Sunday, March 28, 2010

More on Connections Between Herzog and Greenberg

Near the end of Bellow's novel Herzog, Herzog has to be rescued from jail by his older brother, Will.

Bellow describes Will from Herzog's perspective, sounding much like Roger Greenberg describing his brother: "Standing with folded arms he favored one heel, somewhat like Father Herzog, and had a bit of the old man's elegance but not his eccentrities. He had no time for such stuff, thought Herzog, running a big business. . . [T]here's a strange division of functions that I sense, in which I am the specialist in . . .in spiritual self-awareness; or emotionalism; or ideas; or nonsense.. .He mixes grout to pump into these new high-rises all over town. He has to be political, and deal, and wangle and pay off and figure tax angles. All that Papa was inept in but dreamed he was born to do. Will is a quiet man of duty and routine, has his money, position, influence, and is just as glad to be rid of his private or 'personal' side. Sees me spluttering fire in the wilderness of this world, and pities me no doubt for my temperament. Under the old dispensation, as the stumbling, ingenuous, burlap Moses, a heart without guile, in need of protection, a morbid phenomenon, a modern remant of otherworldliness--under that former dispensation I would need protection. And it would be gladly offered by him--by the person who 'knows-the-world-for-what-it-is.' Whereas a man like me has shown the arbitrary withdrawal of proud subjectivity from the collective and historical progress of mankind. And that is true of lower-class emotional boys and girls who adopt the aesthetic mode, the mode of rich sensibility."

This passage in Herzog echoes the same themes in the film Greenberg, the same disjunction between the more successful brother who acquires a beautiful house full of rooms and possessions (the camera often pans from room to room to show the furniture and "stuff," the brother has acquired) and the other brother, guile-less, too steeped in sensibility, in feeling, "in need of protection," though this very vulnerability is what Florence (Greta Gerwig) finds appealing.

This foil/counterfoil that is set up between Herzog and his brother Will is the same as that between Roger Greenberg and his more successful brother, a real-estate developer of some kind, just like Will Herzog (a builder with hands steeped in the permanence of grout rather than a restless nomad, a Jew in perpetual exile, steeped in the intangibility and impermanence of words and ideas). A lack of putting down roots suggests a failure to grow up; it is only when Greenberg stops his restless wanderings, and halts his last-minute running off to Australia with two pretty young blondes that he starts becoming an adult.


Anonymous said...

If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.............................................

Til said...

I am not sure whether Greenberg is a classical Schlemiel, such as Sholem Aleichem's East-European Menachem Mendel or Daniel Fuchs' American Cohen, but he certainly has some Schlemiel characteristics and I also think that his endless, senseless letter-writing is a reference to Saul Bellow's "Herzog". As a typical Schlemiel characteristic in Greenberg's personification I'd mention, for instance, his unsuccessfulness in real life, but his ability to hold his head up despite it and his likeability. He's not a loser one might look down too. Greenberg fails, but the observer might find some of his imperfect character traits in him- or herself and in that way a losing Greenberg becomes more real and comprehensible than the ever-winning superheroes of fiction.