Augie March--Part 4
A lot of men in the 1930s were, by our standards, serious losers. I say this because my impression is that there is a certain amount of hand-wringing afoot in the present about how the quality of the general run of American men has declined so precipitously in recent years, that they aren`t as smart or as tough or know how to do as many useful or interesting things, don`t have as much economic or marital value and so on, but if the literature of our forbears in the 30s and 40s is to be believed half the male population in that era could barely get out of bed without grasping for the gin bottle, was perpetually dressed in rags and lived in dank apartments working at truly dead-end jobs (paper routes?) until they dropped dead. Our tolerance for even the slightest suggestion of or association with failure seems to have lessened considerably however.
The threat of entrapment by women and babies is a major theme hovering over and slowly picking off all the characters in the book--not that they are to be avoided forever either, but of course the great trick is for the man to manage the timing and the terms according to what is most satisfying to him, which the book implies few are skillful enough to do.
p.295--``You don`t lay her?`` he said secretly. ``No.`` I disappointed him; there was also a very fine salt of condescension or mockery, only a glitter on the surface of his look, but I saw it.
Einhorn`s layabout son, Arthur, who went to the University of Illinois and styles himself a philosopher/poet who is above getting up and going to work every day, would remind me of myself except that seems to do a lot better with the chicks.
p.322--she began to tell me how poets must be allowed to run funerals.
The romance of Augie with the very wealthy, well-traveled, rather exotic Thea--certainly her feelings for him--is rather hard to believe. I guess Augie is supposed to be very good-looking, and street smart, as well as pliable to a point as far as being taken up by people goes, but it never rang convincingly for me.
People I have known from the affluent Chicago suburbs, in school and in the rest of life, have always struck me as being the most excessively sexually competitive people I have met. People from the New York area, especially Long Island and Northern New Jersey, are just as obsessed with sex, but there is a little more of a desperate Howard Stern quality to it--if they see an opening that is at all acceptable to them they jump on it like crazed animals. These New York people, as long as they are getting anything at all, are more or less content to let others enjoy their lives. The Chicago people on the other hand seemed much more likely to always be approaching such things as a game in which conquering opponents, both of one`s own and the opposite sex, was as much the point as procuring pleasure or enjoying a communion of spirits. I always thought these suburbs must be very awful places to live even if one was the champion sex god of them, and I can very rarely be brought to say such a thing as that.
Is it me, or do the critics tend to gloss over the often rather major flaws in Bellow`s novels far more than they do other writers? This is an absorbing and interesting book, and it has a lot of energy propelling it along, but it is not what I would consider masterfully structured. Also the Augie character, as I stated before, never becomes Big to me, never becomes a Symbol of anything that strikes me as really important. I know the big idea is that he`s the immigrant asserting himself as a voice and player on the American scene, but in the character himself there is no pull of any real foreign culture that makes one feel he is an immigrant, or the descendants of them. I never feel that. He`s more at home in America than I am, for Christ`s sake.
p.345--In a Paris or a London where the distinction of the sun isnt so great, in the grays and veilings, it isn`t credited with its full power, and many southern people have envied those places the virtues it`s possible to think of having in the cool or cold. Mussolini was not kidding about blasting pieces out of his Alps and Appenines to let the cold foggy currents of Germany over the peninsula and make the Perugini and the Romans into fighters.
p.351--What he was fishing for was my calling. I suppose he knew that I didn`t have one I could announce even to these worldly people--for I imagined they were of the great world, and they just about were.
p.358--I had yet to find out how little people want you to succeed in an extraordinary project, and what comfort some have that the negligible is upheld and all other greater effort falls on its face.
p.366--``He`s going to show everyone, and knock people down with his success. Whoever thought he was nothing but an international bum, and that`s everybody in the world who ever laid eyes on him, now`s going to be shown. Boy! People are right where he left them, and he`s going to come back and wow them. He has been around the world too, but he didn`t know it because he was drunk.`` As he said this, Oliver appeared to my thought in a shack of Outer Mongolia, where soldiers in quilted coats saw him lying in his vomit in a stupor. Moulton liked to show that ill, miserable things supplied the unity of the world. Only amusement supposedly made this tolerable, and so he specialized in amusement. All these people, the whole colony, did that.---This is my favorite paragraph in the book, I think.
p.368--Boredom is strength, Bolingbrooke. The bored man gets his way sooner than the next guy. When you`re bored you`re respected.
My impression of the whole excursion to Mexico is of course that expat life looks like great fun. It has that collegial atmosphere, where since no one really has to work and they don`t have to spend all day driving around doing errands and they need an excuse to get out of the house they end up by default hanging out in the cantina with each other most of the day, planning parties and hunting trips and scheming on everybody else`s wife/girlfriend. These kinds of scenes always turn dark and end badly in novels, it is true--what choice do they really have?--but the people in them always then move on to another interesting or exotic place filled with a new cast of bored beautiful people, so maybe that isn`t so bad as we bourgeois have been frightened by our attorneys into believing.
I am thinking I shouldn`t put in so many quotes, but then in theory if someone were checking into my site for 5 minutes a day seeking amusement or knowledge of some kind nine or ten short quotes that are either humorous or interesting in some way, especially if culled from a famous work of literature, would not be too forbidding.
I have probably 2 or 3 more posts I want to do on this book.