1965 -- Herzog

Moses Herzog packs a real pistol for a while, though he only manages to shoot himself in the foot. His real talent is epistolary, in a firing-blanks sort of way — his letters are never sent, and addressed mostly to dead recipients. The writing is more self-therapy, an attempt to speak the mind in order to forestall losing it altogether, though the novel’s opening line indicates that both options are acceptable: “If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.” Sometimes Herzog’s letters speak to a specific, if oddball, point — for example, this to the makers of Quaker Oats:
Dear Sirs: It disturbs me from to time that you should advertise your puffed wheat as Shot from Guns, under the brand name of Quaker.
Sometimes the point comes in philosophical guise, a note to Nietzsche or Heidegger in pursuit of some clarification:
My dear sir, May I ask a question from the floor? You speak of the power of the Dionysian spirit to endure the sight of the Terrible, the Questionable, to allow itself the luxury of Destruction, to witness Decomposition, Hideousness….
But often Herzog’s point is obscure, beyond his tortured desire to land blows on the difficult ex-wife and the rotten ex-friend who ran off with her:
And you, Gersbach, you’re welcome to Madeleine. Enjoy her—rejoice in her. You will not reach me through her, however. I know you sought me in her flesh. But I am no longer there.
Some commentators read the letters to the wife and friend autobiographically, connecting them to Bellow’s recently collapsed marriage. Bellow’s real letters sometimes bear this interpretation out, though in some interviews he enlarged his target:
I thought in Herzog I was having a certain amount of fun at my own expense; or if not at my own expense, I was making fun of my own type. I was really taking Herzog at a moment of crisis and putting on and removing the masks he had used throughout his life: the scholar, the Jew, the husband, the father, the lover, the romantic avenger, the intellectual, all the rest of that.

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