Rowland Bismark's Reviews > Herzog

Herzog by Saul Bellow
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May 17, 10

Read in January, 2004

The Internal Journey of Modern Man

Saul Bellow reacts to the horrors of history in a different way than do some other writers. The Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War caused widespread disillusionment, which was expressed by great artists such as the poet T.S. Eliot, who wrote the masterpiece "The Wasteland." Moses acknowledges the facts of war and death, but he does not become alienated as a result of them. Moses remembers thinking of the Holocaust when he went to Poland and thought of the death that pervaded the place. He makes reference to both T.S. Eliot and the Holocaust, criticizes the leaders of his country for the war in Vietnam, and condemns an "aesthetic" view of history that ignores death and murder.

Even though Bellow fills his novel with references to death, however, he does not ascribe to the view that historical events should make us jaded. As Moses says in a letter, "We musn't forget how quickly the visions of genius become the canned goods of the intellectuals…the commonplaces of the Wasteland outlook, the chap mental stimulants of Alienation…I can't accept this foolish dreariness." Moses does not call Eliot foolish—he considers Eliot a genius. However, he does think that the ideas of a genius can become corrupted and trite in the minds of ordinary people. Bellow believes that modern man can find communion and beauty in midst of the bleakness and isolation of the modern world. Although Moses does feel alienated, and although the bulk of his novel is about his solitary thoughts, in the end, Moses rejects alienation and solitude. He comes to embrace society and to see the importance of sharing his life with others.
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