Saul Bellow and Moses Herzog

Article excerpt

A general problem encountered by the critics and the readers of Herzog is the ambiguity in trying to distinguish Moses Herzog's voice from that of Saul Bellow. Outside the use of direct quotation to present the hero's speech, indirect presentation of the hero's words in the novel sometimes obliterates the delimitations between the author and the hero. Many critics and readers take it for granted that Moses, especially in displaying his philosophical, intellectual, ethical, and philanthropic viewpoints, serves as a mouthpiece for Bellow, and thus the theme of the novel resides in the optimistic moralistic values proposed by Bellow to act as counterweight to the prevalent pessimistic attitudes or cultural nihilism of the modern West. In a speech delivered to students of Beijing University in 1986, Brigitte Scheer-Schaezler, a critic of Bellow, obviously mixed Moses Herzog's identity with Saul Bellow's. In her speech, she conveyed ideas such as, "One of Bellow's most explicit passages refuting cultural pessimism is contained in Herzog in which Bellow allows himself to become really temperamental, angry, witty, and sharply ironical" (5). Suzanne Evertsen Lundquist, another critic of Bellow, wrote, "Bellow, through the mouth of Herzog, has demonstrated the paradox of textual metaphor" (38). Andrea Mannis presupposed that Moses's definition of Nietzsche's words equals Bellow's own: "Herzog admires these men as well, particularly Nietzsche, in whom Herzog recognizes the courage to question as has never been questioned before. Thus Bellow's opinion of Nietzsche is mixed" (28). M. Al Quayum similarly notices the affinity between the discourse of the hero and that of the author when he makes the following statement: "Despite the separate identity Herzog enjoys in the fictive world of the novel, he also shares temperamental affinities with his author and comes to represent the latter's voice and sentiment in many ways" (44). Such mixing of character's and author's voices not only ignores Bellow's artistic assertions on the principles of fictional characters but may cause misunderstanding: readers may not see Moses as a character of individual perspectives.

In his 1976 Nobel speech, Bellow observed that "human types have become false and boring" and that those "identifiable personalities" that we derived from many famous European novels actually represented "an awful phenomenon" ("Nobel Lecture" 80). He favored Elizabeth Bowen's definition of characters: they "are not created by writers. They preexist and they have to be found" ("Nobel Lecture" 82). Clearly, Bellow refuted the notion that he spoke through the mouth of Moses to convey his own philosophy; thus, readers might be misled if they blur the division between the discourses of the hero and the author. As readers, we should clarify that Bellow's discourse sits primarily upon his artistic design for the story of Moses, as Bellow seeks to make all parts contribute to the final message of the novel. The author's speech and the hero's discourse thus must both be defined spherically to make clear the interactions, agreements, contemplations, or confrontations between them.

Mikhail M. Bakhtin's (1895-1975) proposition of "double narration" serves partially as criteria for clarifying those vague and problematic discourses in Herzog, because the notions of "double narration" involve a fundamental belief that the author's discourse and the character's discourse should be separated. (1) The author and the hero must be two completely different identities. The hero must create his own field of vision and unique perspective, define himself, design his own life, and decide his own fate; thus "the real-life definition" of the hero and "the artistic dominant of his image are fused into one" (Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics 51). In spite of those prominent contributions made by Bakhtin, I maintain that there is a further breakdown of his "authorial discourse" into two subdivisions: visible and invisible authorial discourse. …


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.