that we know, that we know, we know,nwe know.”nCorde’s serious limitations are presentednwithout varnish. He finds it almostnimpossible to come to terms withndeath. Sometimes he is petulantlyncranky and sometimes painfully selfrighteous.nBellow slips when trying tonmake an activist of him. The goodnmotive is short-sighted. Corde is a seer;nhe is what he is for reasons that far transcendnmere activism. With remarkablenunderstanding Bellow himself describesnwhat I feel is his most serious thematicnflaw: “Because of the incompleteness ofnhis argument he confused many readers.n” The moments for the disclosure ofnhis values are often insufficiently highlighted.nAll in all, however, Corde is anman of passion, experience, good willnand trustworthy insight. Albert—“illustriousnthrough nobility.” Fair enough.nWhat does the seer see? “A mass ofndata, terrible, murderous.” Bellow hasnnever been so angry. Pictures of screamingnchildren, their faces “covered withngobs of semen.” People doused with gasolinenand set afire in housing project elevators.nRapes in broad daylight on thenseats of CTA buses. Malevolent beatings.nKidnapped women locked in the trunksnWe ‘ve Lived to See ItnDuring the 1940’s he was Uncle Joe,nand liberals in America would have diednrather than doubt his bonhomie. Duringnthe 50’s, American communists stillnburned incense before his portraits andnwere ready to stone anyone who believednNikita Khrushchev or welcomed AlexandernSolzhenitsyn. We know an EastnEuropean refiigee who was once asked tonleave a dinner party held in a posh CentralnPark West penthouse: he had opinednthat where he came from no one sawnmuch difference between Hitler andnStalin and suspected that the latter hadnmurdered many more innocent peoplenthan the former.n101nChronicles of Culturenof cars so as to be readily available for repeatednrapings. And beyond the viciousness,na perverted extravagance:nCorde would have guessed a party fornthe newlyweds. Not at all; it was thendog’s birthday party. Champagne,nsturgeon, lobster, Russian eggs fornstarters, and lunch to follow. . . .nWrapped and ribboned birthdaynpresents were stacked beside his bed,nand there were congratulatoryntelegrams.nHis own turf, Chicago, was “awildernessnwilder than the Guiana bush.” ThenCordes have an alarm system on all windowsnand doors. Rumania, if possible, isnworse. If emigration were permitted,n”the country would be empty in less thanna month.”nIhe novel reaches, however, beyondnBucharest and Chicago. Bellow’s ultimatentarget is modernism itself and itsnconsequences. “Liberalism had never acceptednthe Leninist premise that this wasnan age of wars and revolutions.” Thenprincipal ideas of liberalism were “stillbornnbabies of intellect. Dead, really. Inrealized that long ago. They originate innthe brain and die in the brain.” BellownLIBERAL CULTURE |nIn a recent issue of The New Republic,nanno 1982, we could read a utle: “WhynStalin Was Even Worse than Hitler.” Thenwriter in that estimable liberal organnbrought everything down to cold (what andistasteful pun!) figures: Hitler annihilatednsome 20 million people, Stalinnabout 80 million. All this in the samenNew Republic where Edmund Wilson,nMalcolm Cowley, Corliss Lament… LHnnnhad planned a work of nonfiction aboutn”the big scale insanities of the 20th century.n” After abandoning that projett, henused the notes, I think, for this novel.nLike the Italian improvisatorioilOQ yearsnago, he gives an inspired recitation on antheme. Corde (string) is a harp throughnwhich the winds of the time pass; thenmusic made is in the way of being a warning:nhe insists that moral questions mustnbe raised. He not only raises the vitalnmoral questions, he takes sides, and as farnas liberals are concerned, he takes thenwrong sides. He rejects fashionable nihilismnand is contemptuous of willftil aestheticism.nHis critique of ideologicalnhaute couture is devastating. His valuesnare old-fashioned (as if values really wentnin and out of fashion). What he believes,nquite simply, is this: We must reclaimnreality, nothing more, nothing less. Realityndoes not exist “out there.” Realitynbegins when “the soul [finds] its underlyingntruth.” Internal order comes first,nthen one puts the house in order. Untilnthat simple truth is understood, one cannotnexplain who he is or what he does.nWe have, instead, “whirling lives” innwhich there are plenty of ornaments tonact as symbols, but they symbolize nothing.nThe soft-minded liberal is like a mannon holiday who has retired from historynfor a while. He finds safety in the tirednold maxim: “Sure, the right programs,nrighdy admitiistered, would fnc it.” Allnthings have “a direct material cause.”nSuch a posture makes it impossible tontake a rigorous position. Our soft nihilismndoes not have a chance against thenhard nihilism of communism. Accusednof “abyssifying,” Corde responds thatn”this is the time of the breaking of nations.”nA sense of the “last days” makesnit imperative that we “purge our understanding.n”nIbis may well be Bellow’s coldestnbook (December), but it is not filled justnwith “catastrophizing.” If writers warnnus, as I think they do, the warning givennby Bellow is both necessary and urgent.nHe is not a romantic who has only contemptnfor the world. He knows that “then