A Renaissance of Wonder

Recovery (1950-1960)
Bellow, Seize the Day

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZb7mbuwqTk Saul Bellow was born in a suburb of Montreal and moved to Chicago when he was nine. As a young man, he became a Trotskyite. He joined the WPA Writers Project. He taught at Minnesota, NYU, and the University of Chicago on the Committee on Social Thought. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976. Seize the Day is probably his most directly philosophical novel. The title and much of the philosophical content alludes to Horace, one of the Odes. "Don't ask. It's forbidden to know what end the gods will grant to me or you. It is better to endure whatever will be. Whether Jupiter has allotted to you many more winters or this final one which even now wears out the Tyrrhenian sea on the rocks placed opposite. Be wise, strain the wine, and scale back your long hopes to a short period. While we speak, envious time will have fled. Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future." Horace is a follower of Epicurus. He's an Epicurean. That's a view that several characters espouse in Seize the Day. Epicureanism takes as basic principles, one, materialism. The world consists solely of material things. There is no soul. I am my body. Two, determinism. We have no freedom. Everything is determined by physical laws and what's gone before. Three, hedonism. Pleasure is the chief good, so seek pleasure, seek freedom from fear, seek tranquility. Four, self-control. To attain pleasure and tranquility, you've got to know the world and limit your desires. Five, anonymity. Live unknown. Don't seek fame, glory, or honor. Don't make your conception of the good dependent on other people, and especially on strangers. Epicurus recommends the four-part cure.  Don't fear God.  Don't worry about death.  What is good is easy to get, and  what is terrible is easy to endure. Wilhelm, throughout the novel, exhibits weakness of will. Ovid defined weakness of will as knowing the better and doing the worse. Knowing what you ought to do and not doing it. This was typical of Wilhelm. After much thought, and hesitation, and debate, he invariably took the course he had rejected innumerable times. Aristotle had distinguished four conditions. Virtue is the condition of doing the better and wanting to, without having to force yourself to do it. Doing the right thing comes naturally to the virtuous person. He or she isn't even tempted to do wrong. Strength of will is a matter of doing the right thing, despite a desire to do the wrong thing. The strongwilled person feels temptation, but manages to overcome it. Weakness of will is a matter of knowing the right thing to do, but not doing it. The weak-willed person feels temptation and gives in to it. Finally, vice is a matter of doing the wrong thing and wanting to. The vicious person isn't conflicted, isn't tempted, but wants to do wrong.

present. to seize the day. here and now. form a community." But Bellow's description of Wilhelm as weak-willed shows more concern for morality-. Tamkin here sounds like an existentialist. then we have nothing in common but being self-interpreting beings. someone who holds that we have no essence. In every face. standing in the seas. I design.Nothing! So of course you can't stand that and want to be Something. the here and now. And they were pouring out and convulsing his body. but their common humanity. is to carry his peculiar burden. 'If thou canst not love. It's thus the ground for norms." Dr. I uphold. He recognizes. Tamkin urges him to live in the present. He ends up in front of the coffin. It consists in our relations with other people. And the foundation for that is our common humanity. I cling. It poured into him where he had hidden . I hide. The existentialists stressed revolt. He says. Dr. deep. I long.than existentialism would allow. It provides the ground for our being able to treat each other with love and respect. full of life and death. and he's deeply moved. "The spirit. He feels that he must go outward." At the end of the novel. eternal present. That must be what a man was for. It's what makes us human.Wilhelm certainly isn't vicious. Be in the present. Here and now. One and all. "Every man realizes that he has to love something or somebody. Grasp the hour. In the heart of hearts-. The flowers and lights fused ecstatically in Wilhelm's blind wet eyes. Nothing. I spend. I envy. He faces temptation and gives in. "What art thou? Nothing. the refinement of one particular essence. this growth or collection of nameless things. a hump. bowing his shoulders. He was apt to feel this mysterious weight. and hot. coherence. Those terms don't fit Wilhelm or anyone else in the novel very well. if we have nothing that's essential to us as human beings. and held his face and wept. but he isn't virtuous either. I die. Be who you are. The heavy sea-like music came up to his ears. They were his brothers and sisters. freedom. I scorn. Wilhelm is suddenly filled with love for his fellow human beings. and that's the present. black. Be authentic. the highest business. That's not a limitation." Note the complexity of that picture of the human essence. "I labor. and which ties them all together in a brotherhood of man. An essence which all have in common. well. I want. and you try. the glory. I love. To feel shame and impotence. If existence truly precedes essence.morality as traditionally understood-. But then it's hard to see how we can. And if we interpret life and ourselves in very different ways. but it doesn't matter. bright." But he also stresses the importance of love. what art thou?' Are you with me? 'What art thou?' Nothing. the moment. He cried with all his heart. "Soon he was past words. and are truly completely free to craft our own identities and essences. in any sense. Maybe the making of mistakes express the very purpose of his life and the essence of his being here. passion. looking at the dead person. he passionately loved them. But that's myopic. We have nothing in common. The source of all tears had suddenly sprung open within him. The existentialist leaves us with a strictly self-regarding ethics. a load. was being done. and beautiful. Ethics is about how we treat one another. Wilhelm feels his life as a burden. The only important business. Dr. the real business. which it was the business of his life to carry about. A criticism of existentialism works in Wilhelm's realization. He gave in utterly. Our essence isn't to be found inside of us. His efforts to collect himself were useless. I have obligations to you because we have something in common. I strive. Bellow sees all of us as sharing an essence. the instant. Tamkin stresses the importance of love. he senses. Bellow's novel shares some features of existentialism. "Nature knows only one thing. To taste these quelled tears. Wilhelm gets caught up in a crowd which sweeps him into a church for a funeral. not the deceased. He doesn't know whose funeral he's at." He sees in them an essence. The great knot of ill and grief in his throat swelled upward. climbing into the sky. The business of life. lay upon him like an accretion. You must go along with the actual. That's the answer. He could not stop. the peculiar burden of his existence. "He loved them. colossal. Like a big huge giant wave. Maybe he was supposed to make them and suffer from them on this Earth. twisting his face. I give way. here and now. bending his stubborn head. crippling the very hands with which he held the handkerchief. that's that. What is Wilhelm's essence? What distinguishes him? He's the being who makes mistakes. present. past reason.

But that misses the point." and "Do Not Eat the Pig. the inexhaustible current of millions of every race and kind pouring out. He was imperfect and disfigured himself. They must have been really close. they think. I strive. heat. I long.. a general love for all these imperfect and lurid-looking people burst out in Wilhelm's breast. and darkness which disfigure and make freaks and fragments of nose and eyes and teeth." blessing them all as well as himself. I cling. I give way. by the great and happy oblivion of tears. Their hearts shared the same ultimate need. Wilhelm was able to see what life is all about. all of a sudden. I die... through torn sobs and cries. SAUL BELLOW Seize the Day V He was going through an underground corridor.. . possessors of every human secret. of every genius." he had particularly noticed. I hide. I design. in every face the refinement of one particular motive or essence--I labor. pressing round.." The crowd wonders who this is. I uphold. unsought. for recognition of their common humanity. A need for love. and sawdust footprints lay about the doorways of butcher shops and fruit stores. and what his heart's ultimate need really is. of every age. I want. I spend. in the haste. He loved them. "Oh my brothers--my brothers and my sisters.himself in the center of a crowd. toward the consummation of his heart's ultimate need. but what difference did that make if he was united with them by this blaze of love? And as he walked he began to say. And in the dark tunnel. I love. And the great. He heard it and sank deeper than sorrow. They were his brothers and his sisters. I envy. antique and future. VII On Broadway it was still bright afternoon and the gassy air was almost motionless under the leaden spokes of sunlight. By confronting death. scam. On the walls between the advertisements were words in chalk: "Sin No More. great crowd. a place he had always hated and hated more than ever now..