Saul Bellow. Ravelstein. Allan Bloom.

Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow. Ravelstein. Allan Bloom.

The Closing of the American Soul.
November 23, 2009.

When Saul Bellow’s novel Ravelstein was published in 2000, I did not rush out and buy a copy but closely followed the many reviews that began to appear. I had read almost all of Bellow’s work up to his last novel but felt for some reason that the time was not right to readRavelstein, despite my having ravenously devoured Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind when it had been published in 1987, and anything related to it. I trusted my intuition and attended to other interests, while more reviews continued to come out. Occasionally, I would stumble on one and read it, thinking Ravelstein was a book that I’d have to read someday. Then in 2005 I bought a copy when I happened upon it in a bookstore, but I didn’t read it. I put it on a shelf, waiting for the right moment. This fall, a year and a half into working on writing an epic poem, I realized I needed Saul Bellow’s help. I needed to know how things really stood with the Jews. Even more thanCommentary Magazine, I knew I could count on Saul Bellow to tell me the truth. He never lied to me in the past. I remembered Ravelstein and retrieved it. The right moment in the life of my soul had come….

Now available in

The Myth of the Enlightenment: Essays
Forthcoming, September, 2014.

See my review of Bellow’s Him With His Foot In His Mouth and Other Stories (1984), in the Saul Bellow Journal (summer 1985) and my essay “Saul Bellow’s Soul” in The Grove of the Eumenides: Essays on Literature, Criticism, and Culture.



Filed under Reviews, Universality

9 Responses to Saul Bellow. Ravelstein. Allan Bloom.

  1. Doug Knowlton

    From Reviews. Submitted on 2009/11/30 at 4:22 am

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this late review. Sometimes things must simmer. There is a different timing internally, than what the media presses. It is perhaps time to read Ravelstein, it could be an excellent next course following Pirsig. Thank you Frederick.

  2. FG

    From Reviews. Submitted on 2009/11/30 at 12:12 pm

    Thanks for commenting.

    Yes, sometimes things do need to simmer somewhere inside until the right moment. But the media and most academic departments can’t run on that theory. By definition, they require churning out on schedule, so a publishing deadline can be met, a grade can be assigned, a promotion committee have material to review, and so on. Highly reliable methods for stifling the growth of the soul…

  3. Gregory Feeley

    From Reviews. Submitted on 2010/06/13 at 6:47 am

    You can like “Ravelstein” without feeling compelled to join the cultural Right’s lockstep (and ignorant) condemnation of academia.

  4. FG

    From Reviews. Submitted on 2010/06/19 at 5:08 am

    Gregory Feeley,

    In my opinion, your view of the “cultural Right” misses the complexity of Saul Bellow and my comments on Ravelstein. Viewing the issues involved as “lockstep,” “ignorant,” and academia as in some way above criticism similarly fails to come to terms with the issues involved. In my view, Right and Left, however one defines those terms, are both just as bankrupt as academia… I argue that any serious reading of Ravelstein has to begin to come to terms with that realization.

  5. Vistasp Hodiwala

    Dear Frederick,

    I cannot tell you how happy I am to discover this ‘learned’ review of Ravelstein. My time to read this book happened now and I put it away just a few hours ago; so it is resonating in my soul (that word again) in ways I cannot express.

    Out of curiosity, I surfed for a few reviews after I was done with this lovely piece of work and what struck me was not only the shallowness of the reviews but a one-dimensional obsession with connecting the characters with real life friends or acquaintances of Bellow. Now, while I do understand the insatiable urge to point these things out, I could not resist thinking that this very knowledge incapacitated them from understanding the true beauty of this work.

    So, when I finally landed on this page (and I don’t exactly recall how), it was a relief to find a review which treats the book on its inescapable merit. On my part, I can only say (and it maybe because I am situated far from American Universities to be encumbered by the details of Bloom and his sex life) that I read it purely as a piece of original literary fiction, which it is, and felt hugely rewarded.

    Your review cuts through the ‘oh-so-clever’ verbiage of hacks and does ample justice to this significant piece of beauty. I doubt of any of those posers have ever written a line in their lives that can hold a candle to Bellow’s luminous works of art. So thank you once again!

    Vistasp Hodiwala

  6. Vistasp,

    Sounds like we’ve had a similar experience of “Bellow’s luminous works of art.” He was an immensely gifted novelist, capable of embracing so much of life, a pleasure to read.

    So many people who have responded to my own writing are from India. I think India must have a great literary future, as in other ways. You might enjoy my review of The Vendor of Sweets. R. K. Narayan.
    and my essay “India’s Kali Yuga” in my book The Grove of the Eumenides.

    Feel free to “Friend” me on Facebook, if you’re on it.

    Thanks for the good words.

  7. Vistasp Hodiwala

    Cannot agree more with you on Bellow. He has been an equally inspiring presence for me for years and years now.

    Loved your take on The Vendor of Sweets; which I must confess I haven’t read and am now inclined to pick up. Shall definitely be following your blog closely Frederick. It’s a real find for me.

    Ah yes, and that friend request has already been made.


  8. Vistasp Hodiwala

    And Frederick, where do I find Cynthia Ozick’s review of Ravelstein? It’s not on the net to the best of my knowledge.

  9. Vistasp,

    Glad to hear you enjoy Bellow’s work! I’ve been enamored of him too for a long time. I also have a review online of his “Him With His Foot In His Mouth and Other Stories,” 1984, you might check out, if interested:

    Cynthia Ozick’s review of Ravelstein, “Throwing Away the Clef,” was in the national magazine The New Republic, May 22, 2000. You’ll have to check their website to see if they allow access online to it. Perhaps I read it from the printed magazine or a university database.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.