The Ethics of Suffering in Saul Bellow's Herzog

Saul Bellow's Herzog is a complicated and multifaceted novel. Moses Herzog, the protagonist, has a powerful though meandering intellect which does not seem to discriminate much in its choice of object. These myriad reflections can make the novel appear chaotic and undirected, a patchwork of loosely associated letter fragments and thoughts or observations begun but never finished. There are, though, some deep concerns which structure the novel, such as a concern with the nature and value of human suffering. In this paper, I will argue for a reading of Herzog as a meditation on the role of suffering in the cultural landscape of postwar America.

I think the key to such a reading is Herzog's discussion with Dr. Edvig on page 54 of the novel. Here, Herzog is commenting on Madeline's supposed Christian outlook through the lens of Nietzsche's work. He says,"Nietzsche himself had a Christian view of history, seeing the present moment always as some crisis, some fall from classical greatness, some corruption or evil to be saved from. I call that Christian. And Madeline has it, all right. To some extent many of us do." I read this last sentence as a great understatement. Seeing the present as some crisis of...

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