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Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Great Bellow

Every now and then I will use this blog to introduce some of my heroes. Two days ago I presented Harold Prince who was and still is the mentor of my work as a creator of musicals. With him I had a lot of discussions, we worked together and met socially. It seems odd that I should feel a similar closeness to other people who I admire but never met in person. One of them is Saul Bellow. His Herzog I read like a report about my inner life. Bellows writing touches me like only certain pieces of music do. Nevertheless he was one of those theoreticians to whom, as he writes in Herzog, "one must show the door".


That said, you may want to read what Bellow says about the change in literature of which he is an important part. I found this the other day in the Paris Review: "For a long time, perhaps from the middle of the nineteenth century, writers have not been satisfied to regard themselves simply as writers. They have required also a theoretical framework. Most often they have been their own theoreticians, have created their own ground as artists, and have provided an exegesis for their own works. They have found it necessary to take a position, not merely to write novels. In bed last night I was reading a collection of articles by Stendhal. One of them amused me very much, touched me. Stendhal was saying how lucky writers were in the age of Louis XIV not to have anyone take them very seriously. Their obscurity was very valuable. Corneille had been dead for several days before anyone at court considered the fact important enough to mention. In the nineteenth century, says Stendhal, there would have been several public orations, Corneille's funeral covered by all the papers. There are great advantages in not being taken tooseriously. Some writers are excessively serious about themselves. They accept the ideas of the “cultivated public.” There is such a thing as overcapitalizing the A in artist. Certain writers and musicians understand this. Stravinsky says the composer should practice his trade exactly as a shoemaker does. Mozart and Haydn accepted commissions—wrote to order. In the nineteenth century, the artist loftily waited for Inspiration. Once you elevate yourself to the rank of a cultural institution, you're in for a lot of trouble."

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