Art and Society

It is actually pleasant on such an evening [at a reception at Gerald Ford’s White House] for a writer to pass half disembodied and unmolested by small talk from room to room, looking and listening. He knows that active public men can’t combine the duties of government with literature, art, and philosophy. Theirs is a world of high-tension wires, not of primroses on the river’s brim. Ten years ago, Mayor Daley in a little City Hall ceremony gave me a five-hundred-dollar check, awarded by the Midland Authors’ Society for my novel Herzog. ‘Mr. Mayor, have you read Herzog?” asked one of the reporters, needling him. ‘I’ve looked into it,’ said Daley, thick-skinned and staunch. Art is not the mayor’s dish. Indeed, why should it be? I much prefer his neglect to the sort of interest Stalin took in poetry.

—Saul Bellow, “An Interview with Myself” (1975), It All Adds Up: From the Dim Past to the Uncertain Future