Reading Saul Bellow’s letters on the heels of Dwight MacDonald’s tetchy “MassCult and MidCult” reminded me why I love Bellow and made me decide that I’m not too big a fan of MacDonald. More on all this in a bit, as context is everything, but for now here’s a particularly good line or five from Bellow’s fiction (his letters I’ll quote sporadically, too):
“And here’s the thing. It takes a time like this for you to find out how sore your heart has been, and, moreover, all the while you thought you were going around idle terribly hard work was taking place. Hard, hard work, excavation and digging, mining, moling through tunnels, heaving, pushing, moving rock, working, working, working, working, working, panting, hauling, hoisting. And none of this work is seen from the outside. It’s internally done. It happens because you are powerless and unable to get anywhere, to obtain justice or have requital, and therefore in yourself you labor, you wage and combat, settle scores, remember insults, fight, reply, deny, blab, denounce, triumph, outwit, overcome, vindicate, cry, persist, absolve, die and rise again. All by yourself! Where is everybody? Inside your breast and skin, the entire cast.” From The Adventures of Augie March.
“It takes a time like this for you to find out how sore your heart has been.” I look back at the last ten years and see that that, quite possibly, was happening when I started writing Zioncheck for President (AKA Grassroots). That said, I got a book out of that experience. Digging and excavation did indeed happen, but in this case a lot of it landed on the page. And I’m grateful for it.