I wonder if any old life can be the subject of literature. Saul Bellow seems to think so. In Herzog, the eponymous character tries on some new clothes, assisted by a bored salesman:
He went, and Herzog undid the chased buttons. They had used the head of some Roman emperor to adorn the jacket of a pleasure-seeker, he noted. Alone, he put his tongue out at himself and then withdrew from the triple mirror.
Surely not a moment worthy of a novel. But there it is.
I wonder if the lives we’re living during these Covid times can be literary. The overwhelming feeling I gather from friends and coworkers is boredom – boredom of the indoors, boredom of sobriety, boredom of news. The literature of our time may turn out to be a literature of fatigue – the frustrated fatigue of doing nothing much.
In Bellow’s first novel, Dangling Man, Joseph is frustrated with the oppressive air of not doing much during the Depression, and drafts himself into the army for something to do. He’s told to wait until he’s called up, and is further frustrated. Perhaps we’re all Josephs, but with more avenues for distraction.
I wonder if people during the Depression felt the same way that I suspect many people are feeling – wanting something to do, but being fatigued, and heavy bored. I can barely bring myself even to read. I’ve heard a few people mention that they’re reading more. It’s a dream of mine to read more. It has been for years. I find I actively avoid the book now, despite the inundation of free time. Herzog sits on the floor – where I, perhaps unfairly, keep my books-in-progress – and, dormant, keeps to itself.
There certainly is literature in this feeling. There was still literature during the Depression. But will the literature be as the mirror before Herzog?:
Dressed in Italian pants, furled at the bottom, and a blazer with slender lapels, red and white, he avoided full exposure in the triple, lighted mirror. His body seemed unaffected by his troubles, survived all blasts. It was his face that was devastated, especially about the eyes, so that it made him pale to see himself.