Towards a kind of aesthetic mysticism

November 1, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

The writer’s art appears to seek a compensation for the hopelessness or meanness of existence. By some occult method, the writer has connected himself with the feelings and ideal conceptions of which few signs remain in ordinary existence. Some novelists, the naturalists, have staked everything on ordinary existence in their desire to keep their connection with the surrounding world. Many of these have turned themselves into recording instruments at best, and at worst they have sucked up to the crowd, disgustingly. But the majority of modern novelists have followed the standard of Flaubert, the aesthetic standard. The shock caused by the loss of faith, says Professor Heller in The Disinherited Mind, made Burckhardt adopt an aesthetic view of history. If he is right, a sharp sense of disappointment and aestheticism go together. Flaubert complained that the exterior world was “disgusting, enervating, corruptive, and brutalizing. … I am turning towards a kind of aesthetic mysticism,” he wrote.

– Saul Bellow, “The Sealed Treasure” (1960)

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One Response to “Towards a kind of aesthetic mysticism”
  1. Adrian says:

    Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, given his persona and his novels (with the exception of Humboldt’s Gift, in which Anthroposophy figures explicitly, if not altogether successfully), Bellow was a relatively ardent student of Rudolf Steiner, and the recent Letters contain several to Owen Butler, one of Anthroposophy’s more reasonable, and one of its most formidably itnelligent, proponents. Bellow rather worshipped at the feet of the Butler, and was put off by the Englishman not really caring for any of his novels. I’ve always been a little puzzled by Bellow’s Anthroposophical interests; he just doesn’t seem the type, in the way that, for instance, Yeats was the type to pursue Hermetic Qabbalism, or Graves his Goddess. Perhaps, like Ted Hughes, Bellow wisely kept his mystical cards close to his chest. (Imagine his greatest advocate, Martin Amis, suddenly announcing a thing for Wicca.)