Augie March was a Chicagoan, born and bred. But Saul Bellow was born in Canada. Looking at the world from a window on the Upper West Side, I think of my own little piece of globalization. Two generations through Brooklyn and then Manhattan, from the Russo-Polish Pale; and I was looking, last week, at real estate across the street from a Dublin fortress built by the British.

In Dublin, there is still the wincing smart of that world-shaking dichotomy: Catholic or Protestant?  And that (now quaintly rural-seeming) Protestant fortress was built on a street called by the name of a church dedicated to a medieval Catholic saint who’d founded an order in Brittany.

Making sense of the cultures we imbibe, which determine us and our attitudes, is a full time job. At a conference last week on the work of Samuel Beckett, I heard discussed (pro and con…) the work of Elizabeth Bowen: and today, reading “The Last September”, feel a yawning emptiness and negation that no biographer of Beckett can begin to approach— yet that atmospheres the young writer’s upbringing in a way no historical reference to “the Ascendancy” can make palpable.

It is not only the catching of others’ projections we marinate in, identifying and living out the mirrored images of our cultures, shaping our images of self. No, it is also our appreciative or perceptive identifications, of those we see: mindful of their struggles to emerge as “self” from the encasing histories, ghosts, and presences of history and culture.

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On Culture: How E. Bowen Illuminates S. Beckett


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