Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I am living in Belleville at the moment.

Saul Bellow arriving in Paris in 1947:

"The Guggenheim Foundation had given me a fellowship and I was prepared to take part in the great revival when and if it began. Like the rest of the American contingent I had brought my illusions with me but I like to think that I was also skeptical (perhaps the most tenacious of my illusions). I was not going to sit at the feet of Gertrude Stein. I had no notions about the Ritz Bar. I would not be boxing with Ezra Pound, as Hemingway had done, nor writing in bistros while waiters brought oysters and wine. Hemingway the writer I admired without limits, Hemingway the figure was to my mind the quintessential tourist, the one who believed that he alone was the American whom Europeans took to their hearts as one of their own. In simple truth, the Jazz Age Paris of American legend had no charms for me, and I had my reservations also about the Paris of Henry James - bear in mind the unnatural squawking of East Side Jews as James described it in The American Scene. You wouldn't expect a relative of those barbarous East Siders to be drawn to the world of Mme. de Vionnet, which had in any case vanished long ago."

Christopher Hitchens makes the connection again in his essay on Bellow's Augie March:

"Barely a half-century before The Adventures of Augie March was published, Henry James had returned to New York from Europe and found its new character unsettling in the extreme. In The American Scene, published in 1907, he registered the revulsion he imagined “any sensitive citizen” might feel, after visiting Ellis Island, at having “to share the sanctity of his American consciousness, the intimacy of his American patriotism, with the inconceivable alien. ”On the Lower East Side, James discerned the “hard glitter of Israel.” In east-side caf├ęs, he found himself in “torture-rooms of the living idiom.” And he asked himself: “Who can ever tell, moreover, in any conditions and in presence of any apparent anomaly, what the genius of Israel may, or may not, really be ‘up to’?” The Master was by no means alone in expressing sentiments and sensitivities of this kind. With The Adventures of Augie March, and its bold initial annexation of the brave name of “American,” his descendants got the answer to the question about what that genius was “up to.”"