Herzog

by: Saul Bellow

Important Quotations Explained

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.