THE PROVOCATION OF SAUL BELLOW: PERFECTIONISM AND TRAVEL IN THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH AND HERZOG
A dissertation presented in fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Arts in English
University of New South Wales Australian Defence Force Academy School of Humanities and Social Sciences
I hereby declare that this submission is my own work and to the best of my knowledge it contains no materials previously published or written by another person, or substantial proportions of material which have been accepted for the award of any other degree or diploma at UNSW or any other educational institution, except where due acknowledgment is made in the thesis. Any contribution made to the research by others, with whom I have worked at UNSW or elsewhere, is explicitly acknowledged in the thesis. I also declare that the intellectual content of this thesis is the product of my own work, except to the extent that assistance from others in the project’s design and conception or in style, presentation and linguistic expression is acknowledged.
Adam Atkinson 30 June 2007
A consistent feature of Saul Bellow’s fiction is the protagonist’s encounter with one or more teaching figures. Dialogue with such individuals prompts the Bellovian protagonist to reject his current state of selfhood as inadequate and provokes him to re-form as a new person. The teacher figure offers a better self to which the protagonist is attracted; or, more frequently in Bellow, the protagonist is repelled by both his teacher and his own current state to form a new, previously unrepresented self. This thesis argues that Bellow’s self inherits and modifies the perfectionist philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, in a literary reinterpretation that parallels Stanley Cavell’s philosophical revaluation of the American Transcendentalists. In Emerson and Thoreau, and in Cavell’s reading of perfectionism, the self is attracted onward only by a better representation of selfhood in another, while Bellow’s self may also be, and often is, provoked by a repellent other to inhabit a new form of selfhood. This thesis takes the evolution of selfhood in Bellow to be structured by travel. In The Adventures of Augie March, Augie’s movement between selves is impelled by conversation with teacher figures and paralleled by his unending journeys. In Herzog, Herzog’s self-transformations and travels are provoked by reading and writing, and by the ecstasy of loss revealed to him through apostrophic conversations with the dead and absent in a series of unsent and mental letters. Letter-writing, the provocation for Herzog’s self-perfection, becomes a form of travel in Herzog. This thesis further argues that Bellow’s travelling self is a critical response to two poles of modern subjectivity, structured by European mythologies of travel: Bellow’s fiction is critical, first, of a Hegelian, egoist mode of selfhood structured after the Odyssey; but equally critical of examples of Levinasian openness to the Other, patterned on Abraham’s exile. Bellow does not accept either the Odyssean or the Abrahamic mode of selfhood on its own, recognizing oppressive possibilities in both. Travelling selfhood in Bellow, initiated by conversation with others, both fuses and rereads Odyssean and Abrahamic constructs within a new, but perpetually unfinished American mode of self- perfection.
A few words of thanks are due, first to my supervisors Susan Lever and Jeff Doyle. Both have made this a stronger dissertation through their invaluable criticism and advice. Most of all, I have enjoyed talking over coffee or debating and laughing over wide range of film and literature. Thank you both, Susan and Jeff.
Thanks are due also to the staff at the Academy Library, at the Australian Defence Force Academy. Edith Hackworthy and others unknown to me provided a crucial service, quickly supplying books and articles while I was off-campus, and were particularly helpful and patient in the final months before submission.
I am also grateful for the long hours given by my proofreaders: my partner Courtney Chester and my mother Cathy Atkinson. And many thanks to Johanna, Michael, and Charlie Burnett who provided room and board and kept me sane while I was in Canberra to finish and submit this thesis.
Table of Contents
Abstract ...... v
Acknowledgments ...... vii
Abbreviations ...... xi
I. SAUL BELLOW’S PHILOSOPHY OF DIRECTION ...... 1
Saul Bellow and Modernism ...... 10
II. BETWEEN ATHENS AND JERUSALEM: ODYSSEUS AND ABRAHAM ...... 19
The Efficient as Well as Final Causes of Travelling ...... 21
Hegel and Levinas ...... 27
III. THE JOURNEY OF AUGIE MARCH: BELLOW AND EMERSON...... 35
Emersonian Perfection in Augie March ...... 36
Instructions in Reality ...... 49
Polarities: Bellow and Emerson Apart ...... 76
IV. READING HERZOG: BELLOW AND THOREAU ...... 83
Senses of Herzog: Reading and Writing...... 85
Quotidian Herzog ...... 90
Losing Madeleine: Theatricality ...... 104
Lawyers and Lovers: Himmelstein and Ramona ...... 108
Herzog’s Letters and Thoreau’s Epigraphs ...... 112
Disembarking: Odysseus on the Shore ...... 120
WORKS CONSULTED ...... 127
AM Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March.
CHU Stanley Cavell, Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome: The Constitution of Emersonian Perfectionism.
CW Stanley Cavell, Cities of Words: Pedagogical Letters on a Register of the Moral Life.
E Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays and Lectures.
ETE Stanley Cavell, Emerson’s Transcendental Etudes.
H Saul Bellow, Herzog.
SN Saul Bellow, “Some Notes on Recent American Fiction.”
TA Emmanuel Levinas, “La trace de l’autre.”
TI Emmanuel Levinas, Totalité et infini, essai sur l’extériorité.
TJB Saul Bellow, To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account
W Henry David Thoreau, Walden: or, Life in the Woods.
WCM Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.
I. SAUL BELLOW’S PHILOSOPHY OF DIRECTION
Where are we going?
Jacques Derrida, “Hostipitality”
Where do we find ourselves?
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”
Emerson and Thoreau may be taken as philosophers of direction, orienters, tirelessly prompting us to be on our way, endlessly asking us where we stand, what it is we face.
Stanley Cavell, Senses of Walden
Saul Bellow’s novels repeatedly describe their protagonists in encounters with individuals possessed of “a teaching turn” (AM 67). From Augie March (The Adventures of Augie March (1953); hereafter AM) to Moses Herzog (Herzog (1964); H), to the autobiographical Chick in Ravelstein (2000), Bellow’s characters are continually provoked by others—friendly or otherwise—to reinterpret themselves and their current self-standing. Conversation reveals in others a previously unattained position of selfhood to which the Bellovian protagonist aspires; or, as is most often the case in Bellow, the protagonist responds to another’s provocation by shifting to a new position of selfhood, attained previously neither by himself (Bellow’s protagonists are always male) nor the other. The preoccupation of Saul Bellow’s novels with the revaluation of selfhood and conversation places Bellow, or the texts that bear his name, with nineteenth-century American philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, among Stanley Cavell’s provocative “philosophers of direction”, described in the third epigraph to this chapter.
Stanley Cavell means by “philosopher of direction”, an individual who persistently asks the questions posed by Derrida and Emerson above: “Where are we going?”— “Where do we find ourselves?” The philosopher of direction, in another word, questions his standing and provokes the reader in turn to question her own. By challenging the reader, Cavell’s philosopher invites her to test her inheritance, to reread and reinterpret herself: “Where do I stand now?” Importantly, as Cavell suggests of Emerson and Thoreau, the philosopher of direction does not retire after posing the directional question once, but is “endlessly” inclined to provocation, “tirelessly”, Cavell writes, prompting his students and readers on their way. In Emerson’s thought, such an individual counts as a friend, and his value is measured by his willingness to provoke: “Truly speaking, it is not instruction, but provocation, that I can receive from another soul” (E 79). In Bellow’s fiction, the perfection of selfhood through conversation with a provoking other is drawn, I argue, from the transcendental philosophy of Emerson and Thoreau, and parallels the “moral perfectionism” Cavell draws from American Transcendentalism. Since the publication of The Senses of Walden in 1972 (expanded in 1981), Cavell has developed a philosophy of perfectionism from the works of Emerson, Thoreau, and others, including Ludwig Wittgenstein and Martin Heidegger. Cavell deliberately avoids positing a final definition of perfectionism; even so, the process of self-perfection in Cavell and the Transcendentalists can be described approximately— with the proviso that this description remain permanently open to improvement and criticism—as the journey of a subject from one state of being to a (morally) improved state, in response to conversation with a provocative teacher or friend.1 Bellow’s process of perfection, however, differs from Cavell’s, and indeed from Emerson’s and Thoreau’s perfectionism, on a crucial point. In Emerson and Cavell the self is motivated to reinterpret herself by her attraction to the provocative other. In Bellow’s novels, however, others both attract and repel the self. Self-evolution in the novels consists, in simple summary, of (1) an encounter with another; who (2) provokes (by repulsion or attraction) the subject to reinterpret himself; leading the protagonist (3) to shift to a previously
1 See Cavell’s list of candidate features of moral perfectionism in Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome (6–7; hereafter CHU). This passage is discussed in greater detail in Chapter Three of this thesis.
unattained state of selfhood. This process is never finalized: the self continues to evolve in response to each encounter with another. This thesis argues, then, that Bellow’s self inherits and modifies the perfectionism of Emerson and Thoreau, in a literary reinterpretation that parallels Stanley Cavell’s philosophical revaluation of American Transcendentalism as philosophy. In Emerson, Thoreau, and in Cavell’s reading of the Transcendentalists’ perfectionism, the self is attracted onward by a better self only, while Bellow’s self may also be impelled forward by a repellent other. The attractive and repellent forces of others provoke the self in Bellow to reform anew, to journey towards a new position of selfhood. This thesis argues, in other words, that the evolution of selfhood in Bellow is structured by travel. In The Adventures of Augie March, Augie’s movement between selves is impelled by conversation with teacher figures and paralleled by his endless journeys. In Herzog, Herzog’s self-transformations and travels are provoked by the ecstasy of loss, through apostrophic conversations with the dead and absent in a series of unsent letters written as he travels around New York and New England. The self in Bellow is, I am suggesting, always on the move, inhabiting one form after another in response to provocative conversation—that is, Bellow’s self is a constant traveller. Bellow engages with the metaphor of self as traveller by structuring the majority of his novels within a travel narrative. Many of his protagonists find themselves undertaking journeys of some description: the episodic travels pursued by Augie March, a “Columbus of those near-at-hand” (536), lead him across America, to Mexico, and to Europe (AM); Henderson’s spiritual growth in Henderson the Rain King (1959) coincides with a pilgrimage to Africa; and in The Dean’s December (1982), Dean Corde’s view of America—and of himself—is expanded by his journey to Bucharest. To Jerusalem and Back (1976; TJB) records Bellow’s own personal odyssey as an American in Israel, and as a Jew in America. In the novels lacking an obvious physical odyssey, the spiritual trek remains central: Herzog’s letters to the famous and the dead, for example, provide the kinaesthesia of journeying in a novel of subtle physical motion (H). There is an unmistakable sense of journeying through all of Bellow’s fiction.2
2 Karl Ragnar Gierow, in a statement to the press announcing Bellow’s Nobel Prize, describes Bellow’s work in similar terms: “Bellow’s books are all novels on the move” (qtd. in Fields 4).
Saul Bellow’s representation of subjectivity as continual revaluation of the subject’s current standing, is itself a revaluation of the modern (and postmodern) legacy of selfhood. Bellow’s travelling self responds critically to the ongoing discourse between two exclusive poles of what I will call here European subjectivity. On the one hand, Bellow is critical of a Hegelian form of subjectivity that prioritizes sameness and totalization at the expense of otherness and difference. Hegelian subjectivity is patterned after the travels of Odysseus. On the other hand, although there is no evidence that Bellow read Levinas, Bellow is critical of conceptions of selfhood that can be described as Levinasian. Levinasian conceptions of selfhood are represented by the exile of Abraham, and within Levinasian thought, the subject and all totalizing structures are brought into question by the Other.3 Bellow is wary, like Emerson, of “monopolies and exceptions” (E 288), and maintains the tension of polarity between Odyssean and Abrahamic selfhood in his fiction. Bellow’s fiction employs elements of both Odyssean and Abrahamic modes of selfhood, with modification, in a process of self-perfection; in other words, Bellow affirms his inheritance of modern selfhood, but at the same time “relaunches” it otherwise and allows selfhood to travel on in new directions. I am describing Bellow’s inheritance of modern selfhood in terms borrowed from Jacques Derrida. Derrida responds to l’héritage by reaffirming and relaunching [relancer] what comes before him:
il faut d’abord savoir et savoir réaffirmer ce qui vient « avant nous » . . . Réaffirmer, qu’est-ce que ça veut dire? Non seulement l’accepter, cet héritage, mais le relancer autrement et le maintenir en vie. Non pas le choisir (car ce qui caractérise l’héritage, c’est d’abord qu’on ne le choisit pas, c’est lui qui nous élit violemment), mais choisir de le garder en vie. . . . Cette réaffirmation qui à la fois continue et interrompt, elle resemble, au moins, à une élection, à une sélection, à une décision. . . . Il faudrait donc partir de cette contradiction formelle et apparente entre la passivité de la réception et la décision de dire « oui », puis sélectionner, filtrer, interpreter, donc transformer, ne pas laisser intact, indemne, ne pas laisser sauf cela même qu’on dit respecter avant tout.
3 When referring to “the other” in the context of Levinas’ work, I follow the practice of his translators by capitalising “Other.” In all other contexts, in relation to Cavell and Hegel for example, I leave “other” in lower-case.
[It is necessary first of all to know and to know how to reaffirm what comes ‘before us’ . . . What does it mean to reaffirm? It means not simply accepting this heritage but relaunching it otherwise and keeping it alive. Not choosing it (since what characterizes a heritage is first of all that one does not choose it; it is what violently elects us), but choosing to keep it alive. . . . This reaffirmation, which both continues and interrupts, resembles (at least) an election, a selection, a decision. . . . It would be necessary therefore to begin from this formal and apparent contradiction between passivity of reception and the decision to say ‘yes,’ then to select, to filter, to interpret, and therefore to transform; not to leave intact or unharmed, not to leave safe the very thing one claims to respect before all else.] (Derrida and Roudinesco 15–16; 3–4; my emphasis on relancer and relaunching)4
A legacy is kept alive by sending it on to the future, by keeping it in play, as the French relancer implies; but relancer also suggests an act of banishment or admonishment, or even the pursuit of something new. As Samir Haddad suggests, in “Inheriting Democracy to Come”, Derrida’s use of relancer in relation to inheritance might be better translated as “recast”, a term that implies both the action of remaking, or remoulding, and sending on. I argue that Bellow’s fiction keeps modern conceptions of selfhood alive, but holds both the Odyssean selfhood of Hegel and the Abrahamic self of Levinas open to continual revaluation and reinterpretation. Thus Bellow recasts his inheritance of selfhood in a manner similar to Derrida’s recasting of his inheritance. In as much as Bellow’s fiction provokes a reassessment of modern concepts of selfhood, Bellow offers a philosophy of direction. In other words, Bellow’s fiction presents itself as a teacher or friend that will either attract or repel the reader to respond to and reinterpret the history and discourse of selfhood—and ideally to recast her own self history. The primary aim of this thesis, then, is to outline Bellow’s inheritance and recasting of Odyssean and Abrahamic, or European, modes of self-formation within his inheritance of American Transcendentalism. I detail Bellow’s recasting of European and American selfhood by tracing the processes of self-perfection undertaken by the protagonists in two novels, The Adventures of Augie March and Herzog. The evolution and formation of selfhood is tied inextricably to travel in both novels and I argue that Bellow’s fiction
4 Citations are given, throughout this thesis, first in the original French (and below, in Greek), and second in English translation. Page numbers refer to the original and, after a semi-colon, to the translation, as per the list of “Works Consulted” below.
modifies and incorporates Odyssean, Abrahamic, and Transcendentalist metaphors of travel as self-formation into a new and provocative model of self-evolution. Bellow’s recasting of Odyssean and Abrahamic modes of self-formation emerges in the difficult relationship between his own writing and the modernist and existential fiction of the early to mid-twentieth century. I recount Bellow’s critical relationship to the modernist legacy in the second section of this chapter, “Saul Bellow and Modernism”. Modernist texts and existential fiction especially, tend, for Bellow, to describe authentic selfhood as the outcome of an inward, reflective journey or an outward, other-focused voyage. Although many of Bellow’s critics see selfhood at the end of one path or the other in Bellow’s fiction, I argue that Bellow’s perfectionism disallows the possibility that selfhood is structured in toto by either an inward or outward journey: selfhood is structured by both journeys simultaneously. In Chapter Two, “Between Athens and Jerusalem: Odysseus and Abraham”, I detail the mythologies of travel that structure the inward and outward voyages of authentic selfhood in modernist texts, in order to demonstrate to what extent these mythologies are recast by Bellow. Hegel’s dialectic of self-consciousness is strongly rooted in the Odyssey and represents the inward, self-focused journey of sameness; Levinas’ ethics of the Other, informed by Abraham’s exile and wanderings, describes the outward journey of selfhood subject to otherness and difference. These forms of travelling selfhood appear in the rupture between Hellenism and Hebraism, as described, for example, by Matthew Arnold in Culture and Anarchy. Bellow’s travelling self is an American response to European (Greek and Jewish) notions of selfhood that attempts to balance the Abrahamic and Odyssean poles of force. Chapter Two begins by examining travel as it has been traditionally defined in texts ranging from John Stradling’s expansion of Lipsius, A Direction for Trauailers (1592), to Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey (1768), to a recent lecture on travel literature by Michael Mewshaw (2005). Travel is undertaken, according to these texts, to turn a profit, financially, culturally, epistemically, or otherwise. All voyages, however, carry an attendant risk of poor profit, accident, or death. Profit and risk are measured against the voyage’s point of departure—always the home, or oikos—and the risks of travel are softened by their incorporation in the circularity of the return journey. Travel, in this
sense, is an economy (oikonomia) that comprehends every encounter within the horizon of home. Safely within this economy, the voyager never manages to depart fully from her origin; outward motion is at the same time a return. This form of travel is represented by Odysseus. Odysseus is always destined to return to Ithaca and all his actions are undertaken with Ithaca in mind. His encounters with monstrous dangers are softened by the fact that home remains fixed, that Ithaca remains in its proper place—Odysseus is always on his way home. I go on to show that the Odyssean economy of travel structures the evolution of self-consciousness as Hegel describes it in Phänomenologie des Geistes (1807) [Phenomenology of Spirit]. The Hegelian economy of subjectivity takes the form of a movement out of the self and to the other, where the subject ultimately discovers, or recovers, its own self. In other words, self-consciousness is attained through an outward motion that is simultaneously a return, through a motion that never truly escapes its point of departure. The odyssey of self in Hegel is a totalizing motion and reduces the other to the self’s own concept. To impose upon another’s being is a form of violence, according to Levinas, and in Totalité et infini, Essai sur l’extériorité (1961) (Totality and Infinity; hereafter, TI), Levinas opposes the violent reduction of the other in Hegel by positing an ethics of the Other. Levinas describes subjectivity as a journey after the order of Abraham’s exile. Abraham travels without knowledge of his destination and without the possibility of return. He remains open to the arrival of the Other and, because Abraham lacks the comprehending horizon of home, the Other is allowed to appear as it is. Consequently, the self becomes constrained by the Other. I argue at the end of Chapter Two that neither Hegel’s nor Levinas’ mode of self-formation is satisfactory: either the self imposes on the other (if it is Odyssean) or the self is in some manner oppressed by the Other (if it is Abrahamic). In Chapter Three, “The Journey of Augie March: Bellow and Emerson”, I detail the interplay of Odyssean and Abrahamic poles of selfhood in The Adventures of Augie March. Augie March maintains the tension between Odyssean and Abrahamic modes of self-formation in the protagonist’s continual reinvention of self in response to the provocation of others. In Augie March, as in Emerson, conversation is the source of
provocation: when conversation is two-way, Augie is attracted to the other as an example of a better self; when conversation is unilateral and shifts toward lecturing, Augie is repelled by the other. Recognizing his own state of self to be equally repellent, Augie travels, often literally, to a new position of selfhood. Augie is attracted to, and repelled by, in order: Grandma Lausch, a boarder and self-styled matriarch in the March household; William Einhorn, a broker who thinks himself a kind of Socrates; and the wealthy Renling and Magnus families. Augie’s relationship with Thea Fenchel has a significant impact on the direction of Augie’s self-evolution. I detail each of Augie’s relationships and their attracting and repelling influences on Augie’s growing self- identity. In response to the cumulative impact of his relationships, and through his dealings with the Mintouchians and the mad Basteshaw in the final chapters of Augie March, Augie recognizes the need to be both self-determining, while at the same time open to dialogue and the influence of others. The novel concludes, or fails conclusion, with Augie still on the move, unable to settle and be finally determined, and looking for further influences. Augie resists the totalizing possibilities of Odyssean economy by keeping himself open to others and by reinventing himself without aiming for a final and complete self. At the same time, Augie is not open unconditionally to others; his unique self resists being overwhelmed or subjected to other individuals. He remains free before the other, but in conversation and ready to give a hearing to the influence of the other. Like Emerson’s perfectionism, Augie’s process of self-perfection depends on others for the impetus to journey to new levels of selfhood, but produces a fully determined self at each and every stage. Augie’s perfectionism modifies and reinterprets the selfhood of Odysseus and Abraham, reaffirming both modes of selfhood by recasting them otherwise. My argument is that Augie March also modifies Bellow’s Emersonian heritage of perfectionism. Emerson’s perfection is motivated by the individual’s attraction to another, who occupies a more desirable position of selfhood compared to her own. In Augie March, other individuals represent both attractive and, more often, repellent positions of selfhood. Both kinds of individual prompt Augie to recognize the inadequacy of his current position. The polar field existing between Augie and his reality instructors serves to push or pull him onward to new and improved selves. In a strange way, by
transfiguring Emerson, Bellow is truer to Emerson than Emerson himself. Emerson aims to avoid extremes and posits a law of compensation (most explicitly in his essay “Compensation”) by which polarities are conserved. It seems odd, in light of Emerson’s argument, that Emersonian perfection should be impelled by attraction alone. Bellow is faithful and unfaithful to Emerson by allowing attraction and repulsion to interact in the formation of self in Augie March; and through his infidelity to Emerson, Bellow is faithfully unfaithful to Odyssean and Abrahamic modes of travelling selfhood. Bellow’s modified process of travelling self-perfection is also central to Herzog, as I argue in Chapter Four, “Reading Herzog: Bellow and Thoreau”. Moses Herzog finds himself resigned to the defining voices of others—most obviously to the voice of his second ex-wife Madeleine—and in a state of Emersonian conformity. His journey of self- perfection and his escape from conformity, paralleled by his brisk travels around New England, New York, Chicago and Europe, are provoked by conversations with attractive and repellent others, with reality instructors who present both Abrahamic and Odyssean modes of selfhood as ideal for Herzog. Like Augie March, Herzog resists both modes of selfhood, so that Herzog continues the Emersonian pursuit of self-perfection I follow in Augie March. More so than Augie March, however, Herzog is also impelled to pursue self-perfection by a number of encounters with loss and death—his most provocative reality-instructors are others irretrievably lost to him (or individuals soon to become so), and the dead addressees of his compulsive letter writing. The underlying sense of loss and mourning throughout Herzog signals Bellow’s inheritance of Henry David Thoreau’s work. Emerson’s influence on Bellow’s fiction does not vanish with Herzog, but allows Thoreau a stronger presence by incorporating themes from Thoreau’s Walden (W) and A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (WCM). Both texts by Thoreau describe loss and mourning as impetuses for self- perfection. According to Cavell, perfection is motivated in Walden by Thoreau’s “ecstasy in the knowledge of loss” (In Quest 171). An irredeemable gap is revealed to Thoreau between himself and others as he reads what is before him (in others, in a text, in nature). This loss revealed through reading allows him to discover a next, or unattained self: “with thinking we may be beside ourselves in the sane sense” (W 429). Cavell names the disclosure of a next self in what is before the individual, in what the individual reads—
nextness (CHU 9). The revelation of nextness, in both Thoreau’s work and in Herzog, provides the impetus to self-perfection. Herzog’s reading and his conversations, with Madeleine and others, reveal the theatricality of the other, or what amounts to the other’s inapproachability. Herzog discovers the same gap between himself and the world discovered by Thoreau, the uncrossable space that exists, as Cavell suggests, between a dramatic character and a theatre audience. This gap informs Herzog’s letters to the dead: the dead are not aware of Herzog, and yet Herzog engages the dead by animating them in his letters. By acknowledging the gap between himself and the other, as Thoreau does, Herzog is able to share the present of others, if not their presence. Herzog experiences the loss of the other and mourns that loss, but in the same process, is able to lose his conformist self and discover a next state of self, and the resolution to pursue self-perfection. These processes of self-perfection, and perfection as travel in Herzog and Augie March, emerge in Bellow’s critique of modernist selfhood, as I argue in the following section.
Saul Bellow and Modernism
Martin Corner, in “Moving Outwards”, describes a division among Bellow’s critics regarding the process of authentic self-formation in Bellow’s novels: there are, he claims, critics who see Bellow’s fiction pursuing an inward journey of self-knowledge in the search for authentic selfhood; and critics who see authentic selfhood at the end of an outward voyage from inner isolation toward a sustaining concept of community (370). Corner argues that Bellow’s fictional self-evolution is represented accurately by an outward journey and that authentic selfhood, or full humanity is achieved in “ethical mutuality” (370). He traces in Bellow a history of outward movement from self-isolation to ethical action. Bellow insists on the necessity of this outward journey, according to Corner, but recognizes that the encounter with the public world may prove the undoing of his protagonists: the other may be “reductive and negating” (383).
John Clayton, in Saul Bellow: In Defense of Man, sees the Bellovian protagonist moving toward “brotherhood and community” (3) and a “shared condition” (4). Similarly, John Uhr reads Ravelstein as Bellow’s final commitment to the necessity of external relationships (politics and friendship) for human well-being. According to Uhr, Ravelstein argues that the individual remains incomplete in solitude and requires community to satisfy both her will (θυμός [thumos]) and her desire (ἔρος [eros]). Ravelstein does indeed appear to value the outward kind of journey. He feels it his duty to bring his friend Chick out of his private inwardness and into the public world: “This morning he [Ravelstein] was again urging me [Chick] to go more public, to get away from the private life, to take an interest in ‘public life, in politics,’ to use his own words” (5). And again: “he wanted to rescue me from my pernicious habits. He thought I was stuck in privacy and should be restored to community. ‘Too many years of inwardness!’ he used to say. I badly need to be in touch with politics” (9). For Ravelstein, the public world of politics satisfies the passions of incomplete souls. When politics is combined with genuine friendship and love—Ravelstein endlessly goads Chick towards political expression, but it is clear that their friendship is of greatest importance to both—the self reaches a level of completion impossible to arrive at in isolation. Ravelstein’s path supports the argument for an outward movement to selfhood in Bellow. Subscribers to a Bellovian model of outward mobility are, however, few in number compared to those who trace an inward path to authentic selfhood. Malcolm Bradbury, writing of Henderson the Rain King, describes Henderson’s society as “a lunatic contemporary prison, creating a dislocated or debased image of the self” (Saul 60); Henderson finds wholeness within when he departs from society and explores his “inward psychic terrain” (Bradbury, Saul 60) in Africa. Barbara Rader also argues, in “Rite of Passage”, that the Bellovian hero’s quest (Henderson’s included) is always inward: he deals with the weight of contemporary American society by cultivating his own internal barrenness, his “Alaska of the soul” (SN 60; Rader 1). For M. Gilbert Porter, Herzog is particularly inward, working through an odyssey of letters to uncover a “law of the heart” (Whence 159); and M. A. Quayum also describes Herzog’s evolution as an “interior voyage” (85). Ostensibly, Corner’s argument that criticism of Bellow is roughly divided between inward and outward journeys of authentic selfhood seems sound.
I am not convinced, however, that the division of Bellow’s critics is as neat as Corner suggests. Granted, each of the critics listed above leans more in one direction, describing selfhood as inward or outward in nature, than the other. Most critics do, however, attempt to account at some level for both modes of selfhood, inward and outward, in Bellow. For example, Corner places Daniel Fuchs’ Vision and Revision with those texts that read the Bellovian protagonist’s journey as an inward path, citing Fuchs’ description of Bellow’s Keatsian certainty of the “holiness of the Heart’s affections” (Fuchs, Saul 9; Corner 384 n.2). Fuchs does, in general, favour an inward reading of selfhood in Bellow; however, in the same paragraph from which Corner cites above, Fuchs describes Bellow’s characters as “citizen hero[es]”, individuals seeking greater fellowship and community as part of the machinery of selfhood (Saul 9). Although Fuchs sees in Bellow an emphasis on inner wholeness, he also recognizes the importance of community for Bellow’s characters. Largely, though, Fuchs is more interested in the inward journey of Bellow’s characters. If not as clean cut as Corner argues, there is certainly a level of critical division as to whether Bellow emphasizes an inward movement of individualism or an outward journey to community as essential to selfhood. To settle on either side of the argument (as Corner does), or even to skew in one direction more than the other (with Fuchs), I believe, misses the richness of Bellow’s conception of selfhood. It is my contention that in Bellow’s novels, authentic selfhood emerges precisely within the tension between inward and outward motion, between public and private demands. Neither the public nor the private sphere has more value than the other in Bellow; each is of equal necessity to the development of selfhood. Bellow’s outspoken criticism of modernist conceptions of selfhood has done much, I suggest, to encourage his critics to divide over the inward and outward authenticity of self. Bellow is intimately aware of his inheritance of modernism and has described a difficult relationship with modernist texts in numerous articles, essays and interviews. Equally, he has expressed great concern regarding his contemporaries’ reception of the same legacy. Of particular interest to Bellow is the relationship, expressed in his novels and in the works of his contemporaries, between the individual and the many, between self and other. Bellow sees fiction in the modernist tradition, as his critics view his fiction in turn, divided between opposite extremes of selfhood as an internal, reflective
proposition and as an outwardly open welcome of difference and otherness. It is my intention to show that Bellow’s fiction does not sit wholly in one camp or the other, but presents a form of selfhood that is constructed by both inward and outward journeys. In this sense, his writing reaffirms the modernist legacy of selfhood while recasting it otherwise. In his essay, “Some Notes on Recent American Fiction” (1963; SN), Bellow takes to task contemporary American writers for what he calls the “unearned bitterness” in their fiction (62). He traces this bitterness to the modernist and existential fiction of twentieth century Europe, to the works of Joyce, Beckett, Lawrence, Sartre, and Camus, among others (54, 61–62). This body of literature had come to be employed unthinkingly, Bellow claims, as a writer’s orthodoxy and the final benchmark for the novel. For his own part, Bellow admits his early need to embrace an existential heritage. His first novel, Dangling Man is composed in the confessional diary form of Sartre’s La Nausée and the protagonist Joseph is strikingly like Roquentin in thought and action.5 Daniel Fuchs hears in Joseph’s discussions with the Spirit of Alternatives the influence of Dostoevsky’s depiction of Ivan Karamazov’s nightmare conversation with the Devil (Saul 40–41). Bellow’s second novel, The Victim, heavily influenced by Dostoevsky, reworks many of the plot elements of The Eternal Husband, and is existential in mood. Of his apprentice works, Bellow says:
I was still learning, establishing my credentials, proving that a young man from Chicago had a right to claim the world’s attention. So I was restrained, controlled, demonstrating that I could “write good.” I didn’t understand that if you came from the streets of Chicago, to write “good” was to write a foreign language. So Dangling Man was my M.A. and The Victim my Ph.D. (“Free” 161)
After publishing The Victim, Bellow’s fiction begins to change direction and to question modernist ideals. Bellow abandoned a third existentially themed manuscript, “The Crab and the Butterfly”, to give his attention to the free-style The Adventures of Augie March.
5 See Clayton’s Saul Bellow for an accounting of the features that Joseph shares with Roquentin (57–59). Clayton’s most persuasive comparisons show both characters to be isolated, bored, and to doubt the “very facts of simple existence” (Bellow, Dangling 191).
From the publication of Augie March, Bellow’s novels maintain an argument with the modernist legacy along the fault lines of the relationship between self and others. Taken to their extremes in modernist, and later postmodernist, writing, both the inwardness of individualism, and the questioning of the self through its exposure to the other, take on dangerous forms for Bellow. Unrestrained individualism, based on an ego- focused inward journey, is capable of violence at the expense of others and community. Bellow’s fiction thus takes a cautious view of le culte du moi. On the other hand, Bellow cannot countenance the radical questioning of the self that necessarily takes place when the outward journey of selfhood is opened unconditionally to the other and difference. Bellow’s resistance to the undoing of self is most obvious in his attachment to character, and in his refusal to recognize character and human subjectivity as mere relics of bourgeois individualism. Unrestrained individualism is criticized strongly by the protagonist of Bellow’s Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1970). Sammler, sitting down to “a little supper in [the] kitchen” with Dr Lal, Shula and Margotte, is called on to give a “recital” of his thoughts on human being and existence (180). The “triumph” of selfhood initiated by Rousseau, he maintains, has introduced new forms of ugliness and suffering (183). Sammler links the worst form of ugliness to the emergence from Romantic individualism of the Übermensch in various guises. In Nietzsche’s thought, the Übermensch does not require recognition from others, nor does he seek a structure for his actions and self-significance in the external world. His authenticity is determined in a fully self-sufficient way by organising a meaningless world according to his own will. Übermenschen find their selfhood internally and are able, as I will show of Hegel’s self-consciousness, to “shape [their] being through pure self-reference” (Seigel 566). For Sammler, these figures too easily take the short step from unique individuality to unavoidable violent extremes of amoralism and egoism, and indeed, are respected for doing so:
How these middle-class Sorels and Maurrases adored it—the hand that gripped the knife with authority. How they loved the man strong enough to take blood guilt on himself. For them an elite must prove itself in this ability to murder. For such people a saint must be understood as one who was equal in spirit to the fiery
twisting of crime in the inmost fibers of his heart. The superman testing himself with an ax, crushing the skulls of old women. The Knight of Faith, capable of cutting the throat of his Isaac upon God’s altar. And now the idea that one could recover, or establish one’s identity by killing, becoming equal thus to any, equal to the greatest. A man among men knows how to murder. A patrician.” (Mr. 117)
For Sammler, Kierkegaard’s ostensibly ethical Knight of Faith, Abraham, is as violently dangerous as Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov: both figures belong in the same group as the National Socialists, whose embodiment of the Übermensch affected Sammler directly. Sammler is more than a little concerned that violent individualism has become desirable as an acceptable middle-class fantasy of transcendence (117). In Herzog, Nietzsche’s philosophy is accused directly of participating in the violence of individualism. In a long apostrophic letter to Nietzsche, Herzog expresses his “great admiration”, but cautions Nietzsche that his praise of the Dionysian “luxury of Destruction” possessed by the Übermensch is “positively Wagnerian”, if not downright dangerous (326). Such ideas are easily perverted and Herzog, like Sammler, sees the rise of Nazism as an expression of Nietzschean self-will. Nietzsche argues for the necessity of suffering to overcome complacency; but Herzog asks why, after the incredible suffering produced by two World Wars, the atomic bomb, and the Holocaust, has the Zarathustrian hero failed to emerge from the rubble? Having earlier questioned the high value placed on suffering by Kierkegaard (324), Herzog asks Nietzsche what possible value can pain and destruction have if none, or very few alone, survive? “No survival, no Amor Fati” (326). There may indeed be value in a form of selfhood authenticated by inward reflection, but its value is limited if the advent of the Übermensch results in the death of a vast number of others. Herzog agrees in principle to the necessity of transcendent self- realization; as he writes to Nietzsche, he is reaching the conclusion of just such a process. Herzog and Nietzsche part ways over the means pursued to similar ends. Nietzsche loves what humanity can become through a small élite’s totalizing journey of self-realization, Herzog holds out for an egalitarian process by which all can achieve authenticity. Herzog and Sammler are wary of Romantic and Modernist impulses toward self- realization as they appear in Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and others. Their criticism of the isolated self, however, does not imply that all attempts to live authentically outside of
community necessarily precipitate violence, or oppression. Bellow criticizes the isolated egoism of Nietzsche and Dostoevsky’s characters in “Some Notes”, but also recalls the example of Thoreau’s isolation by Walden Pond in Walden (1854; W). “Thoreau”, writes Bellow, “described men as leading lives of quiet desperation, accepting a deadly common life: the individual retires from the community to define or re-define his real needs in isolation beside Walden Pond” (SN 61; W 329). Although his fiction in many instances censures individualism, Bellow values Thoreau’s style of individualism, a style that, as a temporary retirement, does not threaten community. Thoreau’s isolation is not at all complete: “I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor” (W 325). Just far enough away for Thoreau to remain “clearly visible”, says Cavell (Senses 11)—to allow him to be read by others. Thoreau is isolated, but at the same time he is a neighbour. I have so far examined Bellow’s cautious view of inwardly-realized selfhood and individualism. Bellow is equally cautious of a second modernist tendency, carried over and reworked by postmodernism, to undermine egoism by exposing the self to otherness. In response to the suffering produced by the World Wars, modernist and later postmodernist writers have attempted to liquidate the self altogether. The overweening self is pronounced guilty of all crimes against the other, as indicated by Markel’s revelation in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov: “Each of us is guilty [responsible] before everyone, for everyone and for each one, and [the] I more than others’; (bk. 6, ch. 2a; Levinas, Autrement 228).6 Some, like D. H. Lawrence in Women in Love, express a longing for an altogether “humanless world” (127), while others attempt to destabilise selfhood and ego through recourse to the otherness and difference of language. Writers such as Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett, the Beats and “most atrociously William Burroughs in his Naked Lunch” (SN 65), says Bellow, undermine the sovereignty of self, as one strategy among several, through the elimination of traditional concepts of character in favour of the difference of language. In his “Nobel Lecture”,
6 That is, guilty and responsible. Dostoevsky is often cited by Levinas to demonstrate the responsibility of the self to the Other. I have given Lingis’ translation of Levinas’ citation of Dostoevsky in Autrement: “Chacun de nous est coupable devant tous pour tous et moi plus que les autres” 228. David Margarshack’s translation reads: “everyone of us is responsible for everyone else in every way, and I most of all” (320). See Toumayan on Levinas’ use of Dostoevsky and Browning’s paper on Markel’s revelation, in which he discusses the shift between “guilty,” “responsible,” and “answerable” in English translations of виновен / виноват. Where Levinas writes “coupable” (and Lingis, “guilty”), “responsible” and “answerable” should also be heard.
Bellow see this elimination exemplified by the French novelist and filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet. Robbe-Grillet’s essay, “Sur quelques notions périmées”, in Pour un nouveau roman (1963), holds that the elements traditionally thought constitutive of the well-made novel—including character, story, commitment, form and content—are obsolete and better avoided in fiction. Roland Barthes describes the traditional novel form that Robbe-Grillet wishes to avoid, or the novel of Balzac and of the nineteenth century, as an “expérience d’une profondeur” [‘experience of depth’] (“Littérature” 39; 23) and thus concerned with the inwardness of humanity. Robbe-Grillet attempts to move away from this kind of inward, “anthropocentric” fiction by opening his writing out to the experience of externality, by abandoning character, story, and so on. The great novels, according to Robbe-Grillet, are those such as Sartre’s La Nausée, Camus’ L’Étranger and the works of Kafka in which the Balzacian standard of character is rarely heeded and the external world is allowed simply to be—“le chose sont là” (Pour 18). When the external world of otherness is allowed to be in a text, the difference of language takes hold of and absorbs the self: “seul le langage agit, « performe », et non « moi »” [‘only language acts, ‘performs’, and not me [I]’] (Barthes, “La mort” 62; 1467). In fiction committed to openness to the Other and difference, the human individual is replaced, according to Bellow, with a distinctly non-human entity:
The Person, the character as we knew him in the plays of Sophocles or Shakespeare, in Cervantes, Fielding, and Balzac, are gone from us. Instead of a unitary character with his unitary personality, his ambitions, his passions, his soul, his fate, we find in modern literature an oddly amorphous creature whose outlines are everywhere, whose being is bathed in blood, and who is impossible to circumscribe in any scheme of time. A cubistic, Bergsonian, uncertain, eternal, mortal someone who shuts and opens like a concertina and makes strange music. (“Where” 136)
Although Bellow’s work criticizes egoism, he is equally critical of the undermining of sovereign selfhood. He is cautious of establishing selfhood through an outward journey. To open the self to the external world completely, without attempting to comprehend the world as it relates to the self, exposes the self to destabilization. The other (object or subject), if uninhibited and welcomed unconditionally, is capable of violence equal to the
unrestrained self. Through an outward pursuit of selfhood, the subject risks being reduced to the “amorphous” state Bellow describes above, or even, to indulge Bellow’s hyperbole, find its “being . . . bathed in blood”. If Bellow is unwilling to allow the self full scope to find authenticity through an inward journey, he is equally wary of allowing the self to completely open outward to the possibility of being overwhelmed by other selves. Bellow’s work hesitates to engage wholly with either inward or outward journeys of authentic self. It seems to me a misreading of Bellow to argue that he ultimately chooses one form of selfhood over the other, as Corner suggests, or that he leans to one option as the lesser of two evils. Bellow does not wish to give up on the self, however: as much as he criticizes egoism, he equally refuses to inherit the rejection of selfhood. “Modern literature is not satisfied simply to dismiss a romantic, outmoded conception of the self. In the spirit of deepest vengefulness it curses it. It hates it. It rends it, annihilates. It would rather have the maddest chaos it can invoke than a conception of life it has found false. But after this destruction, what?” (SN 66). Bellow explores an alternative mode of self-formation, defined by metaphors of travel, which in effect cuts a path through the middle of individualism and the devaluation of selfhood. In the following chapter, I detail the mythologies of travel structuring individualism on the one hand and the subversion of selfhood on the other. The most visible links between selfhood and travel are provided by the Odyssean form of individualism developed by Hegel and the Abrahamic form of questioning the self of Levinas, and both are examined in Chapter Two. Saul Bellow’s mythology of travelling selfhood will be described in Chapter Three as a recasting of Odyssean and Abrahamic conceptions of travelling selfhood in a process of perfection.
II. BETWEEN ATHENS AND JERUSALEM: ODYSSEUS AND ABRAHAM
Hebraism and Hellenism,—between these two points of influence moves our world. At one time it feels more powerfully the attraction of one of them, at another time of the other; and it ought to be, though it never is, evenly and happily balanced between them.
Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy
Jewgreek is greekjew. Extremes meet.
James Joyce, Ulysses
I travel to define and assert my existential identity. I travel. Therefore I am.
Michael Mewshaw, “Travel”
In Chapter One, I described Saul Bellow’s critique of modernism as a cautiousness regarding the extreme possibilities of selfhood determined by inward, self-focused or outward, other-focused journeys. Both forms of modern selfhood were shown to have potentially damaging outcomes, against the other and the self, respectively. In this chapter, I aim to clarify the potential violence of self-formation by detailing the mythologies of travel deployed to structure selfhood in modern European philosophical discourse. The inward-driven form of selfhood, egotism, will be connected to a Hegelian form of subjectivity whose journey is structured by the Odyssey. On the other hand, the other-focused outward moving mode of selfhood will be connected to Emmanuel Levinas’ ethics of the Other; Levinas structures selfhood as a journey after the order of the exile of Abraham recounted in Genesis. These forms of selfhood appear to be mutually exclusive: emphasizing the self at the expense of the other and vice versa. Hegel’s Odyssean and Levinas’ Abrahamic selfhood represent an argument between Matthew Arnold’s two points of world influence in this chapter’s epigraph, Hellenism and Hebraism, so that subjectivity is in effect divided between Athens and Jerusalem. It is with this divide in mind that I read the selfhood described in modernist literature as part of a European discourse. I argue that Bellow’s writing presents, in the mood of Emerson’s “American Scholar”, a distinctly American alternative to the European
structures of selfhood described in this chapter, that recasts the concept of self-evolution as travel inherited from Emerson and Thoreau. Bellow accepts neither Odyssean nor Abrahamic forms of subjectivity on their own, recognizing both the violence done to the individual by Abrahamic-Levinasian ethics and the tyrannical possibilities of Odyssean-Hegelian individualism. The form of subjectivity explored in Bellow’s novels maintains Arnold’s “happy balance” between the self—represented by the Greek (Athenian) metaphor of Odyssean selfhood—and the other—as represented by an Abrahamic ethics of the Other, Jerusalem. The self formed in Bellow’s fiction is also a traveller, like Odysseus and Abraham, and shows elements of both. The self in Bellow’s novels is not a complete rejection of the European discourse of self, but a recasting of Bellow’s inheritance of selfhood otherwise. This chapter delineates the mythologies of travelling subjectivity deployed by Hegel and Levinas. Their work offers, I believe, the clearest examples of the unsettling possibilities of modern journeying selfhood, criticized by Bellow in the previous chapter. The Odyssey has long held sway in Western conceptions of travel and the first section of this chapter, “The Efficient as Well as Final Causes of Travelling”, aims to define travel according to the dominant Odyssean paradigm. Travel, as it relates to the Odyssey, has a circular, economic structure of return and is aimed at the pursuit of profit. In what follows, I trace the insistence on profit as the motivating factor for travel through several literary and philosophical texts from the 16th through 18th centuries. I outline this history of travel as profit-making to show the growing use of travel as a metaphor for self-formation in the 19th century: on one hand, Hegel develops the same trope of travel as profit in his notion of self-consciousness; on the other hand, Emerson and Thoreau attempt to break away from the Odyssean paradigm by introducing a perfectionist conception of the self as traveller. I treat Emerson and Thoreau’s metaphor of travelling selfhood in Chapter Three. In the second section of this chapter, “Hegel and Levinas”, I show that the Odyssean structure of travel informs the dialectic of self- consciousness in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. The Odyssean subject always returns home, profiting on its encounters with others, and it is the economic structure of return that is at the origin of Hegelian totalization. I then turn to Levinas, whose critique of Hegelian subjectivity in Totalité et infini and elsewhere, attempts to undermine the
totalizing violence of self-consciousness. Levinas’ subject also travels, but follows the path of Abraham’s exile without the possibility of returning home. This mode of selfhood allows the other to appear infinitely other. Both positions will be shown to be undesirable: either Hegel’s self-consciousness oppresses the other, or Levinas’ Other oppresses the self. In the third chapter, “The Journey of Augie March”, I show the tensile polarity of Levinasian and Hegelian subjectivity maintained in Bellow’s development, or recasting, of Emerson and Thoreau’s metaphors of travelling selfhood in The Adventures of Augie March.
The Efficient as Well as Final Causes of Travelling
I will now undertake to clarify the relationship of the voyage with the development of selfhood in modern European discourse and with the new American paths of selfhood forged in Emerson, Thoreau, and, later, Bellow in Augie March and Herzog. Ostensibly, travel can be defined in uncontroversial terms. According to the OED, to travel is to go “from one place to another”; and the Encyclopédie defines the voyage as the “transport de la personne d’un lieu où l’on est dans un autre assez éloigné” [‘the transport of a person from the place where one is to another place that is far enough away’] (qtd. in Van Den Abbeele vii; spelling modernized). Travel is such a common undertaking and so often deployed throughout literature and philosophy, that it must, writes Georges Van Den Abbeele, “count among the most patently banal [motifs] in Western letters” (xiii). There ought to be little difficulty accounting for the meaning of travel; as I will demonstrate however, accounting for the meaning of travel is by no means a trivial task. The apparent simplicity and banality of travelling masks a Gordian complexity that resists the passage of a clear definition of travel. This complexity begins to be revealed in the travel writing of the 17th and 18th century Europe. Mr. Yorick, in Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey (1768), for example, undertakes an examination of “the efficient as well as final causes of travelling” (11). Working through the several efficient causes of travel in his désobligeant, the “peripatetic philosopher” argues that journeying is
primarily motivated by need, or by deficiency. Under the class of “Idle Travellers”, Yorick includes those whose embarkation is prompted by:
Infirmity of body, Imbecility of mind, or Inevitable necessity. (12)
Whether suffering diminished health, diminished mental capacity or a deficiency in social graces, travel is undertaken by the voyager to fill a need. The sentimental traveller, especially—“meaning thereby myself” says Yorick—travels as “much out of Necessity, and the besoin de Voyager, as anyone” (13). The necessity of travel is described by Yorick as the pursuit of profit. At the end of Yorick’s catalogue of travellers appears the “Poor Traveller” who, lacking more than any other voyager, “sail[s] and post[s] through the politer kingdoms of the globe, in pursuit of knowledge and improvements” (13). Yorick’s description of travel as a pursuit allude, with some irony, to several 17th century travel texts. Yorick’s thoughts are particularly reminiscent here of Thomas Palmer’s Essay (1606) on travel, for example. Although no great traveller himself, Palmer’s essay was well known in the 17th century—to the extent that Palmer became known as the “Travailer”—and is one of the earlier works in English to connect travel explicitly to profit in more than the economic sense. Of the six duties Palmer insists to be observed “[i]n the interim of trauaile . . . for the aduancement of their peregrination” (46) the duty of most importance, “to which every Trauailer ought to lay his witts about [is] To get knowledge for the bettering of himselfe and his Countrie” (52– 53). Palmer’s Essay compares with (and perhaps borrows from) his contemporary John Stradling’s translation and expansion of Justus Lispsius’s A Direction for Travailers (1592): both Yorick and Palmer agree with Stradling that the final cause of travel—its goal—is “to come home better than you went out” (Stradling). In other words, possessed of a negative efficient cause, travel’s final cause is increased value: there is profit to be made by journeying. Travel’s profits may, as I have suggested, take the form of epistemic returns (the “godliest” form of profit according to Stradling), or may be acquired in the form of
greater health, power, social status and wealth. Van Den Abbeele cites the exploitation of the New World and the spread of colonialism in the last several centuries as the most explicit example of travel as profit making. Even the tourist profits from her travels, increasing her own “social value” through the accumulation of “cultural experiences” (xvii). According to Emerson, though, the “best fruit” of travel is conversation (E 1091), the pursuit of which is central to my reading of Bellow’s Augie March and Herzog in the following chapters. As a potentially profitable (ad)venture, the voyage is of a piece with economy. Both Van Den Abbeele, in Travel as Metaphor, and Catherine Malabou in her collaboration with Jacques Derrida, Jacques Derrida: La Contre-allée, describe travel as an economy centered on the οἰκος [oikos], or the home. Economy is literally the “law of the home” (οἰκονομία: οἰκος, home, property; νόμος, law, habit) and the oikos stands as the ordering principle of travel. For Van Den Abbeele, it is impossible to speak of profit or gain without a determined, unchanging point of reference against which to measure an increase in value (xvii). The fixity of the oikos is determined by the voyager’s ability to possess it. Thus any point on the traveller’s itinerary may act as an oikos and order the voyage, if the traveller is capable of recognizing and claiming that site as her own. In view of home, the voyager is able to measure her journey’s profits. If the oikos makes profit from travel possible, it also serves a second purpose, to reduce the risks of travel. To enjoy his profits, the traveller must stay alive. This requirement is, however, jeopardized on all sides by the interminable hazards of voyaging. Granted, some of the risks of travelling are small. Mr. Yorick’s Poor Traveller, for example, may “post” for and acquire “knowledge and improvements . . . but whether useful knowledge and real improvements, is all a lottery” (Sterne 13–14). It is always possible, at the least hazardous level, that the gains of travel may not match the traveller’s investment: the voyager may be anxious that he will return home with far less than he had hoped. Of greater cause for anxiety in the traveller, though, is the ever-present risk of accident and outright catastrophe. Disaster after disaster befalls Odysseus on his journey as time and again he is caught up by storm-winds and set adrift (Od. 1.240; 14.370; 23.310, for example). Likewise, Voltaire’s Candide encounters very little other than
catastrophe on his journey, leading him to conclude that it is always better, safer, to stay at home and “cultiver nôtre jardin” (Voltaire 294; Ch. 30). Candide, I take it, stresses home over travel not because, as Yorick frets, he risks making poor or little profit; through travel and the attendant risk of catastrophe, Candide stands to lose everything— including his life. Travel’s greatest risk, then, is the catastrophe of death, or absolute loss. I have mentioned that Yorick sees only minor risks in travelling: his journey to Italy, however, is cut off suddenly, in mid-sentence no less—“So that when I stretch’d out my hand, I caught hold of the Fille de Chambre’s” (Sterne 118). Whatever profits Yorick had been about to turn are rendered null and void by the untimely death of Sterne. Some centuries later in a postcard, Jacques Derrida professes a fear of death when journeying, of being cut off mid sentence like Yorick: “je ne pars jamais en voyage, je ne vais jamais, je ne m’éloigne jamais de la ‘maison’, si peu que ce soit, sans penser, avec images, films et dramaturgie orchestrée, que je vais mourir avant le retour” [‘I never go away on a trip, I don't go, I never put any distance whatsoever between me and my ‘house’ without thinking—with images, films, drama, and full orchestral soundtrack—that I am going to die before I return’] (Malabou and Derrida 15; 5). No journey is undertaken without the haunting prospect of death, without the risk of losing everything. Death figures as the ultimate surprise because, as Levinas argues, “elle ne se tient dans aucun horizon. Elle ne s’offre à aucune prise” [‘it does not lie within any horizon. It is not open to grasp’] (TI 210; 233); death is not at all foreseeable and cannot be incorporated into an itinerary. The voyage, therefore, is always attended by anxiety, afflicted by trembling: “Je tremble devant ce qui excède mon voir et mon savoir” [‘I tremble at what exceeds my seeing and knowing’] (Derrida, “Donner” 57; 54). The oikos, however, eases the anxiety of travel and softens the encounter with catastrophe precisely by placing the voyage within an horizon (Malabou and Derrida 14; Van Den Abbeele xviii). By positing a fixed centre, the voyager not only marks her departure, but also determines a site of return. Thus no matter what catastrophe may arise, the traveller can always head toward, and is always making her way, home. Odysseus’ journey, for example, is for its entire length a homecoming: although he falls prey to monstrous and divine catastrophes, Odysseus is always destined to return to
Ithaca. Disguised as Mentor, Athene prophesies to Telemachus, “οὔ τοι ἔτι δηρον γε φίλης ἀπὸ πατρίδος αἴης ἔσσεται, οὐδ εἴ πέρ τε σιδήρεα δέσματ’ ἔχῃσιν· φράσσεται ὥς κε νέηται, ἐπεὶ πολυμήχανός ἐστιν” [‘Not much longer shall he be absent from his own native land, no, not though bonds of iron hold him. He will contrive a way to return, for he is a man of many devices’] (Od. 1.203–05). Odysseus’ energies are devoted throughout his voyages to homecoming and all his movements are circumscribed by an abiding nostalgia. The fixity of home eases Odysseus’ separation from Penelope: absence is temporary because “l’origine ne voyage pas” (Malabou and Derrida 14), because Ithaca is fixed in its proper place. Every voyage based on departure from an oikos, follows the path of Odysseus back to its beginning. The circularity of the voyage allows Derrida to equate the Odyssey and travel with economy. Derrida writes in “Donner le temps”, with reference to Levinas:
L’oikonomia emprunterait toujours le chemin d’Ulysse. Celui-ci fait retour auprès de soi ou de siens, il ne s’éloigne qu’en vue de se rapatrier, pour revenir au foyer à partir duquel le départ est donné et la part assignée, et le parti pris, le lot échu, le destin commandé (moira). L’être-auprès-de-soi de l’Idée dans le Savoir Absolu serait odysséique en ce sens, celui d’une économie et d’une nostalgie, d’une « mal du pays », d’un exil provisoire en mal de réappropriation. (18)
[Oikonomia would always follow the path of Ulysses. The latter returns to the side of his loved ones or himself; he goes away only in view of repatriating himself, in order to return to the home from which the signal for departure is given and the part assigned, the side chosen, the lot divided, destiny commanded (moira). The being-next-to-self of the Idea in Absolute Knowledge would be odyssean in this sense, that of an economy or nostalgia, a “homesickness,” a provisional exile longing for reappropriation.] (7)
I further develop the connection between the Odyssey and Hegel introduced by Derrida in the following section, “Hegel and Levinas”. For now, and keeping Hegel in mind, I will say that the insistence of return attached to the voyage—its economy—is strengthened by the power of comprehension bestowed on the voyager by the oikos. Every voyage participates in the phenomenological work of unveiling presence, “de révéler le secret, l’authenticité des pays visités et des lieux explorés, de faire paraître les traits dominants d’une civilisation, en un mot de lever, quasi miraculeusement, le voile de l’étrangeté”
[‘of revealing the secret or authenticity of countries visited and places explored, of causing the dominant traits of a civilisation to appear, in a word, of lifting the veil of foreignness’] (Malabou and Derrida 16; 6). The revelation of the foreign—in the other, through catastrophe and accident—produces a feeling of alienation in the traveller by limiting her freedom to act. The anxiety of being set adrift, of being out of control or homeless, is overcome by relating the other back to the oikos, by comprehending it in light of a fixed point of reference. The horizon of comprehension produced by the oikos allows the voyager to stay close to herself, so that the other is easily “grasped” and reduced to the traveller’s own concepts. If every other encountered on the voyage is understood, or seen, in terms of the oikos, then the voyager in effect finds home, finds herself at home, in (her conception of) the other. In effect the traveller, like Odysseus, never truly leaves the horizon of her own Ithaca; it is as though she carries her home on her back, as though the origin, in fact, journeys with her. Accordingly, Joseph Hall’s censure of travel in Quo Vadis (1617)— another travel text parodied by Sterne in A Sentimental Journey, that connects travel with profit and loss—can be reread in a new light: “Those therefore that crosse the seas to fill their braine doe but … seeke that candle which they carry in their own hand” (25). Travel, and here is its complexity, is for all intents and purposes, no different to staying at home. Thus Stradling is able to censure those who refuse to travel in language all but identical to Hall’s reproach of travellers:
Base and badder minds indeed) [sic] content their poore thoughts with their owne countries knowledge, and being glued to their home they carrie (with the sluggishe and slowfooted snaile) their howses on theyr backs, to whom the Germaine prouerbe agreeth wel: That they knowe the sounds of no other Bels but their owne.
Hall and Stradling are critical of the inability of the (Odyssean) traveller and the homebody to see or hear anything beyond themselves. The failure to hear and see, I argue in Chapter Four, constitutes the conformity from which Herzog is provoked to emerge. Reading the other, in Herzog, is to be impelled to journey onward to a new self.
In light of the Odyssean trope, travel now seems to conflict with its traditional linear definition as a movement from one place to another: travel is circular and doesn’t appear to go any place at all. Travel must be rethought. As I indicated above, the evolution of selfhood is structured by travel: if the journey of self is informed by the Odyssean paradigm, what kind of self emerges from this process? Is it necessary to rethink selfhood alongside travel? In what follows, I examine what the process of self- formation might look like as an economic (ad)venture or Odyssey. Hegel’s dialectic of self-consciousness in the Phenomenology is an explicit representation of such a process of self-formation. Hegel’s self-conscious subject, like Odysseus, fails to go beyond itself by reducing every encounter with the other to its own concept: the self recovers itself in the other, turning every encounter, every risk, to its profit. The journey of Odyssean selfhood is one of totalization. Alternatively, Levinas reveals the totalizing possibilities of selfhood and proposes another paradigm of travel to describe selfhood, that of Abraham’s exile. Without the possibility of return, Levinas’ travelling self remains open to the other and has no horizon of reference within which to posses the other. Hegel’s Odyssean selfhood and the Abrahamic exile of self in Levinas impede the freedom to act of the self and the other, respectively. Bellow’s perfectionist journey of selfhood as it appears in Augie March and Herzog allows both the self and the other to maintain their freedom and unicity.
Hegel and Levinas
Hegel was giving him a great deal of trouble.
Saul Bellow, Herzog
Bellow’s fiction describes the encounters of several characters with the philosophy of Hegel. Herzog reads Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (in Baille’s translation, The Phenomenology of Mind (H 127)), and finds Hegel’s work troubling: where once Herzog felt he understood Hegel, the philosopher now causes him distress and impatience (H 12).
Herzog begins to “curse” Hegel, and to resist the drive of Hegel’s Spirit to crush unicity on the way to Absolute Knowledge. Herzog is especially concerned by Spirit’s “reality opposing the ‘law of the heart’, alien necessity gruesomely crushing individuality, undsoweiter” (129). Augie March also reads Hegel, including Philosophy of Right in his wide range of reading (AM 205). Although he does not state an explicit concern with Hegel’s philosophy, Augie’s praise of unique individuality is opposed to the historical necessity of Hegelian Spirit. The troubling aspects of Hegel’s philosophy for both characters, in other words, stem from the dialectic’s propensity to reduce unicity and otherness to the concepts of the same in an Odyssean manner. Both Herzog and Augie March oppose attempts by others to undermine the individuality, and resist the Odyssean mode of self- evolution represented by Hegel. In what follows, I briefly outline the Odyssean mode of self-evolution in Hegel in order to demonstrate the manner in which Augie March and Herzog both reaffirm and recast—that is, inherit—the modes of travelling selfhood that come before them. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit has, from its earliest reception, been linked to travel and to the Odyssey. Heinrich Heine in Die romantische Schüle (1836), H. S. Harris in Hegel’s Ladder (1997), and Jacques Derrida in “Violence”, are only three of the many writers and philosophers to refer to the Odyssey of Hegel’s Phenomenology.7 Hegel’s objective in the Phenomenology is to trace the “series of configurations” traversed by the conscious subject on its path to scientific, or Absolute Knowledge (50, §78). Absolute Knowledge is reached when knowledge, through an Odyssean movement, becomes adequate to itself, “where knowledge no longer needs to go beyond itself, where knowledge finds itself, where Notion [Begriff] corresponds to object and object to Notion” (51; §80, my emphasis). In the early sections of the Phenomenology, it is negativity, or lack, that prompts the subject, like Mr. Yorick’s travellers, to move from basic configurations of consciousness to new and more adequate forms, gradually “purify[ing] itself for the life of the Spirit [Absolute Knowledge]” (49; §77). Self-
7 Heine describes Hegel’s voyage around the “world of spirit” and to the “north pole of thought” in the Phenomenology (qtd. in MacDonald, “Losing” 183). The two volumes of Harris’s Hegel’s Ladder are titled, The Pilgrimage of Reason and The Odyssey of Spirit. In “Violence et métaphysique”, Derrida refers to “l’Odyssée hégélienne” (138).
conscious subjectivity emerges from this Odyssean process, after consciousness, as the minimal structure of Spirit and Absolute Knowledge. Self-consciousness, aware of the “difference in its own self”, is capable of “a distinguishing of that which contains no difference” (102; §164). The self-conscious subject recognizes difference as its own essential truth, recognizes its other as itself: “I, the selfsame being, repel myself from myself; but what is posited as distinct from me, or as unlike me, is immediately, in being so distinguished, not a distinction for me” (102; §164). The incorporation of difference within the horizon of selfhood links Hegel’s Phenomenology plainly to the Odyssean economy of travel: otherness and difference threaten the subject’s being—as the traveller is threatened by the other—but that threat is softened as the other is distinguished as containing no difference and reduced to an object of knowledge. The reduction of the other within the horizon of the self is essentially an act of “repatriation” (Robbins 141), an act of bringing the other home to Ithaca, to the oikos. The labour of subjectivity, then, consists of the subject’s movement out of the self and to the other, where the subject ultimately discovers, or recovers, its own self. In other words, self-consciousness is attained through an outward motion that is simultaneously a return, or a motion that never truly escapes its point of departure. In the sense that the traveller always remains within the horizon of home, that her outward journey is always, nevertheless, homeward-bound, the Odyssean voyage may be considered the governing metaphor for the evolution of self-consciousness in Hegel. The Hegelian nature of Michael Mewshaw’s epigraph to this chapter is now clear and apparent: “I travel to define and assert my existential identity. I travel. Therefore I am” (3). Augie March and Herzog, too, travel to assert and define their selfhood, but in a manner that is critical of the Odyssean formation of Hegel’s self-consciousness. Apart from troubling Bellow’s characters, the Odyssean economy of travelling selfhood in Hegel has been subject to substantial criticism, particularly regarding the ethical relation of the self with others. The most notable of these critiques is undertaken by Emmanuel Levinas, who builds on and is critical of earlier excoriations of the Hegelian self-other relationship, for example, those by Franz Rosenzweig in Der Stern der Erlösung [Star of Redemption (1921)], and Martin Buber in Ich und Du [I and Thou
(1923)]. Levinas views Western structures of self-consciousness and ego as strongly rooted in the Odyssean myth, particularly as those structures appear in Hegel and others (Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, especially). For Levinas, the Odyssean myth structures what he refers to as the ontological work of Being, whereby self-formation is understood as “une réduction de l’Autre au Même” [‘a reduction of the other to the same’] (TI 13; 43). In Hegel, as shown above, the self-conscious “I” maintains itself against the other by reducing every encounter with otherness to its own concept. Levinas describes the Hegelian reduction of the other in language of home and return—the reduction “se produit dans le mouvement qui, à partir de l’utopie de la demeure—parcourt un espace pour y effectuer une prise originelle, pour saisir et pour emporter. . . . L’élément se fixe entre les quatre murs de la maison, se calme dans la possession” [‘is produced in a movement that starts from the utopia of dwelling and traverses a space to effect a primordial grasp, to seize and to take away. . . .The element is fixed between the four walls of the home, is calmed in possession’] (TI 131; 158, my emphasis). The process of identity formation after Hegel, according to Levinas, follows clearly in Odysseus’ wake: “l’autonomie de la conscience, se retrouvant elle-même à travers toutes ses aventures, retournant chez soi comme Ulysse qui, à travers toutes ses pérégrinations, ne va que vers son île natale” [‘the autonomy of consciousness . . . finds itself again in all its adventures, returning home to itself like Ulysses, who through all his peregrinations is only on the way to his native land’] (TA 188; 346; TI xv). For Levinas, the reduction of the Other to the Same, through an Odyssean economy of self-consciousness, is a form of violence. To reduce the Other to the self’s own concepts is to limit the Other’s will and freedom, to take the Other in grasp; Hegelian self-consciousness does not allow the Other to be, or in effect, denies the Other’s being. Limiting the Other’s being in such a way is to declare war on the Other (Levinas, Liberté 38; 19), and Levinas sees the Odyssean economy of self-consciousness in Hegel doing violence to the Other (recall that Odysseus is a renowned warrior). With this thought in mind, Levinas subtly characterizes the violence of the Holocaust, a large-scale attempt to eliminate otherness, as Hegelian: “Mais à ses souvenirs ne peuvent manquer ni les lendemains du système hégélien, ni les crises qui ont marqué les tentatives, de ce système issues, de transformer le monde” [‘But these memories can disregard neither the
aftermath of the Hegelian system, nor the crises that have characterized the attempts, derived from this system, to transform the world’] (Entre 96; 68). In order to resist such violence, Levinas proposes an alternative thought of self, based in a Hebraic mythology of travel. Bellow’s fiction also resists the violence of Hegelian selfhood, but criticizes at the same time the subtle violence present in Levinas’ mode of travelling selfhood. Levinas’ alternative to the Odyssey of self-consciousness is illustrated by the exile of Abraham: “Au mythe d’Ulysse retournant à Ithaque, nous voudrions opposer l’histoire d’Abraham quittant à jamais sa patrie pour une terre encore inconnue et interdisant à son serviteur de ramener même son fils à ce point de départ” [‘To the myth of Ulysses returning to Ithaca, we wish to oppose the story of Abraham who leaves his fatherland forever for a yet unknown land, and forbids his servant to even bring back his son to the point of departure’] (TA 191; 348). Levinas refers to one of the trials of Abraham, recounted in Genesis 12: Yahweh commands Abram, whom he will rename Abraham, to leave his family for an unnamed country (“the land that I will show thee” (12.1)). Abram obeys immediately (12.4)—“here I am”—but after being shown the promised land of Canaan (12.7), is forced to escape famine by departing for Egypt (12.10). With a new name from Yahweh, Abraham continues to move from place to place within the region of the Promised Land without taking full possession of it. At the same time, he is unable without Yahweh’s command to return to the lands of his family. As Levinas notes above, even Abraham’s son Isaac is refused the option of return; Abraham has his servant Eliazer swear that he will not reveal their land of origin to his son (Gen. 24.5–6). Abraham’s life is one of eternal departure without the possibility of return. He figures a form of subjectivity given over to the Other—Abraham is “for-the-other”. Abraham responds consistently to the voice of Yahweh, “Here I am”; he asks Yahweh neither to identify nor explain himself, responding to the infinite Other without hesitation. While Odysseus identifies and comprehends the other within the horizons of his oikos, Ithaca, Abraham has no home and relinquishes his connection to the land of his fathers. Without an economic horizon within which to comprehend the Other, Abraham is able to experience the Other as it is, as infinitely other. Consequently, without the security of the oikos, Abraham’s subjectivity is brought into question by another who is infinitely more than he is capable of receiving; Abraham gives himself (his selfhood) to Yahweh.
Selfhood that is open to the Other as infinitely other, is drawn into question by the Other. Levinas names this calling into question of the Same by the Other—ethics (TI 13). Levinas proposes an Abrahamic ethics in opposition to Odyssean ontology, questioning the “I”, rather than asserting its totality. From this opposition, the question arises; ought (the) I then follow Abraham instead of Odysseus? Ought I to be Jew or Greek? In recent years, Abraham has held sway, as Levinas’ influence has spread beyond philosophy to literary studies, theology, political theory and to other disciplines. For C. Fred Alford, in “Levinas and Political Theory”, Levinas’ thought has been too hastily embraced on all sides, producing what he calls the “Levinas Effect . . . the ability of Levinas’ texts to say anything the reader wants to hear” (146). The key phrase in Alford’s statement is wants to hear, suggesting that Levinas’ reader, like Odysseus after all, hears only her own voice in the Other. Alain Badiou makes a very similar argument in Ethics— that Levinas’ Other, when invoked in contemporary ethical discourse, is only ever the good Other, that is, the Same (24). Levinas indicates too, in a startling manner, that his Other does not name all others, and that the self’s openness to some others ought to be circumscribed. It is difficult to overlook Levinas’ demonization of an Asian other in Difficile liberté, to countenance his apparent distress at “[l]a montée des masses innombrables de peuples asiatiques et sous- développés ne menace-t-elle pas cette authenticité retrouvée?” [‘the rise of countless masses of Asiatic and underdeveloped peoples’] (216; 165). More disconcerting is his racist invocation of a “yellow peril”: “The yellow peril! It is not racial, it is spiritual. It does not involve inferior values; it involves a radical strangeness, a stranger to the weight of the past, from where there does not filter any familiar voice or inflection, a lunar or Martian past” (qtd. in Alford 160). Levinas seems utterly incapable of opening himself unconditionally to the Other. The failure to live a Levinasian ethics of the Other, to follow Abraham’s path, stems from the risks involved, real or imagined: the Abrahamic self must be open unconditionally to the risks and the possibility of death that the Odyssean self aims to reduce. Levinas’ ethical selfhood is like Hegel’s self- consciousness, tainted with violence. The self of European discourse is caught between extremes: between Athens and Jerusalem, Odysseus and Abraham. To follow the Hegelian path of selfhood leaves the
other open to the violence of totalization. But to follow Levinas’ self-exile is to expose the self to the very same threat, to allow the self to be overwhelmed by the Other. Both kinds of journeys are at work in the modernist writings Saul Bellow is critical of. Bellow’s work criticizes inward journeys of self-authentication for the same reasons I have shown Levinas critical of Hegel: unrestrained individualism is, in Bellow’s writing, responsible for much historical violence, including the Holocaust. Bellow is equally critical of self-authentication that opens itself completely to otherness and difference: he has no desire to see the self threatened with erasure, even if the self has proved the disappointment modernist discourse claims it to be. I see Bellow’s fiction responding directly to conceptions of selfhood as a journey in both Odyssean and Abrahamic modes. Several of his novels are disapproving of Hegel by name, as I indicated at the beginning of this chapter, and although to my knowledge there is no mention of Levinas in Bellow’s work, the censure of Abraham as Kierkegaard’s Knight of Faith in Mr. Sammler’s Planet and the general thrust of Bellow’s criticisms of outward-moving journeys of selfhood, show him to argue with the central aspects and structures of Levinas’ thought, if not directly with Levinas himself. In this thesis, then, I use the Odyssean and Abrahamic paradigms of travel as they are deployed in Hegel and Levinas as touchstones for the opposing poles of modernist selfhood resisted by Bellow. In the following chapter, I sketch out Bellow’s reworking of European, modernist structures of selfhood, as they appear in The Adventures of Augie March. Bellow was cited in Chapter One saying that the unthinking adoption of “European” efforts either to erase the self or raise it to Romantic heights ought to be resisted in American fiction, or at least subjected to far more rigorous criticism (SN). Bellow’s brand of selfhood posits an American recasting of Odysseus and Abraham, also based in travel, that allows the extremes of European selfhood to meet while maintaining their tension: in Augie March “[j]ewgreek is greekjew. Extremes meet” (Joyce 622).
III. THE JOURNEY OF AUGIE MARCH: BELLOW AND EMERSON
What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden
ἦθος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων
In the preceding chapters, I have drawn from modern European discourse two forms of selfhood structured by mythologies of travel, represented by Hegel’s dialectic of self- consciousness as an Odyssey in the first case, and by Levinas’ ethics of the Other as Abrahamic exile. Saul Bellow is critical of both modes of selfhood, recognizing a potential for violence in each, against the other and the self, respectively. In this chapter I trace Bellow’s development of an American mode of travelling selfhood in The Adventures of Augie March. Augie March’s selfhood evolves within a structure of travel and wide-ranging adventure and maintains the tension between the mutually exclusive poles of openness to the other (Abraham) and the persistence of self (Odysseus). This balancing act is undertaken as a continual reinvention of self, where the individual, in response to the educating provocation of another, travels from his current, now rejected self to a new, previously unattained position of selfhood. Augie follows this pattern in his self-development, but importantly never reaches a final level of self-perfection—every encounter with the other prompts further evolution. Augie March, I argue, inherits this process of self-evolution from the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. As an alternative to the European models of selfhood described in Chapter Two of this thesis, Bellow’s Emersonian conception of selfhood is thoroughly American—American, that is, in the same sense that Emerson describes “this new, yet unapproachable America” (E 484). The discovery of both America and the self is a promise deferred: the finding or founding of either is a continual process of rebirth, turning, and conversion such that the self and America are (finally) unapproachable—and yet perpetually sought.
Emersonian Perfection in Augie March
A cursory reading of the opening lines of Augie March might conclude that Augie views his own selfhood as an Odyssean construct, and that he asserts his ego at the expense of others’ being:
I am an American, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city—and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But a man’s character is his fate, says Heraclitus, and in the end there isn’t any way to disguise the nature of the knocks by acoustical work on the door or gloving the knuckles. (3)
Augie’s foregrounding of his own being is unmistakeable. The personal pronoun is “first to knock” at the novel’s threshold and is rapidly disseminated as the possessive adjective—“I”, “myself”, “my own way.” With reference to Heraclitus, Augie seems to say, my character alone determines my fate. In full possession of himself, Augie announces his free and undetermined will, subsuming the ways of others within his own. Augie later asserts his independence in no uncertain terms as he takes his own direction against his mentor, William Einhorn: “No I didn’t want to be what he called determined. I never had accepted determination and wouldn’t become what other people wanted to make of me” (117). By limiting the influence and, thus, full expression of the other, Augie’s self-determination in turn determines—terminates and binds—the other. For Levinas, as I indicated in Chapter Two, to maintain [se tenir] the self is to take the other in a Hegelian grasp (Augie’s invocation of the hand is apt) and to perpetrate a form of violence. Augie seems well aware that his self-determination, gloved or otherwise, is “not so innocent”. Nevertheless, full of opposition, as Einhorn maintains, Augie presents himself, in the face of conflict, externalities, and the other, as a persistent, unchanging self. This reading of Augie’s selfhood, apparently his own, tends, in combination with the novel’s episodic structure, to include Augie March within the picaresque tradition.
Robert Alter writes that the picaro throughout all his adventures remains as he is from the beginning, always himself regardless of who or what he may run into: “sometimes splendidly, sometimes ignominiously, but always confidently, he is himself” (124).8 Persisting so strongly in “my own way”, Augie may indeed hold claim to a roguish heritage. To read Augie in this way though is, I contend, a misapprehension of his character. Certainly Augie is related to the picaro; but his egoism in the lines cited above does not reflect Augie as he appears in the rest of the novel. Augie does not share the picaro’s persistence of self. Rather, he is very much open to the influence of others and forever changing himself in response to his social environment and his interactions with family, friends, employers, and lovers—“All the influences were lined up waiting for me. I was born, and there they were to form me, which is why I tell you more of them than myself” (43, my emphasis). Regardless of his claim to “go at things . . . freestyle”, Augie’s selfhood in actual fact owes a great deal to the forming influences of others: his record is guided as much by others as it is recorded in “his own way” (3). His selfhood, in other words is not based wholly on an internal or Odyssean return voyage, but open outward to the other in a fashion similar to Abraham’s open welcome of Yahweh. Importantly, though, Augie’s openness to external influence is not, like Abraham’s, by any means unconditional. Augie may be heard often to respond, “me voici!”—“Here I am!”—but he will reflect on what he hears and oppose directly anything that fails to satisfy. Einhorn is correct to describe Augie as oppositional. Augie manages the unfeasible task of keeping himself open to the other—he is formed by a line of influences—without, at the same time, allowing the other to subsume his unique being—he refuses to be determined. Augie’s balance of self-determination with an ear for the influence of others may be read as representative of the process of self-perfectionism expressed in the works of the American Transcendentalists, Henry David Thoreau and, especially, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Notwithstanding the influence of Emerson and Thoreau, the precise identity of
8 Alter recognizes Lazarillo de Tormes (1554) as the first picaresque and views Lazaro’s incorruptibility by society and external influence as indicative of the genre (10). Alter further examines the incorruptibility of the picaro through a reading of Alain-René Lesage’s Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane. When Gil Blas finally does succumb to surrounding influence, he ceases to be a picaro (30–31). Alter allows the picaresque to be developed and transformed by its heirs, but is insistent that a picaro will always be incorruptible. He is hesitant to describe Augie March as a “genuine picaroon” (124).
Bellow’s literary predecessors has less bearing on my argument than the manner in which Bellow transfigures, or rereads, the works of Emerson and Thoreau. Like Emerson, Bellow’s fiction takes an inheritance of selfhood from the Odyssey, Abraham, and Transcendentalism, and keeps that legacy alive by recasting or rereading it. The mode of selfhood at work in Augie March, transforms Emersonian perfection in vital ways, as Augie transforms and revitalizes himself, thus keeping an inheritance of Transcendentalism alive and travelling onward. Many of Bellow’s critics have touched on his inheritance of American Transcendentalism, although few have explored this relationship in any sustained fashion, and none in connection to his inheritance of modern forms of travelling subjectivity. The first major attempt to document Bellow’s relationship to Transcendentalism is R. Michael Gold’s 1979 dissertation, “The Influence of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman on the Novels of Saul Bellow”. Gold links Bellow’s themes and preoccupations to those of the three principal Transcendentalists, by adumbrating several textual and thematic parallels. These parallels range from a shared preoccupation with notions of over-soul to “the axiomatic value of man [sic]” (60), to a mutual, anti-determinist design to waken neighbours and readers to a new life. Gold reads Augie especially as a “model of Emersonian self-reliance” (223) in his struggles to be self-determined. Augie’s deferral of a final arrival (in America, to a complete self) aligns him, too, according to Gold, with Thoreau’s project of self-emancipation: “the sailor or the fugitive slave”, writes Thoreau, “keeps the polestar in his eye; but that is sufficient guidance for all our life. We may not arrive at our port within a calculable period, but we would preserve the true course” (W 379; Gold 225). Augie escapes convention (a fugitive slave) according to Gold by navigating life after his own idea of morality rather than in line with the reality described to him by Grandma Lausch and others. Gold’s reading of Augie touches on my understanding of Emersonian selfhood in Bellow, although his thematic approach to Bellow forces him to be brief on selfhood. Further, Gold does not allow for the influence of the other in the Transcendental project of self-reliance, but describes Augie especially as entirely self-autonomous. I argue that the influence of the other is as necessary to Augie’s self-development as his own self-persistence. The value of Gold’s dissertation is his delineation of Bellow’s criticism of Emerson and Thoreau; Gold outlines several of
Bellow’s concerns regarding the easy perversion of transcendental idealism and his scepticism regarding the naïve optimism and overt didacticism of Emerson and his colleagues. Resembling my reading of Augie, Gold’s Bellow is open to the influence of the Transcendentalists, but refuses to be determined wholly by his antecedents. Prior to Gold, discussion of Bellow and Transcendentalism is brief and in passing. Keith Opdahl touches on the notion of over-soul in The Novels of Saul Bellow (1967) with only cursory references to Emerson: Augie’s axial lines are assumed to be Emersonian, but Opdahl gives no explanation (90). (I examine the axial lines of Augie March in this chapter’s section, “On Axial Lines”.) In Saul Bellow: In Defense of Man (1968), John Clayton writes in general terms of Bellow’s deployment of an over-soul, finding Whitman, but not Emerson, in Leventhal’s conclusion in The Victim that “everything . . . took place as if within a single soul or person” (151; Clayton 163–64). (I take it that Clayton has in mind the invocation of the over-soul in the opening lines of Whitman’s Song of Myself: “I celebrate myself, and sing myself, / And what I assume you shall assume, / For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” (1.1–3).) Clayton further links Whitman to the “transcendentalist glorification of the individual” (41) of Augie March, placing Augie in the Whitmanian tradition of setting the self against social conformity. Like Gold, Clayton leans heavily toward self-determination as defining of Bellow’s characters and the Transcendentalists at the expense of the external influence. Richard Chase also reads Augie in a similar light. Augie’s ongoing refusal of external determination agrees, says Chase, with Whitman’s “Song of Myself” (325)— Whitman’s line, “I resist any thing better than my own diversity” (16.349), expresses the transcendental resistance carried through Augie March and most of Bellow’s work. Chase, like Gold and Clayton, divides the world between internal and external forces and desires, and implies that Bellow inherits an emphasis on the internal from Whitman and the Transcendentalists. Stanley Trachtenberg also recognizes the division between external realities and internal ideals in Bellow’s work. Trachtenberg argues that Bellow’s characters respond to Emerson’s doubled world by taking on the character of the Luftmensch. The Luftmensch defies his disappointment in reality’s limitations, compared to his internal ideals, by “disguising his identity”:
Through disguise, as in dream, play, or wit, he can rebel against the limitations of reality he must begin by acknowledging, obtain the gratification he appears to renounce. Thus he maintains his limitless possibilities in a limiting world of fact by postponing final self definition. (“Saul Bellow’s” 37)
Certainly, Bellow’s characters postpone identity, although not, as I argue below, in precisely the terms suggested by Trachtenberg.9 Recent criticism continues to recognize an explicit connection between Bellow’s major concerns and those of Emerson and the Transcendentalists. The transcendentalist dualism of internal and external self-determination—M. Gilbert Porter calls it a “see-saw pattern” (“Is” 34)—is most often paralleled with Bellow. In “Is the Going Up Worth the Coming Down?” (1984), Porter outlines this dichotomy as one of pessimism and optimism, or respectively, Puritan determinism and Transcendental self-reliance. Bellow’s novels, for Porter, take on the “colorations of the American transcendentalists” when dealing, most consistently among several dichotomies, with the dualisms of individual and society, and actual and ideal Americas (23). Augie brims with Emersonian optimism, according to Porter, and resists the negative, conditioning forces of reality with his “affirmative vision” of a “good enough fate” (AM 28; Porter, “Is” 25).10 Augie’s propensity to restyle himself is not the Luftmensch’s avoidance of reality, as proposed Trachtenberg, but for Porter a process of self-improvement and creativity directly engaged with the external world. (The recognition of self-reliance as ultimately an engagement with the world, that self-reliance is not solipsistic, is an important element of my own reading of Bellow and the Transcendentalists, Emerson especially). M. A. Quayum’s Saul Bellow and American Transcendentalism offers by far the most sustained examination of Bellow’s inheritance of Transcendentalism. Quayum’s
9 Trachtenberg describes this “compromise with reality” as the struggle between universal and particular expressed in Whitman. Interestingly, Trachtenberg ultimately sees Bellow’s Luftmensch characters, Herzog especially, as alienated individuals, “duck[ing] and hid[ing]” with similar characters from Barth, Beckett, and Pynchon, who are ultimately paralysed by their mobility (61). I see the ongoing mobility of Bellow’s characters in a far more positive light, as an antidote to alienation and isolation and precisely as an act of ethical self-definition. I hesitate to view Bellow in the same vein as the writers cited by Trachtenberg. 10 Elsewhere, Porter traces a movement in Herzog from the negativity of existentialism to “Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman” (Whence 159); see also Porter’s “Hitch Your Agony to a Star” for a succinct survey of transcendental themes in Bellow’s fiction.
major contention is that Bellow’s characters share with Emerson and Walt Whitman in particular, a common vision of establishing a “middle ground” between the extremes of individualism and society (10; E 693). Guiding Quayum’s reading of Bellow is a passage from Bellow’s Atlantic Monthly article, “The Writer as Moralist”. Bellow sees a struggle between opposing ideologies in American literature: “At the present time there is a sort of struggle going on between the Squares and some other shape considered better, or, as I prefer to call it, between the Cleans and the Dirties” (59). The Cleans aim to preserve bourgeois values and community, while the Dirties want to elevate the individual to independence from society. This dichotomy leads to modern dehumanisation and Quayum argues that Bellow’s fiction attempts to make a balance somewhere between “clean” and “dirty” ideologies. Quayum’s study covers what he calls Bellow’s “vintage” novels, Bellow’s mature works beginning with Henderson the Rain King and ending with The Dean’s December (five novels in all). He dismisses Dangling Man, The Victim, and Augie March because Bellow himself feels that his early novels are too “‘cautious’ or ‘careless’ or ‘timid’” (4). In doing so, Quayum misses the emergence of Emersonian ideas in Bellow’s first two novels and the beginnings of Bellow’s resistance to modernist dichotomies. Further, by accepting Bellow’s critical view of Augie March, Quayum overlooks the novel’s significant reworking of Emersonian thought. More importantly, though, I find that Quayum’s text is in several ways out of keeping with Emerson’s thought and inattentive to the richness of Bellow’s work. Quayum’s study is essentially a list of citations and re-workings of passages and themes from Emerson and Whitman as they appear in Bellow’s novels. Quayum’s insistence on Bellow’s clean-dirty dichotomy as an Emersonian construct serves to paint Bellow as little more than an imitator of the Transcendentalists. No attention is given by Quayum to how Bellow adapts or transforms Emersonian thought in his novels; rather, Quayum aims only to show that Emerson’s thought is found in Bellow’s fiction. Quayum, I think, falls into the critical trap ridiculed by Emerson of attempting to determine who Bellow borrows his thoughts from, rather than addressing the “truth” of what Bellow writes (Emerson writes in “Quotation and Originality” of the “ridiculous . . . pains of the critic who should tell him where such a word has been said before” (Emerson’s 326)).
Quayum’s text, like Odysseus in his engagement with others, reduces Bellow’s novels to a single concept—“Bellow borrows Transcendental thought”—and effectively limits the travel of Bellow’s texts, closing them to further reading. In agreement with the critics I have cited above, Quayum sees Bellow’s protagonists caught within the dichotomy of external determinism and self-reliance and, as a path out of the dichotomy, in pursuit of the Emersonian purpose of “passage . . . into higher forms” (E 458). Bellow’s characters, especially Augie March, embrace the credo of The Victim’s Allbee, if not his general attitude: “if I’m tired of being this way I can become a new man” (204). I agree entirely with Quayum and the critics I have cited, that Bellow’s characters, Augie in particular, pursue a course of rebirth and conversion that is Emersonian in nature. I part ways with critics like Quayum, however, when they insist that Emersonian ascent escapes the tensions of self-reliance and determinism by choosing one pole of the dichotomy over the other. Emersonian perfection, I argue, avoids choosing one extreme over another: the perfectionist course is not solipsistic (self-reliant at the expense of the world), but neither is it open completely to the influence of community and social forces. Perfection is, in Bellow and Emerson, a process of self- reliance that depends for its advancement on the educating provocation of an other—that is, a process of continual rebirth that depends on both the self and the other. It is my contention that Bellow reads, or inherits Emerson in a way that is at odds with the reading of Emerson usually ascribed to Bellow by his critics. Bellow’s inheritance of Emerson closely parallels Stanley Cavell’s reading of Emersonian perfection (there are, of course, significant differences between the deployment of Emerson’s thought in Bellow’s fiction and in Cavell’s philosophy, differences I consider throughout my reading of Augie March). Cavell’s early work engages with the ordinary language philosophy of John Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein. A full elaboration of Cavell’s assessment of ordinary language philosophy’s implications is beyond the scope of this thesis.11 Briefly, Cavell understands ordinary language philosophy as a pursuit of self-knowledge. The philosophies of Austin and Wittgenstein having nothing new to say about selfhood itself, but rather have much to say about the activity of pursuing self-
11 On ordinary language philosophy, see Cavell’s Must We Mean What We Say? (1976), a collection of essays on Austin and Wittgenstein. Cavell’s “Politics as Opposed to What?” offers his personal assessment of his shift of emphasis from ordinary language philosophy to Emerson and Thoreau.
knowledge and selfhood. Self-knowledge—and the knowledge of others—is claimed through reflection on what I and the other say (or write, do, perform, and so on). Cavell’s attention is later drawn increasingly to the philosophical nature of Emerson’s and Thoreau’s writing (which is not to suggest that he moves away from Austin and Wittgenstein—their voices are still audible in Cavell’s later writing). Read in light of Emerson’s essays and, less often, Thoreau’s work (Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” and “Experience”, and Thoreau’s Walden are frequent touchstones for Cavell), the pursuit of self-knowledge and the knowledge of others is described by Cavell in terms of (moral) perfectionism. Cavell’s reading of Emerson and Thoreau’s perfectionism is addressed here, not as source or influence on Bellow’s fiction, but as a parallel exploration of self- evolution as travel. As I will show, Bellow goes beyond Cavell by pushing the work of Emerson and Thoreau in new directions, by incorporating repulsion in addition to attraction within the process of perfection. Cavell has insisted, over what amounts to several decades now, on what he calls “Emerson’s philosophicality”. As he notes, Emerson has been thought of generally in academic philosophy as an “amateur thinker”, incapable of philosophical rigour. For example, Bruce Kuklick’s The Rise of American Philosophy claims, as Cavell notes, that “philosophy proper” emerges in America only after Emerson’s amateur thought is rejected by Harvard academics as non-philosophical (Kuklick 5–27; Cavell, “Politics” 161). Cavell, however, claims Emerson and Thoreau as “underwriters” of ordinary language philosophy, who engage “philosophically” with the process of self-knowledge and self-formation. In his introduction to Emerson’s Transcendental Etudes, Cavell determines Emerson’s philosophicality by the ability of his writing (Emerson’s) to “register” its own self-movement. Emerson’s writings, as Cavell indicates, continually refer to the process of their own writing. Most prominent among a list of examples, an image to which Cavell refers to time and again, is that of Emerson in “Self-Reliance” writing of himself writing Whim on the “lintels of the door-post” (262; ETE 3). Emerson’s writing aims, according to Cavell, to think through its own process and to criticize itself, to strive to perfect itself or turn from the chagrin of the conformity of language: “every word they say chagrins us”, says Emerson (E 264). There is something
more, a nextness, in each word written or spoken than we know (than we recognize in conformity), just as every communication emits an unnoticed breath (E 266; ETE 94–95). Emerson’s writing, Cavell suggests, invites its own reading in a way that initiates a conversation with the reader: what is it in this text that is more than the text that exceeds the text? And in turn, what more inside the reader exceeds her? The Emersonian text thus reveals a gap between the self as it is and the self as it could be; and another gap between reality as it is—as defined by consensus, a chagrining reality—and a reality that exceeds the first. Recognition of bifurcated selfhood and reality prompts the journey of perfectionism. At the opening of Cities of Words, Cavell lists a number of thinkers (to which I append the fictional Augie March), who see reality as somehow divided, who see us caught in a doubled world of the sensible and the intelligible. Plato, Shakespeare, Kant, Ibsen, Freud and, most audibly, Emerson judge a difference between the world as it is and the world as it might or ought to be: “I know that the world I converse with in the cities and in the farms, is not the world I think” (E 491). The sensible world is invariably judged a disappointment, incapable of satisfying desire, and originates in the self an impulse to transfigure the world and its own being (CW 1–2). The moral calling of philosophy to raise the self and the world to higher forms is undertaken as a project of perfection by Emerson, as project of reading, writing, and conversation. I see Augie March engaged in a similarly perfectionist project inspired by the gaps he sees between the world around him and the world he desires for himself. Bellow has suggested that Augie responds to his disappointment in the world almost as a Luftmensch might. Although Augie recognizes the world’s bifurcation, he keeps himself on the move, travelling, to avoid confronting the gap between reality and his ideals. Interviewed for TriQuarterly, Bellow explains that his recollections of growing up in immigrant America led him to understand, as he says, “why Augie March himself was such an ingénu”:
he didn't want to acknowledge the worst; the fact is, he wanted to enjoy his situation, wanted to play the American naïf. There was a price to pay. He was unwilling to pay it.
TQ: Paying for it would have meant recognizing the unfinished quality of his world? Bellow: Yes, and its wickedness, rawness and vulgarity. He wanted to relish it, I think. He was a kind of ingénu. He didn't want to be bitter about it. Sad, yes. I think he expressed what was probably very genuine just then for adolescent Americans of immigrant background: the desire to embrace everybody, the desire for fraternity, the wish to be the lover of experience for its own sake, the lover of novelty. At any rate he did not intend to be disappointed. (“Interview” 209–10).
Bellow suggests that Augie, acting the artless naïf, keeps himself on the move to avoid encountering the rawness and vulgarity of reality, disguising himself in “various jobs” like the luftmensch. Augie, I say, does in fact recognize and confront the world’s unfinished quality, its awkward juxtaposition with his ideal reality: “simply to move around”, he says:
was in itself of no advantage. It was not only for me that being moored wasn’t permitted; there was a general motion, as of people driven from angles and corners into the open, by places being valueless and inhospitable to them. In the example of the Son of Man having no place to lay His head; or belong to the world in general; except that the illuminated understanding of this was absent, nobody much guessing what was up on the face of the earth. I, with my can of paint, no more than others. And once I was underway, streetcars weren’t sufficient, nor Chicago large enough to hold me. (160)
Augie, like Christ, is unable to find rest or stillness because he does not belong to the “real” world, but to another, envisioned ideal reality (a similar fraternal vision for both figures). Augie’s incongruity with the world is behind what he feels to be reality’s “inhospitality” and keeps him moving in search of his fraternal vision, despite a Chicago’s worth of reality. Of course, the inhospitable reality Augie describes needn’t correspond with any ultimate truth, but rests rather on consensus and conformity, on the reality of the crowd. Augie cannot conform and is unable to be at home in the world. (The reference to Christ’s vagrancy recalls St. Luke: “The foxes have holes, and the fowls of the heaven places of rest, but the Son of Man hath not where he may lay the head” (9.58)).
At times, Augie sounds as though he has simply given up and accepted consensual reality. As Augie’s adventures in Mexico with his lover Thea Fenchel begin to turn sour, Augie takes a clear view of doubled reality:
Everyone tries to create a world he can live in, and what he can’t use he often can’t see. But the real world is already created, and if your fabrication doesn’t correspond, then even if you feel noble, and insist on there being something better than what people call reality, that better something needn’t try to exceed what, in its actuality, since we know so little, may be very surprising. If a happy state of things, surprising; if miserable or tragic, no worse than what we invent. (378)
Augie’s recognition of a bifurcated world is clear; what draws attention most in Augie’s statement, though, is his apparent endorsement of the “real” world over any notions of something better. Augie sounds to have given up on his own advancement, and his disappointment in the world appears to have given way to a disappointment in himself as someone who can’t give himself to reality. His time with Thea has lead him to acquire a certain “moral cynicism”, by which Augie has given up on his notion of a better life and self in the face of an increasing gap between his desires and the demands of Thea and reality. Augie sounds to have embraced conformity. Augie’s resignation, however, is not complete; he subtly equates the real world that he “needn’t try to exceed” with “what people call reality” (378, my emphasis). As fatalistic as Augie appears at this point, his choice of words indicates that he still sees reality as a dissatisfying conformist construct: the world is what “people” say it is, rather than what I, Augie, hope it to be. Augie’s cynical state eventually proves a turning point when his cynicism is revealed to him, in a moment of reorienting crisis that brings his current state into question; his educative relationship with Thea prompts Augie to reform himself anew. As I indicated in Chapter Two, Levinas maintains that the self is brought into question by the Other. Augie’s crisis of selfhood is also other-induced, but varies from Abraham’s welcome of the Other in several important ways. Abraham welcomes the Other as infinitely other and without thematization, responding always me voici—“Here I am.” The infinite Other is more than Abraham’s finite self is capable of receiving: he is
inadequate to the Other and overwhelmed. On the other hand, Augie finds himself inadequate in the face of others, but uses that new knowledge to side with an “unattained but attainable self” (E 239). Augie’s others don’t overwhelm him, but provoke him to change and evolve, to become a new self. The evolution of selfhood once again takes the form of a journey: facing a crisis of self, Augie does not persist like Odysseus or simply open himself to the other like Abraham, but uproots and establishes a new self, elsewhere and otherwise. Augie’s journey between selves is reflective of the perfectionism Cavell reads in Emerson. Cavell offers no explicit definition of perfectionism because, as will become clear, perfectionism is not given to final completion. Perfectionism is not Odyssean in the sense that it has no final horizon within which it is grasped. In other words, perfectionism doesn’t come to an end or reach a stage of final perfection; it is a journey that doesn’t end. Without an end point or return home, perfectionism is in a way an Abrahamic journey. But Cavell uses the word perfection to show that each self along perfection’s journey is “final: each state constitutes a world (a circle, Emerson says) and it is one each one also desires” (CHU 3). The perfectionist journey thus also has an Odyssean element. Each self is only temporary and faced toward the next self, so that the Emersonian self hasn’t the totalizing permanency of Hegel’s Odyssean self. The Emersonian self remains open to the other like Abraham, but has enough stability to avoid being overwhelmed by the other. The continual onward movement of perfectionism and its lack of a final perfected telos—Emersonian perfectionism is “not a teleological theory at all”, says Cavell (CHU 48)—balances the violent possibilities of Odyssean egoism and Abrahamic openness to the other. Cavell maintains a similar balance in his reading of Emerson’s perfectionism by putting off a final definition of perfectionism, while at the same time exploring candidate features of perfectionism with an ear open to modification. In Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome, Cavell offers numerous “candidate features” of perfectionism drawn from Plato’s Republic (as I have indicated, the list is not conclusive, but open to modification and addition—that is, to rereading and further perfection):
Obvious candidate features are its [Plato’s Republic’s] ideas of (1) a mode of conversation, (2) between (older and younger friends), (3) one of whom is intellectually authoritative because (4) his life is somehow exemplary or representative of a life the other(s) are attracted to, and (5) in the attraction of which the self recognizes itself as enchained, fixated, and (6) feels itself removed from reality, whereupon (7) the self finds that it can turn (convert, revolutionize itself) and (8) a process of education is undertaken, in part through (9) a discussion of education, in which (10) each self is drawn on a journey of ascent to (11) a further state of that self, where (12) the higher is determined not by natural talent but by seeking to know what you are made of and cultivating the thing you are meant to do. (6–7)
Cavell lists near 30 possible features of perfectionism (providing a long, and open, list of texts, including novels, drama, and film, that show elements of perfectionism (5)) and fully expects additions, subtractions, and modifications of the list. Keeping the list of features above in mind, I intend to trace the elements of perfectionism informing Augie March’s adventures, focusing on the mode of conversation that takes place between Augie and his reality instructors: conversation is a key motivating factor in Augie’s journey of self-perfection. As I indicated above, I give particular attention to elements of perfectionism as they are inherited from Emerson in Augie March. I say “inherit”, because the journey of selfhood I trace in Augie March is not just a replication of the features listed above (although it is that, too); Augie’s self-perfection modifies and transfigures Emerson’s perfectionism (as I have said that inheritance must) in a significant way. Where Cavell sees Emerson’s subject drawn to the other as a better form of self and then motivated to ascend to a higher form of selfhood, I see Augie both drawn to and repelled by educating friends. In either case, attracted or repulsed, Augie recognizes that his present state is fixed and rigid, and in a crisis of selfhood, turns, or converts, to a new form of self. The bulk of this chapter is devoted to the educative relationships entered into by Augie on his journeys and the repelling or attracting provocations that motivate Augie to travel onward to a new self. His educative relationships will show how Bellow’s fiction modifies and develops Emerson’s perfectionism alongside the transfiguration of European modes of travelling selfhood (Odyssean and Abrahamic).
Instructions in Reality
Thoreau goes to a house to say with little preface what he has just read or observed, delivers it in a lump, is quite inattentive to any comment or thought which any of the company offer on the matter, nay, is merely interrupted by it, and when he has finished his report departs with precipitation.
Emerson on Thoreau
Ask what is best in our experience, and we shall say, a few pieces of plain-dealing with wise people. Our conversation once and again has apprised us that we belong to better circles than we have yet beheld; that a mental power invites us.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Considerations”
Animadversions and Pederasty
Educative conversations occur most often for Augie as he interacts with a procession of individuals he describes as “Machiavellis”. (Bellow drafted Augie March under the title “Life Among the Machiavellians” (“How” 17).) These are individuals hoping to “exert an influence” on Augie (118), and are lined up from his birth, “which is why”, Augie says, “I tell you more of them than of myself” (43). Each of the Machiavellis aim to teach Augie the ins and outs of reality: they “had a teaching turn . . . believing they could show what could be done with the world, where it gave or resisted, where you could be confident and run or where you could only feel your way and were forced to blunder” (67). Augie’s Machiavellis are similar to the reality instructors encountered in Herzog: “Reality instructors. They want to teach you—to punish you with—the lessons of the Real” (132). Like Herzog, as I show in Chapter Four of this thesis, Augie usually takes exception to the perspectives of his reality instructors, or, accepting their instruction, fails to persist long in the path laid out for him. Augie’s earliest instructions in reality are given to him by Grandma Lausch, a shrewd Machiavellian against whom Augie learns early resistance. Grandma Lausch is a boarder and no relation to the March family; the respectful, familial title doesn’t reflect
affection but marks, instead, Grandma Lausch’s self-established sovereignty as “grande dame” over the March household (11). Rebecca March (Mama) in particular bows to Grandma’s rule, had “surrendered powers to her . . . and took her punishment in drudgery” (10). Mama and feeble-minded Georgie serve as useful illustrations in the realization of Grandma’s duty to “wise up” (10) her charges, Simon and Augie, to the ultimate reality of life. Grandma Lausch tolerates the “lummoxy” love and kisses of Augie’s simple-minded brother, Georgie, and lets him lie in her lap, if only to teach the boys some sort of lesson:
“You [Georgie] know who’s good to you, who gives you gizzards and necks . . . Who makes noodles for you? Yes. Noodles are slippery, hard to pick up with a fork and hard to pick up with the fingers. You see how the little bird pulls the worm? The little worm wants to stay in the ground. The little worm doesn’t want to come out. Enough, you’re making my dress wet.” And she’d sharply push his forehead off with her old prim hand. (9–10)
Augie looks back on Grandma Lausch with a note of disapproval for using Georgie as an object lesson, as “one more animadversion” (10). Grandma Lausch wants Simon and Augie to learn that the weak are subject to the strong, and it is therefore always preferable to take a position of strength. Only the weak resort to love, and in “a fighting nature of birds and worms” (10), love comes off second best. Three wise monkeys posed on the sideboard confirm Grandma Lausch’s position on love: “The more you love people, the more they’ll mix you up. A child loves, a person respects. Respect is better than love. And that’s respect, the middle monkey [speak-no-evil]” (9). Simon is quickly sensible to the right crowds to move with, having discovered his own Machiavellian streak without Grandma Lausch’s assistance. Augie, however, refuses to relinquish love and affection, and establishes his earliest state of selfhood as someone who gives his own devotion freely to those who offer more than taciturn respect. Augie recognizes in others a “universal nobility” and gives his affections accordingly (29). Simon and Grandma Lausch, however, freely manipulate others to their own personal advantage. Occasionally, Grandma Lausch’s lessons on giving “affections too easily” (12–13) prove an accurate reflection of everyday reality. Augie is “an easy touch for
friendships” and readily takes up with Stashu Kopecs. Together they steal from their neighbours and try on “girls’ things swiped from the clotheslines” (12). Stashu soon shows that friendship given easily is quickly manipulated: Stashu gets a social leg-up by turning Augie over to a gang of young thugs. Even so, Augie defiantly rejects Grandma Lausch’s lessons and attempts to create for himself a fraternal reality, better than the Machiavellian one he finds himself in. Grandma Lausch’s lessons are indeed animadversions, but turn Augie’s mind—“animadversion” means literally a turning of the mind, or a conversion (OED)—in unexpected ways: Augie is repelled by Grandma Lausch and in the process turns himself to a new affectionate self. Grandma Lausch’s lessons begin to increase in severity. Augie observes a nervousness in Mama, and realises that “the old woman was ready to deliver her stroke” (50). As a rebuke for “all our difficulty, disobedience, waywardness, and unmindfulness of our actual condition” (51)—that is, for not embracing her model of reality—Grandma Lausch decides that Georgie must be sent to an institution. Her aim is to demonstrate her authority over the weak and loving, but her “shrewd pleasure” (51) soon becomes a quiet awareness that her power has been undone. A fall in the snow—“I saw her on one knee in the snowy passageway. Fallen” (54)—prefigures the final demise of her sovereignty and when she refuses to say goodbye to Georgie, in a final lesson on wise simian silence and respect, Grandma Lausch inadvertently completes a “change in the main established order” (55). Domestic power shifts to Simon, who eventually ousts the boarder-ruler in the same Machiavellian fashion that Grandma disposes of Georgie. After Georgie’s departure, “we had a diminished family life, as though it were care of Georgie that had been the main basis of household union and now everything was disturbed. We looked in different directions, and the old woman had outsmarted herself” (58). Grandma Lausch’s teaching reign closes having converted Augie to a path entirely divergent from her own. As Grandma Lausch’s reign enters its decline, Augie is taken under wing by a new reality instructor, wealthy real-estate broker William Einhorn. “William Einhorn”, says Augie, “was the first superior man I knew” (60). Augie’s description of Einhorn, and of his relationship with him, yields several discernible echoes of Emerson’s lecture, “Uses of Great Men”. In Emerson, “superior men” (617) serve to “introduce moral truths into the general mind” (624, my emphasis). As a great man, Einhorn teaches Augie important
truths—foremost, the importance of knowledge—and, if we push the connection to Emerson a little further, his lessons ought to be the “collyrium to clear [Augie’s] eyes of egotism” (E 626). Any egotism possessed by Augie at this point is still relatively nascent; Einhorn, in his own way, cures Augie of any potential of Odyssean self-centrism by provoking him to travel on to a new state of selfhood. Augie lists Einhorn among several other “superior men” from the past: “if I were really his disciple and not what I am”, says Augie with a bold “Nota Bene” on “if”:
I’d ask myself, “What would Caesar suffer in this case? What would Machiavelli advise or Ulysses do? What would Einhorn think?” I’m not kidding when I enter Einhorn in this eminent list. It was him that I knew, and what I understood of them in him. (60)
Augie is aware that his belief that “great men” can still be found in the mid-twentieth century does not agree with the prevalent Yeatsian outlook on the “dwarf end of all times” (60). (In Mr. Sammler’s Planet, Sammler’s niece Margotte dabbles with the work of Hannah Arendt, and concludes that “Modern civilization doesn’t create great phenomena any more.” (15)—“Enough, enough of this Weimar schmaltz”, her deceased husband had often told her (15–16)). For Augie, great individuals oughtn’t cause us shame in our comparison or prompt us to see ourselves defective in comparison to a golden past; great individuals still appear, as Emerson suggests, as representative of great ideas—as teachers. Augie thus feels justified to elevate Einhorn amongst the likes of Caesar and Ulysses and, importantly, “to let him be in the same bracket as Socrates” (75). Einhorn imagines himself as Socrates and Augie as Alcibiades. He regards Augie, like his ancient counterpart, as “strong as a bronco and rosy as an apple” (75), lover of many and actively seeking the devotion of others. Augie is “too frisky” (75) in his affections says Einhorn, and Einhorn’s invocation of Alcibiades is designed to teach Augie that, out of Einhorn’s company, he would quickly “fall a victim to the favors of the crowd” (Plato, “Symposium” 216b). Ostensibly to counter Augie’s shortcomings, Einhorn styles himself as Augie’s teacher, as the genius Socrates to raise Augie above his current state. Augie’s description of Einhorn renders him close to Socrates’ mould. Einhorn is paralyzed and wheelchair bound, and with reference to Hamlet (a text featured
in another lesson given Augie by his mentor) Einhorn reckons himself as ugly as Socrates—“I’m not even express or admirable in action” (75). Further, Augie’s emphasis on Einhorn’s nose—“his nose in constant action smelled, and smelled out everything” (72); and again, “his eager shrewdness of nose” (82)—hints further at Einhorn’s likeness to the “snub nose[ed]” Socrates (Plato, “Theaetetus” 143e). Augie is content, momentarily at least, to play Alcibiades to Einhorn’s Socrates, and in a virtuoso passage of historical allusion commends their ties to the ancient dialogists as a title as equal to the British kings’ claim to the Trojan Brutus (76). Einhorn, as Augie’s Socrates, may not present the crystalline form the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher sees in humanity (“Ye are Gods, you are crystalline, your faces are radiant!”), but offers something far greater than the number of macadam- and peperino-tempered pug-uglies Augie meets on his adventures (76). To Augie, Einhorn represents the strength of knowledge and action in the face of adversity and teaches him the value of learning (Augie receives Einhorn’s water-damaged set of Harvard Classics and commits himself to the gathering and application of broad knowledge. His voracious reading habits are the source of his wide-ranging historical and literary allusions throughout the novel). Beyond his lessons on knowledge, Einhorn is most like Socrates when Augie sees him “dominant and necessary, everybody’s lover” (83)—including Augie’s. Augie’s relationship with Einhorn is, as I read it, patterned after Socrates’ pederastic relationship with Alcibiades. I mean to suggest that the Socratic metaphor of ἔρος (eros) as educating dialogue structures Einhorn’s relationship with Augie. (I say that their relationship is structured by a metaphorical erotics, but keep in mind the scene where Einhorn has Augie take them to a brothel so that Augie can receive an early erotic education (121–24).) In the Symposium, Socrates and his companions agree to take turns speaking on eros and all agree that the most desirable form of love is that shared between an older dominant lover (ἐραστής) and a young and beautiful, receptive beloved (ἐρώμενος). Beauty, Socrates reports the priestess Diotima to say, relieves bodies pregnant with desire:
ὅταν μὲν καλῷ προσπελάζῃ τὸ κυοῦν, ἵλεών τε γίγνεται καὶ εὐφραινόμενον διαχεῖται καὶ τίκτει τε καὶ γεννᾷ: ὅταν δὲ αἰσχρῷ, σκυθρωπόν τε καὶ λυπούμενον συσπειρᾶται καὶ ἀποτρέπεται καὶ ἀνείλλεται καὶ οὐ γεννᾷ, ἀλλὰ ἴσχον τὸ κύημα χαλεπῶς φέρει. ὅθεν δὴ τῷ κυοῦντί τε καὶ ἤδη
σπαργῶντι πολλὴ ἡ πτοίησις γέγονε περὶ τὸ καλὸν διὰ τὸ μεγάλης ὠδῖνος ἀπολύειν τὸν ἔχοντα.
Whenever something pregnant draws near to beauty, it becomes glad and, rejoicing, it melts and begets and gives birth. But whenever it draws near to the ugly, frowning and distressed, it contracts and turns away and shrinks and does not give birth, but, holding in its progeny, bears it with difficulty. Hence, for the one who is pregnant and already swelling, there is much excitement about the beautiful because of the possibility of relieving the enormous labor pains. (206d–e; Edmonds 267)
By analogy, dialogue with a beautiful mind assists in birthing pregnant thought. Thus, although Socrates describes himself as a barren midwife in the Theaetetus (157c7–d2), the Symposium has been interpreted to say that Socrates uses dialogue to give birth to his own thoughts: Socrates penetrates the minds of his companions to relieve the pangs of his mental travail.12 Emerson appears to assume such an interpretation of Socratic eros when he speaks of great individuals introducing great ideas into our minds; and certainly Einhorn appears determined to impart his pregnant thought to Augie—“the learned signor . . . felt like passing out discourse” (72). Einhorn in fact, secretly hopes that his own thoughts will form Augie—he says when confronting Augie about his stint in robbery, “‘I don't ask you to take me for your model either,’ too well realizing the contradiction” (117). Socrates’ (non-)affair with Alcibiades serves to show, however, that in the Symposium, Socrates is in fact a dialogic mid-wife after all, who only aids the birth of Alcibiades’ and his fellow dialogists’ thoughts. This corrective reading of pederasty and dialogue in the Symposium (Edmonds), when applied to Augie and Einhorn, adds a complicated extra fold to their relationship. Although, as Augie writes of Einhorn, Alcibiades describes Socrates as ugly—like the satyr of Marsyas—he falls in love with Socrates; Socrates causes Alcibiades’ heart to leap and prompts him to recognize himself as deficient (216b–c). Socrates is to Alcibiades a true friend and teacher in the sense of Cavell’s Emersonian perfectionism. But Socrates deceives Alcibiades, the young man
12 Edmonds, in “Socrates the Beautiful,” outlines several arguments to the effect that Socrates is the progenitor of thought, before demonstrating that as per the Theaetetus, Socrates is indeed the barren midwife of thought in the Symposium. For arguments of Socratic mental penetration in the Symposium, see: Dover’s edition of the Symposium (151); Burnyeat’s “Socratic Midwifery”; and Neumann’s “Diotima’s Concept of Love” (further citations in Edmonds (265–66)).
claims, by pretending to be the ἐραστής, but in reality acting the ἐρώμενος instead (222b1–5). Whenever they are alone together, Socrates makes no attempt at intercourse with Alcibiades, effectively making Alcibiades the ἐραστής in pursuit of the beautiful Socrates. Socrates’ reversal of erotic roles is designed, Edmonds argues, to teach Alcibiades that the beauty of philosophic truth and knowledge must be pursued, not only received; the pursuit of Socrates in dialogue will allow Alcibiades to give birth to his own pregnant thought (Edmonds 276—or as Emerson writes, “The best discovery the discoverer makes for himself” (E 628)). Alcibiades fails to learn Socrates’ lesson and departs the symposium for a life of intrigue and infamy. Augie desires a relationship with Einhorn of mutual Socratic eros, to pursue his own knowledge with his teacher’s guidance and to receive knowledge directly from Einhorn on occasion. In this case, it seems that Einhorn the ἐραστής has failed to learn the lesson of Socrates. He freely impregnates Augie with his own discourse, styling himself as the “genius” to raise Augie up “nolens volens” (76—literally, “willing or unwilling”); but Einhorn is disinclined to play the ἐρώμενος to Augie, to learn from his pupil or measure himself against Augie. Augie, on the other hand is willing both to impart of himself and to receive from Einhorn. Augie’s openness and Einhorn’s closed nature are apparent in Augie’s further thoughts on working for his mentor:
What did I, out of all this, want for myself? I couldn't have told you. My brother Simon wasn't much my senior, and he and others our age had got an idea there was a life to lead and had chosen their directions, while I was circling yet. And Einhorn, what services he needed of me he pretty well knew, but what I was to get from him wasn’t at all clear. I know I longed very much, but I didn't understand for what. (84)
Augie, although not sure exactly what he is to receive, holds himself open—“yearns”—to be filled by Einhorn (to be his ἐρώμενος). At the same time, though, as Einhorn realizes, Augie has opposition in him. He won’t “just slide through everything” (117), but will challenge everything he is taught by Einhorn. He is willing to “venture as far as possible” (76) in pursuit of a good enough fate, not only to receive passively. That is, Augie engages, as far as Einhorn will let him, in dialogue, or conversation (a more Emersonian
word). Einhorn on the other hand, we are told, “pretty well knew” what he wanted from Augie—a repository for his own thought, an extension, essentially, of himself. Einhorn doesn't desire dialogue, but to instruct. Augie takes his instruction well, learning the value of knowledge. In addition, he learns from Einhorn to apply knowledge, to combine reflection with action. Einhorn “opens his mind” (74) to Augie on the lessons of Hamlet:
Augie, you know another man in my position might be out of life for good. There’s a view of man anyhow that he’s only a sack of craving guts; you find it in Hamlet, as much as you want of it. What a piece of work is a man, and the firmament frotted [sic] with gold—but the whole gescheft bores him. Look at me, I’m not even express and admirable in action. You could say a man like me ought to be expected to lie down and quit the picture. Instead, I’m running a big business today. (75)
Hamlet’s failing, for Einhorn, is that he is absorbed by reflection and paralysed by his own thought. Einhorn, although physically paralysed, turns his thoughts to action. As Augie continues on his journeys, he is rarely brought to a halt by difficult alternatives: he reflects on what he reads in others, and uses what he discovers to propel himself forward in new directions. Certainly Augie values Einhorn’s lessons, but soon finds himself restricted by what amounts to Einhorn’s mastery over him. The great individual’s influence, says Emerson, risks becoming oppressive: “We have become underlings and intellectual suicides” (E 627). Augie escapes Einhorn’s influence, not, like Alcibiades, because he is ashamed to be in his teacher’s presence, but because he is ashamed to let his selfhood be finally determined by another: other teachers represent new horizons and Augie moves onward to engage with a new reality instructor. Einhorn “yield[s] [his] place to other geniuses” (E 631). After Grandma Lausch’s lessons in respect and Einhorn’s instruction in knowledge and action, Augie is instructed in the advantage of class and tries on a form of selfhood given out by Mr. and Mrs. Renling. He is introduced to Mr. Renling as a potential salesperson for Renling’s sporting goods company. Renling looks Augie up and down, and in a Hegelian gesture of reduction asks, “Jehudim?”
Prospective house slaves from the shacks [says Augie] got the same kind of going over, I suppose, or girls brought to an old cocotte by their mothers for training. He had me strip my jacket so he could see my shoulders and my fanny, so that I was just about to tell him what he could do with his job when he said I was built right for his purpose. (129–30)
With some candour, Augie acknowledges that then, as with all of his dealings with the Renlings, “my vanity was more influential than my self-respect” (130). He accepts a well paying job in Renling’s saddle shop and soon opens his self-development completely to another’s influence—to the keen eye of Mrs. Renling. Mrs. Renling has greater plans for Augie. She dresses him in the best clothing, enrols him in the School of Journalism and pays his fees, coaches him in the protocols of the upper class, and has him seen in the right places with the right people: “Mrs. Renling wanted . . . to refine and school me every way . . . ‘I’ll make you perfect,’ she said, ‘completely perfect’” (130). Mrs. Renling’s notions of perfection are extracted from her aristocratic background; although she insists that she is “really an American” (131), she prides herself as a Luxembourg emigrant descended from several families of the Gotha. Augie is drawn, “stirred up at first, and enthusiastic” (130), to Mrs. Renling’s guiding light, and eagerly tries on his new upper class self. It takes him some time to recognize that the light cast by Mrs. Renling’s apparently crystalline fire—recalling Beecher’s excitement above—is ultimately “uneffectual” (Ham. I.v.90), “pale-fire” snatched arrantly from a distant Europe and misplaced in Augie’s America (AM 131; Tim. IV.iii.440–41). Augie’s fleeting reference to Timon of Athens, read in its full context, implies that Mrs. Renling’s selfhood is Odyssean, or Hegelian in nature; she absorbs part or all of the other, “adopts” the other to “consolidate what she was” (151):
The sun's a thief, and with his great attraction Robs the vast sea; the moon's an arrant thief, And her pale fire she snatches from the sun; The sea's a thief, whose liquid surge resolves The moon into salt tears; the earth's a thief, That feeds and breeds by a composture stol'n From general excrement; each thing's a thief. (Tim. IV.iii.439–45)
After willingly receiving from Mrs. Renling, Augie resists what he perceives as her attempts to borrow and confirm her self-identity from Augie. Augie is prompted to break finally with the Renlings when it appears that their relationship is to become permanent, that he may be finally determined:
Just when Mrs. Renling’s construction around me was nearly complete I shoved off. The leading and precipitating reason was that she proposed to adopt me. I was supposed to become Augie Renling, live with them, and inherit their dough. To see what there was behind this more light is needed than probably I can turn on. But first of all there was something adoptional about me. (150)
Augie has already given light to his need to cast off the Renlings: when Mrs. Renling proposes the adoption, Augie determines now to follow his self respect before his vanity. Mrs. Renling assumes that Augie is “like everyone . . . self-seeking” (153), and she is in essence correct, although not in the way she presumes. Mrs. Renling expects that Augie’s desire to make himself in high society outweighs his loyalty to his family and to his own individuality. Augie rejects the Renlings and the self Mrs. Renling designs for him because Augie is self-seeking, in search of a self he can respect. His search requires that he resist external determination: he may be influenced and provoked to change by the other, yes (“I had a lot to thank them for” (151)); but certainly not adopted to “consolidate what she [Mrs. Renling] affirmed she was” (151). Augie is again like Alcibiades, although Augie represents his ancient counterpart as he appears in Timon of Athens; Alcibiades willingly receives a portion of Timon’s gold, but “Not all [his] counsel” (IV.iii.130). Augie is in a similar position to receive some of Mrs. Renling’s influence, but declines the whole of her gifts, wealth, and counsel—“Offer him gold and he says, no, he chooses shit!” says Mrs. Renling (153). Another of Emerson’s lessons on the uses of great individuals is reflected in Augie’s rejections of the Renlings:
There is somewhat deceptive about the intercourse of minds. The boundaries are invisible, but they are never crossed. There is such good will to impart, and such good will to receive, that each threatens to become the other; but the law of
individuality collects its secret strength: you are you, and I am I, and so we remain. (E 628)
The Renlings’ influence on Augie is a valuable part of his self-growth, but ought not to infringe on the sovereignty of his selfhood; Augie’s best self-discoveries, as Emerson has said, are his own made in response to another’s dialogue. The Renlings’ guidance becomes oppressive like Einhorn’s lecturing and Augie sets another course, beginning construction of a new self. Lessons on respect, knowledge, and class notched on his belt, Augie is introduced by his brother Simon to the world of wealth, of the nouveau riche. Still moving in the Renlings’ circle, Augie is visited by Simon who announces his latest project: “I think I’m getting married soon . . . :
‘When? To whom?’ ‘To a woman with money.’ ‘A woman? An older woman?’ That was how I interpreted it. . . . ‘She’s about twenty-two, I’m told.’ ‘By whom? And you haven’t even seen her?’ (198)
Simon’s pragmatic view of marriage is striking; it is clear to Augie that his only motivation is money and that he will quickly see to it that Charlotte Magnus—his potential wife—will be sure to want him. It is equally clear that for Simon, selfhood is defined by wealth: he doesn’t think himself complete without money. Charlotte exists only as a source of capital in Simon’s mind and he can only think to describe her as a “woman with money” to Augie. Augie is initially opposed to Simon’s way of thought. But Simon is working on something for Augie as well, and has it in mind for him to marry Charlotte’s sister Lucy, who is due to inherit considerably more than Charlotte. Augie plays the game “to the full” (243) and finds himself “gone on her [Lucy]” (244). But by embodying the Magnus money-defined form, Augie feels disturbingly less himself: “I was at the end zone of my adaptability” (243). Even so, Augie feels to try on the Magnus style wholly before he determines if he wants or likes it (245).
Augie engages in such proficient “spoon-lickery” (245) that he soon acquires the Magnuses’s approval and Lucy’s love. Augie makes the fatal mistake, however, of putting friendship and devotion before social graces; after helping his friend Mimi Villars obtain an abortion, while forcing Lucy to wait to be escorted by him to a formal New Year’s event, Augie experiences a rare thing of having an unsatisfactory identity stripped from him before he can cast it off himself. Rumours of Augie’s infidelity spread thick and fast and Simon cuts Augie loose to protect his own interests: “This is where I shake you, Augie, before you do worse to me” (275). The Magnuses too deny Augie his identity as one of the wealthy élite. “You’re not what we had in mind for Lucy”, says Mrs. Magnus (280), effectively denying, or renouncing, precisely what Augie had until that moment been. Augie is in this instance, forced to see his present self, shaped by wealth, as inadequate—and stripped from him in any case. Finding himself unmade, Augie leaves Simon and the Magnuses behind to visit the Coblins for an early breakfast: “‘For the love of mike, let’s have pancakes. There’s nothing on the plate,’ said Coblin” (284). Augie sees himself, like Coblin’s dish, empty and “thrown for fair on the free spinning world” (285).
Conversation and Gaze: Thea and Caligula
Thrown for fair, Augie quickly searches out, as he later realizes he has always done, “whoever would give me cover from this mighty free-running terror and wild cold of chaos” (403). Augie enters into perhaps his most significant relationship in the novel with Thea Fenchel—significant because Augie receives from Thea his most provocative education yet and is able to express most fully how his selfhood develops in response to Thea’s provocations. Augie’s relationship with Thea bears some similarity to his friendship with Einhorn: both relationships are structured as an erotic exchange. This exchange takes place as a mode of conversation that prompts Augie, first, to fly from Thea’s one-sided talk (to undertake hasty travel). He is drawn, second, to self-change through conversion with Thea; and, third, is repelled by Thea when her mastering gaze
ends their conversation (Thea’s name is aptly related to the name of the Greek goddess of sight, the Titan Theia). Through this development, their spoken interactions shift, as it were, from a tone of romantic comedy to a mood verging on melodrama and tragedy. These different modes of speaking with (and speaking in spite of) another, have analogues in the thought of Emerson and Cavell. I intend to show here the role of conversation in the evolution of the travelling self that I have been extracting from Augie’s adventures. Thea makes a brief, but memorable, appearance early in the novel during Augie’s tenure with the Renlings. Augie accompanies Mrs. Renling to Benton Harbor on several occasions and finds himself there smitten with Thea’s sister, Esther Fenchel. Mrs. Renling assumes Augie to be taken with Thea and warns him that his crush can only lead to defeat: emboldened by Mrs. Renling’s misreading of his affections, Augie persists in his course. He brings his pining for Esther to an impulsive head, described with comic brevity by Bellow. Augie asks Esther if she would accompany him to the House of David: “They have dancing every night”:
I saw nothing but failure, from the first word out, and felt smitten, pounded from all sides. “With you? I should say not. I certainly won’t.” The blood came down out of my head, neck, shoulders, and I fainted dead away. (142)
Still hopeful, Augie sits alone on a swing and imagines Esther returning to tell him she has changed her mind—only to be approached by Thea Fenchel instead. Thea’s first conversation with Augie is brutally honest but delightfully punchy. Thea checks Augie’s wellbeing, casually noting his fainting spell, and suggests that Esther’s rejection was inspired by Augie’s current occupation: “She thinks that you service the lady you’re with”:
“What?” I cried out and jumped from the seat and gave myself a crack on the head against the dowels of the swing. “That you’re her gigolo and lay her. Why don’t you sit down? I thought I should explain this to you.” (144)
Thea does her best to calm Augie, to convince him that his profession does not distress her as it does Esther. Augie becomes aware of her “hot, prompt . . . and nearly imploring face” that fills him with “as much concern as admiration”.
“You don’t really believe I’m Mrs. Renling’s gigolo, do you?” “I’ve already told you I wouldn't care if you were.” “Sure, what difference should it make to you!” “No, you don't get it. You’ve been in love with my sister and following her around, so you haven’t noticed that I’ve been doing exactly the same to you.” “You’ve what?” “I’ve fallen in love with you. I love you.” “Go away. You don't. It’s just an idea. If it’s even an idea.” (145–46)
Augie’s exchange with Thea is striking here for its vivid contrast with their later conversations. Here, the tone is comedic, contrasting Augie’s rising distress at being misrepresented with Thea’s calm directness. There is also a discernible eroticism behind Augie’s anxiety: Thea’s hot, prompt face is “delicate but also full of strong nerve . . . as when you see birds battling, like two fierce spouts of blood” (145). Augie does his best to bury the heat and blood of arousal—“one of those innocent male ideas probably” (145)— to turn away from Thea altogether. Indeed so desperate is Augie to escape, he invokes Mrs. Renling in a moment of apostrophe, turning away from Thea’s approach and from the reader: “She took my hand and drew it to her, leaning toward me from the hips, which were graceful. Oh, Mrs. Renling over whom I thought I had triumphed because her suspicions were so misplaced!” (146). Augie’s “oh” has the effect of transporting Mrs. Renling directly into an erotic moment; Augie, threatened by Thea’s arousing face, would rather be constituted precisely as Mrs. Renling’s lover or gigolo, than to accept Thea. Augie, once again, refuses to be determined by another. While Augie is still in love with Esther, any kind of erotic exchange or intercourse with Thea would be unidirectional; Thea can only perform a monologue. With Thea, Augie can only, figuratively speaking, play the role of the desired and penetrated, the other-determined ἐρώμενος. To maintain his own self-determination, Augie places distance between himself and Thea: “And as she wouldn’t stay put I had to escape from the swing and get
away in the orchard. . . . I wasn’t going to talk to her now” (146). The possibility that they may yet come together is not denied by Augie—“I wasn’t going to talk to her now”—and their union, as Augie later suggests, is only delayed, never truly threatened. For the time being, Augie maintains himself by taking a new line of flight, a hasty journey, away from Thea. (Simultaneously, he takes flight too from his determining relationship with Mrs. Renling, momentarily embraced in apostrophe.) Thea will never be far behind and her declaration to Augie on the swing launches (as per Northrop Frye’s account) a new comedic plotline: for the next one hundred pages or so, Augie March is driven by the steady dismantling of obstacles, all Augie’s, to Thea’s union with Augie. Frye’s archetypes of narrative are invoked here, not to define Augie March in a reductive manner as “comedy”. Rather, reading Augie’s interactions with Thea as initially comedic is intended to emphasise the importance of conversation with another in the development of selfhood in Augie March. In his analysis of a particular mode of comedy in Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Remarriage Comedy, Stanley Cavell sees the chief end of romantic union or marriage, and thus the chief end of comedy, as conversation.13 “Talking together”, writes Cavell, “is fully and plainly being together, a mode of association, a form of life” (88); conversation is a relationship of nextness. Couples speak bi-directionally, and conversation effects conversion and rebirth in both partners, prompting both to move toward a new form of self. Thea’s attempt to talk to Augie, like many of his “conversations” with reality instructors, is one sided—a lecture— because Augie is unable yet to respond to Thea’s romantic demands. Thea can only repulse Augie. Augie’s inner obstacles to full conversation with Thea are eventually overcome. Esther is almost immediately forgotten and Augie soon takes up with Sophie Geratis. After a near fatal stint as a union organizer, Augie is finally united with Thea. She tracks him down through a private detective and boldly interrupts one of Augie’s trysts with Sophie to re-enter his life. Augie soon recognizes that his movements have been all the
13 Cavell is referencing John Milton’s The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1644): “And what [God’s] chief end was of creating woman to be joined with man, his own instituting words declare, and are infallible to inform us what is marriage and what is no marriage, unless we can think them set there to no purpose: ‘It is not good,’ saith he, ‘that man should be alone. I will make him a helpmeet for him’ (Genesis 2:18). From which words so plain, less cannot be concluded, nor is by any learned interpreter, than that in God’s intention a meet and happy conversation is the chiefest and noblest end of marriage” (bk. 1, ch. 2; qtd. in Cavell, Pursuits 87).
while toward Thea, “my real objective of days” (309). The consummation of their romance seems inevitable, the fulfilment of “prophecy” (310) and their lovemaking, as I read it, represents a moment of Emersonian conversation and conversion. For Augie, making love with Thea is vastly different to his experiences with other partners:
She didn’t delay, or seem to hurry either. As if studying deeply from a surrendered mind, and with her lips, the hands and hair, the rising bosom and legs, without the use of any force, presently it seemed as if an exchange or transfer had happened of us both into still another person who hadn’t existed before. There was a powerful feeling of love. And so finally, as if I had been on my bent knees in what’s supposed to be an entirely opposite spirit, praying, with my fingers pressed together, I think it would have been no different from what I felt come over me with the fingers not together but touching her on the breasts instead. My . . . face . . . lay between, and her arms were around my neck (311)
Augie’s earlier conversation with Thea on the swing at Benton Harbor initiated Augie’s flight, precisely because conversation was not yet possible. Augie’s second conversation with Thea in the form of sexual intercourse—“conversation” and “intercourse” are equivalent in meaning and conversation still carries the meaning of sexual intimacy (OED)—now ends Augie’s flight in his rebirth as a new person and new self. Augie’s rebirth, or conversion, takes place through a doubling. His exchange with Thea, he says, results in a new person “who hadn’t existed before”: this new person can be understood as a new Augie or a new Thea, or, conversely, a newly whole being incorporating both Augie and Thea. Their conversation, as David Goldblatt writes of Cavellian conversation, incorporates a duality within a single entity (467–68): Augie is incorporated into a unity with Thea, but still (somehow) maintains his independence. This is apparent in the persistence of Augie’s “I”—“I think . . . I felt . . . my face . . . my neck”—and in his ability to stand next to and describe this newly born person. Augie’s sexual conversation with Thea is in a literal sense ecstatic (ἔκστασις: “out of place”)— Augie is beside himself, as Thoreau puts it, “in a sane sense” (W 429). Thoreau describes several moments of doubling and self-consciousness like Augie’s in Walden:
I only know myself as a human entity; the scene, so to speak, of thoughts and affections; and am sensible of a certain doubleness by which I can stand as remote from myself as from another. However intense my experience, I am conscious of the presence and criticism of a part of me, which, as it were, is not a part of me, but spectator, sharing no experience, but taking note of it; and that is no more I than it is you. (429)
Augie, like Thoreau, finds himself next to himself—that is, he neighbours a new self. This new self, revealed to him through the prayer, not of clasped hands, but of bodies pressed together (bodies next to each other), draws Augie from his current self and enables him to fashion a new being (W 429; Cavell, Senses 102–05). Augie’s sexual conversation with Thea precipitates the emergence of a new self and takes part in the Emersonian mode of self-education I have been describing above. Augie believes himself to know “much better what I myself wanted” (318), in what direction to develop his selfhood, as a result of finding love with Thea. He is able to fully embrace Thea precisely because their interaction is one of conversation and not lecturing, true Socratic eros and not the Alcibidean hierarchy of eros exemplified by Einhorn. As always for Augie, it becomes painfully clear that he will not be able to maintain his conversation with Thea; several relational crises will eventually repel Augie once more from Thea and force him to convert to a new self against his lover. When she finds Augie, Thea is married and on her way to Mexico to finalize divorce proceedings. She assumes that Augie will join her and as a further pretext for visiting Mexico hatches a scheme to train an eagle “in falconry” (319) and hunt iguanas in the desert. Together they plan to produce films and articles for National Geographic and similar publications. Augie is “city-bred” and knows of eagles only in their iconic representations. He has heard a cousin of Grandma Lausch recite Mikhail Lermontov’s “The Eagle”, “which I didn’t dig” (332–33). Lermontov’s verse is worth citing here: although Augie claims not to have taken to the poem in any way, its sentiment prefigures the repressive turn his relationship with Thea takes in Mexico. To my knowledge, there is no poem whose title translates as “The Eagle” among Lermontov’s works: the closest by title is his “Two Falcons”, but it is likely that Augie has in mind a brief poetic passage from Lermontov’s novella, A Hero of Our Time (1841): “‘You, too, are an exile,’ I reflected. ‘You wail for your wide spacious steppes! There you had room to unfurl your
cold wings, while here you are stifled and cramped like an eagle that beats with cries against the bars of an iron cage’” (33). When Augie and Thea purchase their eagle in Texas, the bird is introduced, fiercely Ethonian by Augie’s description and yet Promethean too, bound in Lermontov’s cage (331). Eventually it will be Augie who feels caged by Thea, yearning for wide and free steppes. The pair’s relationship with the eagle patterns their own relationship in complex ways. Augie names the eagle Caligula, mishearing the Spanish águila (eagle) on their arrival in Mexico. The name is suitable, in any case, reflecting less an imperial, or cruel nature, but rather a stubborn opposition to norms and expectations. Thea hopes to tame a monster, to manipulate and control the imperial bird’s bloody Caligulisms and ultimately exert her own power. Augie connects her “noble” project to the “earliest times in the great venture of domestication” (344), audibly echoing Odysseus’ domesticating project of oikos-, or domus-centred action. (Caligula is literally tamed between the four walls of home (AM 334–35; TI 131).) Thea’s project fails, though, when Caligula, like Augie, and like his subversive Roman namesake, refuses to conform to Thea’s reality. Thea tames Caligula on scraps of meat and trains him to fly after lures of chicken and turkey—“she was mad about him for his progress” (334). But it is left to Augie to master Caligula thoroughly, carried on his arm for two straight days so that the bird can be hooded. During this close intimacy with the eagle, Augie struggles under Caligula’s gaze to maintain his unique selfhood. “O observation!” recalls Augie:
We had our struggle on that very thing, it appears to me. The conversation with Thea about living under the eyes of others, I’ve reported.14 When has such damage been done by the gaze and so much awful despotism belonged to the eyes? Why, Cain was cursed between them so he would never be unaware of his look in the view of other men. And police accompany the accused and suspects to the can, and jailers see their convicts at will through bars and peepholes. Chiefs and tyrants of the public give no relief from self-consciousness. Vanity is the same thing in private, and in any kind of oppression you are a subject and can’t
14 With reference to Rousseau, Thea gives Augie an early warning, similar to Grandma Lausch’s, on the dangers of seeking the love of others indiscriminately: “What makes me say these things is that I see how much you care about the way people look at you. It matters too much to you. And there are people who take advantage of that. They haven’t anything of their own and they’ll leave nothing for yourself. They want to put themselves in your thoughts and in your mind, and that you should care for them. It’s a sickness” (318). Thea is essentially right, as Augie realizes; ironically their relationship ends precisely because Augie is caught under Thea’s eye and mastered by her gaze.
forget yourself; you are seen, you have to be aware. In the most personal acts of your life you carry the presence and power of another; you extend his being in your thoughts, where he inhabits. Death, with monuments, makes great men remembered like that. So I had to bear Caligula’s gaze. And I did. (335)
Augie describes a painful and discomfiting self-awareness under Caligula’s gaze. Like the biblical Cain, always aware of himself through the other’s awareness of him, Augie is unavoidably cognizant of his subjectivity under Caligula’s observation. There is no relief from his self-consciousness, suggesting that self-consciousness engendered through the gaze of another is in some way painful or undesirable. Again like Cain, and like prisoners watched, the gaze of the other accents imperfections, flaws, and most alarmingly, mortality. (Cain fears that he will lose his life when seen by others (Gen. 4.14).) The gaze, in a sense, effects the death of the subject: Caligula’s observation fixes Augie as he is (flawed, mortal), disallowing him the possibility of becoming what he could or ought to be. Caligula, “his being in [Augie’s] thoughts”, penetrates him (as Einhorn attempted to earlier) and masters Augie. Augie’s journey of selfhood is brought to a halt (momentarily) under Caligula’s eye; his discomfiture of self-consciousness stems ultimately from the fact that his self is not his own but Caligula’s. Little surprise that Augie imagines setting Caligula free and on occasion wishes “he would drop dead” (344). Augie’s relationship with Thea shifts from one of conversation to one of gaze (Thea’s) as Thea fails to train Caligula (to hold him in her eye). The pair introduce Caligula to live prey: they tie a lizard, larger than usual, to a stake with fishing line and loose Caligula. Before Caligula can dispatch his prey, the lizard turns and latches its jaw to the eagle’s thigh: “Caligula made a noise. I don’t believe he had ever in his life been hurt and his astonishment was enormous” (348). To Thea’s frustration, Caligula leaves off his prey and refuses to kill it finally. “Oh, that damned crow! Get him out of my sight!” says Thea; she is unaware that Caligula has, in fact, already escaped her mastering gaze by refusing to inhabit the role Thea envisions for him. She and Augie continue to train Caligula and eventually prepare to take him out in the desert to hunt large iguanas without the benefit of fishing line and miniature prey.
Once again, Caligula fails to perform to Thea’s expectations. Caligula dives on an iguana only to be dealt a second bite, this time to the neck. Caligula refuses to give further chase and lands, “beating his wings” until the reptile’s thrashing fades from earshot (354). Thea calls him ‘crow’ once more, and a ‘chicken’, and turns from him angrily: “At his fraud, that he should look such a cruel machine, so piercing, such a chief, and have another spirit under it all” (354–55). Caligula refuses to sit within Thea’s gaze, and defines himself an altogether different bird to the image Thea holds. Despite all her efforts to train Caligula up to her view of him, Thea’s sight, her gaze, fails in its mastery. After a final failure, in the course of which Augie takes a horse’s hoof to his head, Thea ships Caligula to a zoo—re-caged and held permanently in the eyes of tourists—and shifts her gaze to Augie. Their spoken and sexual conversations both end with Thea’s preference for mastery through sight. Thea has already given some indication that her connection with Augie is (or may easily be) determined by her gaze. Augie arrives at her apartment for their first tryst bloodied and bruised from an encounter with union thugs. Thea does not notice his wounds until later, when she is first able to observe. She is concerned for Augie but cares little as to how he got his injuries: “For while I was not with her, where I was intended to be, it didn’t make much difference where I was. All intervening things and interferences were of the same unreal kind and belong—out there” (311). After Caligula is banished and while Augie nurses his head injury, Thea tends to Augie persistently; “she didn't want me to be alone and I insisted that she go out” (364). For Thea, Augie does not exist in any meaningful way out of her sight. From the moment Augie insists that he be out of Thea’s sight, their relationship begins “slipping. . . . Thea and I were not satisfied with each other” (369). Invariably, the hiccups in their relationship occur when Augie escapes Thea’s gaze. She returns on one occasion from a solo hunting trip late in the evening, but Augie remains in town until the next day, busy with a card game. “Where were you!” she charges Augie (370). Thea hopes to rectify their relationship by taking a trip to Chilpanzingo and Augie agrees, still hoping for the best. Before they leave, Augie helps a friend, Stella, to escape from her lover by driving her out of town; his gesture precipitates the end of his relationship with Thea. Thea is adamant that he should not go, implying that Stella is manipulating him.
Augie insists in any case, and when the car breaks down in the mountains—far from Thea’s sight—Augie spends the night making love to Stella. On his return, Thea has imagined everything correctly: “We’re washed up—washed up! It’s all finished, Augie. We made a mistake. I made a mistake” (392). Her mistake, as she sees it, was to think Augie any different to others, to think him special. Like Caligula, he is a disappointment and a phoney for failing to match her image of him. She had always felt alone, she tells Augie, and thought that if “I could get through to one other person I could get through to more” (396, my emphasis). Augie, she hoped, would be the special one she could get through to, who in turn would make her whole. Ultimately he fails to do so. Behind Thea’s genuine hurt and upset, lies the same penetrating and thematizing power of Caligula’s gaze and an Hegelian notion of self. She cannot let Augie out of her sight because her self-wholeness depends on being able to penetrate Augie, to find herself through him by possessing him. Thea attempts to possess Augie and Caligula by reducing them both to a particular image. Both resist and when Thea realizes she is unable to pin Augie with her gaze—unable, too, to possess herself—she finally eliminates Augie from her sight altogether: “I don’t want to see you anymore” (396). Augie has been repelled by Thea’s gaze, where he was initially attracted by their conversation. Their conversation had initiated a change in selfhood and the appearance of a new person (311), and now returned to his journeying ways (he has been still for some time, caught in Thea’s gaze) Augie undergoes another change of self, this time turned away and repelled from Thea. Through Thea, Augie realizes that his current state of selfhood is inadequate and far from what he hopes it to be. To his surprise, Augie recognizes some truth in Thea’s accusations, that far from being affectionate to all, he in fact throws his affections about to anyone who can give him something in return, some sense of self: “While as for me, whoever would give me cover from this mighty free- running terror and wild cold of chaos I went to, and therefore to temporary embraces. It wasn’t very courageous. That I was like many others in this was no consolation” (403). Augie is ashamed to discover that, rather than possessing the unconditional love of his mother, he instead manipulates others for self-gain, like Grandma Lausch: “I was sick of myself”, says Augie (401).
Augie has, he realizes, been recruiting others to sustain him, arrantly thieving his pale fire from others like Mrs. Renling—even while resisting the light of the other’s gaze. Once again he sets a new course and attempts to reform himself (his self). His reformation is away from Thea and back on the road, realigned with what he calls the axial lines of life. His realignment sees him drawn into the influence of two final reality instructors, Mintouchian and Basteshaw, before he makes a last realization on the evolution of selfhood. The value of his “final” realization lies in its resistance to finality: there is no end to the evolution of self in Augie March.
On Axial Lines: Mintouchian and Basteshaw
In a “lengthy declaration” made to Clem Tambow toward the end of the novel, Augie describes “the axial lines of life”:
“I have a feeling,” I said, “about the axial lines of life, with respect to which you must be straight or else your existence is merely clownery, hiding tragedy. I must have had a feeling since I was a kid about these axial lines which made me want to have my existence on them, and so I have said ‘no’ like a stubborn fellow to all my persuaders, just on the obstinacy of my memory of these lines, never entirely clear.” (454)
Augie is vaguely aware of a pivotal through-line around which all his movements somehow orbit; no matter his propensity for sudden and complete change, Augie’s travels and actions are guided by an unconscious Goethean nucleus of selfhood, described by Augie as axial lines. Returning to Augie’s opening paragraph, Augie’s awareness of an imprinted form is recognizable in his reference to Heraclitus—“a man’s character is his fate [ἦθος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων]” (3). Augie’s ethos appears fixed by his impression of daimonic axial lines and he appears at this point, talking to Clem, to turn inwards in order to perfect himself (this turn will not last): “All I want is something of my own, and bethink myself [sic]” (456).
The view of selfhood as an inner truth is espoused to Augie, although in a form he cannot quite accept, by Mintouchian, eminent lawyer and “a friend of a friend of Stella” (477). Augie has reunited with Stella after returning to Chicago from Mexico and the two are engaged to marry before Augie ships out with the Merchant Marine. While Stella shops with Mintouchian’s mistress Agnes, Augie listens to Mintouchian’s thoughts on love and life in the steam of a Turkish bath. For Mintouchian, all love is adultery (483).15 External expressions of love—of conversation—are all lies, concealing deeper truths: an individual’s true self is transformed, distorted and rephrased through conversation— “Even in a few minutes’ conversation, do you realize how many times what you feel is converted before it comes out as what you say?” (484)—until the individual’s true nature and desires are forgotten. The human individual is like Odysseus returned to Ithaca in disguise, only Mintouchian’s Odysseus forgets what he came for and sits camouflaged and motionless by Ithaca’s gates: “From telling different things to everyone, [the individual] forgets what the case is originally and what he wants himself. How rare is simple thought and pureheartedness!” (485). Augie, still smarting from the truths taught to him by Thea, responds that he has done his best to be true to what he is, to the axial lines. He fears the possibility, however, that what he truly is may not, as Thea’s lessons taught him, prove “special” or good enough (396, 485). “I suppose”, he says to Mintouchian, “I better, anyway, give in and be it. I will never force the hand of fate to create a better Augie March, nor change the time to an age of gold” (485). Augie sounds here no optimist, and no transcendentalist either: he is resigned to let fate determine him completely and aims to repress his desire to form himself according to his own will. I have argued that Augie’s selfhood takes part in a process of Emersonian perfection, but here Augie seems to bring the entire process to a halt by turning himself over to the thematizing power of fate and the axial lines. Augie’s resignation is temporary, however, and he is soon attracted to a better self—and later repelled by a worse—prompted to reform himself yet again.
15 A similar view is expressed in Herzog by another lawyer, who Herzog also meets in a steam bath, Sandor Himmelstein: “We’re all whores in this world, and don't you forget it” (92). See “Lawyers and Lovers: Himmelstein and Ramona”, in Chapter Four below, where I read Himmelstein as an Odyssean who attempts to push an Abrahamic mode of being onto Herzog.
Stella and Agnes are delayed, and Augie returns home with Mintouchian and meets Mrs. Mintouchian. Augie introduces himself as Mintouchian’s client and Mrs. Mintouchian responds with an unexpected lesson on self-knowledge:
“I don't expect you to tell me anything,” she said, “I know that Harold [Mintouchian] has his secrets. I mean, he thinks he has. I really know all about him, because I think about him all the time. It isn’t so hard if you spend all your time thinking about somebody. I don't have to leave this room.” I was astonished. I felt my eyes get wider. (487)
Mrs. Mintouchian teaches Augie that the internal self, no matter its disguises, is still accessible to the external other (she plays something of a Eurycleia to Mintouchian’s disguised Odysseus). Augie’s astonishment suggests that, more than Mintouchian’s lessons, Mrs. Mintouchian’s have struck closest to the truth, closest to his experience. Augie has experienced the ability of the other to know him, to define him (if only partially), and reformed and developed his selfhood in response to the other on many occasions. Grandma Lausch, Einhorn, Thea and others, have penetrated Augie’s mind and soul—his secret self—hoping to exert an influence, and have succeeded, if not as they had hoped. Augie’s propensity to change himself, to develop and grow, is always in response to another’s repulsive or attractive teaching. Despite Augie’s claim made to Mintouchian in the baths, his attempts “to become what I am” (485) have always been shaped by the influence of others. Contrary to Mintouchian’s contention that conversation conceals the self, Augie has found that conversation allows him to become himself, or better yet, to become a new self. At the beginning of this chapter I discussed the tone of self-determination prevalent in the first paragraph of Augie March, where Augie announces by way of Heraclitus—“a man’s character is his fate” [ἦθος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων] (3)—that he and his fate, his daimōn, are determined by his internal self-truth (ethos) alone. There is, I think, more to Augie’s citation however, and if it is recalled that Augie’s beginning lines are written after his adventures, the lessons learnt from the Mintouchians are readily discernible in Heraclitus. According to Giorgio Agamben’s gloss of ἦθος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων, daimōn does not indicate simply or solely a predetermined truth or fate. Instead, daimōn’s
etymological connection to the verb daiomai—“to divide, lacerate”—leads Agamben to describe daimōn as “the lacerator, he who divides and fractures” (118). For Agamben, the complexity of Heraclitian character [ethos] lies in its predication on the division of character: “Man [anthropos] is such that, to be himself [ethos], he must necessarily divide himself [daimōn]” (118). Agamben’s reading aligns Augie’s aphorism with the central element of Heraclitian thought, the doctrine of flux, expressed famously in the maxim, “ποταμοῖσι τοῖσιν αὐτοῖσιν ἐμβαίνουσιν ἕτερα καὶ ἕτερα ὕδατα ἐπιρρεῖ” ‘On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow’ (B12). In the sense that a single river is formed by constantly changing waters, an existent, or human self, similarly remains itself while simultaneously in flux and endlessly divided: like the river, the self (Augie’s self) persists by changing its contents. Augie, I have shown, is in a constant state of self-flux, divided and lacerated by the influence of others, particularly Thea. Augie also takes on widely varying occupations in his fluctuant state: “Saying ‘various jobs,’ I give out the Rosetta stone, so to speak, to my entire life” (28). I have touched on a few of his occupations: he is several times a thief; becomes a purveyor of purloined textbooks; works grooming dogs; as a coal merchant; in countless sales positions; pockets small change as a Christmas store-elf; joins the Merchant Marine; lives as a hobo; manages a boxer; becomes a union organizer; and, importantly, tries his hand at falconry with Thea in Central Mexico. Change is Augie’s single consistency, and precisely that which defines his selfhood. Although he strives to be true to the axial lines, to his daimōn, as he tells Mintouchian, he is also malleable and open to the influence of the other—willing to discover (or reinvent) himself through conversation. His wide-eyed astonishment at Mrs. Mintouchian’s brief lesson is his recognition of the deep influence and knowledge so many others have of him. Augie is not done, after the Mintouchians, with learning and has a final life- threatening encounter with the ultimate Machiavellian. Through this encounter, Augie realizes that, no matter that others have an unavoidable influence on his self- development, he must maintain his resistance to the other if only to protect himself from the other’s hand. Shortly after his wedding to Stella—“Two days of honeymoon were all we had” (491)—Augie ships out with the Merchant Marine as purser on the Sam MacManus. Augie establishes himself as something of a “ship’s confidant” (493) and
comes to know many of the crew intimately. His new self-styled occupation is cut short, however, when the MacManus is torpedoed; Augie makes it to a single-oared lifeboat and shares it, drifting, with ship’s carpenter Hymie Basteshaw. Their isolated relationship gets off to a rocky start: Augie helps Basteshaw into the boat, but Basteshaw, concerned only for himself, fails to return the favour and leaves Augie to clamber into the boat alone. This is not the last time that Augie’s life is endangered by Basteshaw. “There was nothing to do”, says Augie, “but sit and drift” (496)—and talk. Basteshaw turns out to be a “psycho-biophysicist” (503) keeping up his scientific experiments, rejected by six universities at least, while at sea. He has, he claims, created life in a test-tube, and only recently, on the MacManus, produced cells capable of reproduction. From his study of cells, Basteshaw hopes to save humanity from boredom and distraction and help them achieve their essential being: “How come the simple cells wish for immortality whereas the complex organisms get bored? The cells have the will to persist in their essence ” (505). Boredom allows us to be distracted from our purposes, he argues, to start seeking a “good enough fate.” (Augie’s adventures, then, are the result of boredom?) Basteshaw wants to develop a serum from his experiments to cure the world of lassitude. Augie sees some truth in Basteshaw’s theories, but equally their dangers. Basteshaw wants to liberate humankind, but precisely by penetrating and controlling the mind, by taking Thea’s gaze and Einhorn’s eros to an extreme of objectifying power: Basteshaw’s cured humanity would be entirely Basteshaw’s possession, healed of individuality. Basteshaw is so determined to continue his experiments that when a boat appears in the distance he knocks Augie unconscious and binds him so that they can float to the Canaries to work in peace. Augie is nearly killed by Basteshaw and his faulty navigation—“it turned out that we were way past the Canaries and somewhere off the Rio de Oro” (512)—but survives the incident, escaping his bonds and signaling a British tanker. Augie’s determination keeps his unique self alive in the face of a madman’s serums and dangerous external influences. Finally, as the adventures of Augie March draw to a close, Augie is caught between the poles of external influence and internal self-determination. As I already indicated, this balancing act is undertaken as a continual reinvention of the self: in response to each of
Augie’s encounters with reality instructors—Grandma Lausch, Einhorn, Thea, the Mintouchians, and Basteshaw—Augie rejects his current state of selfhood and reforms himself anew. Selfhood for Augie is a continual process of perfection. Augie’s journeys in self-perfection differ significantly from the perfectionism described by Hegel in the Phenomenology: Augie’s perfection is not aimed, despite appearances, at an ultimate perfection, at a final union with the axial lines. After all his adventures, after finally marrying and “settling down”, Augie acknowledges in the novel’s last paragraph that he is anything but settled:
I got to grinning again. That's the animal ridens in me, the laughing creature, forever rising up. What’s so laughable, that a Jacqueline, for instance, as hard used as that by rough forces, will still refuse to lead a disappointed life? Or is the laugh at nature—including eternity—that it thinks it can win over us and the power of hope? Nah, nah! I think. It never will. But that probably is the joke, on one or the other, and laughing is an enigma that includes both. Look at me, going everywhere! Why, I am a sort of Columbus of those near-at-hand and believe you can come to them in this immediate terra incognita that spreads out in every gaze. I may well be a flop at this line of endeavor. Columbus too thought he was a flop, probably, when they sent him back in chains. Which didn’t prove there was no America. (536)
Augie is still “going everywhere”, is still Columbus searching. At the beginning of this chapter, I said that Augie’s pursuit of self is thoroughly American; the search for the self is equivalent to the search for “this new, yet unapproachable America” (E 484). Augie’s self, like America, is to be found in terra incognita, but spread amongst the “near-at- hand”—amongst others. Augie, “I”, is a Columbus in search of self, engaging the near-at- hand in conversation in order to find, or found, his goal. He may very well be a flop and fail his endeavour—Augie doesn’t establish a final completed self. This, as Augie suggests, doesn’t mean there is no self or America for Augie (no fate good enough). The promise of self provokes Augie to continually re-read himself and others, and propels him on a journey of selfhood that avoids the pitfalls and violence of both the Odyssey and Abraham’s exile, alike.
Polarities: Bellow and Emerson Apart
POLARITY, or action and reaction, we meet in every part of nature
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Compensation”
Augie’s version of travelling selfhood is a response to, or an inheritance of European modes of travelling selfhood—the Odyssean mode of Hegel’s self-consciousness on one hand, and on the other, the Abrahamic exile of the self, guilty before the Other, in Levinas. Does Augie’s mode of perpetual self-exploration and travel, his American self- perfection, allow him to finally leave Odysseus’ egoistic self and Abraham’s ethical self (the Other’s hostage) behind him; or, do Odysseus and Abraham still travel with Augie in some form or another? My contention is that Odysseus and Abraham do in fact accompany Augie on his journey of self-perfection, although neither are embraced completely as models of selfhood. The Adventures of Augie March responds to its inheritance of European selfhood by relaunching that selfhood otherwise. The Odyssean and the Abrahamic modes of selfhood are present in Augie’s journey of self-perfection, although recast and modified. To name Augie’s self-evolution “perfectionism”, as I have done, is to invoke immediately a relation both to the Odyssey and to Abraham. I cited Cavell beforehand, on his reasons for using the term “perfection” to describe the movement of selfhood in Emerson, to the effect that each state of the perfectionist self is final and complete: “each state constitutes a world (a circle, Emerson says) and it is one each one [self] also desires . . . On such a picture of the self one could say both that significance is always deferred and equally that it is never deferred (there is no later circle until it is drawn)” (CHU 4–5). Odysseus’ self is fully signified (his self- signification is never deferred), and defined by the horizon of Ithaca and the economy of the return journey. Odysseus follows Hegel’s circle of subjectivity—“the circle that presupposes its end as its goal, having its end also as its beginning” (10; §18). In turn Odysseus signifies the isolated ego of modernist writing criticized by Bellow, the ego capable of negating all otherness and difference in its self-assertion. Contrariwise,
Abraham’s selfhood has no final signification: his journey of selfhood is open-ended and beyond being, so that no defining circle can be drawn around him or the Other. Levinas claims that Abraham’s journey consists “à aller là où aucune pensée éclairant—c’est à dire panoramique—ne précède, à aller sans savoir où. Aventure absolue” ‘in going where no clarifying—that is, panoramic—thought precedes, in going without knowing where. An absolute adventure’ (TI 282; 305). Bellow has been highly critical, also, of the lack of a clarifying thought of selfhood in modernist texts open to the play of difference. I have argued that Bellow’s fiction, and Augie March in particular, avoids “monopolies and exceptions” (E (288)), and that the process of perfection allows him to maintain the polar tension of Odyssean and Abrahamic selfhood in Augie March. As a perfectionist self, according to Cavell’s definition, Augie both defers self-signification and, at the same time, never defers the determination of self. From one perspective, Augie possesses himself, fully defined, like Odysseus and Hegel’s self-consciousness. He opposes attempts by others to determine his path: “No I didn’t want to be what he called determined. I never had accepted determination and wouldn’t become what other people wanted to make of me” (117). Augie’s insistence on self-determination appears in the opening paragraph of the novel, where Augie appears to take a Hegelian-Odyssean grasp of others. Augie is able to take grasp of himself by comprehending others and discovering what he can become in them; but unlike Odysseus, Augie has possessed and still may possess more than one shape of complete selfhood. He is fully formed until his reality instructors force him (through their own attracting or repellent examples) to shift to a new state of self; until, as Emerson might say, another circle is drawn for him. Odysseus, on the other hand, is only ever defined by the single horizon of Ithaca: no other horizon exists for him.16
16 Homer’s Odysseus differs greatly from the un-Hegelian Ulysses of Dante’s Inferno, who feels no nostalgia and refuses to return home with his crew (“Nor fondness for my son, nor reverence / Of my old father, nor return of love, / That should have crown’d Penelope with joy, / Could overcome in me the zeal I had / To explore the world . . . refuse not proof / Of the unpeopled world, following the track / Of Phoebus. Call to mind from whence ye sprang: Ye were not form’d to live the life of brutes, / But virtue to pursue and knowledge high” (26: 96–100, 118–122; Cary 108–09). Odysseus is equally dissimilar to Tennyson’s Ulysses who claims, “I cannot rest from travel; I will drink / Life to the lees” (6–7). Unlike Odysseus, these later versions of Ulysses share something of Emerson’s and Augie’s desire for the continued pursuit of self- perfection and journeying, and a mutual resistance to final determination.
Correlating the economic shape of the Odyssey with Hegel’s dialectic of self- consciousness might suggest that Odysseus takes part in a process of perfection very similar to Augie’s; in Chapter Two, I described the Odyssean process by which consciousness is perfected on its path to Absolute Knowledge, impelled as more adequate shapes of consciousness are revealed to the subject. Indeed, the Phenomenology might be described as a conversation between the subject and Hegel himself, the provocative teacher and friend. Recalling, however, that the Odyssey of Spirit has a final telos (the telos of Absolute Knowledge—“where knowledge no longer needs to go beyond itself” (51; §80)), it is important to know that Hegel’s travelling selfhood has a single, final horizon and an origin that it never truly escapes. The Hegelian odyssey cannot be considered a journey from inadequate states of self to previously unattained selves; but rather the outline of a single shape of self-consciousness. The Odyssean journey of selfhood will end, if it can be considered to truly begin at all. Augie’s self-perfection, unlike Hegel’s and Odysseus’, is a pursuit of the “flying Perfect, around which the hands of man can never meet” (E 403): his journey is never completed because further shapes of selfhood are continually drawn ahead of him. Augie appears to agree with Emerson that “around every circle another can be drawn” (E 403, my emphasis) and as the novel concludes, he is still looking out to new horizons of exploration: “Look at me, going everywhere!” (536). Augie’s self is, in other words, perpetually open to modification and to new readings. He encounters others not as objects to know and possess, or through which to recover a finally adequate selfhood like Odysseus and Hegel, but as provocation to further, unending self-development. Augie’s openness to others allows him to inherit the Abrahamic pole of selfhood with the Odyssean, even though the poles appear exclusive. Augie tells his reader that many influences have been lined up for him since birth, ready to form him: “which is why I tell you more of them than of myself” (43). His selfhood is, more or less, subjected to others, moulded and fashioned by the education of his reality instructors—although as I have shown, his fashioning is not at all complete, or according to his reality instructors’ expectations. Augie is a “born recruit” and always answers, as we have heard Abraham to do: me voici! —Here I am! But Abraham’s me voici is slightly different to Augie’s. As I characterized him in Chapter Two, Abraham moves beyond Being by opening himself to
the transcendence of the Other. He refuses to take a Hegelian grasp of, or to comprehend the Other according to his own concepts; but by welcoming the Other as it is, his freedom as an ego is constrained by the Other. Thus for Abraham, his repeated response to Yahweh, me voici, welcomes the Other fully by saying, in effect, “do with me as you will”—“me voici sous votre regard, à vous obligé, votre serviteur” [‘here I am, under your eyes, at your service, your obedient servant’] (Levinas, “Dieu” 124; 170).17 Augie on the other hand, although he responds without question to the other, will always weigh and evaluate what the other has to say. He questions always to what extent the other’s teachings (the lessons of Grandma Lausch, Einhorn, Thea) fit to him. He gives himself to the other, not as a servant, but as a partner in conversation. The difference in Augie’s and Abraham’s response to the other is registered in the moment that freedom of selfhood appears for both figures. According to Levinas, as Abraham shows, the self’s unicity is “confirmed” through its responsibility to the Other; selfhood emerges after, or on the condition of, the constraining encounter with the Other. Levinas argues in Autrement qu’être:
Car la condition—ou l’incondition—du Soi ne commence pas dans l’auto- affection d’un moi souverain « compatissant », après coup, pour autrui. Tout au contraire: l’unicité du moi responsable ne se peut que dans l’obsession par autrui, dans le traumatisme subi en deçà de toute auto-identification, dans un auparavant irreprésentable. (196)
[For the condition for, or the unconditionality of, the self does not begin in the auto-affection of a sovereign ego that would be, after the event, “compassionate” for another. Quite the contrary: the uniqueness of the responsible ego is possible only in being obsessed by another, in the trauma suffered prior to any auto- identification, in an unrepresentable before.] (123)
17 I am also reminded of the striking example of Abraham’s hospitality to the Other in Genesis 18: without question or attempt to know—thematize—those who come to his tent door, Abraham welcomes the Other unconditionally.
Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. And when he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth, and said, "My lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please do not pass your servant by. Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant." And they said, "So do, as you have said. (Gen. 18.1–5)
Abraham’s selfhood depends on being obsessed by and responsible for the Other. (If so, then it is perhaps significant that Abram becomes Abraham after he responds unconditionally to Yahweh, me voici!) In other words, the Other is prior to the self. The self does not exist as a motionless tautology of “I am I”, who experiences responsibility or compassion when it encounters another; rather, the Abrahamic self experiences selfhood through engaging with the Other. In Augie March and in Emerson and Cavell, however, the perfectionist self, Augie’s self, exists before (in front of and prior to) the other. Fully formed and free to act, Augie answers, “Here I am, already”. Augie is free to acknowledge the other and his responsibility to the other, or ignore that responsibility entirely. Augie’s conversations with others produce another Augie (assuming that Augie acknowledges the other at all); but Augie already exists as a whole, although soon to be rejected, self prior to that encounter. Augie March inherits the Abrahamic mode of selfhood with a crucial modification: the self is open to the other, but always free to act prior to and after their encounter. Like Emerson’s perfectionism, Augie’s process of self-perfection depends then on others for the impetus to journey to new levels of selfhood, but produces a fully determined self at each and every stage. Bellow therefore takes a modern heritage of self, divided between Odysseus and Abraham, and keeps it alive by recasting it; he says “yes” to Hegelian and Levinasian modes of selfhood, but accepts a responsibility “puis sélectionner, filtrer, interpreter, donc transformer” (Derrida and Roudinesco 16). Certainly the modern heritage of self is problematic and open to criticism. I have described Bellow’s criticisms of egoistical journeys of self (Odysseys) and voyages of self opened to otherness (Abrahamic exile): Bellow is critical of a tendency in modernist texts to valorize the isolated ego according to the Odyssean construct of selfhood and the concomitant tendency to reduce the other to the self’s concepts. Both Bellow and Levinas see the reduction of the other as a violent act and both see something of Hegel in the Holocaust. Equally, though, Bellow is wary of undermining the self completely by exiling it, like Abraham, within difference; the self can suffer as much at the hands of the other.
Despite the problematic nature of both modes of selfhood, Bellow avoids rejecting either mode completely. I cited Bellow above on the propensity for modernist literature to reject all notions of selfhood: “In the spirit of deepest vengefulness it curses it. It hates it. It rends it, annihilates. It would rather have the maddest chaos it can invoke than a conception of life it has found false” (SN 66). Bellow’s fiction, instead, keeps Odysseus and Abraham alive by transforming them, in this case incorporating them into the mode of perfectionist selfhood represented by the journeys of Augie March. In a sense, Bellow’s transfiguration of selfhood in Augie March allows the Odyssean and Abrahamic structures to travel onward. I expect that it has also become clear that Bellow modifies his Emersonian heritage of perfectionism as much as he transforms Odysseus and Abraham. Emerson’s perfection is motivated by his attraction to another, who occupies a more desirable position of selfhood compared to his own. In Augie March, other individuals represent both attractive and, more often, repellant positions of selfhood. Both kinds of individual prompt Augie to recognize the inadequacy of his current position. The polar field existing between Augie and his reality instructors serves to push or pull him onward to new and improved selves. In a strange way, by transfiguring Emerson, Bellow is truer than Cavell to their common literary/philosophical predecessor, and in a way truer to Emerson than Emerson himself. Emerson aims to avoid extremes and posits a law of compensation (most explicitly in his essay “Compensation”) by which polarities are conserved. It seems odd, in light of Emerson’s argument, that Emersonian perfection should be impelled by attraction alone. Bellow is faithful and unfaithful to Emerson by allowing attraction and repulsion to interact in the formation of self in Augie March; and through his (in)fidelity to Emerson, Bellow is faithfully unfaithful to Odyssean and Abrahamic travelling selfhood. Bellow’s transformation of Emerson in Augie March goes some of the way in dealing with his own criticisms of the American Transcendentalists. Bellow thought the Transcendentalists at times overtly didactic—“Emerson and Thoreau preached. Whitman added illustration to preaching” (“Interview” 202)—and even naïve in their optimism:
At times the moral purposes of these great writers of the nineteenth century [Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman] tire us, their sermons seem too long—naïve. The crudity, disorder, ugliness, and lawlessness of commercial and industrial expansion which scandalized them have been our only environment, our normalcy. And sometimes we are a little impatient with their romantic naïveté. (“Writer” 58).
In Augie March, the “crudity” and “ugliness” of the world and of his reality instructors impel Augie along the path of self-perfection, just as much as, if not more than, the examples of beauty and morality that he encounters. Bellow’s insistence on the polarity of attractive and repellent examples in perfectionism is, I think, Bellow’s greatest innovation on his inheritance of Emerson, and an innovation missing in Stanley Cavell’s otherwise exceptional account of Emerson and Thoreau. Bellow’s innovation on Emersonian perfection keeps Emerson “alive”, but reveals in Emerson’s work something more, perhaps, than Emerson intended. The genius of Augie March is that it reveals the genius of Emerson, responds to the call of Emerson’s genius, to write beyond the self. Bellow’s reading of Emerson in Augie March allows Emerson’s text to emit new breaths, new readings and new journeys of selfhood—while pushing Augie March toward its own potentiality.
IV. READING HERZOG: BELLOW AND THOREAU
He had fallen under a spell and was writing letters to everyone under the sun.
Saul Bellow, Herzog
The Adventures of Augie March enacts the Emersonian journey of the attained self to the unattained, but recasts the journey of perfection so that both attracting and repelling influences provoke the evolution of self. Bellow’s most impressive work, Herzog, follows a similar narrative pattern, in a short stretch in the self-perfection of Moses Elkenah Herzog, a twice-divorced, washed-up academic—“That suffering joker” (H 17). Herzog resigns himself to the commanding voice of his second ex-wife Madeleine, and falls into a state resembling the quotidian in Heidegger’s Being and Time, or conformity in Emerson. His journey out of the doldrums toward an unattained state of selfhood and his whirling tours around New England, New York, Chicago and Europe, are impelled, as Augie’s journeys are, by conversations with attractive and repellent others, reality instructors who present both Abrahamic and Odyssean modes of selfhood as ideal for Herzog. Herzog is impelled to pursue self-perfection, more so than Augie, by his encounters with loss and death: I argue that Herzog’s most effective reality-instructors are others irretrievably lost to him and the dead addressees of his compulsive letter writing. Herzog’s conversations, with Madeleine especially, reveal the theatricality of the other, or what amounts to the other’s inapproachability. An irredeemable gap lies between Herzog and others as between a dramatic character and a theatre audience. This gap informs Herzog’s letters to the dead: the dead are not aware of Herzog, while Herzog engages the dead by animating them in his letters. By acknowledging the gap between himself and the other, Herzog is able to share the other’s present, if not their presence. Herzog experiences the loss of the other and mourns that loss, but in the same process, discovers a next state of self, or nextness, and the resolution to pursue self-perfection. Herzog’s selfhood evolves in response to the disclosure of what Stanley Cavell calls, as he finds it in Thoreau’s Walden, “ecstasy in the knowledge of loss” (In Quest 171).
The pervading sense of loss throughout Herzog signals Bellow’s inheritance, or recasting, of the works of Thoreau. Emerson has by no means vanished from Bellow’s writing, and in this chapter I trace Herzog’s own journey of Emersonian perfectionism, as I followed Augie March’s self-evolution above. It is my contention, however, that the Emersonian perfection in Herzog also incorporates themes from Thoreau’s Walden and A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (WCM). Both works by Thoreau deal with loss and mourning as impetuses for self-perfection. In Thoreau, loss, or the theatricality of the other, is revealed in a process of reading and writing what is before the self (in others, in a text, in nature). The processes of reading and writing reveal not only the theatrical gap between Herzog’s self and the other but also reveals Herzog’s unattained or next self: “with thinking we may be beside ourselves in the sane sense” (W 429). Thus the ecstasy of knowing loss is at the same time the ecstasy of self-perfection. Cavell names the disclosure of a next self in what is before the individual, in what the individual reads—nextness (CHU 9). For Cavell, Walden and Emerson’s essays18 are shot through with a thought of nextness, of being-beside and neighbouring. Selfhood and being are constituted by what is next to them: “Nearest to all things is that power which fashions their being. Next to us the grandest laws are continually being executed” (W 429). What fashions my being is, in other words, what I hear and what I see before me; in other words, I am fashioned by what I read. This chapter traces Herzog’s discovery of nextness in reading and writing, and in provocative conversation with the dead and absent through Herzog’s letters. I also follow the concomitant disclosure of the other’s theatricality in Herzog’s journey of self- perfection. In Augie March, nextness is revealed through face-to-face conversation; Herzog’s journey of perfection involves face-to-face conversation, but incorporates, more so than Augie March’s journey, the provocation of loss, and the provocation of reading what is before oneself. The differences in perfectionism between Augie March and Herzog stem, I argue, from Bellow’s shift of emphasis from Emerson to Thoreau.
18 “It is, using a romantic term, the ‘work’ of (Emerson’s) writing to present nextness, a city of words to participate in” (CHU 12).
Senses of Herzog: Reading and Writing
How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.
Henry David Thoreau
My reading . . . creates or recreates me.
J. Hillis Miller, “Derrida’s Destinerrance.”
Herzog opens on the protagonist hidden at his Ludeyville estate in rural Massachusetts, reflecting on his travels in the past few days and his aversion from what I describe as an Emersonian state of conformity. Herzog’s aversion from conformity and the revelation of nextness—the disclosure of his potentiality—is described in several richly drawn paragraphs on the first page or so of the novel. I cite the passage, of some length, in full and draw attention to several words and phrases I take up as suggestive of Herzog’s self- perfection. I hear in this passage—the aural sense is important in what follows—several echoes of Emerson and an invocation of Thoreau’s Walden. These echoes, developing on the American mode of travelling self-perfection I have traced in Augie March, connect Herzog’s self-evolution to a Thoreauvian process of reading and writing and to an ecstasy of loss. Herzog begins: “If I am out of my mind, it’s alright with me, thought Moses Herzog.”
Some people thought he was cracked and for a time he himself had doubted that he was all there. But now, though he still behaved oddly, he felt confident, cheerful, clairvoyant and strong. He had fallen under a spell and was writing letters to everyone under the sun. He was so stirred by these letters that from the end of June he moved from place to place with a valise full of papers. He had carried this valise from New York to Martha’s Vineyard, but returned from the vineyard immediately; two days later he flew to Chicago, and from Chicago he went to a village in western Massachusetts. Hidden in the country, he wrote endlessly, fanatically, to the newspapers, to people in public life, to friends and relatives and at last to the dead, his own obscure dead, and finally the famous dead.
It was the peak of summer in the Berkshires. Herzog was alone in the big old house. Normally particular about food, he now ate Silvercup bread from the paper package, beans from the can and American cheese. Now and then he picked raspberries in the overgrown garden, lifting up the thorny canes with absentminded caution. As for sleep, he slept on a mattress without sheets—it was his abandoned marriage bed—or in the hammock, covered by his coat. Tall bearded grass and locust and maple seedlings surrounded him in the yard. When he opened his eyes in the night, the stars were near like spiritual bodies. Fires, of course; gases—minerals, heat, atoms, but eloquent at five in the morning to a man lying in a hammock, wrapped in his overcoat. When some new thought gripped his heart he went to the kitchen, his headquarters, to write it down. The white paint was scaling from the brick walls and Herzog sometimes wiped mouse droppings from the table with his sleeve, calmly wondering why field mice should have such a passion for wax and paraffin. They made holes in paraffin-sealed preserves; they gnawed birthday candles down to the wicks. A rat chewed into a package of bread, leaving the shape of its body in the layers of slices. Herzog ate the other half of the loaf spread with jam. He could share with rats too. All the while, one corner of his mind remained open to the external world. He heard crows in the morning. Their harsh call was delicious. He heard the thrushes at dusk. At night there was a barn owl. When he walked in the garden, excited by a mental letter, he saw roses winding around the rain spout; or mulberries—birds gorging in the mulberry tree. The days were hot, the evenings flushed and dusty. He looked keenly at everything but he felt half blind. His friend, his former friend, Valentine, and his wife, his ex-wife Madeleine, had spread the rumour that his sanity had collapsed. Was it true? He was taking a turn around the empty house and saw the shadow of his face in a grey, webby window. He looked weirdly tranquil. A radiant line went from mid- forehead over his straight nose and full, silent lips. (7–8, my emphasis)
Herzog’s first line signals Bellow’s inheritance, or recasting, of Thoreau’s Walden, and on its own demands careful reading: “If I am out of my mind, it’s alright with me”. Herzog has lost himself; he is “out of his mind”, or outside of himself. He wonders too if he is “all there”. His friend, Valentine Gersbach, and wife, Madeleine—they have had an affair—circulate rumours about his mental health. Herzog ponders the rumours’ truth: “was it true?” Am I, Herzog, the same self as the rumoured Herzog? If not the same, then Herzog is in effect lost to his friend (“my former friend”) and wife (“my ex-wife”), and hidden or concealed from those who give ear to the rumours; Herzog is beyond the perception of others. He is beyond his own perception as well: out of his mind and out of the mind he is rumoured to have, Herzog is lost to himself and to the world.
Herzog, however, seems unconcerned, even comforted that he is out of his mind: “it’s alright with me”, he says. Herzog’s lack of concern at being lost to himself and to his friends and wife, is redolent of Thoreau’s recounting in Walden of losing himself in the woods. Thoreau says that, when walking an individual is often guided unconsciously by “well-known beacons and headlands” (459), by a certain degree of conformity. (Herzog, I will show shortly, has been absorbed in a state of conformity prior to losing himself.) “Not until we are completely lost”, Thoreau continues,
or turned around,—for a man needs only to be turned around once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost—do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of Nature. . . . Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations. (459)
Herzog, as I have said, like Thoreau, is lost to himself and to the world at the opening of the novel, and becomes lost—literally and metaphorically—by being “turned around” again and again. His relationship with Madeleine proves especially catastrophic, and turns him in pursuit of his own (lost) identity and on a rapid journey around New England and New York. Herzog becomes comfortable losing himself—“It’s alright with me”— because his loss in fact allows him, as Thoreau says, to find himself anew. In the previous chapter, I described Augie’s experience of being beside himself, beside a new self, in a moment of sexual exchange with Thea. I compared Augie’s revelation to another passage from Walden: “With thinking we may be beside ourselves in the sane sense” (429). Like Augie, and like Thoreau, Herzog is able to discover a new self only by first experiencing the ecstasy of loss, of losing his current self as he is turned around. As the long passage from Herzog indicates, and as Thoreau suggests ought to be the case, Herzog finds himself anew through a sensual engagement with the “vastness and strangeness of Nature” (W 459). Thoreau describes awaking with unanswered questions, “as what—how—when—where?” (547). Nature answers his questions only “Forward!” (547), prompting Thoreau onward in his journey of self-perfection. Herzog has his own questions (“Was it true?”), to which Ludeyville’s natural surroundings respond in a similar fashion, revealing to Herzog an unattained self. Herzog escapes in “quiet
desperation” (W 329) to Ludeyville—his Walden Pond—and there listens and observes. He converses and shares bread with Ludeyville’s native rodents—“He could share with rats too”—as Thoreau offers his “crums [sic]” to Walden’s mice (W 503). The harsh call of crows in the morning is delicious to Herzog’s ears and he listens to thrush-song in the evening. At night, an owl visits Ludeyville. Herzog observes the owl, endeavouring to “realize” the night-bird as the barred owl realizes Thoreau in Walden (533–34). Herzog’s vision is shared with Thoreau’s barn owl: “There was only a narrow slit left between [the owl’s eye] lids, by which he preserved a peninsular relation to me; thus, with half shut eyes, looking out from the land of dreams, and endeavoring to realize me, vague object or mote that interrupted his vision” (533–34). Likewise, Herzog looked keenly at everything but he felt half blind” (H 8). This is an odd turn of phrase, for Herzog also says that he feels clairvoyant, has clear vision and can see what is normally unseen; how is it that he is also, at the same time, “half blind”? There are one or two plausible interpretations. In the first case, Herzog’s opening gives a sense that hearing is prioritised over vision for Herzog: Herzog savours the “delicious” tones and timbre of bird-voice, keeps his eyes half closed to hear better, to hear clairvoyantly. Listening (his lips are silent (8)), he can see clearly by avoiding the blindness of “theoretism”—Thea’s blindness in Augie March—that is, the blindness to otherness that attends the knowing gaze. (Herzog, at this point, avoids the violent reduction of the other that accompanies the Odyssean vision of selfhood.) Herzog’s sharp-sighted blindness lends itself to a second interpretation, however, that doesn’t prioritise one sense over another. Herzog has been unable to see himself clearly; he has lost himself. At least dimly, however, and like the barred owl’s vision of the “vague object” of Thoreau, Herzog has a vision of a neighbouring self, a self he has yet to attain. Herzog’s unattained self only becomes clear once he has lost himself, once Herzog moves out of his current state of mind; he finds, or founds, a new self through a process of seeing (half-blind) and listening to what is next to him. For Herzog, as for Thoreau, Emerson, and Cavell, the vision of a next self, or of nextness is disclosed through reading and writing.
It is not immediately obvious that Herzog is reading anything at all in the novel’s opening passages (writing, yes; I will come to that). Herzog’s reading at and of Ludeyville, is equivalent to the reading that Cavell argues is undertaken by Thoreau at and of Walden. Thoreau devotes a chapter of his book to his thoughts on reading and writes of “heroic books” beyond the language of conformity (W 403). He equates “the noblest written words” with the stars: “There are the stars, and they who can may read them” (404). The emphasis on there, says Cavell, implies that reading is of what is before us in general, and not of printed texts alone (ETE 47). Cavell quotes Thoreau again from Walden: “Will you be a reader, a student merely, or a seer? Read your fate, see what is before you, and walk on into futurity” (411; ETE 47). To read is for the reader to interpret herself through what is before her (in a text, in nature, and so on), to identify an unattained self (in futurity) beyond the attained self. That is, reading sees and hears, if only dimly or “half-blind”, the nextness of self. Cavell wants a “hearing” (ETE 45) for reading in Thoreau and later equates reading to “seeing” (49). Thoreau’s account of reading as seeing what is before and next to oneself comes at the opening of the chapter “Sounds”, as though to suggest that hearing nextness is equally as important as seeing: reading in Thoreau is to engage hearing and vision—all the senses—in realizing the “vague object” of nextness. Herzog’s reading is a sensual engagement with an unattained self disclosed by reading himself in what is before him in nature—by keeping his mind “open to the external world” (H 8), hearing crow-call and thrush-song, watching the owl, contemplating roses and mulberry trees. I take the spell Herzog is under (7) to be the wonder he feels toward what is next to him (nature, a new self). Herzog clarifies his next self by reading what is before him as he “walks on into futurity”. Just as reading allows Herzog to see and hear what is next to him, his writing too uncovers nextness, allowing Herzog a further view of an unattained self. Herzog writes letters to “everyone under the sun” (H 7). His chaotic writing heeds a mental nagging “to have it out . . . to clarify” (8); who is Herzog? His letters stir him to “walk on”—and he carries his valise, full of words, from New York, to Martha’s Vineyard and back, to Chicago, and on to Ludeyville. Herzog writes hurriedly on the train to Martha’s Vineyard, his pen moving with the train’s rhythm: “Quickly, quickly, more! The train
rushed over the landscape” (74). At Ludeyville, he is moved by new thoughts, and goes to the kitchen to write them down. To write, for Herzog, is at the same time, to be in motion, to travel in pursuit of a new self. Herzog’s letters are written in a “whirling ecstasy” (74), revealing to Herzog that he is out of his mind, literally beside, or next to, himself.19 But Herzog has not always been capable of experiencing loss (of self) as ecstasy. Prior to losing himself on his journeys around New England, Herzog loses himself in a very different way, resigning himself to conformity. His prior conformity consists in refusing to acknowledge his losses and, in order to protect himself from loss, in resigning himself to the voice of others. Herzog is averted from his conformity when he acknowledges an irredeemable gap between himself and others and between his attained and unattained selves.
Flashbacks show Herzog in an earlier form, vastly different to his sensual Ludeyville self, deaf and blind to his potential and frozen in conformity. Emerson describes conformity as the surrendering of one’s self-formation to others, or to societal norms and the humdrum of everyday life. Conformity deafens the individual to the call of nextness. That call:
grow[s] faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint- stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. (E 261)
To conform is to give one’s obedience, or “to surrender one’s liberty”, to the voice of others, and thus to become deaf to one’s potential. It is to follow unthinkingly the beacons and headlands mapped by others, described by Thoreau. In other words,
19 Ecstasy is literally a state of being beside oneself (OED). In the previous chapter I described Augie’s ecstatic experience of sexual intercourse with Thea, during which he felt beside himself (in the sane sense, as Thoreau says), or next to a new self.
conformity is the loss of self. But, as Emerson argues, conformity aims to protect the self, to keep the self alive by “the better securing of his bread”. The conformed individual loses himself in an attempt to protect his being, but comforts himself by refusing to acknowledge the possibility of loss at all. Herzog resigns himself to the voice of his second wife Madeleine: “he sat there, in her own words, like a clunk” (78, emphasis mine). His surrender to Madeleine is not immediate, but emerges gradually from a failure to read: Herzog declines to engage the external world or provocative teaching figures in conversation, declines to read what is before him generally, in favour of reading printed texts. After marrying Madeleine, his desire to read books and to write “drie[s] up” (10) too, and he slips finally into conformity. In this section, I trace Herzog’s fall into conformity, from his earliest refusal to converse with, hence to read, his dying mother, and his later failures to read or write, literally and conversationally, during his relationships with his ex-wives, Daisy and Madeleine. Herzog associates conversation, as a form of reading, with death: he avoids the risk of losing others, and acknowledging his own mortality, by turning from conversation to reading and writing history and philosophy. Reading and writing, Herzog soon discovers, also present their own risk of a loss of self and Herzog resigns his self- determination completely to Madeleine to minimize the possibility of losing himself. He becomes stagnant in conformity—refusing to travel the path of self-perfection—and ironically loses himself to Madeleine in an attempt to avoid risking the demise of himself and of others.
Herzog’s fall into conformity is depicted in two winter scenes. He is first confronted by death and loss during his late teens when his mother passes away. He recalls himself as “a bookish, callow boy” (242), claiming to be a “free-thinker” (240) and reading thick volumes of philosophy and history. “And then Mama started to die. And I was in the kitchen winter nights, studying The Decline of the West. The round table was covered
with an oilcloth” (240). From Spengler, “that sinister kraut”, Herzog learns that, as a Jew, he belongs to the Magian period, that his age has passed; “no matter how hard I tried, I would never grasp the Christian and Faustian world idea, forever alien to me” (241). Angered by his alleged Magian demise, and by the apparent decline of the Christian West, Herzog sets about overcoming the losses of civilization claimed in Spengler by refusing to acknowledge the inevitable loss of his mother. (The young Herzog seems also to rail against Emerson, who also describes the inevitability of loss: “I take this evanescence and lubricity of all objects, which lets them slip through our fingers then when we clutch hardest, to be the most unhandsome part of our condition” (E 473). It is my contention that no matter Herzog’s strident refusal to acknowledge loss, his family and friends, and his grasp on his own selfhood, are all subject to “lubricity”, to death and demise. Herzog will finally accept Emerson’s “lubricity of all objects” as he lies in his hammock at Ludeyville.) Herzog does not acknowledge his mother’s approaching death, but remains absorbed in his books in the kitchen during her final week: “She was dying. Evidently Moses wanted no part of that” (240). His mother attempts to engage him, to have him acknowledge her death, but Herzog is determined, choosing explicitly not to read his mother as she stands before him, but to read Spengler’s “dense print” instead:
When I looked away from the dense print and its insidious pedantry . . . Mama was entering the kitchen. Seeing the light under the door, she came the whole length of the house, from the sickroom. Her hair had to be cut during her illness, and this made those eyes hard to recognize. Or no, the shortness of her hair merely made their message simpler: My son, this is death. I chose not to read this text. (241)20
Herzog’s mother’s eyes speak a message to her son, made plainer by her short hair; her eyes declare that “this is death”—this before you, your mother, is dead. Further, his
20 A few days afterwards, when she had lost the power to speak, she was still trying to comfort Moses. . . . He came into her room when she was dying, holding his school books, and began to say something to her. But she lifted up her hands and showed him her fingernails. They were blue. As he stared, she slowly began to nod her head up and down as if to say, “That’s right, Moses, I am dying now.” He sat by the bed. Presently she began to stroke his hand. (241)
mother has always been dead: to say that her message of death is “simpler”, is to indicate that the content of the message has always been death, but previously obscured. Herzog’s mother is a ghost. Herzog is aware on some level of his mother’s ghostly status—although he will deny that awareness through his favoured strategy of reading books—describing himself as her orphan while she stands breathing before him: “She only pitied me, her orphan” (241). For Herzog, his mother’s ghostly presence reveals her separateness from him. This separateness is apparent in her deathly message, “My son, this is death”. Italics indicate the text of Herzog’s letters; “My son this is death” is the closest thing in the novel to a letter addressed to Herzog. Certainly, he perceives his mother’s message as a text, and refuses to read it—“I chose not to read this text”. As a letter-like message, “My son, this is death” comes to Herzog from a distance, disclosing his separateness from his mother, as his own letters reveal the distance between Herzog and his addressees. In short, Herzog’s ghostly mother is lost to him, and has always been lost. Herzog wants no part of this loss. He cannot avoid at least a dim awareness of his mother’s ghostly dissociation: her message is a text, and Herzog has just read it. He can, however, refuse to acknowledge that loss, by isolating himself from his mother and barricading himself behind walls of books. As an adult, Herzog avoids acknowledging the loss of others by turning to reading and writing in isolation, as he turns to Spengler’s volumes before his dying mother. Herzog chooses the supposed safety of print rather than face the possibility of loss during his first marriage to Daisy and again with catastrophic results during his marriage to Madeleine. His growing isolation sets him on the path to conformity, leading to Herzog’s near absolute loss of self.
Herzog’s fall into conformity accelerates when, holed up for the winter in his Connecticut cottage with Daisy, he writes his first book, Romanticism and Christianity. The work of composition, in Herzog’s words, comes close to ending him as an individual: “The
chapter on ‘Romantics and Enthusiasts’ nearly did him in—nearly ended them both” (133). The tasks of reading and writing are only partially responsible for “nearly ending” Herzog: Herzog’s attempts to disavow death by walling himself in behind his books are, I argue, the root cause of his near self-loss. Daisy leaves to tend to her dying father in Ohio, while Herzog, unable to confront death again, remains in Connecticut to face his work and winter alone. In this second of two winter scenes describing Herzog’s fall into conformity, Herzog appears to be open to nature as he is at Ludeyville in the novel’s opening, but has in fact closed his senses to all externalities. In his cottage, Herzog attempts to answer difficult questions on selfhood and civilization—questions provoked by his earlier readings of Spengler—but is unable to hear the answers provided in his natural surroundings. I cite below a paragraph from Herzog, followed by a passage from Walden: both Herzog and Thoreau are surrounded by winter landscapes, and while Herzog reads, only Thoreau is capable of reading what is before him:
It was a winter of rocklike ice. The pond like a slab of halite—green, white, resonant ice, bitterly ringing underfoot. The trickling mill dam froze in twisting pillars. The elms, giant harp shapes, made cracking noises. Herzog, responsible to civilization in his icy outpost, lying in bed in an aviator’s helmet when the stoves were out, fitted together Bacon and Locke from one side and Methodism and William Blake from the other. (H 133)
I also heard the whooping of the ice in the pond, my great bed-fellow in that part of Concord, as if it were restless in its bed and would fain turn over, were troubled with flatulency and bad dreams; or I was waked by the cracking of the ground by the frost, as if some one had driven a team against my door, and in the morning would find a crack in the earth a quarter of a mile long and a third of an inch wide. (W 539)
In Herzog’s Ludeyville opening, Herzog’s senses show him to be reading beyond himself, reading nextness, in what lies before him in the sounds and visions of the natural world. In Connecticut, the aural sense is again foregrounded: the frozen pond rings bitterly while the harp-like trees crack in the surrounding forest, mirroring the whooping of ice and cracking of frozen ground in Walden. Certainly it is conceivable that Herzog is
open to his surroundings, like Thoreau, and is capable of reading a next state of self in the text of nature. There is, however, a difference of narration in the two passages I have cited, that indicates that Herzog may hear nothing at all. Thoreau describes winter at Walden Pond in the first person: “I also heard the whooping . . . I was waked by the cracking” (W 539). Likewise, in the earlier Ludeyville passage, the narration states explicitly that a corner of Herzog’s mind is “open to the external world” (H 8): he hears crows, thrushes, and their call is “delicious” to him (8). For both Thoreau and Herzog, as he appears at the beginning of the novel, the sounds of nature awaken each to future possibilities of selfhood and journey’s of self-perfection. (Herzog, recall, is beside himself at Ludeyville and nature provokes Thoreau “Forward!”) There is no indication, however, in Herzog’s Connecticut passage that Herzog himself has heard the natural sounds around him. At the cottage, the ice rings underfoot—but the text, narrated in the third person, does not specify whose foot is on the ice. Likewise, there is no explicit connection of the sounds of the elms to Herzog’s awareness; only the implied narrator is certain to have heard the ringing and cracking around the cottage. Herzog is walled in on both sides by his reading—“Herzog . . . fitted together Bacon and Locke from one side and Methodism and William Blake from the other”—and his ears are covered by his aviator’s helmet. His senses have, I argue, begun to freeze with, and close out, his winter surroundings. The numbing of Herzog’s senses in his cottage correlates with elements of his reading, most suggestively with Locke’s comparison of understanding to a dark room or closet in An Essay on Human Understanding. Locke writes:
external and internal Sensation, are the only passages that I can find, of Knowledge, to the Understanding. These alone, as far as I can discover, are the Windows by which light is let into this dark Room. For, methinks, the Understanding is not much unlike a Closet wholly shut from light, with only some little openings left, to let in external visible Resemblances, or Ideas of things without. (162–63; bk. 2, ch. 11, §17)
Locke argues that understanding requires both internal reflection and engagement with external ideas. Certainly, Herzog reflects in his closet-cottage on Bacon, Locke, and Blake, in pursuit of understanding; however his aviator’s helmet (symbolically, at least) and his isolated reading serve to cut out the external sounds of Connecticut, to stop up the “little openings” to sensation. Without the addition of external sensation, Locke argues, reflection fails to become understanding: “without the help and assistance of the senses”, he writes in Essays on the Law of Nature, “reason can achieve nothing more than a labourer can working in darkness behind shuttered windows” (147–49; ch. 4). Although American Transcendentalism is a move away from Lockean “sensationalism” toward the transcendental intuitions and ideas of Kant, Locke’s insistence on the necessity of the senses to reason carries over into Thoreau’s work, and in turn to Herzog. In Thoreau, but less so in Emerson, the senses—particularly hearing— are necessary to stimulate the transcendental ecstasy of nextness and the revelation of further states of being generally inaccessible to the self. Herzog closes his senses to the external world, impeding both Lockean reason and the Thoraeuvian discovery of nextness through the ecstasy of the senses. Herzog blocks out the natural sounds of fissure and cracking, the sensation of separation that Thoreau enjoys at Walden Pond, and struggles with his ambition to solve the loss of “universal connexions” (45) through his writing. Like Locke’s labourer in the dark, Herzog’s bid to protect himself from the death of his father-in-law by walling himself behind his books serves only to isolate him in the dark; Herzog both fails in his bid to resolve universal loss and loses his wife Daisy. Herzog’s bookish isolation loses for him the provocation of Daisy’s friendship. (In fact, Daisy is reduced, in Herzog’s recollections and letters, to a nearly absent shadow, spectre.) He fails to recognize that his disinclination to converse with concrete others rebuffs the Blakean maxim he quotes several times as a “favorite source—Opposition is true friendship” (131; Blake 20). Without the attractive and repellent forces of, say, Daisy’s conversation—forces that I examined at work in Augie March in the previous chapter—and incognizant of the sensation of separation that, for example, impels Thoreau “forward” in Walden, Herzog begins to flounder in the dark and winter quiet— “The rest was silence—such heavy silence” (H 133). Alone in his cottage, Herzog is incapable of taking in sight an unattained state of selfhood, and stagnates in his self-
evolution. His self-stagnation becomes a complete absorption in conformity when he divorces Daisy to marry Madeleine.
Herzog’s failures in reading and writing and in conversation overwhelm him completely after he marries his second wife Madeleine, although ironically she later provides the provocation Herzog needs to advance on the path of self-perfection. Herzog divorces Daisy to marry Madeleine and resigns his academic position at her bidding to move to a country estate in Ludeyville. In recognition of his isolated state in the Connecticut cottage, Herzog views his relationship with Madeleine and their life in the country as a “fresh start” (11). Once he and Madeleine are settled at Ludeyville, and as Madeleine returns to her graduate studies in Slavic languages, both find that they are unable to engage in happy conversation with the other. (Recall that happy conversation is the “noblest end of marriage” for Milton, and, as I argued in Chapter Three, conversation is essential to the perfection of selfhood.) Herzog stands to lose Madeleine. Madeleine complains that Herzog “never really listened to her” (78) and in turn, Herzog bemoans Madeleine’s lecturing (78). Madeleine, in fact, seeks conversation with a long list of others before she will attempt to converse with Herzog, and then only in the form of brief lectures and speeches. Herzog recognizes his lowly position in Madeleine’s eyes when they receive a visit at Ludeyville from Herzog’s college associate, Shapiro. Shapiro arrives to seek Herzog’s advice, but is taken by Madeleine. Their conversation is “spirited” (75) and “they found each other exceedingly stimulating” (76). Herzog sits silently on the lawn, observing their animated, academic conversation on Russian history and literature. He watches Madeleine closely: “Under such stimulation, Mady’s face did strange things. The tip of her nose moved, and her brows, which needed no help from cosmetics, rose with nervous eagerness, repeatedly, as if she were trying to clear her eyesight” (77). The twitching of Madeleine’s nose and her physical response to her
discussion with Shapiro is worth keeping in mind—Herzog is himself unable to arouse such a response in Madeleine. Madeleine shoots Herzog sideways glances while talking with Shapiro, to remind Herzog of his inability to provide such stimulation—he can only sit “like a clunk, bored” (78). Herzog grows resentful by the minute and longs to stop up Shapiro’s mouth: “Fill your big mouth with herring, Shapiro! Herzog thought, and mind your own fucking business” (80). There is some irony in Herzog’s wish to silence Shapiro: too often, with Daisy in Connecticut, and again now with Madeleine at Ludeyville, Herzog stops his own mouth and silently minds his “own fucking business” in a doomed attempt to avoid confronting loss. As a result, Madeleine must turn to others for the stimulation and opposition of (Blakean and Emersonian) friendship that Herzog fails to provide. When Madeleine must communicate with Herzog, she lectures him: “he had heard her lecture on this subject [that Herzog does not listen to Madeleine] many times, and far into the night” (78). Madeleine communicates with Herzog (and Herzog with Madeleine) in the same way that Einhorn lectures Augie in Augie March: Einhorn willingly penetrates Augie’s mind, but refuses to be penetrated in return. In Chapter Three, I described Einhorn’s one-sided interaction with Augie as a failed relationship of Socratic eros. Madeleine and Herzog’s relationship is similarly an erotic failure, literally and in the conversational sense I gave to eros in Chapter Three. Just as Madeleine refuses to allow Herzog to penetrate her mind, she also blocks his sexual penetration. There is nothing in Herzog’s relationship with Madeleine like the sexual rebirth experienced by Augie and Thea. Remember what Augie says of his first tryst with Thea—“presently it seemed as if an exchange or transfer had happened of us both into still another person who hadn’t existed before” (AM 311). There is no such disclosure of a next state of being through intercourse for Herzog or Madeleine. Sexually, Herzog again falls to the bottom of Madeleine’s list of stimulating friends. (Later, outlining Buber’s I and Thou in a letter to his psychiatrist, Herzog wryly notes the small difference between conversation and sexual intercourse: “Men come and go in each other’s souls. Sometimes they come and go in each other’s beds, too. You have dialogue with a man. You have intercourse with his wife” (H 70).)
Herzog recalls two related scenes of failed erotic exchange that describe Madeleine’s rejection of Herzog in favour of intercourse with others, or what amounts to Herzog’s losing Madeleine. In the first scene, while both he and Madeleine lie naked in bed, Herzog complains of Madeleine’s piles of old Russian volumes under the covers, and provokes an extreme response: “She began to scream at him, and threw herself on the bed, tearing off blankets and sheets, slamming books on the floor, then attacking the pillows with her nails, giving a wild choked scream” (63). Herzog, ironically, turns to Valentine Gersbach for advice, unaware that Valentine has made him cuckold between the same sheets and dusty tomes Madeleine throws to the floor. Gersbach asks Herzog, severely, if he had made any advances on Madeleine that may have triggered her outburst: “Me? No. She’s built a wall of Russian books around herself. Vladimir of Kiev, Tikhon Zadonsky. In my bed!” (65). Herzog is developing an awareness, unconscious perhaps, that he is preceded by others in his own bed and with Madeleine: Madeleine prefers conversation with Orthodox saints and intercourse with Valentine, a Putzi Hanfstaengl-look-alike and a “dandy” (25), before Herzog. The wall of books around Madeleine is effective in keeping Herzog out of both her mind and body, just as Herzog’s printed fortifications kept Daisy from him in Connecticut. The night before Madeleine’s outburst, in the second scene of impeded sexuality, Herzog is allowed briefly beyond Madeleine’s books, but fails to make a genuine sexual connection with Madeleine. Herzog relates to Gersbach:
We had intercourse the night before. But as soon as it was done, she turned on the light, picked up one of those dusty Russian folios, put it on her chest, and started to read away. As I was leaving her body, she was reaching for the book. Not a kiss. Not a last touch. Only her nose twitching. (65–66)
Madeleine’s nose twitches, recall, during her “exceedingly stimulating” (76) conversations with Shapiro. Herzog is all too aware that Madeleine’s physical signs of stimulation are not a result of his sexual prowess, but in response to her Russian folios, to her reading of others absent and dead. Herzog is incapable of conversation or intercourse, both sexually and face to face. At this juncture of failed intercourse with Madeleine, Herzog begins to associate losing
Madeleine with reading and writing; his failures in conversation are paralleled by a decline in his writing and academic reading. Herzog made “a brilliant start” to his career (10), publishing an “influential” dissertation—The State of Nature in 17th and 18th Century English and French Philosophy—in several translations (11). His book, Romanticism and Christianity, composed with such difficulty in his Connecticut cottage, is well received and included on college reading lists and touted as a “new sort of history . . . personal, engagée” (11). But, as Herzog’s failures with Madeleine mount up, “the rest of his ambitious projects had dried up, one after another” (10). Herzog intends to write a companion volume to Romanticism and Christianity while at Ludeyville with Madeleine—“his study was supposed to have ended with a new angle on the modern condition . . . overturning the last of the Romantic errors about the uniqueness of the Self” (45)—but his writing becomes so distracted and “chaotic” that he finally closes his manuscripts away in “an old valise” (10), out of sight. Reading and writing become painful for Herzog. He has great difficulty producing a review of Shapiro’s monograph, for example. Herzog carries the heavy tome around Europe after separating from Madeleine: “Herzog couldn’t get out of it. . . . It caused much pain in his side” (75). The last thing Herzog wants to do is actually read Shapiro’s work, let alone write a review. The pain in his side is due less to the weight of the book and more to the task of reading weighing on his mind. Herzog forces himself to work through the review in any case, only to misread Shapiro and his sources. Herzog is not specific regarding the nature of his misreading, but apologizes to Shapiro in an unsent letter: “You’ve written a fine monograph, I hope I made that clear in my review. My memory abandoned me complete [sic] in one place, and I was all wrong about Joachim da Floris” (75). Herzog’s reading of Shapiro on Joachim and his written response are mistaken, poorly executed. To clarify though, Herzog is not incapable of understanding Shapiro or Joachim, or of reading them correctly; instead, Herzog finds that he cares little about either text, that he is not drawn to Shapiro’s monograph, and is even repelled by it: “I was in no mood for Joachim da Floris” (80). At this point, Herzog has no ear for reading: he listens poorly and gives only a partial eye to Shapiro’s intentions in his book and to his citation of Joachim da Floris.
Indeed, Herzog has no desire to read. Herzog, thus fails to uncover a nextness of self, to disclose anything beyond himself. As I’ve shown, Herzog is also unable to disclose a nextness of self through conversation with others, especially with Madeleine. Herzog’s inability to move on to a next state of self, through reading or conversation, obstructs the task he has set himself to think through the perfection of selfhood after his early encounters with Spengler. On an abstract human scale Herzog argues that “[w]e must be what we are. That is necessity. But what are we?” (72). Herzog ponders a similar question regarding his personal self-perfection: “I am Herzog. I have to be that man. There is no one else to do it” (73). Herzog has no answers, sees no new possibilities of selfhood for himself or for humankind. Without the provocation of conversation or reading and writing, Herzog gives up on self-perfection and conforms to Madeleine’s defining voice. Herzog is “all converted to passivity” (15). Herzog’s surrender of self- definition to Madeleine constitutes his surrender to the conformity described by Emerson above. But Herzog chooses to embrace conformity, to resign himself to Madeleine’s voice; he is thus, if only to a small degree, aware of his compliant state. Herzog’s awareness of his conformity is detectable in his cynically critical letter to Martin Heidegger:
Dear Doktor Professor Heidegger. I should like to know what you mean by the expression “the fall into the quotidian”. When did this fall occur? Where were we standing when it happened? (55).
Herzog’s letter is certainly dismissive of Heidegger, but might also be read as asking when exactly it was that Herzog himself fell into the quotidian, into conformity. I intend to compare Heidegger’s fall into the quotidian with Emerson’s conformity to further clarify the “emptiness” (45) of Herzog’s selfhood and his relationship with Madeleine. Cavell discusses the suggestive possibility that Emerson’s work anticipates Heidegger’s directly, that Heidegger’s philosophy may respond to Emerson’s work by way of Nietzsche’s interest in Emerson (E 146). Heidegger’s notion of quotidian life is redolent of Emerson’s conformity, particularly where each describes the quotidian and conformity as diminished sensual relationship to externality. There are important distinctions
between Heidegger’s quotidian and Emerson’s conformity. A remarkably similar path is posited by both writers out of the quotidian and conformity and I am interested here to trace Herzog’s motion on that path once his conformity, or quotidian selfhood, is revealed to him by Madeleine. In Sein und Zeit [Being and Time], Heidegger describes Dasein, the mode of being- in-the-world, as fallen and absorbed in the quotidian in its original constitution (220; 176).21 The everydayness of Dasein is characterized by its “listening away” to the “idle talk, curiosity, and ambiguity” of das Man [the they], or public life (316; 271); the quotidian is a groundless conformity, everywhere and nowhere. Listening away to das Man deafens Dasein to its potentiality, just as the voice of individuality, in Emerson “grow[s] faint and inaudible as we enter into the world” (E 261). Dasein’s conformity, like Emerson’s, is tranquillizing, and “leads by its own movement, to Dasein’s getting entangled [verfängt] in itself” (223; 178). The quotidian is an inauthentic state of being. Heidegger’s description of the quotidian can be mapped to Herzog’s state, although imperfectly. Herzog’s own movements toward surrender to Madeleine leave him entangled, in his own whirling thoughts and in Madeleine’s voice; he listens away to Madeleine, “in her words like a clunk” (78). Herzog declines to make his own way as a self and defers to Madeleine to define him, falls into the quotidian and gives himself to Emersonian conformity. Herzog in effect loses himself. At this point, however, Herzog’s conformity is somewhat mismatched to the quotidian. Herzog assumes that the fall into the quotidian is dimensional, a plunge from a higher state to a lower. Heidegger says explicitly that Dasein’s fall is not dimensional (220; 176): Dasein is fallen from the beginning. As I have indicated, Herzog arrives at conformity through a gradual process of abandoning conversation and reading, before a final fall after marrying Madeleine. Unlike the fall into the quotidian, Herzog’s fall into conformity is a dimensional shift to a lower, inauthentic state of self. I allow Herzog’s misinterpretation to stand (another of Herzog’s failures to read) and describe his state as quotidian to emphasize his self- entanglement, induced by the voice of others, at the expense of his authentic being. As I
21 Page numbers refer, first, to Macquarrie and Robinson’s translation, and, second, to the seventh edition of Sein und Zeit (as given in the margins of Macquarrie and Robinson).
have indicated, I am further inclined to describe Herzog’s conformity in Heideggerian terms because Herzog follows a Heideggerian path back to the journey of self-perfection. As much as Herzog is critical of Heidegger in his letter to the philosopher, Herzog, I argue, represents Heidegger’s fall into the quotidian and its escape far more than he may like. Heidegger distinguishes the quotidian Self, as represented by Herzog, “from the authentic Self—that is, from the Self which has been taken hold of in its own way” (167; 129). Dasein takes hold of its own way through “resoluteness” ‘Entschlossenheit’ (343; 297). For Heidegger, resolve implies the unclosing, or the disclosure of Dasein’s guilt (Being-guilty)—of Dasein’s answerability for what it is, or for what it has not yet become. The resoluteness of Dasein is embodied in an openness to futurity and to Dasein’s own potentiality. Naturally, resoluteness and the disclosure of guilt are not felt spontaneously; resoluteness emerges, rather, as a response to the voice or call of conscience (313–14; 268–69), a call that appears to come from without, but in reality comes from within Dasein. The call to responsibility provokes Dasein to hear in a new way, to cease listening away to das Man. Dasein initiates dialogue with the other in order to answer for its own being; Dasein seeks the provocation and opposition of friendship. Heidegger’s phenomenology of Dasein echoes, according to Cavell, Emerson’s claim in his Divinity School Address: “Truly speaking, it is not instruction but provocation that I can receive from another soul” (E 79; CHU 37). Dialogue with the other unveils Dasein’s thoughtless conformity, provoking new and next thoughts. Herzog, I argue, is provoked anew to conversation, to reading and writing—Emerson would say “averted” (E 261)—by a catastrophic call to responsibility (Being-guilty). Ironically it is Madeleine, always “the bitch” in Herzog’s mind (61), who finally averts Herzog from his fallen, inauthentic state. It is she who provokes Herzog to finally acknowledge and accept his separation from Madeleine, to recognize her, and in the same breath himself, as an autonomous being. Once able to accept the knowledge of loss, the ecstasy of that knowledge, allows Herzog to recognize the nextness of being and start on a path of self- perfection. Madeleine moves Herzog.
Losing Madeleine: Theatricality
It’s painful to have to say I never loved you. I never will love you . . . there’s no point in going on.
Madeleine in Herzog
Ulysses looking sourly answered, You Bitch.
Hobbes, Iliads and Odysses of Homer.
Herzog begins to read and write nextness and becomes responsible for his own being once more in response to what I call Madeleine’s theatrical inapproachability. Madeleine’s father is a famous actor—an “American Stanislavsky” (14)—and although she despises him, she follows in his footsteps by representing herself to Herzog as though she were permanently on stage. Her conversion to Christianity, for example—from which Herzog had slowly “won her away” (11)—is merely performance for Herzog: “Conversion was a theatrical event for Madeleine. Theatre—the art of upstarts, opportunists, would be aristocrats” (118). Herzog recalls watching Madeleine make herself up for Sunday mass, as though she were preparing for the stage: “She had her white convert’s face and he couldn’t refuse to play opposite” (118). And her entry through the church door, her histrionic genuflection as she crosses herself, are dramatically executed: “She learned that in the movies probably” (69). Madeleine reaches her theatrical height when she announces to Herzog that their marriage is over, and this particular catastrophic performance provokes Herzog to recognize his conformity and passivity. Herzog, we are told, is not surprised that his marriage has reached its end (14), but at the same time, Madeleine’s performance is responsible for an unexpected turn in Herzog toward nextness. Thoreau says, as cited above, that “[n]ot until we are completely lost or turned around . . . do we begin to find ourselves” (459). I describe the scene as catastrophic—καταστροφή, “sudden turn” (OED)—precisely because Madeleine’s theatrical announcement provokes Herzog to make a turn, a Thoreauvian or Emersonian aversion. (In addition to Herzog’s sudden turn, catastrophe also describes the theatrical nature of Madeleine’s announcement; the
catastrophe is a tragedy’s denouement.) Although painful, Herzog’s loss of Madeleine proves the best kind of catastrophe, a provocation to pursue self-perfection. Unlike Odysseus, who travels to suppress catastrophe, Herzog is provoked to travel, in reality and on a journey of self perfection, by a catastrophic event. Herzog recalls the end of his marriage to Madeleine, sprawled on his couch in his New York apartment, just returned from Europe. Madeleine puts their daughter June down for her nap and calls Herzog in from his chores:
She had prepared the event with a certain theatrical genius of her own. . . . In this confrontation in the untidy parlour, two kinds of egotism were present, and Herzog from his sofa in New York now contemplated them—hers in triumph (she had prepared a great moment, she was about to do what she longed most to do, strike a blow) and his ego in abeyance, all converted into passivity. What he was about to suffer, he deserved; he had sinned long and hard; he had earned it. This was it. In the window on the glass shelves there stood an ornamental collection of small glass bottles, Venetian and Swedish. They came with the house. The sun now caught them. They were pierced with the light. Herzog saw the waves, the threads of colour, the spectral intersecting bars, and especially a great blot of flaming white on the centre of the wall above Madeleine. She was saying, “We can’t live together any more.” Her speech continued for several minutes. Her sentences were well formed. This speech had been rehearsed and it seemed also that he had been waiting for the performance to begin. . . . “It’s painful to have to say I never loved you. I never will love you, either,” she said. “So there’s no point in going on.” (14–15, emphasis mine)
I emphasize the theatrical nature of the scene. Herzog sits before Madeleine and his eye is caught by the play of light in the room; he sits a spectator, in the dark as it were, watching Madeleine move through stage lighting (recall the “blot of flaming white” (15) directed at Madeleine). As Madeleine performs in triumph, Herzog’s ego—his self—is in “abeyance”, suspended and unowned by him. (Importantly, Herzog’s abeyance suggests that he is yet capable of owning his self-development; the self in conformity remains free to shake off its conformity according to Cavell.22) The theatricality of the scene reveals to
22 Abeyance: “the position of waiting for or being without a claimant or owner . . . A state of suspension, temporary non-existence or inactivity; dormant or latent condition liable to be at any time revived” (OED).
Herzog a gap between their egos—he is “all converted to passivity” (15) and incapable of approaching Madeleine. Stanley Cavell’s work on theatricality in “The Avoidance of Love”, collected in Disowning Knowledge, describes a scene similar to Madeleine’s performance and contends that theatrical inapproachability is characteristic of the other in general. Cavell recites the old joke about a yokel who, distressed as Othello smothers Desdemona, runs on stage to save the victim and set Othello straight on a few home truths (98). The yokel discovers, however, that he cannot approach Desdemona and Othello; dramatic characters do not exist in the same space and can never be aware of their audience. At the same time, however, the characters are in the presence of the audience—Cavell’s yokel is certainly alert to Othello, for example. The spectator has a choice to remain seated in the dark, or to acknowledge the being of Othello and attempt to approach him. Cavell argues that the relationship between spectator and theatrical characters reflects the relationship between self and other “in actuality” (103). Outside the theatre, the self may choose to ignore others or to acknowledge them. If the self attempts to acknowledge the other, he will find, as Herzog discovers of Madeleine, that the other is finally unapproachable. Shifting from the theatre to actuality, the question for Cavell is how to acknowledge the other, how to be in the (theatrical) other’s presence, if they cannot be approached fully. Herzog, in the passage cited above, begins to question how to acknowledge Madeleine’s irredeemable separateness from him and to mourn that separation. For Cavell, theatricality reveals that the self is not in the presence of the other but in her present (Disowning 108). The self acknowledges the other by making her present his own; which is at the same time to acknowledge the other’s present as hers to begin with. In the theatre, in the actor’s present, the spectator self sees the other as she is across a space of separateness: “I am I, and here. It is only in this perception of them as separate from me that I make them present. That I make them other, and face them” (109). Herzog begins to make Madeleine other and to face her, I argue, by learning to hear her anew, by giving her a hearing, as he later gives a hearing to nature at Ludeyville. Until Madeleine’s request for a divorce and since Herzog resigned himself to his inability to read and converse, Herzog has listened away to Madeleine in his quotidian state,
taking no responsibility for his own being. Madeleine’s performance, however, provokes Herzog to hear her differently, to recognize her as wholly other—as she is.
Step by step, Madeleine rose in distinction, in brilliance, in insight. Her colour grew very rich, and her brows, and that Byzantine nose of hers, rose, moved; her blue eyes gained by the flush that kept deepening, rising from her chest and throat. She was in an ecstasy of consciousness. . . . He realized that he was witnessing one of the very greatest moments of her life. (15)
Again, Madeleine’s twitching nose indicates that she is stimulated; her “ecstasy of consciousness” suggests that she is beside herself—Thoreau would say in a sane sense, Herzog in another sense altogether. Watching her ecstasy, Herzog is thus aware of something more in Madeleine than he had previously encountered; he sees in Madeleine a state of nextness. Witnessing her great moment, Herzog recognizes himself apart from Madeleine: “I am I”. This discovery allows Herzog to ask himself, “how do I stand in relation to this theatrical other, to Madeleine?” Herzog is overcome by a desire “to explain, to have it out, to justify, to put in perspective, to clarify, to make amends” (8) and returns to the task of self-definition. He no longer allows Madeleine to define him, but sets his path to self definition in response to Madeleine. This path leads him on wide-ranging travels, a series of turnings in response to his catastrophal loss of Madeleine: his self-aversions are pursued in his detours around New England and New York; in his sudden return from Martha’s Vineyard almost the moment he arrives (“Turn around, Moshe-Hanan, and catch the next ferry back. All you needed was a train ride. It has turned the trick” (101)); in the awkward turn that results in his car accident with his daughter June; and in the significant moment when he turns away from Madeleine’s apartment and keeps his gun in his pocket. Herzog’s turn—his travels—bring once more into conversational contact with others, reality instructors who present him with ideals of selfhood, based on the Odyssean and Abrahamic mythologies described in earlier chapters of this thesis. Herzog is both repelled and attracted by his reality instructors and forms himself anew in response to their conversation.
Lawyers and Lovers: Himmelstein and Ramona
Herzog is populated, as is Augie March, by an assortment of reality instructors—“Many such”, thinks Herzog, “I bring them out” (36). I confine myself here to two prominent encounters with reality instructors by Herzog after Madeleine’s theatrical performance, that is, with his lawyer Sandor Himmelstein and with his mistress Ramona Donsell. Both propound a view of selfhood considered ideal for Herzog: Himmelstein, although himself an Odyssean, pushes Herzog toward an Abrahamic mode of being; while Ramona encourages Herzog to assert his selfhood in an Odyssean fashion, to pin himself down. Herzog refuses both of his instructors’ accounts of selfhood as satisfactory summations of “the facts”. Himmelstein’s and Ramona’s accounts of selfhood, Abrahamic and Odyssean respectively, deny the gap that Herzog has discovered exists between him and the other— denies, that is, the loss of the other revealed in Madeleine’s theatricality. As I argued in Chapter Two, the Odyssean self absorbs, or softens loss and reduces the other within its own horizon. Effectively, the Odyssean self removes the gap between herself and the other all together. The Abrahamic self, on the other hand, allows itself to be overwhelmed by the infinitely other, erasing the theatrical gap once again, although through a different motion. I recount Herzog’s rejection of both Odyssean and Abrahamic modes of selfhood here. As he rejects the realities of Himmelstein and Ramona, Herzog’s letter writing allows him to engage in a process of self-perfection that both acknowledges the theatrical gap between himself and others and, through that acknowledgement, provides Herzog with the impetus, or provocation, to journey from his current state of being to an unattained, next state. Herzog’s self-perfection, in other words, is motivated by a loss of others, but also, his personal self loss. Sandor Himmelstein and Herzog first meet in a steam bath—recalling Augie’s bathhouse meeting with lawyer Mintouchian in Augie March (AM 477)—and Himmelstein opens his home to Herzog after Madeleine evicts him from their home and marriage. Herzog is “thankful for [Himmelstein’s] friendship” (89), but in some ways fears his friend. He describes Himmelstein in almost monstrous, and occasionally
demonic, terms: Herzog pictures Himmelstein as a “dwarf and hunchback” (85), and a “humped rat” (159). His lawyer fought in Normandy, and there suffered a wound that took part of his chest, leaving him with a “lopsided breast” (92) and a stoop. He has a pale mouth and sallow skin (85), and the “fierce dwarf” (92) subdues Herzog with his “hellish tongue” (92). Himmelstein’s monstrosity for Herzog lies in the lawyer’s Odyssean power of possession over him. Herzog writes:
I sent you this belated bread-and-butter note, to thank you and Bea [Himmelstein’s wife] for taking me under your roof. Acquaintances, not old friends. I’m sure I was a terrible house guest. Sick and angry—broken by this lousy grief. Taking pills for my insomnia but still unable to sleep, going about drugged, and the whiskey gave me tachycardia. I should have been in a padded cell. Gratitude! I was deeply grateful. But the politic gratitude of weakness, of the sufferer, furious underneath. Sandor took over. I was inept. (85)
After Madeleine’s performance and her separation from Herzog (both legally and in his acknowledgement of theatricality) Herzog is restless: he cannot sleep, suffering from a rapid heart beat (tachycardia) and aimlessly “going about”. The Himmelsteins’ hospitality brings Herzog to a halt, taming him as it were, between the walls of home. Here, Herzog is possessed by Sandor and his “hellish tongue”—“Sandor took over”—in much the same way that the Hegelian-Odyssean self possesses the Other according to Levinas: “L’élément se fixe entre les quatre murs de la maison, se calme dans la possession” ‘The element is fixed between the four walls of the home, is calmed in possession’ (TI 131; 158). While Himmelstein himself represents an Odyssean mode of selfhood, he encourages Herzog to take on an Abrahamic self. Himmelstein presents Herzog with an insurance policy designed to protect June should Herzog die or, as is more likely according to Himmelstein, if Herzog has a “mental breakdown” (91). Himmelstein appears as something of hellish-tongued Mephistopheles to Herzog’s Faust, asking Herzog to sign himself away as June’s father, but pledging no benefit in return. For Herzog to sign the policy and allow Madeleine her way would be, in Herzog’s mind, to renounce his identity as June’s father: “‘But you told me the other day”, he says to
Himmelstein, “that I might as well forget about her, that she’d grow up a stranger to me.’ ‘That’s right. She won’t even know you the next time you see her’” (93). Himmelstein suggests, forcefully, to Herzog that he resign any attempt at asserting a particular identity, while at the same time Himmelstein, taking possession of Herzog, defines his identity for him. If Herzog were to assert himself in an Odyssean fashion, he would risk losing June; but if he takes an Abrahamic path of selfhood, he risks losing himself. Himmelstein sings: “‘Mi pnei chatoenu golino m’artzenu.’ And for our sins we were exiled from our lands” (97). Abraham is exiled from his land and is unable to define himself against the other and exposed to the other’s violence. Herzog is exiled too and Himmelstein pushes him to face up to the “nasty” fact that others will now define him: Sandor, Madeleine and Gersbach “took me [Herzog] over” (85). The idea is not appealing to Herzog. Herzog’s mistress Ramona encourages him in the opposite direction to Himmelstein’s designs of selfhood. Ramona is a former student of Herzog’s and her feelings for Herzog are perhaps more serious than his feelings for her, although he does not deny that he cares for her. In a mental letter he writes:
Dear Ramona—Very dear Ramona. I like you very much—dear to me, a true friend. It might even go further. But why is it that I, a lecturer, can’t bear to be lectured? I think your wisdom gets to me. Because you have the complete wisdom. Perhaps to excess. (22)
Herzog dislikes lectures as much as Augie in Augie March; he resists Ramona’s attempts to define him, as Augie resists Einhorn’s Socratic, penetrating lectures. After returning from Martha’s Vineyard, Moses receives a phone call from Ramona who intends to continue her lecturing: “these lectures! For the love of God, Ramona, shut it up” (159). On this occasion, inviting him to dinner, Ramona is determined once more to give Herzog some definition:
“Well then, are you coming or not?” said Ramona. “Why are you so hard to pin down?” “I shouldn’t go out—I have a lot to do—letters to write.” “What letters! You’re such a mystery man. What are these important letters?” (160–61)
Herzog is undefined, a “mystery man” to Ramona, and indeed, at this stage, and after Madeleine’s theatrical performance, a mystery to himself. Ramona wants Herzog to be pinned down, attached to a clear point of reference—to an Ithaca, as it were. If Herzog were pinned to a particular point of reference, to which all his movements could be related, Ramona might have an easier time determining her own relationship with Herzog; without a pinned Herzog, Ramona feels as though she is forced to chase Herzog, who is always “running away” (160). Herzog’s constant movement and distance makes him Abrahamic, undefined, and Ramona’s attempts to have Herzog pinned, although they describe Ramona as an Odyssean in her own right, push Herzog towards the pinned stability of Odyssean selfhood. Herzog, however, resists pinning himself down, to Ramona or anyone else: “I have a lot to do—letters to write” (161). In the passage cited above, Herzog gives letter writing as a preferred alternative to being pinned down by Ramona, and to bring himself to a stable halt. Although he does meet with Ramona for dinner, he continues his letter writing on his way to her apartment and afterwards. Herzog rejects the stable Odyssean determination of selfhood and the intimacy of an immediate connection to Ramona in favour of a distanced encounter with others through letters—a relationship with dead and absent others. Herzog’s letters express his ecstasy in the knowledge of loss: he seeks to maintain the theatricality, or gap between himself and others, revealed by Madeleine, rather than suppressing that gap through the modes of Odyssean and Abrahamic selfhood prescribed by Ramona and Himmelstein, respectively. Through his letter writing and acknowledgement of his loss of others and self, Herzog in turn discloses a next self and further self-evolution. He is in this sense, like Thoreau, who discovers a similar ecstasy of loss through reading, writing, and travelling in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. I examine Herzog’s inheritance of Thoreau’s Week in the following section.
Herzog’s Letters and Thoreau’s Epigraphs
Where’er thou sail’st who sailed with me, Though now thou climbest loftier mounts, And fairer rivers dost ascend, Be thou my Muse, my Brother—.
Henry David Thoreau, A Week
Dear Herr Nietzsche.
Saul Bellow, Herzog
Self-perfection is provoked in Thoreau’s A Week and in Herzog by the loss of self and others. I have outlined Herzog’s several losses above: while still in his teens, and absorbed in reading Spengler, Herzog refuses to acknowledge, or “read” his mother’s death; he barricades himself behind his books in his Connecticut cottage and loses his sensual engagement with the natural world and separates from his first wife Daisy; and finally loses his second wife Madeleine to his friend Gersbach and in the process discovers that he is separated absolutely from every other. As his losses mount, Herzog refuses to acknowledge them, and in the process, I have shown, falls into conformity, or into Heidegger’s quotidian, and loses the ability to determine his own selfhood and being. Herzog is finally able to reclaim his own self-perfection by acknowledging his theatrical separation from others. Once Herzog makes this acknowledgement, he is able to lose himself at Ludeyville in the text of nature, and become aware of nextness; Herzog moves toward a new self at Ludeyville. I have argued that Herzog’s vision of nextness inherits Thoreau’s own self- perfection in Walden. Here, I argue that the ecstasy in loss that provokes Herzog to discover himself afresh is inherited—and recast—from the ecstasy of loss experienced and described by Thoreau in A Week. Part of Thoreau’s time at Walden Pond was devoted to the composition of A Week. The book relates Thoreau’s week-long boating and hiking excursion along the Concord and Merrimack with his older brother John Thoreau, Jr., in 1839. Eschewing contemporary conventions of travel literature, and much
to the chagrin of early reviewers, Thoreau continually interrupts A Week’s narrative with discursive detours, long literary digressions, citations and poetry. James Russell Lowell complains, for example, in his review of A Week in The Massachusetts Quarterly (1849), of the narrative interruptions, suggesting they would be better collected at the end of the text, after the account of the journey: “We come upon them like snags, jolting us head foremost out of our places as we are rowing placidly upstream or drifting down” (qtd. in Rossi 275). But Thoreau’s discursive snags are intended precisely to jolt the reader, to provoke her. A Week is not only a travel book, but constitutes Thoreau’s attempt to underscore the metaphorical journey of self-discovery and perfectionism provoked by reading and conversation: his actual journey along the Concord and Merrimack is a pretext for self-discovery and exploration. In addition to following Thoreau’s voyage of self-discovery, another of A Week’s major functions is as an elegy to Thoreau’s brother, who died from lockjaw (tetanus) in 1842: beyond his readings of nature and literature, Thoreau is provoked especially by the loss of his brother to reform as a new self. Herzog follows Thoreau by demonstrating an intimate connection between Herzog’s travels and his voyage of self-perfection in response to the loss of Madeleine and others. At the beginning of this chapter, I described Herzog reading the nextness of self in the sounds and visions of nature at Ludeyville, and compared his reading to Thoreau’s reading of nature in Walden. Comparing Herzog now with A Week is intended to show that Herzog is moved to a next state of selfhood, not only by his sensual engagement with the natural world; Herzog is primarily impelled to self-perfection by his conversations with the dead in his letters, as Thoreau is moved to self-perfection by the invocation of his dead brother in A Week. Thoreau writes, in A Week’s prologue, that he has “often stood on the banks of the Concord . . . an emblem of all progress” (WCM 13), until finally “I resolved to launch myself on its bosom and float whither it would bear me” (13). Thoreau’s narration opens in the first person, with the assertive presence of an I; once the journey proper begins in the “Saturday” chapter, however, Thoreau and his brother merge into a single entity. This entity emerges in A Week as the noise of Concord village fades; the text recounts, in vivid
detail, the flowers and plants lining the riverbank and populating the meadows, “like flowers which Proserpine had dropped” (18):
we seemed to be embarked on the placid current of our dreams, floating from past to future as silently as one awakes to fresh morning or evening thoughts. . . . Nature seemed to have adorned herself for our departure with a profusion of fringes and curls, mingled with the bright tints of flowers, reflected in the water. But we missed the white water-lily, which is the queen of river flowers, its reign being over for this season. He makes his voyage too late, perhaps, by a true water clock who delays so long. (18–19, emphasis mine)
As the brothers move down the river, and register nature’s presence by their senses, there is a distinct shift in Thoreau’s narration from the “I” of the prologue to a narrating “we” (Bishop 89): Thoreau is absorbed at least partially by “we”, reverting to I in A Week’s digressions, while John disappears completely. In effect, both brothers lose themselves— like Herzog, the reader cannot be sure if Thoreau is “all there” (H 7), a complete self. Thoreau loses himself as he begins to read nature, but there is also a gesture toward self-discovery in the passage cited above. Thoreau, recall, wakes in Walden with unanswered questions, only to hear nature’s answer of “Forward!” (W 547). Here in A Week, “we” waken again to nature’s “fresh thoughts”, and float on “from past to future”: “we” are able to read in nature a new self and move toward it, as Thoreau does in Walden: “Will you be a reader, a student merely, or a seer? Read your fate, see what is before you, and walk on into futurity” (411). The forward impetus of nature sees Thoreau lose himself, within the narrating “we”, but opens up new possibility of selfhood. Herzog’s experience at Ludeyville is a similar one: Herzog sees with half-blind clairvoyance, a future self—beside himself—as he loses himself in the sounds and visions of Ludeyville. As he lies in his hammock, he has “fresh thoughts” of self, while wondering if “he is all there” (H 7). Both Herzog and Thoreau necessarily experience loss as they take on new selves. Thoreau and Herzog, however, lose more than their current state of selfhood on their respective journeys of perfectionism—they lose others. Thoreau loses his brother. John’s death is never discussed in an explicit way, but is alluded to continually from the early pages of A Week: the passage cited above alludes to death in Proserpine’s
(Persephone’s) dropped flowers, and in the Concord’s absent white water-lily, an absent symbol of death. Images of death, decay and the fragility of life, continue in the subsequent sections: the brothers gather berries, for example, “hanging by very slender threads” (20); and accounts are given of the disappearance of the shad from the Concord River (28–29), and of the lost indigenous population of the Concord region. Thoreau digresses on tombstones and epitaphs while the narrative pauses in the Dunstable graveyard (136–38); George Herbert’s “Virtue” is cited in part toward the end of A Week, describing the inevitability of death—cut by Thoreau, before the final stanza can describe the virtuous soul as immortal:
Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright The bridal of the earth and sky, The dew shall weep thy fall to-night, For thou must die. (257)23
All these examples—and there are others—show A Week’s preoccupation with death and the transience of life. Linck C. Johnson argues in Thoreau’s Complex Weave (1986), that A Week’s preoccupation with death and fragility places it in the elegiac tradition of John Milton’s “Lycidas” (41). He notes that Thoreau incorporates several elements of Milton’s pastoral elegy in A Week, including flower symbolism, the impact on the course of nature by the death of the poet’s friend, and the invocation of a muse to guide the course of
23 Herbert’s “Virtue” (1633) continues:
Sweet rose, whose hue angry and brave Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye: Thy root is ever in the grave, And thou must die.
Sweet spring, full of sweet days and roses, A box where sweets compacted lie; My music shows ye have your closes, And all must die.
Onely a sweet and virtuous soul, Like seasoned timber, never gives; But though the whole world turn to coal, Then chiefly lives. (5–16)
composition. Milton petitions, “Begin then, Sisters of the sacred well” (15), and Thoreau likewise invokes his brother’s ghost as muse for A Week. John Thoreau becomes something of a ghostly presence, haunting the text, and guiding its course. Herzog, too, invokes the dead in his many letters, and I argue that the invocation of ghosts in Herzog’s letters, and in the epigraphs and citations in A Week, provides the impetus to move towards a nextness of self in both texts. Thoreau’s invocation of his brother as his muse appears in the first of A Week’s four epigraphs:
Where’er thou sail’st who sailed with me, Though now thou climbest loftier mounts, And fairer rivers dost ascend, Be thou my Muse, my Brother—. (2)
Thoreau’s apostrophe reveals a gap between him and his brother comparable to the theatrical gap that Herzog discovers between himself and Madeleine. Thoreau acknowledges that he and John are now permanently separated, that John is elsewhere: “Where’er [John] sail’st” is outside of Thoreau’s knowledge and sensual perception. At the same time, however, Thoreau expects, even demands, that John participate in the writing of A Week, that their interaction continue: “Be thou my Muse”. Thoreau’s desire to approach his brother, and his awareness that such an approach is ultimately impossible, are revealed in second and third epigraphs. In the second epigraph, Thoreau is provoked to move:
I am bound, I am bound, for a distant shore, By a lonely isle, by a far Azore, There it is, there it is, the treasure I seek, On the barren sands of a desolate creek. (3)
The treasure is defined in the third epigraph, where the “barren sands of a desolate creek” appear as a “permanent shore”:
THOU seemest the only permanent shore, The cape never rounded, nor wandered o’er. (4)
Reading all three epigraphs together, then, Thoreau opens his account of his journey along the Concord and Merrimack rivers by first invoking his brother’s ghost and then describing the pursuit of a distant treasure lying on a permanent shore which he names,
“THOU”. Thoreau may refer to God through THOU, but given the proximity of the THOU epigraph to the invocation of John Thoreau’s ghost, I take it that Thoreau is instead describing his brother as the distant, permanent shore of THOU. Thus A Week’s journey is initiated as the pursuit of a permanently lost other, another who attracts but who cannot be finally approached, a shore “never rounded”. Drawn by his brother’s ghost, Thoreau discovers the possibilities of rebirth on his journey. With the passing of each day of his journey, Thoreau begins to encounter less of the finality of death, and more in nature that speaks to rebirth and new life. For instance, Thoreau has “no friends there” (138) in the Dunstable graveyard, or any burial ground, and proposes that epitaphs should not read “Here lies”, but “There rises”—that they should be “star-y-pointing” (137), that is, show where the spirit continues onward, as Thoreau’s own epigraphs do for John Thoreau. Toward the end of their journey, in “Friday”, Autumn arrives, bringing the decay that will lead to wintry death: “the rustling of the withered leaf / Is the constant music of my grief” (307). Immediately, however, Thoreau’s “Muse” (307)—the ghost of John Thoreau, the permanent but unapproachable
THOU—inspires a poetic description of the perpetuity and persistence of Autumnal life:
Asters and golden-rods reign along the way, and the life-everlasting withers not. The fields are reaped and shorn of their pride, but an inward verdure still crowns them. The thistle scatters its down on the pool, and yellow leaves clothe the vine, and naught disturbs the serious life of men. But behind the sheaves, and under the sod, there lurks a ripe fruit, which the reapers have not gathered, the true harvest of the year, which it bears forever, annually watering and maturing it, and man never severs the stalk which bears this palatable fruit. (307)
Death, or the loss of a particular self, allows a new, or next self to be formed: “The constant abrasion and decay of our lives makes the soil of our future growth. The wood which we now mature, when it becomes virgin mould, determines the character of our second growth, whether that be oaks or pines” (286). Thoreau is thus drawn on by his lost brother, to discover that loss in fact is essential to self-evolution and perfection. Herzog, I argue, undergoes a similar experience, with a significant variation; Herzog, that is, repeats and recasts Thoreau’s journey of perfectionism. Like Thoreau, Herzog is attracted by unapproachable others—but he is also repelled by others from whom he is theatrically divided. Reflecting Thoreau’s epigraphs, Herzog invokes muses of provocation in his numerous letters to the dead: “He realized he was writing to the dead. To bring the shades of great philosophers up to date. But then why shouldn’t he write to the dead? He lived with them as much as with the living—perhaps more” (189). Herzog lives with the dead, as much as the living, by acknowledging the gap between himself and his ghosts. Herzog writes to Nietzsche, for example:
Nature (itself) and I alone together, in the Berkshires, and this is my chance to understand. I am lying in a hammock, chin on breast, hands clasped, mind jammed with thoughts, agitated, yes, but also cheerful, and I know you value cheerfulness—true cheerfulness . . . I send you greetings from this mere border of grassy temporal light, and wish you happiness, wherever you are. Yours, under the veil of Maya, M.E.H. (326–27)
Like Thoreau, Herzog begins to understand himself in response to nature—“this is my chance to understand”—and the sounds and visions of nature reveal a new self to Herzog. Further, Herzog invokes a dead other, reflecting the invocation of John Thoreau in A Week’s epigraphs, and expects the conjured spectre to answer: although Nietzsche cannot reply, and cannot be aware of the demand placed on him, Herzog’s letter concludes with the demand that concludes every letter, that Nietzsche respond—“Yours, under the veil of Maya, M.E.H”. Here, Herzog’s letter to Heidegger may also be recalled, with its address of demand, and its opening for the absent to respond (Heidegger was still living when
Herzog was published, but certainly absent from Herzog’s presence): “Dear Doktor Professor Heidegger. I should like to know what you mean by the expression “the fall into the quotidian”. When did this fall occur? Where were we standing when it happened?” (55). The questions of Herzog’s letters serve to make Heidegger present to Herzog, through the animation of apostrophe, if Heidegger himself, in fictional form or otherwise, remains unapproachable. The dead and the absent addressees of Herzog’s letters appear to Herzog across the theatrical gap discovered between Herzog and Madeleine, and on the permanent shore “never rounded” in Thoreau’s A Week (4). I argue that Herzog inherits A Week because Herzog is provoked to move, to pursue the next self revealed in his readings of nature, by the ghosts of the dead and absent animated by his letters, just as Thoreau is provoked to move by the spectre of his brother conjured in A Week’s epigraphs. Herzog is moved, like Thoreau, by THOU, drawn out by Nietzsche and others. Twice in the final pages of the novel, Herzog addresses an unnamed other, in the same manner that Thoreau addresses his deceased brother: twice, in Herzog’s final letter in the novel, he writes, “Thou movest me” (347). Who does he address? As in Thoreau’s third epigraph, Herzog’s Thou might be read as God, and this reading would not be incorrect. Certainly Herzog’s citation—Thou movest me—printed with inverted commas in the text—reads as a prayer or hymn (Bellow, “Saul” 977). It is possible that Herzog quotes from the hymn, “Christ Crucified”—“Thou movest me, Lord”—or even, in keeping with Thoreau’s fondness for Eastern scripture, from The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna—“I move as Thou movest me. I do as Thou makest me do. I speak as Thou makest me speak. Not I, not I, but Thou, but Thou” (Nikhilananda 24). Wherever the citation is drawn from, what is important to note, is that the Thou who moves Herzog, is addressed in a letter and is absent, or lost to Herzog. Just as the ghost of John Thoreau draws Thoreau on a journey of self-discovery, Herzog is moved by an absent, apostrophized other. Any of the addressees of Herzog letters can fill the role of Thou, provoking Herzog towards the nextness of self he reads at Ludeyville. Unlike Thoreau, however, Herzog is not always attracted by Thou, the dead and absent addressees of his letters: in the vast majority of cases he is repelled by those he animates in writing, as Augie March is so often repelled by his reality instructors on his adventures. Herzog is moved, but repelled, by Nietzsche, for example. In Chapter One, I
described Herzog’s criticisms of Nietzsche: although there is much that Herzog admires in Nietzsche—“No, really, Herr Nietzsche, I have great admiration for you. Sympathy” (326)—he is, on the whole, troubled by his dead provocateur. Nietzsche’s “‘luxury of Destruction’ is positively Wagnerian” and his ideas “no better than the Christianity you condemn” (326). Most of his letters are addressed to others with whom he has some level of disagreement, many of them deceased and incapable of responding: he argues with Heidegger, criticizes Hulme, and disagrees with Spinoza. Like Madeleine, the dead addressees of Herzog’s letters repel him at the same time that they remain utterly unapproachable. Repelled by these theatrical others, Herzog is provoked to reconsider his state of self, to redefine himself according to the nextness revealed at Ludeyville.
Disembarking: Odysseus on the Shore
So Odysseus comes to shore, the skin torn from his hands, the sea water gushing from his mouth and nostrils. He breathes again, and some warmth rallies in his heart.
Saul Bellow, To Jerusalem and Back
The question may now be answered: how does Herzog’s perfectionist journey—a recasting of Thoreau’s self-evolution in Walden and A Week—respond to the demands and pitfalls of Odyssean and Abrahamic modes of travelling self-formation? Herzog responds to Hegel’s Odyssean economy and to Levinas’ Abrahamic exile in a very similar way to Augie March. In Chapter Three, I showed that Augie March, in keeping with Emerson, avoids “monopolies and exceptions” (E 288) of selfhood by maintaining the tension between the egoist demands of Odyssean selfhood and the Abrahamic ethics of the Other in Augie’s self-evolution: Augie March does not adopt one mode over the other, but modifies and incorporates both into his project of self-growth. Augie progresses from one defined self to another, so that “each state constitutes a world . . . and it is one each [self] also desires . . . On such a picture of the self one could say both that significance is always deferred and equally that it is never deferred (there is
no later circle until it is drawn)” (CHU 4–5). In other words Augie is both fully self- defined (like Odysseus), and undefined, open to difference and change (like Abraham)— a new horizon of self can always be drawn ahead of him. In this way, Augie limits the violent possibilities of inhabiting Odyssean or Abrahamic modes of selfhood and pushing them to their logical end. Further, Augie recasts Emersonian perfectionism by shifting to new self-horizons in response to both attractive and repellent others. Herzog undergoes roughly the same process, incorporating the Odyssey and Abraham’s exile into his journey, the impelling power of loss from Thoreau, and the provocation of both attractive and repellent others as the impetus to form himself anew—to a point. Herzog’s acknowledgement of Madeleine’s theatricality, that is, of the non- traversable distance between the pair that makes Madeleine other, allows others to appear before Herzog as they are. Herzog interacts with others, as Abraham does, by allowing the gap to persist between himself and others; and it is precisely because Herzog maintains the theatrical gap between himself and others, that the other is incapable of overwhelming his self-sovereignty. He is, then, in the sense that he persists in determining his own selfhood, Odyssean. Both Ramona and Himmelstein push Herzog to close the theatrical gap, either by letting himself be defined by others, as Himmelstein proposes, or by pinning himself permanently—closing himself from external influence— as Ramona hopes Herzog will. Herzog insists on preserving theatrical space, and is thus able to draw on the influences of others, without impacting on others’ being or allowing others to impact on his own. Herzog’s perfection, then, maintains a balance between the poles of Odyssean and Abrahamic selfhood. The influences that Herzog faces across the theatrical gap both attract and repel him, as Augie March is likewise attracted and repelled by his reality instructors. Although Augie interacts with flesh and blood others, Herzog is, for the most part, drawn to or repelled toward a new horizon of self in response to the dead and absent others invoked in his letters. Like Thoreau, an inapproachable THOU draws Herzog to discover a better self in the ecstasy of loss, although in Herzog’s case, THOU is more often a repulsive other. Ironically, however, Herzog’s self-perfection, unlike Augie’s, and unlike Thoreau’s perfectionism, for that matter, comes to a halt at the end of the novel. On the final page of
Augie March, Augie is still committed to further horizons and continued travel and self- evolution—he remains something of a Columbus. Herzog, however, is satisfied with the state of being acquired in his hammock at Ludeyville, and determines to give up the letter writing that has provoked his change and evolution—he determines, in other words, to cease facing the inapproachable other. After offering a prayer to THOU, “Thou movest me”, Herzog’s letters stop:
Perhaps he’d stop writing letters. Yes, that’s what was coming, in fact. The knowledge that he was done with these letters. Whatever had come over him during these last months, the spell, really seemed to be passing, really going. . . . At this time he had no messages for anyone. Nothing. Not a single word” (348).
I described the spell that Herzog is under at the beginning of novel—“He had fallen under a spell and was writing letters to everyone under the sun” (7)—as the wonder he feels in response to the nextness of self revealed to him as he reads nature and as he converses with the dead in letters. But here, that wonder, the spell, passes: Herzog no longer pursues nextness, ceases to travel, and arrives home. Herzog—“Odysseus flat on his back”, according to Irving Howe—arrives on his own shores, “the skin torn from his hands” (TJB 148), battered and bruised, but at last home as a complete self. After the perfectionist journeys recounted in Augie March, and after Herzog’s own balance of Abrahamic and Odyssean modes of self-formation, the Odyssey returns in Bellow’s fiction, and overwhelms the final scenes of Herzog as the dominant metaphor of selfhood. After the “free-style” perfectionism of Augie March and the ecstasy of loss and pursuit of self-evolution maintained for most of Herzog, it comes as something of a surprise to see the Odyssean metaphor return so forcibly in Bellow’s fiction. Indeed, Odysseus is given full rein, in Bellow’s post-Herzog fiction, most notably in Bellow’s controversial book, To Jerusalem and Back. Ostensibly, To Jerusalem appears to continue the perfectionist movements of Augie March and Herzog. Bellow is provoked to journey by extensive reading, provoked to visit Israel by both the attractive and repellent features revealed in his readings on Israel and Palestine. Once in Jerusalem, he spends his time in ceaseless discussion, in a “gale of conversation” (25), always provocative. However, his conversations fail to propel Bellow
on to further horizons of self, or to reveal the nextness of selfhood—his conversations, like Mrs. Renling’s conversations in Augie March, serve to consolidate what Bellow already is, to reduce the other to his own concepts. A major bone of contention for critics of To Jerusalem, is the lack of an Arab voice, or what amounts to Bellow’s silencing of the Palestinian other. For example, Noam Chomsky, in Towards a New Cold War (1982), describes Bellow as a “propagandist’s delight” (299), noting that Bellow investigates the so called Palestinian question by distilling the multitude of Palestinian voices into a brief conversation: “There is also one Arab voice, which is granted a paragraph. On this evidence, Bellow reports the attitudes and beliefs of the Arabs under Israeli control” (302). Bellow, Chomsky argues, presumes to describe Palestinian reality while in effect silencing Palestinian voices. Edward W. Said also criticizes Bellow on the same point, noting that To Jerusalem’s force is engendered by this kind of “accepted”—if incredible—“sort of representation” (41), a representation that essentially ignores the represented, reducing it to the concepts of the representer—in other words, To Jerusalem shows, or fails to show, the Palestinian other through an Odyssean mode of representation. Bellow’s Odyssean mode of representation is signaled in To Jerusalem and Back’s title, where he names his book an odyssey, a return journey. Further, describing his journey to Israel as an American—and his return to America as a Jew—Bellow explicitly styles himself as Odysseus. In Jerusalem, Bellow feels, like Odysseus cursed by Poseidon, “that I have been dropped into a shoreless sea” (25). As Bellow returns home to Chicago, he recalls Odysseus’ shore-landing, after escaping Calypso:
Poseidon, catching sight of him [Odysseus], stirs the waters into a frightful storm with his trident; Ino of the slender ankles comes to despairing Odysseus and gives him her veil and tells him to swim through the tempest. What can be more beautiful more stirring than this—Odysseus praying in his weariness to the river god, who slows the current from him and lets him come to shore. So Odysseus comes to shore, the skin torn from his hands, the sea water gushing from his mouth and nostrils. He breathes again, and some warmth rallies in his heart. (147– 48)
Very little warmth rallies Bellow’s heart as he returns to Chicago—To Jerusalem ends on a pessimistic note, as Bellow fears for Israel’s continuing existence—but Bellow has, on his return journey established his own selfhood, as an American Jew, by knowing Israel, by understanding and grasping those within Israel’s borders. The Bellow of To Jerusalem and Back is indeed an Odyssean traveller. How is it then, at the end of Herzog, and in To Jerusalem and Back, and after the delicate balancing of Odyssean and Abrahamic self-formation of Augie March and Herzog—how is it that the Odyssey returns so forcibly in Bellow’s fiction? One might speculate that Bellow’s recourse to the Odyssey after perfectionism reflects something of America in his novels; the America that folds in on itself, endlessly pursuing new horizons, Emerson’s “new, yet unapproachable America” (E 484), while at the same time defining and closing her borders and shores, securing herself between the four walls of home. Bellow’s juxtaposition of perfectionist self-formation as travel in Augie March and Herzog, with the Odyssean return journey of selfhood in the closing scenes of Herzog and in To Jerusalem and Back, encapsulates the metaphor of America, the United States, as Möbius strip, suggested by Dean Franco in “Re-Placing the Border”:
the United States itself, acting as self-contained America while operating across the Americas, folds the inside out, the outside in. . . . “America,” extending from sea to shining sea and bordered north and south, is the image of the United States whole and self-contained, self-possessed, wrapped in a skin, the skin of its borders. . . . “America,” is . . . generated by the twisting, torsional border . . . all pass through portals in the border and become part of “America” itself. (128–29)
Responding to a European discourse of self-formation as a form of travel, Bellow’s fiction presents an American discourse of self-formation: the perfectionism of Thoreau and Emerson are recast in Bellow to allow the self to travel endlessly, as on the face of a Möbius strip, balancing the demands of Abraham and Odysseus in an American mode of travelling selfhood. All the while, though, Bellow’s fiction remains, like the United States, susceptible to Odyssean drives—to the need to absorb the other and the outside, to calm the other in possession. In an ironic twist, Bellow’s later writing becomes precisely the kind of static and oppressive Odyssean entity resisted by the freestyle philosophy of
direction of Augie March and the ecstasy of loss of Herzog. Bellow’s fiction seems, at the last, to move away from his provocative inheritance of Emerson and Thoreau, to return to Odysseus’ Ithaca. The provocation of Saul Bellow evaporates when Bellow, like Odysseus, ends his travels and comes to shore.
Major Works by Saul Bellow
Bellow, Saul. The Actual. New York: Viking, 1997.
---. The Adventures of Augie March. 1953. London: Penguin, 2001.
---. Collected Stories. Ed. Janis Bellow. New York: Penguin, 2002.
---. Dangling Man. 1944. London: Penguin, 1996.
---. The Dean’s December. 1982. New York: Penguin, 1998.
---. Henderson the Rain King. 1959. New York: Penguin, 1996.
---. Herzog. 1964. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965.
---. Humboldt’s Gift. New York: Viking, 1975.
---. It All Adds Up: From the Dim Past to the Uncertain Future. New York: Penguin, 1995.
---. Mr. Sammler’s Planet. 1970. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972.
---. Ravelstein. London: Penguin, 2000.
---. Seize the Day. 1956. London: Penguin, 2006.
---. To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account. 1976. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977.
---. The Victim. 1947. New York: Penguin, 1996.
Essays by and Interviews with Saul Bellow
---. “The Art of Fiction.” Interview with Gordon Lloyd Harper. Paris Review 9.36 (1966): 48–73. Rpt. in Cronin and Siegel 58–76.
---. “Free to Feel: Conversation with Saul Bellow.” Interview with Maggie Simmons. Quest Feb. 1979: 31–35. Rpt. in Cronin and Siegel 161–70.
---. “How I Wrote Augie March’s Story.” New York Times Book Review 31 Jan. 1954. 17+.
---. “Interview with Saul Bellow.” Interview with Rockwell Gray, Harry White, and Gerald Nemanic. TriQuarterly 60 (1984): 12–34. Rpt. in Cronin and Siegel 199– 222.
---. “Nobel Lecture.” It All Adds Up: From the Dim Past to the Uncertain Future. New York: Penguin, 1995. 88–97.
---. “Saul Bellow in the Classroom.” Interview with Sanford Pinsker. College English 34.7 (1973): 975–82.
---. “Some Notes on Recent American Fiction.” The Novel Today: Contemporary Writers on Modern Fiction. Ed. Malcolm Bradbury. London: Fontana, 1977. 54–69.
---. “A Talk with Saul Bellow.” Interview with Harvey Breit. New York Times Book Review 20 Sept. 1953: 22. Rpt. in Cronin and Siegel 3–5.
---. “Where Do We Go From Here: The Future of Fiction.” To the Young Writer: Hopwood Lectures, Second Series. Ed. A. L. Bader. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1965. 136–46.
---. “The Writer as Moralist.” Atlantic Monthly Mar. 1963: 58–62.
Works by Emerson and Thoreau
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Essays and Lectures: Nature; Addresses, and Lectures; Essays: First and Second Series; Representative Men; English Traits; The Conduct of Life. Ed. Joel Porte. Lib. of America 15. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1983.
---. Emerson’s Prose and Poetry. Eds. Joel Porte and Saundra Morris. Norton Critical Ed. New York: Norton, 2001.
Thoreau, Henry David. A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers: Walden; or, Life in the Woods: The Maine Woods: Cape Cod. Ed. Robert F. Sayre. Lib. of America 28. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1985.
Works by Stanley Cavell
Cavell, Stanley. Cities of Words: Pedagogical Letters on a Register of the Moral Life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2005.
---. The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality, and Tragedy. New York: OUP, 1979.
---. Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome: The Constitution of Emersonian Perfectionism: The Carus Lectures, 1988. La Salle: Open Court, 1990.
---. Contesting Tears: The Hollywood Melodrama of the Unknown Woman. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996.
---. Disowning Knowledge: In Six Plays of Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987.
---. Emerson’s Transcendental Etudes. Ed. David Justin Hodge. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2003.
---. In Quest of the Ordinary: Lines of Skepticism and Romanticism. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1988.
---. “Politics as Opposed to What?” Critical Inquiry 9.1 (1982): 157–78.
---. Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1981.
---. Senses of Walden. Expanded ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992.
---. This New Yet Unapproachable America: Lectures After Emerson After Wittgenstein: The 1987 Frederick Ives Carpenter Lectures. Albuquerque: Living Batch, 1989.
Secondary and Critical Sources
Abbott, H. Porter. “Saul Bellow and the ‘Lost Cause’ of Character.” NOVEL 13.3 (1980): 264–83.
Agamben, Giorgio. ‘‘*Se: Hegel’s Absolute and Heidegger’s Ereignis.’’ Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy. Ed., trans., and intro. Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1999. 116–37.
Alford, C. Fred. “Levinas and Political Theory.” Political Theory 32.2 (2004): 146–71.
Alter, Robert. Rogue’s Progress: Studies in the Picaresque Novel. Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature 26. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1965.
Amis, Martin. “A Chicago of a Novel.” Rev. of The Adventures of Augie March, by Saul Bellow. Atlantic Monthly Oct. 1995: 114–26.
Arnold, Matthew. Culture and Anarchy. 3rd ed. New York, 1882. University of Toronto English Library. Dir. Ian Lancashire. 27 Sept. 2004. Dept. of English, U of Toronto. 17 Feb. 2007
Badiou, Alain. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. Trans. Peter Hallward. London: Verso, 2001.
Barthes, Roland. “Littérature objective.” Essais critiques. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1964. 29–40. Trans. as “Objective Literature,” by Richard Howard. Critical Essays. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1972. 13–24.
---. “La mort de l'auteur.” Essais critiques IV: Le bruissement de la langue. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1984. 61–67. Translated as “The Death of the Author,” by Stephen Heath. Leitch 1466–70.
Bearn, Gordon C. F. “Staging Authenticity: A Critique of Cavell’s Modernism.” Philosophy and Literature 24 (2000): 294–311.
Bennett, Jane. “On Being a Native: Thoreau’s Hermeneutics of Self.” Polity 22.4 (1990): 559–80.
Bird, Christine M. “The Return Journey in To Jerusalem and Back.” MELUS 6.4 (1979): 51–57.
Bishop, Jonathan. “The Experience of the Sacred in Thoreau’s Week.” ELH 33.1 (1966): 66–91.
Blake, William. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Coral Gable, FA: U of Miami P, 1963.
Brackenhoff, Mary Guess. “Saul Bellow’s Myth of the Picaro.” Diss. U of Nebraska, 1984.
Bradbury, Malcolm. The Modern American Novel. 2nd ed. Oxford: OUP, 1992.
---. Saul Bellow. Contemporary Writers Ser. London: Methuen, 1982.
Brown, Sharon Rogers. American Travel Narratives as a Literary Genre from 1542 to 1832: The Art of the Perpetual Journal. Lewiston: Mellen, 1993.
Browning, Gary L. “Zosima’s ‘Secret of Renewal’ in The Brothers Karamazov.” Slavic and East European Journal 33.4 (1989): 516–29.
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Burnyeat, M. F. “Socratic Midwifery, Platonic Inspiration.” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 24 (1977): 7–16.
Caesar, Terry P. Forgiving the Boundaries: Home as Abroad in American Travel Writing. Athens, GA: U of Georgia P, 1995.
Chase, Richard. “The Adventures of Saul Bellow: Progress of a Novelist.” Commentary 27 (1959): 323–330.
Chavkin, Allan. “Bellow’s Alternative to the Wasteland: Romantic Theme and Form in Herzog.” Studies in the Novel 11.3 (1979): 326–37.
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Chomsky, Noam. Towards a New Cold War: Essays on the Current Crisis and How We Got There. London: Browne, 1982.
Christie, John Aldrich. Thoreau as World Traveler. New York: Columbia UP, 1965.
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Clewell, Tammy. “Cavell and the Endless Mourning of Skepticism.” Angelaki 9.3 (2005): 75–87.
Conron, John. “‘Bright American Rivers’: The Luminist Landscapes of Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.” American Quarterly 32.2 (1980): 144–66.
Cook, Bruce. “Saul Bellow: A Mood of Protest.” Perspectives on Ideas and the Arts 12 Feb 1963: 46–50. Rpt. in Cronin and Siegel 6–18.
Corner, Martin. “Moving Outwards: Consciousness, Discourse and Attention in Saul Bellow’s Fiction.” Studies in the Novel 32.3 (2000): 369–85.
Critchley, Simon. “Five Problems in Levinas’s View of Politics and the Sketch of a Solution to Them.” Political Theory 32.3 (2004): 172–85.
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Dante. The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri: Hell; Purgatory; Paradise. Trans. Henry F. Cary. Harvard Classics. Danbury: Grolier, 1980.
Dauber, Kenneth. “On Not Being Able to Read Emerson, or “Representative Man.” boundary 2 21.2 (1994): 220–42.
Dawe, M. Wanda. Skepticism and the Skeptical Spirit: Stanley Cavell: The Philosophical Challenge of Literature. Diss. U of Ottawa, 1998.
Derrida, Jacques. Adieu à Emmanuel Lévinas. Collection Incises. Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1997. Translated as Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas, by Pascal-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1999
---. La carte postale : De Socrate à Freud et au-delà. Paris: Flammarion, 1980. Translated as The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond, by Alan Bass. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1987.
---. “Donner la mort.” L'éthique du don: Jacques Derrida et la pensée du don: Colloque de Royaumont décembre 1990. Eds. Jean-Michel Rabaté and Michael Wetzel. Paris: Métailié-Transition, 1992. 11–108. Translated as The Gift of Death, by David Wills. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995.
---. Donner le temps : 1. La fausse monnaie. Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1991. Translated as Given Time: 1. Counterfeit Money, by Peggy Kamuf. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992.
---. “Hostipitality.” Trans. Gil Anidjar. Acts of Religion. Ed. Gil Anidjar. New York: Routledge, 2002. 358–420.
---. Spectres de Marx : L'État de la dette, le travail du deuil et la nouvelle Internationale. Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1993. Translated as Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, by Peggy Kamuf. New York: Routledge, 1994.
---. “Violence et métaphysique, essai sur la pensée d’Emmanuel Levinas.” L’écriture et la différence. Collection Points 100. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1967. 117–228. Translated as “Violence and Metaphysics: An Essay on the Thought of Emmanuel Levinas,” by Alan Bass. Writing and Difference. London: Routledge, 2001. 97– 192.
Derrida, Jacques, and Elisabeth Roudinesco. De quoi demain … Dialogue. Paris: Flammarion, 2001. Translated as For What Tomorrow . . . : A Dialogue, by Jeff Fort. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2004.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Trans. David Margarshack. London: Folio, 1964.
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Eisinger, Chester E. Fiction of the Forties. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1963.
Eldridge, Richard. On Moral Personhood: Philosophy, Literature, Criticism, and Self- Understanding. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1989.
Elgin, Don D. “Order Out of Chaos: Bellow’s Use of the Picaresque in Herzog.” Saul Bellow Journal 3.2 (1984): 13–22.
Field, Leslie. “Saul Bellow and the Critics—After the Nobel Award.” Modern Fiction Studies 25.1 (1979): 3–13.
Franco, Dean. “Re-Placing the Border in Ethnic American Literature.” Cultural Critique 50 (2002): 104–34.
Frye, Northrop. “The Archetypes of Literature.” Leitch 1445–57.
Fuchs, Daniel. “Herzog: The Making of a Novel.” Trachtenberg, Critical 101–21.
---. Saul Bellow: Vision and Revision. Durham: Duke UP, 1984.
Gauthier, David J. “Martin Heidegger, Emmanuel Levinas, and the Politics of Dwelling.” Diss. Louisiana State U, 2004.
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Hammer, Espen. Stanley Cavell: Skepticism, Subjectivity, and the Ordinary. Key Contemporary Thinkers. Cambridge: Polity, 2002.
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Hegel, G. W. F. Phenomenology of Spirit. Trans. A. V. Miller. Analysis and Foreword J. N. Findlay. Oxford: OUP, 1977.
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Johnson, David E. “‘Writing in the Dark’: The Political Fictions of American Travel Writing.” American Literary History 7.1 (1995): 1–27.
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Johnson, Linck C. Thoreau’s Complex Weave: The Writing of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers: With the Text of the First Draft. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1986.
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Kirstein, Ruth Gabriela. “The Dual Vision: Reality and Transcendence in Saul Bellow’s Fiction.” Diss. State U of New York, Buffalo, 1980.
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---. Collected Philosophical Papers. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 1998.
---. “Dieu et la philosophie.” Le nouveau commerce 30–31 (1975): 97–128. Translated as “God and Philosophy,” by Alphonso Lingis. Collected Philosophical Papers. Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 1998. 153–73.
---. Difficile liberté : essais sur le judaïsme. 2nd ed. Paris: Albin Michel, 1976. Translated as Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism, by Seán Hand. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1990.
---. Entre nous: Essais sur le penser-à-l’autre. Paris: Grasset, 1991. Translated as Entre Nous: Thinking-of-the-Other, by Michael B. Smith and Barbara Harshav. London: Continuum, 2006.
---. Liberté et Commandement. Pref. by Pierre Hayat. Paris: Fata Morgana, 1994. Translated as “Freedom and Command,” by Alphonso Lingis. Collected Philosophical Papers. Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 1998. 15–24.
---. Totalité et infini : Essai sur l’extériorité. Phaenomenologica 8. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1961. Translated as Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, by Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 2004.
---. “La trace de l’autre.” En découvrant l'existence avec Husserl et Heidegger. 3rd ed. Libraire philosophique. Paris: Vrin, 1974. 187–202. Translated as “The Trace of the Other,” by Alphonso Lingis. Deconstruction in Context: Literature and Philosophy. Ed. Mark C. Taylor. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1986. 345–59.
Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Ed. and intro. Peter H. Nidditch. Oxford: Clarendon, 1975.
---. Essays on the Law of Nature. Ed. W. von Leyden. Oxford: Clarendon, 1954.
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Malabou, Catherine, and Jacques Derrida. Jacques Derrida: La Contre-allée: Voyager avec Jacques Derrida. Collection Voyager avec . . . . Paris: Quinzaine-Vuitton, 1999. Translated as Counterpath: Traveling with Jacques Derrida, by David Wills. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2004.
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Melville, Stephen. “Oblique and Ordinary: Stanley Cavell’s Engagements of Emerson.” American Literary History 5.1 (1993): 172–92.
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Milton, John. The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. London, 1644. Milton Reading Room. Ed. Thomas Luxom. 2002. Dartmouth College. 16 Mar. 2007
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---. Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One. Trans. R. J. Hollingdale. London: Penguin, 2003.
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---. “Political Revisions: Stanley Cavell and Political Philosophy.” Political Theory 30.6 (2002): 828–51.
Opdahl, Keith. The Novels of Saul Bellow: An Introduction. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1967.
---. “‘Stillness in the Midst of Chaos’: Plot in the Novels of Saul Bellow.” Modern Fiction Studies 25.1 (1979): 15–28.
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---. Saul Bellow Against the Grain. Penn Studies in Contemporary American Fiction. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1990.
Plato. “Republic.” Trans. Harold North Fowler. Perseus Digital Lib. Ed. Gregory Crane. Dept. of Classics, Tufts U. 21 Feb. 2007
---. “Symposium.” Trans. Harold North Fowler. Perseus Digital Lib. Ed. Gregory Crane. Dept. of Classics, Tufts U. 6 Feb. 2007
---. “Theaetetus.” Trans. Harold North Fowler. Perseus Digital Lib. Ed. Gregory Crane. Dept. of Classics, Tufts U. 6 Feb. 2007
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---. “Is the Going Up Worth the Coming Down? Transcendental Dualism in Bellow’s Fiction.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 17.2 (1984): 19–37.
---. Whence the Power?: The Artistry and Humanity of Saul Bellow. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1974.
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---. Quest for the Human: An Exploration of Saul Bellow’s Fiction. East Brunswick: Associated UP, 1981.
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---. “Saul Bellow and the Veil of Maya.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 17.2 (1984): 39–57.
---. “Saul Bellow’s Luftmenschen: The Compromise with Reality.” Critique 9.3 (1967): 37–61.
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