Looking through a book of interviews with Bellow, I found this quote from 1975:
Ten years ago Mayor Daley in a little City Hall ceremony gave me a five hundred dollar check on behalf of the Midland Authors' Society. 'Mr. Mayor, have you read Herzog?' asked one of the reporters standing by. 'I've looked into it.' said Daley, yielding no ground. Art is not the Mayor's dish. But then why should it be? I much prefer his neglect to the sort of interest Stalin took in poetry, phoning Pasternak to chat with him about Mandelstam and, shortly afterwards, sending Mandelstam to die.Well, yeah. But no doubt this is a reason "Crony Capitalism" outlived "Communism."
As a Chicagoan, I find Bellow's humanism is what resonates most. And it resonates more than all that "We are the world/I'd like to buy the world a Coke" crap usually associated with humanism, because he fully understands what it's up against: nationalisms and anti-Semitism and all the "smelly little orthodoxies" (Orwell); mass society and all of its dehumanizing pressures and regimentations; commerce; and a condescending, for the most part, elite. About Bellow's view of the elite, until his later years, Hitchens writes:
I can't resist adding two more themes from Bellow's triumph in 1953. One is a hatred of workhouse condescension towards the underclass: 'Something in his person argued what the community that contributed the money wanted us poor bastards to be: sober, dutiful, buttoned, clean, sad, moderate.Hence his appreciation of grifters, conartists, and fixers in all their complexity. (Quote from a Hitchens review of Ravelstein.)
Hitchens in Slate.
Ian McEwan in the New York Times and Guardian.
Audio of Martin Amis and James Wood discussing Bellow.
Chicagoan Tom McBride in OpenDemocracy.
Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times describes how in Bellow's universe, "Intellectuals, men deep in "the profundity game," find themselves facing off against street-smart thugs and business smoothies." Bellow was a master of realism, a materialism that negates the idealism to which most intellectuals succumb. As McBride writes
He believed in the individual's quest for integrity and love, guided by the great writers but not overwhelmed by them, learning from the swindlers but not driven to despair by them.