From Saul Bellow, “Ravelstein”

Obviously, my purpose in mentioning the Crillon’s valet service was to comfort Abe for spilling the Flore’s strongest coffee on his brand-new jacket. But Abe didn’t want me to console him for being what he was. He would have thought better of me for laughing at his sputtering reckless slobbering, his gauche eager tremors. He liked broad comedy, old vaudeville routines, wounding remarks, brashness, and raw fun. So he didn’t think well of my weak, liberal, let’s-make-it-all-better motive–my foolish kindness.

Abe took no stock in kindness. When students didn’t meet his standards he said, “I was wrong about you. This is no place for you. I won’t have you around.” The feelings of the rejects didn’t concern him. Better for them if they hate me. It’ll sharpen their minds. There’s too much therapeutic bullshit, altogether.” …

Of course my needs were different from Ravelstein’s. In my trade you have to make more allowances, taking all sorts of ambiguities into account–to avoid hard-edged judgments. All this refraining may resemble naivete. But it isn’t quite that. In art you become familiar with due process. You can’t simply write people off or send them to hell.


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