Saul Bellow’s final novel Ravelstein (2000) is a portrait of Allan Bloom, a teacher and philosopher best known for his 1987 critique of education, The Closing of the American Mind. For many years, Bellow and Bloom were both faculty at the University of Chicago, where they together taught classes on politics and literature. But Ravelstein is as much a novel of ideas as a memoir. As with Boswell to Johnson, or Plato to Socrates, the heftiest themes of human experience – politics, philosophy, religion, love, friendship, and death – are woven into this rich story of an outstanding thinker and teacher.

This seminar will meet online weekly on Wednesdays from 6 to 8 PM ET. All course materials will be provided. Fellows will receive a $200 stipend contingent upon participation in the course and completion of a brief response paper and evaluation.

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Matt Continetti on conservative intellectuals


Matthew Continetti

Matthew Continetti is resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Prior to joining AEI, he was Editor in Chief of the Washington Free Beacon. His articles and reviews have appeared in The New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session




  1. Why is Chick drawn back to the anti-Semitic episode in Keynes’s memoir?
  2. What are Chick’s “private metaphysics”? What other metaphysical systems are at work in the novel?
  3. What forms of intimacy are at work in the novel?
  4. How does Abe’s Socratic concept of eros relate to his friendship with Chick? To Chick’s marriage with Vela?




  1. What is the nature of celebrity in Ravelstein?
  2. What do you make of the character of Rakhmiel Kogon? How did you respond to Chick’s description of him, and to Abe’s gossip about him?
  3. What does Chick think will happen after death? What does Abe think?
  4. How does Abe’s relationship to Judaism change over the course of the novel?



Recommended Listening:



  1. How does the style of the narrative relate to our personal methods of recollection?
  2. How does Chick’s food poisoning relate to Abe’s death?
  3. Contrast two scientists—Vela and Dr. Bakst.
  4. What does Rosamund demonstrate about the differences between theoretical and practical knowledge?
  5. How does Saul Bellow convey personality through his verbal “sketches”?

Guest Speaker:

  • John Podhoretz, editor, Commentary magazine





  1. What does Bloom mean by “nihilism”? How does it come about?
  2. What has happened to the humanities?
  3. Does Bloom’s description of college life resonate today?
  4. Does the real Bloom sound like Ravelstein?
  5. According to Podhoretz, how does Bloom misunderstand America and Generation X?


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