Saul Bellow Versus Hugh Kenner

Saul Bellow: Hugh Kenner foe

Saul Bellow’s selected letters have just been published and, at least according to a review by Jeff Simon, they reveal that the Nobel Prize winning novelist really hated the literary critic Hugh Kenner:

There are 708 letters here and none of them seem much like practice, whether nominating Roth for the Nobel Prize in 2000 or cheerfully enlisting Karl Shapiro in a mock club for “haters of Hugh Kenner.” With his old friend Isaac Rosenfeld, he says, “I used to join clubs of this sort” including a “Faerie Queene Club to which nobody could belong who had read The Faerie Queene. When I read the first canto, I was put on probation, and when I read more I was expelled. But no one could ever dislodge me from a Hugh Kenner Society.”

What was the source of Bellow’s animosity? I’d have to read the letters to find out, but I strongly suspect that at the root of it all was a very critical  review Kenner wrote of Delmore Schwartz’s Vaudeville for  a Princess. Writing in the October 1951 issue of Poetry, Kenner dismissed Schwartz’s book as silly and sappy. Bellow and Schwartz were great friends, and the novelist felt particularly protective of the poet because of Schwartz’s mental unstability. Bellow’s novel Humboldt’s Gift (1971) is partially about his friendship with Schwartz.

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Guy Davenport: the writer as cartoonist

(Guy Davenport drawing, from his book Tatlin!) 

Note: This essay is slightly revised from the original version which ran in The Comics Journal #278 (October 2006).

Guy Davenport, cartoonist. Perhaps this is too confident a statement and needs a more tentative punctuation. “Guy Davenport: cartoonist?” After all, Davenport wasn’t mainly known as a cartoonist, and the world of comics has only a peripheral awareness of his existence. Aside from comic book artist Gil Kane’s stated fondness for Davenport’s essay collection The Geography of the Imagination (1981) and a stray allusion that Carter Scholz once made in The Comics Journal, Davenport’s name is rarely bandied about in cartooning circles.

When Davenport died in early 2005, many obituaries and memorial notices paid tribute to him as a man of letters of intimidating range and versatility. Aside from penning many brilliant short stories, Davenport was a premier translator of many ancient writers and sages (Sappho, Herakleitos, Diogenes, Jesus), an immensely erudite literary critic who could expertly explicate difficult modernists like Wallace Stevens and Ezra Pound, and a pioneering iconologist who illuminated the symbolic vocabulary of painters like Grant Wood and Balthus. Lost among all the eulogies for Davenport the writer were his achievements as a visual artist: Tucked away in a busy lifetime was an almost secret career as a painter, illustrator, and, yes, cartoonist.

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