Monday, November 23, 2009

The Other Half

Certainly we had a glimpse of the other half in Devil in the White City, but it is easy to identify what makes Saul Bellow's The Actual a true representation of the upper classes-- it is his ease. Lacking in the grandiose descriptions of Larson, eschewing the preaching of Sinclair, dismissing the rhapsodic lyricism of Algren, Bellow chooses a minimalistic approach for his representation of Chicago in this slim novella.

Bellow does not wrench us into the world of mega-money Chicago in the five-dollar word style of Larson. Instead, his economy with words sharply carves us out a place, to stand and assume a blase attitude like the characters. We don't stand with our mouths-hanging open at the lake view or try unsuccessfully to imagine ourselves inside the limo cruising the city. We step right in; we casually accept this image of Chicago as our own. It is as sharp as the carefully crafted sentences allow, as blurry as the scene on Lake Street when Harry runs into Amy when it needs to be. We see the details of this Chicago-- but not so many it feels like bragging and not so many as few as others start to intrude, "There was no occassion to look outside-- to see the people whose mad doings the papers are always report..." (Bellow 60). This nonchalance, this masterful way of Bellow's, not just for representing the rich, but well exemplified in this instance marks a change from our other books of the semester.

Does this characteristic ease that even Algren in his heart-pumping high-energy can't slow down verse can't replicate mark a shift in aesthetics? Is this a Chicago that doesn't feel the need to respond directly to Sandburg? I see what our pal Leigh was saying about the content of the book working through a little intellectual inferiority or anxiety-- but not its form. Its form is smooth. It's form is rich. It has no complexes-- no chip on its "Big Shoulders. "

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