The enemy is noise

Read in ‘There is simply too much to think about’ of Saul Bellow (2015):


The first essay in the bulk of nonfiction of the great American novelist Saul Bellow, assembled in ‘There is simply too much to think about’, is called ‘Starting out in Chicago’. It’s about how the young man started writing novels in the Windy City in the thirties, at the time of the Great Depression. This is how Bellow described Chicago in his adolescent youth: “A colossal industrial and business center, knocked flat by unemployment, its factories and even its schools closing, decided to hold a World’s Fair on its shore of Lake Michigan, with towers, high rides, exhibits, Chinese rickshaws, a midget village in which there was a midget wedding every day, and other lively attractions including whores and con men and fan dancers.” Several millions of dollars were spent on the Fair of 1933, but it didn’t produced jobs. Bellow remembered how president Roosevelt later, “seeing how much trouble unhappy intellectuals had made in Russia, Germany and Italy between 1905 and 1935”, started to pay the jobless youth “for painting post office murals and editing guidebooks.

More descriptions of an industrial Chicago in the thirties: “I would have kissed the floor of a café. There were no cafés in Chicago.” More depressing even: “In my own generation there were those immigrants who copied even the unhappiness of the Protestant majority, embracing its miseries, battling against Mom; reluctant, after work, to board the suburban train, drinking downtown, drinking on the club bar, being handed down drunk to the wife and the waiting station wagon like good Americans.” These are the notes he made in 1974-75. There was no poetry in his hometown, that’s for sure. “The enemy is noise.” What did he mean by that? “By noise I mean not simply the noise of technology, the noise of money or advertising and promotion, the noise of the media, the noise of miseducation, but the terrible excitement and distraction generated by the crisis of modern life.” The crisis of modern life? Bellow studied sociology and anthropology. In 1937 he finished his study. As a writer and anthropologist he decided to describe melting melting pot Chicago, for which you have to read ‘The Adventures of Augie March’. On poverty, on discrimination, on late-nineteenth century capitalism. A must read.





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