Date of Award

1994

Document Type

Thesis

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Johnny Wink

Second Advisor

Dr. Tom Greer

Third Advisor

Dr. Randall Wight

Abstract

There is a story of a monk who is, against all odds, propositioned by a comely woman who has somehow gotten into the monastery. "No," he tells her. "I have taken a vow of chastity." With that, the woman leaves. There is no argument, no weeping, no shouting. It is that simple.

The next morning, at the communal breakfast table, the monk speaks to a grizzled, elderly monk sitting beside him. "Did you know a woman offered herself to me yesterday right here in the monastery? Can you imagine that?"

The long-lived monk turns to him and says, "What did you say to her?"

The younger monk answers eagerly, "I sent her away." There is a note of pride in his voice.

"Yes," the elder replies, "But I see you've still got her with you."

In the same way James Joyce is still with Saul Bellow. As will be shown, in some interviews Bellow actually criticizes Joyce, but remains heavily influenced by him nonetheless, almost as a point of departure. The Anxiety of Influence, Harold Bloom's study of the stances artists take toward their precursors might have found in Bellow a prime example, had Bloom's book also dwelt for a time in the realm of prose.

The clinamen is what Bloom calls the artistic swerve from an influential elder writer which he says is necessary for every new artist to establish himself. This introductory section seeks to define that clinamen.

Bellow's remarks in the 1964 Paris Review interviews about James Joyce and the tradition Bellow believes Joyce and T.S. Eliot spawned are, to say the least, interesting from the standpoint of Harold Bloom's writings:

INTERVIEWER: It's been said that contemporary fiction sees man as a victim. You gave this title to one of your early novels, yet there seems to be very strong opposition in your fiction to seeing man as simply determined or futile. Do you see any truth to this claim about contemporary fiction?

BELLOW: Oh, I think that realistic literature from the first has been a victim literature. Pit any ordinary individual--and realistic literature concerns itself with ordinary individuals--against the external world, and the external world will conquer him, of course. Everything about man's place in nature, about that the hero of the realistic novel should not be a hero but a sufferer who is eventually overcome. So I was doing nothing very original by writing another realistic novel about a common man and calling it The Victim. I suppose I was discovering independently the essence of much of modern realism. In my innocence, I put my finger on it. Serious realism also contrasts the common man with aristocratic greatness. He is overborne by fate, just as the great are in Shakespeare or Sophocles. But this contrast, inherent in literary tradition, always damages him. In the end the force of tradition carries realism into parody, satire, mock-epic--Leopold Bloom. (Plimpton 187)

While not quite disparaging Joyce (as he does later), Bellow is stating that he believes he was once similar t o him in a regrettable way. Dangling Man and The Victim were the works he produced when he treated his "hero in the way of other realists. For Bellow, Joyce is such a realist. Here we have what Harold Bloom calls a "misreading," a misinterpretation of the precursor's work and a manifestation of the younger artist's anxiety to create original works despite the strength of the precursor's influence. Notice that Bellow interprets Leopold Bloom to be just such a hero as a realist would create, and Ulysses itself as a bitter novel. This is not quite the interpretation other critics of Joyce have made.

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