Fiction that entertains and provokes thought can be a wonderful experience. Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow provides that experience. In 1973, (not quite yet prime time classics), his “Humboldt’s Gift” adds humor to the equation. (I curse Bellow for this. When I finished this book, I decided there was only one career for me, and it wasn’t chemical engineering. I might have had a normal life otherwise.)
Bellow’s irony and wit are extraordinary. The narrator’s girlfriend responds to his earlier comment and says, “This is too serious for tongue twisters.” The narrator replies:
“I am serious. The greatest things, the things most necessary for life, have recoiled and retreated. People are actually dying of this, losing all personal life, and the inner being of millions, many many millions, is missing. One can understand that in many parts of the world there is no hope for it because of famine or police dictatorships, but here in the free world what excuse have we? Under pressure of public crisis the private sphere is being surrendered. I admit this private sphere has become so repulsive that we are glad to get away from it. But we accept the disgrace ascribed to it and people have filled their lives with so-called ‘public issues.’ What do we hear when these public issues are discussed? The failed ideas of three centuries. Anyhow the end of the individual, whom everyone seems to scorn and detest, will make our destruction, our superbombs, superfluous. I mean, if there are only foolish minds and mindless bodies there’ll be nothing serious to annihilate. In the highest government positions almost no human beings have been seen for decades now, anywhere in the world. Mankind must recover its imaginative powers, recover living thought and real being, no longer accept these insults to the soul, and do it soon. Or else! And this is where a man like Humboldt, faithful to failed ideas, lost his poetry and missed the boat.”
The Moral Liberal Associate Editor, Robert F. Beaudine, has written authoritative articles on public education, the financial crisis, and the myth of global warming. He’s also the author of the life-affirming novel, “Based Upon a Lie,” a theological conspiracy thriller. He resides in the upstate of South Carolina.
Copyright © 2011 Robert Beaudine.