Friday, February 5, 2016

Saul Bellow teaches his favorite novels

This is the type of classroom in which I learned the most. If this isn't a part of your college experience, you are probably being ripped off.


"In 2000, I was one of a dozen students in Bellow’s class at Boston University. We were culled mostly from the arts and sciences college; I was the odd man out, from the film school program. We all understood our weekly meetings of An Idiosyncratic Survey of Modern Literature to be a gift.
Each Wednesday, the students sat around a conference table, while members of the Evergreen program—senior citizens who, for a small fee, could audit university classes; Elie Wiesel’s was a hot ticket—filled out the room’s periphery. They would place a bottle of iced tea at the head of the table, for Bellow. He ambled in, never late.
Bellow chose novels he loved: Denis Johnson’s Resuscitation of a Hanged Man, Joseph Conrad’s Typhoon, Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, Denis Diderot’s Rameau’s Nephew, James Joyce’s Ulysses. During the first class, we asked Bellow why, unlike Wiesel, whose class I’d taken the prior semester, he declined to teach his own work. That, he replied, would be needless self-aggrandizement. He was fond of a Yiddish proverb: Why chew your own cabbage twice?
For ninety minutes, Bellow led a loose discussion of the week’s text. He allowed us to unspool theories about the books, and would gently correct us. We were young and often wrong. But that was okay. He didn’t condescend to students or compromise the material. As Freedman-Bellow, who took her husband’s class as a graduate student, told me, “If there was something he felt we didn’t know, he was going to give us the background and have us delight in it. If I know it, you can know it, too.”"

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