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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Existential consciousness, redemption, and Buddhist allusions in the work of Saul Bellow
by Durbeej, Jerry, Ph.D., Florida Atlantic University, 2010, 225; 3405407
Abstract (Summary)

Within the past two centuries, massive industrialization, technological and scientific advances, wars, diseases, failures in social systems, and religious, ethnic, and political conflicts have produced an existential angst that has saturated the collective consciousness of modern man. The atrocities of World Wars I and II induced European and American authors and artists to confront this state of disillusionment, anxiety, loneliness, fear, and dread; consequently, much of our modern literature reflects this nihilistic darkness. In this state of grave doubts and uncertainties, the modern man finds himself alienated and disconnected from the very essences that ground him.

Scholars of literature, philosophy, and the various arts and social sciences, having examined this contemporary dilemma, find just cause to question our western belief that science, technology, and materialism put the world in order. The further indictment is that these rational and materialistic forces have usurped the place of God and dismantled the ancient mythologies that once grounded our existence.

This study examines the selected work of Saul Bellow and argues that his recurring themes of suffering, compassion, humanity, and renewal of the human spirit are antithetical to this collective existential angst. My argument introduces the doctrine of Existentialism and then explores the basic existentialist theory of Jean-Paul Sartre. From this platform, I later establish that Bellow takes a stand against this collective nihilism in favor of community and the celebration of life that are defined by a moral framework.

Bellow's most representative novel in this vein of existential dislocation is Dangling Man. From this novel I argue that there is an inherent flaw in the notion that man's essential existence can only be defined through his agency as an individual, and that man, not God, is ultimately responsible for his actions and destiny. This pursuit of existence based on personal freedom and intellectual synthesis is prone to failure; Bellow's point of view is that the existentialist, having disconnected himself from God and community, plunges into an abyss fraught with angst and turmoil. Bellow's theme of humanity instructs that our redemption lies not in our personal quest, but in our absorption and participation in a community framed by moral precepts and the respect for God. Finally, and from another angle and through Bellow's Herzog, I establish a connection to Buddhism. From these Buddhist allusions, I further affirm that the quest for authentic existence and redemption demands a confrontation with our angst and an acknowledgement of our suffering.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Furman, Andrew
School: Florida Atlantic University
School Location: United States -- Florida
Source: DAI-A 71/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Comparative literature, American literature
Keywords: Allusions, Bellow, Saul, Buddhist, Dangling Man, Existential consciousness, Herzog, Redemption, Saul Bellow and moral conduct
Publication Number: 3405407
ISBN: 978-1-109-71161-5
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