(pictured below contradicting the Thought for the Day)
On his death in 2005, I wrote:
Even if he was not writing, it was enough to know that Saul Bellow was alive and thinking. When I heard the news of his death on the radio on Wednesday morning, I screamed aloud in rage and sorrow because what Bellow had to tell us in his fiction was that it was worth it, being alive.
His vigour, vitality, humour and passion were always matched by the insistence on thought, not the predigested cliches of the mass media or of those on the left which had began to disgust him by the Sixties. 'I knew that what you need in a big American city was a deep no-affect belt, a critical mass of indifference,' he wrote in Humboldt's Gift. The Bellow character kept insisting on the right to feel that something mattered, it was an entirely personal integrity, the keeping of the terms of a contract, which was to know. And those characters knew a lot - the social conditions of the tenements they grew up in, Aristotle, Tolstoy, Al Capone. How to dress, how to make love.
. . .
Bellow was a writer about conscience and consciousness, forever conflicted by the competing demands of the great cities, the individual's urge to survival against all odds and his equal need for love and some kind of penetrating understanding of what there was of significance beyond all the racket and racketeering.
In the Fifties, he shared a place with Arthur Miller in Nevada while they fulfilled the residency requirements to divorce their wives. Bellow would go out to the desert and practise the therapy of the moment, the primal scream. That was him: I want I want I want. The yearning soul, now, unbelievably, silent.