Transcript: Saul Bellow | Apr 18, 1989

(Classical music plays)
In animation, a marble entrance with two columns floating on misty mountains opens up to reveal a small bookshelf. Book covers from the collection flash by, including Cat’s eye by Margaret Atwood and The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie.
The title of the show appears as a book cover with a picture of the marble entrance: “Authors at Harbourfront.”

The screen turns as if it were a book page and a male narrator speaks as clips of different authors speaking at Harbourfront flash by.

The male narrator says THE FESTIVAL OF AUTHORS AT
TORONTO'S HARBOURFRONT IS ONE
OF THE WORLD'S FOREMOST
LITERARY EVENTS.
NOW ENTERING ITS TENTH YEAR,
THE FESTIVAL ANNUALLY ATTRACTS
50 OF THE WORLD'S BEST AUTHORS
TO THE STAGE, TO READ FROM
THEIR WORKS AND PARTICIPATE
IN INTERVIEWS AND DISCUSSIONS
WITH THEIR PEERS.

A man appears on screen. He’s in his seventies, clean-shaven, with short white hair. He wears a gray suit, a vertical stripped shirt in red and white, and a gray bow.

The narrator says BORN IN LACHINE, QUEBEC, SAUL
BELLOW MOVED TO CHICAGO AT A
YOUNG AGE, AND LATER STUDIED
ANTHROPOLOGY AS A GRADUATE
STUDENT AT THE
UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN.
HE PUBLISHED HIS
FIRST NOVEL IN 1944.

Several Saul’s book covers flash by.

The narrator continues HIS NOVELS:
BOTH RECEIVED GREAT
CRITICAL ACCLAIM.
THE RELEASE OF:
WON BOTH THE NATIONAL
BOOK AWARD, AND THE PRIX
INTERNATIONALE DE LITERATURE.
IN 1987, BELLOW RELEASED,
“MORE DIE OF HEARTBREAK.”
HE HAS RECEIVED A PULITZER
PRIZE, A NATIONAL MEDAL OF
ARTS, AND IN 1976, RECEIVED
A NOBEL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE.
IN THIS PROGRAM, BELLOW
DISCUSSES THE ROLE OF FAMILY
AND RELIGION IN HIS
NOVELS, AND READS FROM
“HUMBOLDT'S GIFT,”
RELEASED IN 1975.

Saul says THE STEREOTYPE
WAS THAT THE PRIZE IS THE KISS
OF DEATH, AND ONCE YOU'VE HAD
IT, YOU'RE FINISHED AND SO ON.
AND THIS HANGS OVER YOU LIKE A
DAMP BURLAP COVER FOR A WHILE.
AND THEN YOU SAY,
OH, THE HELL WITH IT.
AS I DID.
I KNEW STEINBECK PRETTY WELL.
STEINBECK REALLY WAS...

A female voice says SPOOKED BY IT?

Saul says SPOOKED BY IT,
YES HE WAS.

A man stands behind a podium on a small stage. He’s in his fifties, with receding short hair. He wears a blue V-necked sweater.

He says NOW, PLEASE WELCOME, FROM
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
SAUL BELLOW.
[applause]

Saul walks up the stage to the podium carrying a book.

Saul says DECIDING WHETHER TO BE
EDIFYING OR AMUSING TONIGHT,
I CHOSE TO BE, I
THINK, AMUSING.
I'M GOING TO READ FROM A NOVEL
CALLED
HUMBOLDT'S GIFT.
THE PASSAGE I HAVE CHOSEN
IS FROM THE EARLY PORTION
OF THE NOVEL.
AND TELLS OF A TRIP TAKEN BY
CHARLIE SATRINE, THE NARRATOR,
AND VON HUMBOLDT FLEISHER.
Saul opens a book and says JUST A MOMENT.
I'M TRYING TO FIND THE PASSAGE
I CHOSE, BUT I SEEM TO HAVE
LOST IT.

Saul flips through the pages of the book and says AH, GOT IT.
HUMBOLDT IS GOING TO DRIVE
CHARLIE TO HIS HOUSE
IN NEW JERSEY.
CHARLIE IS GOING TO
SPEND THE NIGHT THERE.
AND THEN THEY ARE GOING TO
PRINCETON TOMORROW, THE NEXT
DAY, WHERE HUMBOLDT HAS
PROMISED CHARLIE A JOB
AT THE UNIVERSITY.

He reads “ON A SUNDAY IN SEPTEMBER,
1952, HUMBOLDT PICKED ME UP ON
BARROW STREET NEAR THE
CHERRY LANE THEATRE.
VERY DIFFERENT FROM THE YOUNG
POET WITH WHOM I WENT TO
HOBOKEN TO EAT CLAMS.
HE WAS NOW THICK AND STOUT.
HE CHARGED DOWN BARROW STREET
IN HIS FOUR HOLER, THE FIRST
POET IN AMERICA WITH
POWER BRAKES, HE SAID.
HE WAS FULL OF CAR MYSTIQUE,
BUT HE DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO PARK.
[laughter]
I WATCHED HIM TRYING TO BACK
INTO AN ADEQUATE SPACE.
MY OWN THEORY WAS THE WAY
PEOPLE PARKED HAD MUCH TO DO
WITH THEIR INTIMATE
SELF-IMAGE AND REVEALED HOW
THEY FELT ABOUT
THEIR OWN BACK SIDES.
[laughter]
HUMBOLDT TWICE GOT A REAR WHEEL
UP ON THE CURB AND, FINALLY,
GAVE UP.
TURNING OFF THE IGNITION.
THEN, IN A CHECKED SPORT
JACKET AND STRAP-FASTENED POLO
BOOTS, HE CAME OUT SWINGING
SHUT A DOOR THAT SEEMED TWO
YARDS LONG.
HIS GREETING WAS SILENT.
THE LARGE LIPS WERE CLOSED.
HIS GREY EYES SEEMED MORE
WIDELY SEPARATED THAN EVER.
THE SURFACED WHALE
BESIDE THE DORIE.
HIS HANDSOME FACE HAD
THICKENED AND DETERIORATED.
IT WAS SUMPTUOUS, IT WAS
BUDDHISTIC, BUT IT WAS
NOT TRANQUIL.
SO FROM THE PRESENT, I SEE TWO
ODD DOLLS IN THE FRONT SEAT
OF A ROARING,
GRINDING FOUR HOLER.
THIS BUICK WAS ALL OVER MUD,
AND LOOKED LIKE A STAFF CAR
FROM FLANDERS FIELD.
[laughter]
THE WHEELS WERE OF LINE.
THE BIG TIRES
POUNDED ECCENTRICALLY.
THROUGH THE THIN SUNLIGHT OF
EARLY AUTUMN, HUMBOLDT DROVE
FAST, TAKING ADVANTAGE OF
THE SUNDAY EMPTINESS
OF THE STREETS.
HE WAS A TERRIBLE DRIVER,
MAKING LEFT TURNS FROM THE
RIGHT SIDE, SPURTING THEN
DRAGGING, TAILGATING.
I DISAPPROVED.
OF COURSE, I WAS MUCH BETTER
WITH A CAR, BUT COMPARISONS
WERE ABSURD BECAUSE THIS
WAS HUMBOLDT, NOT A DRIVER.
STEERING, HE WAS HUMPED
HUGE OVER THE WHEEL.
HE HAD SMALL BOY TREMORS
OF THE HANDS AND FEET.
AND HE KEPT THE CIGARETTE
HOLDER BETWEEN HIS TEETH.
HE WAS AGITATED, TALKING AWAY,
ENTERTAINING, PROVOKING,
INFORMING, AND SNOWING ME.
HE HADN'T SLEPT LAST NIGHT.
HE SEEMED IN POOR HEALTH.
OF COURSE, HE DRANK, AND HE
DOSED HIMSELF WITH PILLS,
LOTS OF PILLS.
IN HIS BRIEFCASE HE
CARRIED THE MERCK MANUAL.
IT WAS BOUND IN
BLACK LIKE THE BIBLE.
HE CONSULTED IT OFTEN.
AND THERE WERE DRUGGISTS WHO
WOULD GIVE HIM WHAT HE WANTED.”

(music plays)

A clip shows Saul in an interview. A caption reads “Saul Bellow.”

He says I'M A LITTLE LEERY OF THE
WHOLE JEWISH WRITER THING.
FIRST OF ALL, IT
BECAME A 'THING'.
IT WAS NOT OF
OUR INVENTION.
I MEAN, PEOPLE LIKE MALAMUD,
AND MYSELF, AND OTHERS DIDN'T
THINK THIS UP.
IT APPEARED IN TWO WAYS, FIRST
AS AN ACADEMIC CATEGORY,
AND SECONDLY, AS A
JOURNALISTIC CATEGORY.
IT WAS NOT A MATTER OF
SURPRISE TO US BECAUSE
WE KNEW ALL ALONG WHAT WAS
HAPPENING, THAT WE WERE
AMERICANS WHO WERE JEWISH, OR
JEWS WHO WERE AMERICANS, THE
ORDER IN WHICH YOU PUT IT
MAY OR MAY NOT BE IMPORTANT,
WHO FELT LIBERATED BY THIS LIFE
IN AMERICA, TO DO WHAT THEY
COULD WITH THEIR GIFTS, THEIR
TALENTS IN THIS DEPARTMENT.
IT CERTAINLY WASN'T A CONCERTED
EFFORT ON ANYBODY'S PART.
IT WAS AN AFTER-THOUGHT.
YOU KNOW, FIRST YOU PLAY THE
PIECE, THEN THEY TELL YOU
IT WAS A SONATA.
IT'S NOT UP TO YOU TO
GIVE THE DESCRIPTION.

Back on the stage, Saul keeps on reading.

He says “THE CAR WALLOPED THE
PAVEMENT CHARGING TOWARD
THE HOLLAND TUNNEL.
CLOSE TO THE LARGE FORM OF
HUMBOLDT, THIS MOTORING GIANT,
IN THE AWFUL, UPHOLSTERED
LUXURY OF THE FRONT SEAT,
I FELT THE IDEAS AND
ILLUSIONS THAT WENT WITH HIM.
HE WAS ALWAYS ACCOMPANIED
BY A SWARM, A HUGE VOLUME
OF NOTIONS.
HE SAID HOW CHANGED THE JERSEY
SWAMPS WERE, EVEN IN HIS
LIFETIME, WITH ROADS,
DUMPS, AND FACTORIES.
AND WHAT WOULD A BUICK LIKE
THIS, WITH POWER BRAKES AND
POWER STEERING, HAVE
MEANT EVEN 50 YEARS AGO?
IMAGINE HENRY JAMES AS A
DRIVER, OR WALT WHITMAN,
OR MALLARME.
WE WERE OFF.
HE DISCUSSED MACHINERY,
LUXURY, COMMAND, CAPITALISM,
TECHNOLOGY, MAMMAN, ORPHEUS,
AND POETRY, THE RICHES OF THE
HUMAN HEART, AMERICA,
WORLD CIVILIZATION.
HIS TASK WAS TO PUT ALL OF
THIS AND MORE TOGETHER.
THE CAR WENT SNORING AND
SQUEALING THROUGH THE TUNNEL
AND CAME OUT IN
BRIGHT SUNLIGHT.
TALL STACKS OF FILTH ARTILLERY
FIRED SILENTLY INTO THE
SUNDAY SKY, WITH BEAUTIFUL
BURSTS OF SMOKE.
THE ACID SMELL OF GAS
REFINERIES WENT INTO YOUR
LUNGS LIKE A SPUR.
THE RUSHES WERE AS
BROWN AS ONION SOUP.
THERE WERE SEA-GOING TANKERS
STUCK IN THE CHANNELS.
THE WIND BOOMED.
THE GREAT CLOUDS WERE WHITE.
FAR OUT, THE MASSED
BUNGALOWS HAD THE LOOK
OF A NECROPOLIS-TO-BE.
THROUGH THE PALE SUN OF THE
STREETS, THE LIVING WENT
TO CHURCH.
UNDER HUMBOLDT'S POLO BOOT,
THE CARBURETOR GASPED, THE
ECCENTRIC TIRES THUMPED FAST
ON THE SLABS OF THE HIGHWAY,
THE GUSTS WERE SO STRONG THAT
EVEN THE HEAVY BUICK FLUTTERED.
WE PLUNGED OVER THE PULASKI
SKYWAY WHILE THE STRIPES
OF GIRDER SHADOWS CAME
AT US THROUGH THE
SHUDDERING WINDSHIELD.
IN THE BACK SEAT WERE
BOOKS, BOTTLES, BEER CANS
AND PAPER BAGS.
TRISTAN COURBIER, I REMEMBER,
LES AMOUR JAUNES
IN A YELLOW
JACKET, AND
THE
POLICE GAZETTE,
PINK,
WITH PICTURES OF VULGAR
COPS AND SINFUL KITTY CATS.
HUMBOLDT'S HOUSE WAS IN
THE JERSEY BACK COUNTRY,
NEAR THE PENNSYLVANIA LINE.
THIS MARGINAL LAND WAS GOOD
FOR NOTHING BUT CHICKEN FARMS.
THE APPROACHES WERE UNPAVED,
AND WE DROVE IN DUST.
BRIARS LASHED THE ROADMASTER
AS WE SWAYED ON HUGE SPRINGS
THROUGH RUBBISHY FIELDS
WHERE WHITE BOULDERS SAT.
THE BUSTED MUFFLER WAS SO LOUD
THAT THOUGH THE CAR FILLED
THE LANE, THERE WAS
NO NEED TO HONK.
YOU COULD HEAR US COMING.”

(music plays)

In the interview, Saul says WELL, I SPOKE BEFORE ABOUT THE
PSYCHIC UNITY OF THE WRITER
AND THE READER.
THE PSYCHIC UNITY
OF ALL HUMAN BEINGS.
PSYCHIC UNITY OF PERSONS,
OF SELVES AND SO ON.
BUT WRITERS ARE REALLY NOT
SO DIFFERENT FROM OTHERS
IN THIS RESPECT.
PEOPLE ARE SPOOKED BY
ALL KINDS OF THINGS.
THEY TWIST THEMSELVES INTO A
DEFORMITY TRYING TO ASSERT
THAT THEY ARE HOLDING
THE RIGHT POSITIONS.
THAT THEY ARE FOR ALL THE GOOD
THINGS, AND AGAINST ALL THE
BAD THINGS.
AND THEY ARE EDUCATED WITH AN
EYE TO LEARNING WHAT THE GOOD
THINGS ARE, AND ASSOCIATING
THEMSELVES WITH THE GOOD
THINGS PERMANENTLY,
DISASSOCIATING THEMSELVES
FROM THE BAD THINGS.
THIS USUALLY RESULTS IN
A PARALYSIS OF THOUGHT.
BECAUSE ONCE YOU HAVE BOUGHT
AND PAID FOR A UNIVERSITY
EDUCATION, WHICH HAS OUTFITTED
YOU WITH THE FULL SET OF
PRINCIPLES, YOU ARE NOT
GOING TO ABANDON THOSE
UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.
AS FOR THINKING, GOD FORBID,
YOU'D NEVER DO THAT AGAIN.
YOU DON'T NEED TO.
YOU ARE ALREADY PREPARED, YOU
ARE FULLY EQUIPPED BY HIGHER
EDUCATION WITH EVERYTHING
THAT YOU ARE GOING TO NEED
AND, FURTHERMORE,
YOU PAID FOR IT.
[laughter]
IT WOULD SURPRISE YOU HOW
OFTEN I HEAR, AS I DID NOT
VERY LONG AGO, AT DARTMOUTH
WHEN I GAVE A TALK, A GIRL
ROSE FROM THE AUDIENCE AND
SAID, WE'RE NOT PAYING 20,000 DOLLARS
A YEAR IN TUITION TO HEAR
WHAT YOU'VE JUST TOLD US.
I SAID, REALLY, TO UNDERSTAND
WHAT I'M SAYING TO YOU,
YOU'D HAVE TO
PAY A LOT MORE.
[laughter]

On stage, Saul reads “HUMBOLDT YELLED, HERE'S
OUR PLACE, AND SWERVED.
WE ROLLED OVER A
HUMMOCK, OR EARTH WAVE.
THE FRONT OF THE BUICK ROSE,
THEN DIVED INTO THE WEEDS.
HE SQUEEZED THE HORN, FEARING
FOR HIS CATS, BUT THE CATS
LIT OUT, AND FOUND SAFETY ON
THE ROOF OF THE WOOD SHED,
WHICH HAD COLLAPSED UNDER
THE SNOW LAST WINTER.
KATHLEEN WAS
WAITING IN THE YARD.
LARGE, FAIR SKINNED
AND BEAUTIFUL.
HER FACE IN THE FEMININE
VOCABULARY OF PRAISE HAD
WONDERFUL BONES, BUT SHE WAS
PALE, AND SHE HAD NO COUNTRY
COLOUR AT ALL.
HUMBOLDT SAID SHE
SELDOM WENT OUT.
SHE SAT IN THE
HOUSE READING BOOKS.
IT WAS EXACTLY LIKE BEDFORD
STREET HERE, EXCEPT THAT THE
SURROUNDING SLUM WAS RURAL.
AS SHE GREETED ME, GLAD TO
SEE ME, AND GAVE MY HAND
A KIND TOUCH.
THEN, IN MY HEAD, A
WHITE FLARE WENT OFF.
THERE WAS AN ILLUMINATION
OF CURIOUS CLARITY.
I SAW THE POSITION INTO WHICH
HUMBOLDT HAD PLACED KATHLEEN.
AND I PUT IT INTO WORDS.
LIE THERE, HOLD
STILL, DON'T WIGGLE.
MY HAPPINESS MAY BE PECULIAR,
BUT ONCE HAPPY, I WILL MAKE
YOU HAPPY, HAPPIER
THAN YOU EVER DREAMED.
AND WHEN I AM SATISFIED, THE
BLESSINGS OF FULFILLMENT WILL
FLOW TO ALL MANKIND.
WASN'T THIS, I THOUGHT, THE
MESSAGE OF MODERN POWER?
IT WAS THE VOICE OF THE CRAZY
TYRANT SPEAKING WITH PECULIAR
LUSTS TO CONSUMMATE FOR WHICH
EVERYONE MUST HOLD STILL.
I GRASPED IT AT ONCE.
THEN, I THOUGHT THAT KATHLEEN
MUST HAVE SECRET FEMININE
REASONS FOR GOING ALONG, TOO.
I WAS SUPPOSED TO GO
ALONG IN ANOTHER FASHION.
I, TOO, WAS
TO HOLD STILL.
HUMBOLDT HAD PLANS ALSO
FOR ME, BEYOND PRINCETON.
WHEN HE WASN'T A POET, HE
WAS A FANATICAL SCHEMER.
AND I WAS PECULIARLY
SUSCEPTIBLE TO HIS INFLUENCE.
WHY THAT WAS, I HAVE ONLY
RECENTLY BEGUN TO UNDERSTAND.
BUT HE THRILLED
ME CONTINUALLY.
WHATEVER HE DID WAS DELICIOUS.
KATHLEEN SEEMED AWARE OF
THIS, AND SMILED TO HERSELF
AS I CAME OUT OF THE CAR.
I STOOD ON THE
DOWN-BEATEN GRASS.
BREATHE THE AIR, HUMBOLDT SAID.
DIFFERENT FROM MANHATTAN, EH?
HE THEN QUOTED, THIS CASTLE
HATH A PLEASANT SEAT.
ALSO, THE HEAVEN'S BREATH
SMELLS WOOINGLY HERE.
WE THEN STARTED
TO PLAY FOOTBALL.
HE AND KATHLEEN
PLAYED ALL THE TIME.
THIS WAS WHY THE
GRASS WAS TRAMPLED.
KATHLEEN SPENT MOST
OF THE DAY READING.
TO UNDERSTAND WHAT HER
HUSBAND WAS TALKING ABOUT
SHE HAD TO CATCH UP, SHE
SAID, ON JAMES, PROUST,
EDITH WHARTON, KARL MARX,
FREUD, AND SO ON.
I HAVE TO MAKE A SCENE TO GET
HER OUT OF THE HOUSE FOR A
LITTLE FOOTBALL, SAID HUMBOLDT.
SHE THREW A VERY GOOD PASS.
A HARD, ACCURATE SPIRAL.
HER VOICE TRAILED AS SHE RAN
BARE-LEGGED AND MADE THE
CATCH ON HER BREAST.
THE BALL IN FLIGHT WAGGED
LIKE A DUCK'S TAIL.
IT FLEW UNDER THE MAPLES,
OVER THE CLOTHESLINE.
AFTER CONFINEMENT IN THE CAR,
AND IN MY INTERVIEW CLOTHES,
I WAS GLAD TO PLAY.
HUMBOLDT WAS A HEAVY,
CHOPPY RUNNER.
IN THEIR SWEATERS, HE AND
KATHLEEN LOOKED LIKE TWO
ROOKIES, BIG,
FAIR, PADDED OUT.
HUMBOLDT SAID, LOOK AT CHARLIE,
JUMPING LIKE NIJINSKY.”

(music plays)

In the interview, Saul says WELL, A FAMILY, IF IT
IS A FAMILY, IS ONE'S
FIRST SCHOOL OF LOVE.
IT IS THE PLACE WHERE YOU
LEARN WHAT THE FUNDAMENTAL
ATTACHMENTS ARE.
AND IT IS THE PLACE IN WHICH
YOUR EMOTIONS APPEAR AND BEGIN
TO BE FORMED.
AND IT WOULD HAVE BEEN
IMPOSSIBLE FOR ME TO TURN MY
BACK ON THIS, AND TO OPT,
INSTEAD, FOR A WORLD IN WHICH
THESE THINGS DIDN'T EXIST.
I WAS, FOR SOME TIME IN MY
EARLY DEVELOPMENT, A MARXIST.
WELL, YOU KNOW
WHAT THAT MEANS.
YOU HAD NO USE
FOR THE FAMILY.
IT HAD BEEN DENOUNCED BY
MARX AND ENGELS AS A
BOURGEOIS INSTITUTION.
IN THE COMMUNIST PARADISE,
THERE WOULDN'T BE ANY SUCH
THING AS A FAMILY.
AND AT PRESENT CONSTITUTED,
IT WAS A FORM OF SOCIAL
OPPRESSION, WHICH CONNECTED
WITH CAPITALIST EXPLOITATION
AND CLASS SUFFERING AND
ALL THE REST OF THAT.
SO I SHOULD HAVE DONE -- I
SHOULD HAVE MADE THE FREE
MAN'S CHOICE, ACCORDING EVEN
TO MYSELF, AS AN IDEOLOGIST
IN THOSE DAYS.
YOU CAN'T -- YOU DON'T CHOOSE
YOUR RELATIVES, THEREFORE,
YOUR ASSOCIATION WITH THEM
IS NOT A FREE ASSOCIATION.
YOU GO INTO THE WORLD, AND YOU
FIND YOUR OWN LIKES, AND YOU
DEVELOP FREE FRIENDSHIPS WITH
THEM, AND THAT'S MUCH BETTER
THAN HAVING A
FAMILY CONNECTION.
NOW, IT'S TRUE THAT, FOR MANY
YEARS, IT BECAME IMPOSSIBLE
FOR ME TO COMMUNICATE FREELY
WITH MEMBERS OF MY OWN FAMILY.
THEY DIDN'T KNOW
WHAT I WAS DOING.
I UNDERSTOOD BETTER WHAT THEY
WERE DOING BECAUSE WHAT THEY
WERE DOING WAS WHAT SO
MANY OTHERS WERE DOING.
I DIDN'T DEMAND THIS KIND
OF UNDERSTANDING FROM THEM.
I WOULD HAVE BEEN HORRIFIED
AT THE IDEA THAT, A, THAT
I SHOULD MAKE THE EFFORT TO
EXPLAIN MYSELF TO THEM, AND B,
THEY SHOULD MAKE THE EFFORT TO
UNDERSTAND WHAT I WAS TRYING
TO EXPLAIN.
MY ATTACHMENTS TO THEM
WERE INVIOLABLE AND
UNBREAKABLE FOREVER.
AND WE KEPT IT THAT WAY.
AND IF IT WAS NECESSARY FOR
ME TO USE THE LANGUAGE OF MY
YOUTH OR CHILDHOOD IN
TALKING TO THEM, WELL,
I WOULD DO IT THAT WAY.
BUT I NEVER STOPPED
FEELING FOR THEM.
AND I DIDN'T THINK ONE HAD TO
HAVE HIGH-LEVEL CONVERSATIONS
WITH THEM IN
ORDER TO LOVE THEM.

On stage, Saul reads “SHE SAW THAT HUMBOLDT
WAS OVEREXCITED.
HE WOULD NOT
SLEEP THAT NIGHT.
VERY GOOD, WE TUNED
IN THE HORROR PICTURE.
BELA LUGOSI WAS A MAD
SCIENTIST WHO INVENTED
SYNTHETIC FLESH.
HE DAUBED IT ON HIMSELF,
MAKING A FEARFUL MASK,
AND HE BROKE INTO THE
ROOMS OF BEAUTIFUL MAIDENS
WHO SCREAMED AND
FELL UNCONSCIOUS.
[laughter]
KATHLEEN, MORE FABULOUS THAN
SCIENTIST, MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN
ANY OF THE LADIES, SAT
WITH A HAZY, ABSENT,
FRECKLED HALF-SMILE.
KATHLEEN WAS A SOMNAMBULIST.
HUMBOLDT HAD SURROUNDED HER
WITH THE WHOLE CRISIS OF
WESTERN CULTURE.
SHE WENT TO SLEEP.
WHAT ELSE COULD SHE DO?
I UNDERSTAND THESE
DECADES OF SLEEP.
THIS IS A SUBJECT
I KNOW WELL.
MEANTIME, HUMBOLDT KEPT
US FROM GOING TO BED.
HE TOOK AMYTAL TO OVERCOME
THE BENZEDRINE, ON TOP OF
WHICH HE DRANK GIN.
I WENT OUT AND
WALKED IN THE COLD.
LIGHT POURED FROM THE COTTAGE
INTO RUTS AND GULLIES OVER
THE TANGLED ROAD CROWN OF
WILD CARROT AND RAGWEED.
YAPPING DOGS, FOXES
MAYBE, PIERCING STARS.
THE LATE-LATE SPOOKS
JITTERED THROUGH THE WINDOWS.
THE MAD SCIENTIST SHOT
IT OUT WITH THE POLICE.
HIS LAB EXPLODED, AND HE DIED
IN FLAMES, THE SYNTHETIC
FLESH MELTING FROM HIS FACE.
HUMBOLDT AND I WERE UP
TALKING HALF THE NIGHT.
KATHLEEN LENT ME A SWEATER.
SHE SAW THAT HUMBOLDT WOULD
SLEEP VERY LITTLE, AND MAYBE
SHE TOOK ADVANTAGE OF MY
VISIT TO GET A LITTLE REST.
FOR SEEING AN ENTIRE WEEK OF
MANIC NIGHTS WHEN THERE WOULD
BE NO GUEST TO SPELL HER.
AS A FORWARD TO THIS EVENING
OF CONVERSATION WITH
VON HUMBOLDT FLEISHER, FOR
IT WAS A SORT OF RECITAL,
I SHOULD LIKE TO OFFER A
SUCCINCT HISTORICAL STATEMENT:
THERE CAME A TIME, EARLY
MODERN, WHEN APPARENTLY LIFE
LOST THE ABILITY TO ARRANGE
ITSELF AND HAD TO
BE
ARRANGED.
INTELLECTUALS TOOK
THIS AS THEIR JOB.
AND A MAN LIKE HUMBOLDT
INSPIRED, SHREWD, NUTTY, WAS
BRIMMING OVER WITH THE
DISCOVERY THAT THE HUMAN
ENTERPRISE, SO GRAND
AND INFINITELY VARIED,
HAD NOW TO BE MANAGED
BY EXCEPTIONAL PERSONS.
WELL, HE WAS AN
EXCEPTIONAL PERSON.
THEREFORE, HE WAS AN ELIGIBLE
CANDIDATE FOR POWER.
WHAT WAS THE POET'S
CONVERSATION ACTUALLY LIKE?
HE WORE THE LOOK OF A BALANCED
THINKER WHEN HE BEGAN,
BUT HE WAS NOT THE
PICTURE OF SANITY.
I, MYSELF, LOVED TO TALK
AND KEPT UP WITH HIM
AS LONG AS I COULD.
AND FOR A WHILE IT WAS
A DOUBLE CONCERTO, BUT
PRESENTLY, I WAS FIDDLED AND
TRUMPETTED OFF THE STAGE.
REASONING, FORMULATING,
DEBATING, MAKING DISCOVERIES,
HUMBOLDT'S VOICE ROSE,
CHOKED, ROSE AGAIN.
HIS MOUTH WENT WIDE.
DARK STAINS FORMED
UNDER HIS EYES.
HIS EYES SEEMED BLOTTED.
ARMS HEAVY, CHEST BIG.
PANTS GATHERED WITH MUCH BELT
TO SPARE UNDER HIS BELLY,
THE LOOSE END OF LEATHER
HANGING DOWN, HE PASSED FROM
STATEMENT TO RECITATIVE.
FROM RECITATIVE, HE
SOARED INTO ARIA.
AND BEHIND HIM THERE PLAYED
AN ORCHESTRA OF INTIMATIONS,
VIRTUES, LOVE OF HIS ART,
VENERATION OF ITS GREAT MEN,
BUT ALSO OF SUSPICION AND
SKULLDUGGERY, AND BEFORE YOUR
EYES, THE MAN RECITED AND SANG
HIMSELF IN AND OUT OF MADNESS.”

(music plays)

In the interview, Saul says BUT WHAT I OBJECT TO IS THE
ATTITUDE THAT IT'S ALL OVER.
THAT OF COURSE WE ARE NOW
IN SUCH AND SUCH A PERIOD.
YOU KNOW, THERE WAS A NEO
CLASSIC PERIOD, THEN THERE WAS
A ROMANTIC PERIOD, THEN THERE
WAS A LATE ROMANTIC PERIOD,
THEN THERE WAS A SYMBOLIST
PERIOD, AND THEN THERE WAS A
MODERNIST PERIOD, THEN THERE
WAS A POST MODERNIST PERIOD.
NOW WE'RE IN THE POST
POST MODERNIST PERIOD.
MY GOD, YOU FEEL LIKE A
STEAMER TRUNK WITH ALL THESE
LABELS PLASTERED
ALL OVER THE PLACE.
WHAT GOOD IS IT TO TALK THAT
WAY, OR TO TRY TO PLACE
YOURSELF THAT WAY?
AFTER ALL, WE WEREN'T BORN
WITH THAT KIND OF LABEL
ON OUR RUMPS.
SO I DO AS I SEE FIT.
AND THEN, OF COURSE, I AM
EITHER WITH IT OR NOT WITH IT.
AND THAT CAN'T BE ANY
SERIOUS WRITER'S CONCERN.
HE CANNOT -- HE DOESN'T HAVE
TO SQUARE HIMSELF WITH MARX
AND FREUD AND THE
EXISTENTIALISTS, AND THE
STRUCTURALISTS, AND THE
DECONSTRUCTURALISTS.
DOESN'T HAVE TO SQUARE
HIMSELF WITH ANYBODY.
ONE OF THE GREAT MISTAKES
IN MY LIFE WAS FEELING
THAT I HAD TO KEEP UP.
IT'S LIKE BEING ON ONE OF
THESE REVOLVING RUNNING
MACHINES, IN WHICH YOU HAVE
TO RUN FASTER AND FASTER.
AND THEN YOU'RE SIMPLY
WINDED IN THE END.
WHAT HAD IT ALL AMOUNTED TO?

On stage, Saul reads “ABOVE US, KATHLEEN
WAS GETTING INTO BED.
OUR CEILING WAS HER FLOOR.
THE BOARDS WERE BARE, AND
YOU HEARD EVERY MOVEMENT.
I RATHER ENVIED HER BECAUSE I
WAS NOW SHIVERING AND WOULD
HAVE LIKED TO GET UNDER
THE COVERS MYSELF.
BUT HUMBOLDT WAS POINTING OUT
THAT WE WERE ONLY 15 MINUTES
FROM TRENTON, AND TWO HOURS
FROM WASHINGTON BY TRAIN.
HE COULD SHOOT RIGHT IN.
HE CONFIDED THAT STEPHENSON
HAD ALREADY BEEN IN TOUCH
WITH HIM AND THAT A MEETING
WAS BEING ARRANGED.
HUMBOLDT ASKED ME TO HELP
HIM PREPARE NOTES FOR THIS
CONVERSATION, AND UNTIL
THREE IN THE MORNING,
WE DISCUSSED THIS.
THEN I WENT TO MY ROOM, AND
LEFT HUMBOLDT POURING HIMSELF
A LAST CUP OF GIN.
NEXT DAY, HE WAS
STILL GOING STRONG.
IT MADE ME GIDDY TO HEAR SO
MUCH SUBTLE ANALYSIS AND TO HAVE
SO MUCH WORLD HISTORY POURED
OVER MY HEAD AT BREAKFAST.
HE HADN'T SLEPT AT ALL.
TO CALM HIMSELF,
HE TOOK A RUN.
WITH SLOVENLY SHOES,
HE POUNDED THE GRAVEL.
WAIST HIGH IN DUST, HIS ARMS
BUNCHED AGAINST HIS CHEST,
HE DESCENDED THE ROAD.
HE SEEMED TO SINK DOWN INTO
IT, UNDER THE SUMACS AND
SMALL OAKS, BETWEEN BANKS OF
BRITTLE CRAB GRASS, THISTLE,
AND MILKWEED PUFF BALLS.
BURRS WERE STICKING TO HIS
PANTS WHEN HE RETURNED.
FOR RUNNING, TOO,
HE HAD A TEXT.
WHEN JONATHAN SWIFT WAS
SECRETARY TO SIR WILLIAM
TEMPLE, HE RAN MILES EVERY
DAY TO BLOW OFF STEAM.
THOUGHTS TOO RICH, EMOTIONS
TOO DENSE, DARK EXPRESSIVE
NEEDS, YOU COULD
DO SOME ROAD WORK.
AND THAT WAY, YOU
SWEATED OUT THE GIN, TOO.
HE TOOK ME FOR A STROLL,
AND THE CATS ACCOMPANIED US
THROUGH THE DEAD
LEAVES AND BRUSH.
THEY PRACTICED POUNCING.
THEY ATTACKED
GROUND GOSSAMERS.
WITH GRENADIER TAILS, THEY
BOUNDED TO SHARPEN THEIR CLAWS
ON TREES.
HUMBOLDT WAS EXTREMELY
FOND OF THEM.
THE MORNING AIR WAS INFUSED
WITH SOMETHING VERY NICE.
HUMBOLDT WENT IN AND SHAVED,
AND THEN WE DROVE IN THE
FATEFUL BUICK TO PRINCETON.”
THANK YOU.
[applause]

(Classical music plays)
The end credits roll.
Produced and directed by Tracey Fisher.
Executive producer, Michael Vaughan.
Produced for T.V. Ontario by Tier One Communications INC.
The logo of T.V. Ontario appears.
The Ontario Educational Communications Authority. 1988

Watch: Saul Bellow