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Herzog (1964)

by Saul Bellow

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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5,209612,070 (3.66)187
"Herzog is a man seeking balance, trying to regain a foothold on his life. Thrown out of his ex-wife's house, Herzog retreats to his abandoned home in a remote village in the Berkshire Mountains. Amid the dust of the disused house, he begins scribbling letters to family, friends, lovers, colleagues, enemies, dead philosophers, ex-presidents -- anyone with whom he feels compelled to set the record straight. The letters -- which are never sent -- are a means to cure himself of the psychic strain of the failures of his life: that of being a bad husband, a loving but poor father, an ungrateful child, a distant brother, an egoist to friends, an apathetic citizen. Primarily a novel of redemption, progressing from ignorance to enlightenment, Herzog is still considered one of the greatest literary expressions of postwar America"--CD container.… (more)
  1. 40
    The Trial by Franz Kafka (SanctiSpiritus)
  2. 20
    Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse (roby72)
  3. 10
    Seize the Day by Saul Bellow (SanctiSpiritus)
  4. 21
    Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (SanctiSpiritus)
  5. 10
    Fury by Salman Rushdie (thorold)
    thorold: Rushdie's Fury is an ironic 21st century take on the professor-as-victim theme, with a whole string of references back to Herzog.
  6. 00
    Zeno's Conscience by Italo Svevo (roby72)
1960s (17)
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» See also 187 mentions

English (53)  Italian (3)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  All languages (60)
Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
I didn’t do this book justice. I listened to it on my walks, and I let my mind wander too often. Herzog’s letters to the living and dead were full of philosophical meandering and worthy of a closer listen. Bellow has a terrific mind. I’d love to discuss his life views over dinner. ( )
  jemisonreads | Jan 22, 2024 |
I cannot believe I finally finished this book. I really, really hated the first third, loved the middle third, and was ok with the last. Major slog, though I suppose I get that Bellow is someone to look at again. Someday. In the distant future. When I've recovered. ( )
  nogomu | Oct 19, 2023 |
I read this in High School. I do vaguely remember liking it, but my memory from April 1975 is a might bit hazy. ( )
  JBGUSA | Jan 2, 2023 |
"Pseudointellectual" is a term which is almost entirely misused. We ought to think of it as analogous to Adorno's conception of "pseudoactivity": a kind of signature-gathering ostensibly toward political ends, which functions as catharsis ('blood is a cathartic agent'), but necessarily fails as a kind politics (see: posting for clout).

Bellow's "intellectualism" is disquieting in a similar way. Most reviewers note his frequent reference to such august authors as Hegel, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard (and more!) As I have already noted in an earlier, less-mature review, these are all empty signifiers. Not only is every detail required for (Bellow's) interpretation of these thinkers contained within the novel itself, but an understanding of their work often detracts or contradicts the simplifications Herzog appears to synthesize. Herzog's Hegel is someone who said 'modern man is a product of history', Herzog's Nietzsche is someone who said 'god is dead', Herzog's Kierkegaard is someone who said 'before he can live, man must come to experience hell.'. This "pseudointellectual" activity explains why the so-called 'philosophical letters' throughout the text do not progress beyond the first object of thought before breaking off.

Who was it who noted "the reactionary is not capable of experience"? Bellow writes like someone who has been divorced (wikipedia corroborates), but as someone who has never 'experienced' it. Herzog is incapable of understanding this issue, ostensibly the central plot of the novel, as even suggesting a personal failing of our protagonist. The 'philosophical letters', obviously the extruded displacement of an emotional crisis, never rise to the level of introspection. In what is presented as a triumphant "moving on" in the final act of the novel, Herzog sends his daughter an ugly piano, which is sure to provoke an argument with his ex-wife (like a child/bully who must constantly engage the object he claims to hate). This kind of puerile backbiting appears to have resulted in four divorces (wikipedia), and a perhaps five, were the last not forestalled by infirmity and oblivion.

Herzog's conception of fatherhood as a kind of aestheticized 'ownership' of children is another perplexing (if not uncommon) delusion. Not even the author can conceive of a relationship with Herzog's daughter which lasts more than three hours (or in which she isn't affectionate and deferential). Though he often cites a particular (mis)quotation of Kierkegaard (above), the more appropriate reference from The Concept of Anxiety is that the Aesthetic, in contrast with the Ethical, does not exist in time (duration). The aestheticized relationship between Herzog and his daughter would dissolve/suffocate if extended past a couple scenes.

Thank goodness we are already "driving our oxcarts over the bones of the dead," Bellow, Roth, and Heller too. ( )
  Joe.Olipo | Nov 26, 2022 |
Moses Herzog is a former professor of romanticism, and he is in the midst of a midlife crisis. Having been twice divorced and somewhat estranged from his two children, one with each of his first two wives, he is reminiscing, reviewing memories, and trying to make sense of his life’s relationships. Much of the novel consists of letters Moses writes to people he has known and eminent people of the 1960s setting of the story. The book is told mainly in the third person, except for the many unsent letters. The views shared are those of Moses. The narration successfully convinces the reader that the legitimate viewpoints of other characters must be authentic. Still, there is not enough dialog or evidence to know whether Moses has projected these views upon them.

The narrator reveals his inconsistent philosophy about everything: politics, religion, sex, civilization, etc. Much of it is thought-provoking, yet it forces the reader to consider whether his stream of consciousness writing is insanity or simply the eccentrics of an academic. He is lonely and soul-searching about his decisions during his life. Saul Bellows’ story fleshes out a man’s extreme introspection and reflection. The novel forced me to wonder whether Moses and other academics can genuinely accept the ambiguities of life.
https://quipsandquotes.net/ ( )
  LindaLoretz | May 13, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
Anybody who has gotten some distance from a heartbreak’s wickedest throes, and wants to understand it, and wants to feel again the vibrancy of mind that made love possible in the first place, should read... Herzog.
 
A masterpiece... Herzog's voice... for all its wildness and strangeness and foolishness is the voice of a civilization, our civilization... The book is new and classic, and its publicaiton now... suggests that things are looking up for America and its civilization.
added by GYKM | editThe New York Times Book Review, Julian Moynahan
 
With this new work, his sixth novel, Saul Bellow emerges not only as the most intelligent novelist of his generation but also as the most consistently interesting in the point of growth and development. To my mind, too, he is the finest stylist at present writing fiction in America.
added by GYKM | editBook Week, Philip Rahv
 
A novel that is certain to be talked about and written about for a long time to come, Herzog reinforces my conviction that Bellow is the leading figure in American fiction today.
added by GYKM | editSaturday Review, Granville Hicks
 

» Add other authors (35 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bellow, Saulprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Buckley, LynnCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roth, PhilipIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vreede, Mischa deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
To Pat Covici, a great editor and, better yet, a generous friend, this book is affectionately dedicated
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If I am out of my mind, it's all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.
The transformation of the novelist who published Dangling Man in 1944 and The Victim in 1947 into the novelist who published The Adventures of Augie March in '53 is revolutionary. (Introduction)
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"Why to get laid is actually socially constructive and useful, an act of citizenship."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

"Herzog is a man seeking balance, trying to regain a foothold on his life. Thrown out of his ex-wife's house, Herzog retreats to his abandoned home in a remote village in the Berkshire Mountains. Amid the dust of the disused house, he begins scribbling letters to family, friends, lovers, colleagues, enemies, dead philosophers, ex-presidents -- anyone with whom he feels compelled to set the record straight. The letters -- which are never sent -- are a means to cure himself of the psychic strain of the failures of his life: that of being a bad husband, a loving but poor father, an ungrateful child, a distant brother, an egoist to friends, an apathetic citizen. Primarily a novel of redemption, progressing from ignorance to enlightenment, Herzog is still considered one of the greatest literary expressions of postwar America"--CD container.

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Book description
Herzog is a massive accomplishment that has repeatedly been likened to Joyce’s Ulysses. It remains Bellow’s “biggest” book and was on the New York Times best-seller list for the entire year. At its heart is Bellow’s profound shock at discovering, a year after his separation from Sondra, (Alexandra Tschacbasov, his second wife) her affair with their mutual friend, Jack Ludwig. The last of their circle to know he had been deceived, Bellow lapsed into deep depression and produced an intensely self-justifying hero who was tearful, cuckolded, and utterly humiliated. Moses Herzog, a Jewish intellectual is essentially precipitated into intellectual and spiritual crisis by the failure of his marriage. The plot of the novel is slender. Herzog leaves his home and marriage, fails in the classroom, abandons his academic project, and undertakes a massive spiritual and intellectual housekeeping via the production of dozens of letters to God, the long dead, the recent, dead, and the living. At the end of it he seems to have regained his sense of Jewish identity, purged himself of violent anger, abandoned his latest mistresses, and his repented of his dandyism. He has had a profound education in the realities of human nature, and rediscovered the value of nature and solitude on his Ludeyville estate. No longer the Graf Potocki of the Berkshires, both he and the estate seem to be reverting to some less pretentious earlier natural condition. After being in constant motion physically and mentally for the most part of the novel, he is finally seen at rest in a hammock, contemplating the night sky.
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