Saul Leiter‘, ‘Phone Call’, NY, 1957

La mancata consegna di un premio Pulitzer alla letteratura per l’edizione di quest’anno ha lasciato tutti interdetti e aperto dibattiti circa la questione. Saul Bellow è l’unico scrittore americano ad essere stato insignito di 3 National book awards con i romanzi ‘The adventures of Augie March’, ‘Herzog’, e ‘Mr Sammler’s Planet‘; nel 1975 di un Pulitzer Prize per il romanzo Humboldt’s Gift; nel 1976 di un Nobel Prize in Literature ‘for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work’
Dangling man, primo dei suoi romanzi pubblicato nel 1944, anticipa l’intera produzione letteraria dello scrittore e sembra rispondere alle polemiche circa il futuro della letteratura. Bellow colloca l’uomo al centro dell’indagine letteraria e lo fa ponendo particolareggiata attenzione ai conflitti che derivano dal confronto con la società che lo circonda, lo opprime, lo ‘strania’ e verso cui prova un sentimento di alienazione. Il più della critica concerne stile della scrittura e gli elementi di cui Bellow si serve per configurare background e ragioni di un conflitto che rappresenta il teorema uomo – umanità – società moderna. E’ certo la sensibilità di Bellow nel trattare la materia umana deriva lui dall’essere figlio di mercanti ebrei emigrati in Canada e vissuti in Russia. Saul è ultimo di quattro figli cresciuti a Chicago e nati a Montreal. I genitori parlano fra loro ebraico e russo, i ragazzi inglese, yiddish e francese. L’identità culturale di Bellow attinge dalla ricca tradizione ebraica, francese e russa, e converge nella mistificazione e conseguente disillusione del sogno americano; sono gli anni della Grande Depressione, della grande immigrazione, del grande Gatsby, del quarto potere, della chiamata alle armi, del calypso e del rockabilly. Trovo il virtuosismo dell’America condensato tutto nell’intensità accelerata di quegli anni di grave crisi sociale che hanno piegato alle ginocchia milioni di persone e rimesso in discussione le sorti di una nazione intera. Io credo è stato soltanto allora che i bianchi si sono finalmente uniti ai neri, centinaia di lingue si sono mescolate alla lingua, decine di nazioni si sono strette in una, capace di risollevarsi dalle macerie attraverso duro lavoro, sacrifici e tanta immaginazione. Del virtuosismo americano amo il senso della possibilità, quel why not? che è ottimismo e apertura, un accogliere, uno sfidare la sorte, un giocare la partita, un pensare straordinario, immaginifico, lungimirante, in funzione del domani
Secondo il dizionario inglese che ho qui con me, to dangle ha due significati:
transitive and intransitive verb hang loosely: to swing or hang loosely, or cause something to swing or hang loosely
transitive verb offer something as inducement: to offer or display something as an enticement or inducement
Dangling man sembra appunto offrire an inducement, uno stimolo, un motivo, un incentivo a considerare la storia un punto d’arrivo e un’occasione di partenza, e l’uomo un ‘mezzo’, letteralmente un mezzo, a cui viene chiesto di attraversare il presente consapevolmente. In Dangling man Bellow attenta a descrivere da cosa deriva quella consapevolezza, che è coscienza individuale dunque esito sociale. Quella consapevolezza nasce da una colluttazione ideale di principi e forze opposte, ora l’esercizio di una volontà di potenza, il trionfo del Romanticismo, l’eroismo del Titano, ora l’assurdità delle guerre, un crollo di valori, l’oltre uomo in crisi esistenzialista, sviscerato dalla psicoanalisi e teso al  nichilismo e all’isolazione.
Il romanzo è una retrospettiva che procede per date e minuziose digressioni all’infanzia e alla giovinezza. Joseph, il protagonista, sembra guardarsi allo specchio e non riconoscersi nell’immagine che vede di sè; si agita, è nervoso, perde il senno, sembra non avere più il controllo della propria vita e sulle proprie emozioni
L’edizione che ho qui, della Penguin, è introdotta da J. M. Coetzee, che del romanzo dice nel finale
‘Dangling Man is long on reflection, short on action. It occupies the uneasy ground between the novella proper and the personal essay or confession. Various personages come onstage and exchange words with the protagonist, but beyond Joseph in his two sketchy manifestations there are no characters, properly speaking. Behind the figure of Joseph can be discerned the lonely, humiliated clerks of Gogol and Dostoevsky, brooding upon revenge; the Roquentin of Sartre’s Nausea, the scholar who undergoes a strange metaphysical experience that estranges him from the world; and the lonely young poet of Rilke’s Notebook of Malte Laurids Brigge. In this slim first book Bellow has not yet developed a vehicle adequate to the kind of novel he is feeling his way towards, one that will offer the customary novelistic satisfactions, including involvement in what feels like real- life conflict in a real-life world, and yet leave the author free to deploy his reading in European literature and thought in order to explore problems in contemporary life. For that step in Bellow’s evolution we will have to wait for Herzog (1964)
J. M. Coetzee
Ho amato questo libro dalla prima all’ultima pagina, e dalla prima all’ultima pagina questo libro ha lenito un po’ della mia solitudine e fatto stare bene, fossero state le parole un abbraccio, una mano che tiene la mano, una lettera che dà conforto.
Le parti del libro da citare sarebbero tantissime, ma ci sono due passi che fra tutti mi hanno colpita particolarmente

___________________________________________________________January 5

THIS AFTERNOON I emptied the closet of all its shoes and sat on the floor polishing them. Surrounded by rage, saddle soap, and brushes – the brown light of the street pressing in at the window, and the sparrows bickering in the dead twigs – I felt tranquil for a while and, as I set Iva’s shoes out in a row, I grew deeply satisfied. It was a borrowed satisfaction; it was doing something I had done as a child. In Montreal, on such afternoon as this, I often asked permission to spread a paper on the sitting- room floor and shine all the shoes in the house, including Aunt Dina’s with their long tongues and scores of eyelets. When I thrust my arm into one of her shoes it reached well above the elbow and I could feel the brush against my arm through the soft leather. The brow fog lay in St Dominique Street; in the sitting room, however, the stove shone on the devenport and on the oilcloth and on my forehead, drawing the skin pleasantly. I did not clean shoes because I was praised for it, but because of the work and the sensations of the room, closed off from the wet and the fog of the street, with its locked shutters and the faint green of the petal pipes along the copings of its houses. Nothing could have tempted me out of the house.
I have never found another street that resembled St Dominique. It was in a slum between a market and a hospital. I was generally intensely preoccupied with what went on in it and watched from the stairs and the windows. Little since then has worked upon me with such force as, say, the sight of a driver trying to raise his fallen horse, of a funeral passing through the snow, or of a cripple who taunted his brother. And the pungency and staleness of its stores and cellars, the dogs, the boys, the French and immigrant women, the beggars with sores and deformities whose like I was not to meet again until I was old enough to read of Villon’s Paris, the very breezes in the narrow course of that street, have remained so clear to me that I sometimes think it it the only place where i was ever allowed to encounter reality. My father blamed himself bitterly for the poverty that forced him to bring us up in a slum and worried lest I see too much. And I did see, in a curtainless room near the market, a man rearing over a blond woman on his lap. But less easily forgotten were a cage with a rat in it thrown on a bonfire, and two quarrelling drunkards, one of whom walked away bleeding, drops falling from his head like the first slow drops of a heavy rain in summer, a crooked line of drops left on the pavement as he walked.

_____________________________________________________________January 6

ABT HAS sent me a copy of a pamphlet he wrote on the government of the Territories. Expects a flattering comment, no doubt, and I shall have to rig one up. He will want me to tell him that no one else could have written such a pampleth. Suppose I were try to tell him what I thought of him. He would reply coldly, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ He has a way of turning aside everything he has no desire to understand.
Abt, more than anyone I have known, has lived continually in need of being consequential. Early in life he discovered that he was quicker, abler, than the rest of us, and that he could easily outstrip us in learning and in skills. He felt he could be great in anything he chose. We roomed together in Madison as freshmen. He was very busy that first year keeping us all his accomplishments, his music, his politics, his class work. Living with him had a bag effect on me, for I withdrew from any field he entered. People came from other campuses to consult him on doctrinal matters; no one had as much out-of-the-way information as he; he read foreign political journals the rest of us had never heard of, and reports of party congresses, those dun, mimeographed sheets on international decisions in France and Spain. No one was so subtle with opponents. Nor did many students get as much attention as he got from his teachers. A few were afraid of him and learned to avoid challenging him publicly. late afternoons, he played the piano. I would often stop by for him at the music building on the way to dinner and spend half an hour listening. He did not waste time maturing, he did not make any of the obvious mistakes. His hold was too good. That winter he was Lenin, Mozard, and Locke all rolled into one. But there was unfortunately not enough time to be all three. And so, in the spring, he passed through a crisis. It was necessary to make a choice. But, whatever it was he chose, that would be the most important. How could it be otherwise? He gave up attending meetings and practising the piano, he banished the party reports as trash, and decided to become a political philosopher. There was a general purge. Everything else went.
Anti-Duhring and The Critique of the Gotha Program sank to the rear of the bottom shelf of his bookcase and were supplanted at the top by Bentham and Locke. Now he had decided, and in dead earnestness the followed greatness. Inevitably, he fell short of his models. He would never admit that he wanted to become another Locke, but there was, wearing himself thin with the effort of the emulation, increasingly angry at himself, and unable to admit that the scale of his ambition was defeating him.
He is stubborn. Just as, in the old days, it disgraced him to confess that he was not familiar with a book or a statement that came under his jurisdiction, he now cannot acknowledge that his plan has miscarried. But then, it bothers him to be found guilty even of small errors. He does not like to forget a date or a name or the proper form of a foreign verb. He cannot be wrong, that is his difficulty. If you warn him that there is a fissure at his feet, he answers, ‘ no, you must be mistaken.’ But when it can no longer be ignored he says, ‘Do you see it?’ as though he has discovered it.
Of course, we suffer from bottomless avidity. Our lives are so precious to us, we are so watchful of waste. Or perhaps a better name for it would be the Sense of Personal Destiny. Tes, I think that is better than avidity. Shall my life one-thousandth of an inch fall short of its ultimate possibility? It is a different thing to value oneself, and to prize oneself crazily. And then there are our plants, idealizations. These are dangerous, too. They can consume us like parasites, eat us, drink us, and leave us lifelessly prostrate. And yet we are always inviting the parasite, as if we were eager to be drained and eaten.
It is because we have been taught there is no limit to what a man can be. Six hundred years ago, a man was what he was born to be. Satan and Church, representing God, did battle over him. He, by reason of his choice, partially decided the outcome. But whether, after life, he went to hell or to heaven, his place among other men was given. It could be contested. But, since, the stage has been reset and human being only walk on it, and, under this revision, we have, instead, history to answer to. We were important enough then for our souls to be fought over. Now, each of us is responsible for his own salvation, which is in his greatness. And that, that greatness, is the rock our hearts are abraded on. Great minds, great beauties, great lovers and criminals surround us. from the great sadness and desperation of Werthers and Don Juans we went to the great ruling images of Napoleons; from these to murderers who had that right over victims because they were greater than the victims; to men who felt privileged to approach others with a whip; to schoolboys and clerks who roared like revolutionary lions; to those pimps and subway creatures, debaters in midnight cafeterias who believed they could be great in treachery and catch the throats of those they felt were sound and well in the lassos of their morbidity; to dreams of greatly beautiful shadows embracing on a flawless screen. because of these things we hate immoderately and punish ourselves and one another immoderately. The fear of lagging pursues and maddens us. The fear lies in us like a cloud. It makes an inner climate of darkness. And occasionally there is a storm and hate and wounding rain out of us.

Text entirely taken from ‘Dangling Man’, by Saul Bellow, 1944