Saturday, January 08, 2011

Prime Passage: Saul Bellow: Letters

From Bellow's letter to the Guggenheim Foundation, January 20, 1953:

"I am perfectly sure that he will become a major novelist. He has every prerequisite: the personal, definite style, the emotional resources, the understanding of character, the dramatic sense and the intelligence. He understands what the tasks of an imaginative writer of today are. Not to be appalled by these tasks is in and of itself a piece of heroism. Imagination has been steadily losing prestige in American life, it seems to me, for a long time. I am speaking of the poetic imagination. Inferior kinds of imagination have prospered, but the poetic has less credit than ever before. Perhaps that is because there is less room than ever for the personal, spacious, unanxious and free, for the unprepared, unorganized and spontaneous elements from which poetic imagination springs. It is upon writers like Mr. Malamud that the future of literature in America depends, writers who have not sought to protect themselves by joining schools or by identification with  prevailing tastes and tendencies. The greatest threat to writing today is the threat of conformism. Art is the speech of an artist, of an individual, and it testifies to the power of individuals to speak and to the power of other individuals to listen and understand.

"Literal-minded critics of Mr. Malamud's novel, The Natural, complained that it was not about true-to-life baseball players and failed entirely to see that it was a parable of the man of great endowments, or myth of the champion. I have immense faith in Mr. Malamud's power to make himself understood. I should be very happy to hear that he had become a Guggenheim fellow." (p.118)

Buy Bellow's Letters here.