[Marxism] Amusing gossip about Saul Bellow

Michael Smith mjs at smithbowen.net
Tue Mar 6 08:42:11 MST 2012

On Tue, 6 Mar 2012 07:18:22 -0800 (PST)
Sun Eagle <suneagle79 at yahoo.com> wrote:
> The idea of Saul Bellow with a gun in hand makes my day.  

Bellow was much disliked among the English faculty 
at University of Chicago; they thought he was a useless 
hood ornament who had been hired partly because of 
his celebrity and partly because of his right-wing 
politics. When I arrived in the fall of 1970, my advisor 
had a dinner for all his new advisees and just about the
first thing he told us was, "I hope none of you came 
here expecting to study with Saul Bellow. He doesn't 
exist. He's done with mirrors. And if you do get the 
chance, *don't take it*!"

One used to see Bellow on the street occasionally. He was 
a very diminutive guy, almost a midget, with a quite
vulgar though expensive dandified way of dressing: English 
shirts, bright-colored ties, velvet jacket, lambswool 
hat that looked vaguely Afghan or Ruritanian cavalry. 

He was quite frightened of black folks and students; 
used to look around nervously as he walked, casing the 
street for a Sammler's nemesis. 

I once had occasion to walk along behind him and some 
tall gorgeous woman he was with for several blocks. 
It wasn't deliberate; we just happened to be going 
the same way. Bear in mind that I was a grad student 
in mediaeval literature, and looked it; nobody's idea 
of a thug, and the woman he was with coulda whupped 
my ass and ten like me. (We would have all enjoyed 
it, too.)

After ten minutes Bellow was sweating bullets and ready 
to break into a run; kept looking nervously over his 
shoulder at me and licking his lips like a whipped 
dog. It probably didn't help that I smiled at him 
every time. 

I have a blind spot for Bellow's work; never 
understood what the fuss is about. Can't read the 
guy with any pleasure at all, though I've frog-
marched myself through the oeuvre. It's a weird 
combination of shallowness with grandiloquence; 
Big Ideas, or at least, resounding abstract nouns, 
thrown about with freshman-seminar abandon by a person 
who clearly hasn't done much actual thinking at all, 
and an attempted Runyonesque loose-limbed breeziness of
style that reeks of contrivance and the lamp, and gimps
-- to my ear -- painfully down the page.  


Michael J. Smith
mjs at smithbowen.net


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