Please do not impute any philosophical, theological, political (Heaven forbid!), or sociological (you must be joking!) motives into my decision to post the following passage from The Adventures of Augie March. I post the passage simply because, when I read it, I smiled and shook my head in delight at the evergreen wondrousness of Saul Bellow. I am aware that some "literary critics" believe that these sorts of Bellovian apostrophes sound too much like Bellow himself and thus break the so-called "fictive" spell. Oh well.
"However, as I felt on entering Erie, Pennsylvania, there is a darkness. It is for everyone. You don't, as perhaps some imagine, try it, one foot into it like a barbershop 'September Morn.' Nor are lowered into it with visitor's curiosity, as the old Eastern monarch was let down into the weeds inside a glass ball to observe the fishes. Nor are lifted straight out after an unlucky tumble, like a Napoleon from the mud of the Arcole where he had been standing up to his thoughtful nose while the Hungarian bullets broke the clay off the bank. Only some Greeks and admirers of theirs, in their liquid noon, where the friendship of beauty to human beings was perfect, thought they were clearly divided from this darkness. And these Greeks too were in it. But still they are the admiration of the rest of the mud-sprung, famine-knifed, street-pounding, war-rattled, difficult, painstaking, kicked in the belly, grief and cartilage mankind, the multitude, some under a coal-sucking Vesuvius of chaos smoke, some inside a heaving Calcutta midnight, who very well know where they are."
Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March (Viking 1953).
An aside: the "September Morn" referred to by Bellow is a painting by Paul Emile Chabas (who was, naturellement, from Paris) that caused a scandal when it was first displayed in the U.S. in 1913. It was subsequently reproduced in large quantities for display in, among other places, barbershops.
"September Morn" (1912)
A second aside: needless to say (but I will say it anyway), I harbor no ill will whatsoever against Erie, Pennsylvania, or its inhabitants. I have never been to Erie, but I am sure that it is a wonderful place. To borrow the title of a prose piece by Philip Larkin about his home town, Coventry: "not the place's fault."
"Vesuvius from Portici" (c. 1774)