Saul Bellow


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

Author Quotes

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 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 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.

What makes me say these things is that I see how much you care about the way people look at you. It matters too much to you. And there are people who take advantage of that. They haven't got anything of their own and they'll leave you nothing for yourself. They want to put themselves in your thoughts and in your mind, and that you should care for them. It's a sickness. But they don't want you to care for them as they really are. No, that's the whole stunt. You have to be conscious of them, but not as they are, only as they love to be seen. They live through observation by the ones around them, and they want you to live like that too. Augie darling, don't do it. They will make you suffer from what they are. And you don't really matter to them.

Writers are greatly respected. The intelligent public is wonderfully patient with them, continues to read them, and endures disappointment after disappointment, waiting to hear from art what it does not hear from theology, philosophy, social theory, and what it cannot hear from pure science. Out of the struggle at the center has come an immense, painful longing for a broader, more flexible, fuller, more coherent, more comprehensive account of what we human beings are, who we are and what this life is for.

What this means is not a single Tower of Babel plotted in common, but hundreds of thousands of separate beginnings, the length and breadth of America. Energetic people who build against pains and uncertainties, as weaker ones merely hope against them.

Writers, poets, painters, musicians, philosophers, political thinkers, to name only a few of the categories affected, must woo their readers, viewers, listeners, from distraction. To this we must add, for simple realism demands it, that these same writers, painters, etc., are themselves the children of distraction. As such, they are peculiarly qualified to approach the distracted multitudes. They will have experienced the seductions as well as the destructiveness of the forces we have been considering here. This is the destructive element in which we do not need to be summoned to immerse ourselves, for we were born to it.

What use was war without also love?

Yes, these business people have great energy. There?s a question as to what?s burned to produce it and what things we can and can?t burn.

What was the matter that pureness of feeling couldn?t be kept up? I see I met those writers in the big book of utopias at a peculiar time. In those utopias, set up by hopes and art, how could you overlook the part of nature or be sure you could keep the feelings up?

You become a writer because you are convinced that you have a grip on reality of a certain distinctive kind. It belongs to you and to others who share such a recognition.

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.

Author Picture
First Name
Last Name
Birth Date
Death Date

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