Saul Bellow


Canadian-born American Novelist, Playwright, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature and National Medal of Arts

Author Quotes

You think history is the history of loving hearts? You fool! Look at these millions of dead. Can you pity them, feel for them? You cannot! There were too many. We burned them to ashes, we buried them with bulldozers. History is the history of cruelty, not love as soft men think. We have experimented with every human capacity to see which is strong and admirable and have shown that none is. There is only practicality. If the old God exists, he must be a murderer. But the one true god is Death. This is how it is - without cowardly illustrations.

You?re used to difficult women. To struggle. Perhaps you like it when they give you a bad time. Every treasure is guarded by dragons. That?s how you can tell it?s valuable? Do you mind if I unbutton my collar? It seems to be pressing on an artery.

Your authority and my degeneracy are one in the same.

Zet and Lottie swam into New York City from the skies?that was how it felt in the Pacemaker, rushing along the Hudson at sunrise. First many blue twigs overhanging the water, than a rosy color, and then the heavy flashing of the river under the morning sun. They were in the dining car, their eyes were heavy. They were drained by a night of broken sleep in the day coach, and they were dazzled. They drank coffee from cups as heavy as soapstone, and poured from New York Central pewter. They were in the East, where everything was better, where objects were different. Here there was deeper meaning in the air. After changing at Harmon to an electric locomotive, they began a more quick and eager ride. Trees, water, sky, and the sky raced off, floating, and there came bridges, structures, and at last the tunnel, where the air breaks gasped and the streamliner was checked. There were yellow bulbs in wire mesh, and subterranean air came through the vents. The doors opened, the passengers, pulling their clothing straight, flowed out and got their luggage, and Zet and Lottie, reaching Forty-second Street, refugees from arid and inhibited Chicago, from Emptyland, embraced at the curb and kissed each other repeatedly on the mouth. They had come to the World City, where all behavior was deeper and more resonant, where they could freely be themselves, as demonstrative as they liked. Intellect, art, the transcendent, needed no excuses here. Any cabdriver understood, Zet believed.

You have to have the power to employ pain, to repent, to be illuminated, you must have the opportunity and even the time.

You never have to change anything you get up in the middle of the night to write.

You never know what forms self-respect will take, especially with people whose rules of life are few.

You saw how he put his paws over my face so I couldn?t breathe? she said. God made him to be a butcher. Why did he become a dentist? His hands are too heavy. The touch is everything to a dentist. If his hands aren?t right he shouldn?t be let practice. But his wife worked hard to send him through school and make a dentist of him. And I must go to him and be burned because of it.

You see kids, little boys, practicing the jeers of their television heroes?they shape themselves on such models. It?s a strange conformity to what?s thrust at them; they adopt it and adapt it and play with it.

You shouldn?t waste your time, he further said. Don?t you see that to do any little thing you have to take an examination, you have to pay a fee and get a card or a diploma? You better get wise to this. If people don?t know what you qualify in they?ll never know where to place you, and that can be dangerous. You have to get in there and do something for yourself. Even if you?re just waiting, you have to know what you?re waiting for, you have to specialize. And don?t wait too long or you?ll be passed by.

When finally you?re done speaking you?re dumb forever after, and when you?re through stirring you go still, but this is no reason to decline to speak and stir or to be what you are.

You can know a man by his devils and the way he gives hurts.

When I didn't argue he was satisfied he had persuaded me, and was not the first to make that mistake.

You can spend the entire second half of your life recovering from the mistakes of the first half.

When I finish something, I generally put it on the shelf, and I very seldom look at it unless somebody mentions it to me, and then I open the book, and I read it, and I say, "Did I do that?"

You do all you can to humanize and familiarize the world, and suddenly it becomes more strange than ever. The living are not what they were, the dead die again and again, and at last for good.

When I opened my eyes 82 years ago I found myself suddenly here, in existence, which struck me as marvelous, tremendously moving and energizing. I'm here, this is my life! And these people coming at me, these strange, beautiful, marvellous people! You want to get a grip on that, to clutch that sense of what it is to be in the world.

You have one of two choices. Either you can panic and start making frantic attempts to reform under the glare of these awful critical eyes, or you can just say, "The hell with you! I know what I'm doing. If you don't yet, it's because you haven't given me an attentive reading.

When one turns against himself, nor others and mean nothing to him.

You have to fight for your life. That's the chief condition on which you hold it.

Well, I need a job. Something that'll leave me the free time I want.

When we ask for advice, we are usually looking for an accomplice

What art thou?' Nothing. That's the answer. Nothing. In the heart of hearts- Nothing! So of course you can't stand that and want to be Something, and you try. But instead of being this Something, the man puts it over on everybody instead.

When we read the best nineteenth- and twentieth-century novelists, we soon realize that they are trying in a variety of ways to establish a definition of human nature, to justify the continuation of life as well as the writing of novels.

What do I care what happened with Oliver? None of my business, I said. I want to get married. Clem had insisted on an engagement of six months, knowing my nature and my personality. But this advice was fine for the shopkeepers of life, not for those who had spent his entire life with one big goal. Sure, she said, I want to get married, if you love me. I swore to him with all the heart. If you still love me after lunch, she said, ask me again.

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Canadian-born American Novelist, Playwright, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature and National Medal of Arts