicitly politically progressive work usually 
ended up serving a merely cathartic role in society (a bourgeois audience 
can assuage their guilt by a few doses of 'progressive' art), thus 
paradoxically shoring up the very system they are trying to attack. Much 
supposedly progressive work is blind to its own condition and position 
within bourgeois culture, and how that is manifested in its formal 
expectations. As such it is unable to deal with its own inner 
contradictions, sustaining as it does the allocated social role for art in 
bourgeois society. You are left with Sartre's paradox of the 19th century 
French novelist inevitably writing for a bourgeoisie they detested, and 
their lapping it up. That work which looks critically and self-reflexively 
at the very conditions it inherits, manifested in terms of reified 
expectations on the level of both form and content, stands more chance of 
attaining some autonomous existence over and above subsumation within the 
dictates of the society it inhabits. Not by attempting to stand outside of 
these dictates (which is impossible without either leading to 
incomprehensibility or unwitting appropriation of simplistic reactionary 
tropes), but rather by working outwards from within. This has been true to 
some extent of all the most progressive avant-garde work of the 20th century 
and before.


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