What are the definitions and categories of the words "intellectual (as a noun) and crises"? And what do they mean for Saul Bellow in particular?

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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The intellectual, as a figure in Saul Bellow, is a person dedicated to the past. This is not true as an absolute, but is true as a strong tendency.

This dedication to the past can be seen in many places in Bellow's major works. For instance, in Herzog, Moses Herzog writes letters to people who are dead. Figures from his own family are included in his letters, but the majority of Moses' letters are written to figures of intellectual history - philosophers, poets, historians and writers in general.

Additionally, Bellow's work is rife with allusions. These allusions are very often made to historical events and works of art that have achieved historical significance. As these allusions occur within the prose of first-person narratives (or "nearly first person" narratives), they can are attributable to the protagonists and narrators of Bellow's novels.

The intellectual (adj.) interest in the past coincides with the protagonist's personal/emotional obsession with the past in Herzog, Ravelstein and Humbolt's Gift. To be an intellectual (noun), in Bellow's novels, is to be in command of a vast vocabulary of references to the past which serve to generalize and articulate a personal fixation on the life that is gone.

The notion of crisis in Saul Bellow's novels relates often to the break between the past and the present. The moment of crisis is the moment of choice, definitively, and Bellow's protagonists are faced with the central and difficult choices of:

  • how to let go of the past...
  • how much of the past to let go of...
  • and how to allow the present and future to inform one's identity given the fact of so much past/personal history.

Though the decisions made by the Bellovian hero is not always one of past versus present, that particular divide is usually not far off. Learning how and in what way to value the present is another undercurrent of these crises. This issue is an existential one for Bellow and much of his work can be tied to it, thematically and narratively.