The Saul Bellow Society's website describes an intellectual challenge facing Bellow's protagonist in Romania.
For Dean Albert Corde, it is a matter of penetrating what he calls the “fantasmo imperium”—a state where facts cannot be perceived and provoke only feelings of suffocation. Starting with hibernation in [his wife] Minna’s room, Corde meditates on the symbolic and actual iron curtains behind which millions have been sealed off. He concludes that scientific minds have only succeeded in producing “blockaded zones” and “zones of incomprehension” about the larger issues of human existence. Irresponsible media people, scientists, university administrators, and totalitarian politicians he believes have perpetuated a gigantic fraud.