Academic journal article Saul Bellow Journal

Blinded by Ideology: Saul Bellow, the Partisan Review, and the Impact of the Holocaust

Academic journal article Saul Bellow Journal

Blinded by Ideology: Saul Bellow, the Partisan Review, and the Impact of the Holocaust

Article excerpt

Today, Alan Berger and I are going to try to unpack my father's statement that he "came late" to the Holocaust--which is something of a personal confession, to my mind. In order to offer a biographical context to his statement, it is important to remember that during his lifetime there were three distinct phases in how palpably my father identified himself as a Jew: childhood, in which the Bellow family's Jewish immigrant status predominated; adolescence and adulthood, where his Jewish connections were attenuated by his development as a writer and by his attraction to the radical political views prevalent in the 1930s; and after age fifty, when his Jewish identity was reaffirmed by his coverage of the 1967 War and was accompanied by a dramatic shift in his political worldview that is most directly expressed in Mr. Sammler's Planet.

Youthful Jewish Identity--GB

My Grandmother Bellow was a deeply religious woman. Her father was a rabbi and a scholar who, reportedly, had a prodigious memory and could recite extensive talmudic texts from memory. My grandfather, though a former rabbinical student, took a more skeptical attitude towards his faith. However, he remained observant and proudly identified himself as a Jew. As a child, my father developed a strong religious identity that included a study of Hebrew beginning at three or four years of age. Relying on his prodigious memory, he could recite long passages from the Bible--particularly the book of Genesis. My grandfather once confided to my mother that the family thought Saul was a genius until he was six.

On the Background of the Rest of the Partisan Review Crowd--ALB

Saul Bellow and the core of the Partisan Review crowd shared a youth that was clearly etched by Judaism and an immigrant milieu. Indeed, it would have been difficult to do otherwise, given the circumstances of the times. However, as Irving Howe notes, the intellectuals who are most closely identified as members of the PR crowd--Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer, Irving Howe himself, and Irving Kristol--were the first group of Jewish writers to emerge from the immigrant milieu who did not define themselves through a relationship to memories of Jewishness. Rather, they made an attempt to discard the past, to break away from families, traditions, and memories (Howe, World of Our Fathers 600). (1) Consequently, it is important to note that the immigrant generation bequeathed a mixed legacy to its children: their offspring were marked both by separation from Judaism and by "fantasies of universalism." These Jewish intellectuals, beginning in the 1930s, committed themselves to the idea of a "fresh start" or a new beginning. Socialism was more attractive than either Democracy or Judaism. European culture was superior to that of America.

In order to mark this new beginning, one had to acquire a new name which was designed to submerge one's Jewishness: Irving Howe was the nora de plume of Irving Hornstein, who also used the name Hugh Ivan; Daniel Bell began life as Daniel Bulotsky; William Philips, one of the Partisan Review editors, changed his name from William Navinsky; and the influential literary critic and fellow PR Editor Philip Rahv was born Ivan Greenbach. Early on, members of the group of New York Intellectuals "defined themselves Jewishly through their alienation from their Jewishness" (Kessner 3).

These were children of workers or petty bourgeois who came to America and, while far from ignorant, had no time for intellectual things. The parents were focused on hard work and feeding their families. The children, on the other hand, were enthralled by the world of ideas. They questioned ancestral piety. Daniel Bell, the distinguished sociologist, recalls that "the shul and the Socialist party" formed his life. After has Bar Mitzvah he told his Rabbi, "I found the truth. I don't believe in God. I'm joining the Young Socialists League." The Rabbi's response? "Yingele--kid--you don't believe in God. …

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