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Saul Bellow


Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Hegel understood the essence of human life to be derived from history. History, memory—that is what makes us human, that and our knowledge of death.

Moses Herzog says this in the fifth section of the novel, in a letter that he writes to Eisenhower that addresses his Committee on National Aims report. This is typical of Herzog's letter-writing tendencies as well as a good sum-up sentence for the novel. It makes sense that Herzog, who is obsessed with recounting his own history and his own memories, is a believer in Hegel's philosophy. Hegel believed that history was created dynamically by the contradictory and conflicting interests of men, but, at the same time, he believed that this history illustrated a progression. He thought that even though the path was contradictory because of the human beings contradictory impulses, in the end, there is a self-realization. The human being realizes that he has reason and freedom. This, in short, is exactly what happens to the main character of the novel. Bellow has Moses drift through his impulses and thoughts, some of which contradict each other, but, in the end, Moses comes to terms with himself. He comes to a realization and to an understanding of, even, death. All the ambivalent forces that work in the book come together only because Moses learns to accept the ambiguities of his journey and his self.

It is important also that Bellow places this quote at the center of the novel because it is here that Moses begins to understand his journey. The book, although seemingly going nowhere at times, is really a progression just as Hegel illustrates in his philosophy.

I really believe that brotherhood is what makes a man human.

Moses says this to his friend, Lucas Asphalter, in the seventh section of the novel. Moses has just flown into Chicago to visit his friend and confront his ex-wife and is staying with Lucas for the night. They have a philosophical discussion of sorts, and Moses, toward the end of the conversation, expresses this thought. This is important because Moses has moments of pure joy in which he experiences being at one with his fellow human beings. For example, he realizes the "universal communion" of human beings when he is walking in the subway station and thinks about all the hands that have touched the railing he is touching.

The irony is that Moses comes to this conclusion about connections with society within the solitude of his own mind. Nevertheless, there are moments that he shares with his brother, Lucas, and others in which he experiences love—a love he calls "potato love." At first he questions this common love and at times he rages against his sensitivity but, nevertheless, by the end he begins to understand that it is essential. This quote is also related to the above quote (the first in the section) because it is important to understand that Moses must come to understand himself before he can communicate with others.

I know that my suffering, if I may speak of it, has often been … a more extended form of life, a striving for true wakefulness and an antidote to illusion.

Moses writes this in a letter to a man named Mermelstein who had written a philosophical monograph on which Moses comments in the letter. The quote appears in the last section of the book and brings to the fore the idea of suffering that has been present throughout the novel. Moses has suffered through two divorces, possible child custody battles, endless meaningless romances, disturbing memories of childhood, etc. Moreover, he is a man well versed in the subject of suffering—even the fact that his thoughts are disjointed causes him pain. Moses says that he agrees with Kierkegaard's idea that thoughts that are not connected cause pain and suffering; nevertheless it is this suffering caused my his thoughts that will lead him, in the end to joy.

Herzog says in this quote that suffering has been a more extended form of life. This is significant because of two reasons: first of all it is illustrative of the idea that because he is always thinking unconnected thoughts he is always suffering. Also, however, this suffering brings him life itself and will lead him towards a kind of "true wakefulness." The quote is a mixture of optimism and pessimism, just as is the book as a whole. It has optimistic words like wakefulness, and yet the same sentence contains the word suffering. Moreover, it is part of the ambiguity that the reader must learn to embrace if he/she is to understand the character of Herzog.

If existence is nausea then faith is an uncertain relief.

This is a response to Moses's reading of Pratt's short history of the Civil War and to Kierkegaard. He had been reading these books when he lived alone in Philadelphia and commuted to meet his son in New York; living in a state of depression. This response is important because, first of all, Moses does not say it with conviction, really, at this point in the novel. This uncertainty is not a positive thing for Herzog here. This is only the fourth section of the book&mdashhe is climbing toward realizations, merely filtering at the moment. These thoughts becomes true in the end, when Herzog is able to come to terms with uncertainty and the faith mentioned in the quote.

The quote brings in the elements of faith and religion which are important because, by the end, Moses admits to having faith and even writes a letter to God, accepting God's uncertainty as both the king of death and life. This faith is also important because it ties Moses to his Jewish background and his family, which is very important to Moses. His filial feelings run high throughout the novel, and a connection to God, in the end, makes them stronger. Moses is able to understand that having a paradoxical faith in things that are not concrete and certain is all part of life—that having faith in other people and in the unknown and in the moments he experiences (moments of pure happiness) is what makes his life worth living.

How different he felt! Confident, even happy in his excitement, stable. The bitter cup would come round again, by and by.

Moses says this to himself in the last section of the book when he realizes how happy and content he is. This quote is important because it points to the instability of even happiness. The book seems to end optimistically, but it is quite possible that this whole ending episode of happiness is just that: an episode, a moment. Even if it is just a moment, however, it does not matter because even if he has to go through suffering again he will reach happiness again. The cyclical structure and frame of the book is perhaps symbolic of the cyclical structure of one's life (the constant turns from suffering to happiness and vice versa). In this case Hegel would be both correct and incorrect in thinking that there is an ultimately upward progression in the life of the human being because life would be circular and not linear. Except, of course, that one may say that the line of life is made up of these smaller circles. And yet, whether Hegel is write or wrong does not matter because philosophy, as Moses comes to understand, is just another form of religion and religion is always uncertain.

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