by Hannah Tomlin, Daily Vidette Senior Staff
Gloria Cronin, English professor at Brigham Young University, shared interesting facts and personal stories about author Saul Bellow in her presentation “A Modernist’s Dilemma: Saul Bellow and his Junk Philosophers Re-Calling God.”
As guest speaker for the 2009 Bryant Jackson Lectureship series, Cronin gave her presentation on Thursday, April 30 in the Old Main Room. In 2003, the Bryant Jackson Lectureship was instituted at ISU as a tribute to Associate University Librarian Bryant Jackson, who was also a Saul Bellow scholar. This annual event features speakers with distinguished reputations in library research.
Toni Tucker, assistant to the dean at Milner Library, said, “Her fields of interest include African-American, Jewish-American, contemporary American and postcolonial literature, postcolonial theory, postmodern theory and gender theories.”
As Cronin approached the podium, she expressed her gratitude for being invited to lecture at ISU and her respect for the university, especially Milner Library.
Cronin explained that she is very interested in Bellow’s religious quests and ideas. “Saul Bellow’s personal religious preferences are very hard to pin down,” she said.
According to Cronin, Bellow had a lifelong devotion to reading many different religious texts and studied several various beliefs, persuasions, philosophies and transcendental ideas, including those of Rudolf Steiner, who she described as a theosophist and an anthroposophist.
In every piece of fiction he wrote, Cronin said, he insisted on the sacredness of human stability, social contract and, above all, moral responsibility.
She related this to Bellow’s experience of acting out his sexual frustrations by lying naked on his therapist’s couch while shouting, kicking, gagging and roaring, which she related to the lion’s roaring in his novel “Henderson the Rain King.”
The second junk philosopher she discussed was Rudolf Steiner. Cronin said, “Behind Steiner and Bellow’s investigations revealed that there was a special spiritual consciousness that provides direct access to higher vision.”
She also described Owen Barfield as a theosophist whose interests were focused in power, nature and the evolution of consciousness. Barfield worked as a solicitor, and due to this, he was initially viewed as an outsider when writing about philosophy.
Cheryl Elzy, dean of university libraries, said, “I think she tried to capture some of the things that would be of most interest to those of us who don’t know too much about Bellow.”
“She tried to bring him alive and find some of the more interesting tidbits about him and peculiarities of him that might have been formed in his writing,” she added.
Cronin believes Bellow’s writing is very beneficial for students because he lived in an interesting time. She said we must look back one generation to when writers such as Bellow, Hemingway and D.H. Lawrence were alive in order to understand where we are today.
She also believes students would enjoy his writing because he is one of the most humorous writers to come out of his generation. “If students are looking for a novel to start with, I think the funniest one is ‘Henderson the Rain King’ and one they can easily relate to more than the others is ‘Humboldt’s Gift.’”
Dane Ward, associate dean for public service at Milner Library, said, “I was really interested in how he was trying to come to grips with life’s important questions, and she talked a lot about the importance of struggling with decisions of relationships and spirituality.”
Cronin is the author of “A Room of His Own: in search of the feminine in the novels of Saul Bellow.”