Binding Isaac

June 20, 2009

posted by caroline picard

Moshe sent me a link to this article–in which Saul Bellow’s superior rival (a man barely published, he died young), Isaac Zetland is revealed and discussed. I included on paragraph here, which I found incredible. Another distinction that is made is that while Bellow focused on externals (beards and such) to reveal internals, Zetland revealed the internals.

“Is there a human price to be paid for this kind of mastery? Bellow acknowledges that there is, when he contrasts Zetland’s sensitivity with his own hardness. “His cat had a miscarriage,” Bellow writes, “and he wept about that, too, because the mother cat was grieving. I flushed the stillborn cats down the boardless grimy toilet in the cellar.” It is an example of their contrasting temperaments: “We decided that we were the tender-minded and tough- minded of William James, respectively.” Yet Bellow insists that it takes a tough mind to sustain the novelist’s open eyes: “James had said that to know everything that happened in one city on a single day would crush the toughest mind. No one could be as tough as he needed to be.” And the very fact that it is Bellow writing about Rosenfeld, not the other way around, proves him right. Zetland is introspective, lovable, and a failure, while Bellow is as tough as he needs to be, and therefore great.”

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