America is the world’s living myth. There’s no sense of wrong when you kill an American or blame America for some local disaster. This is our function, to be character types, to embody recurring themes that people can use to comfort themselves, justify themselves and so on. We’re here to accommodate. Whatever people need, we provide. A myth is a useful thing.
In this century the writer has carried on a conversation with madness. We might almost say of the twentieth-century writer that he aspires to madness. Some have made it, of course, and they hold special places in our regard. To a writer, madness is a final distillation of self, a final editing down. It’s the drowning out of false voices.
To be a tourist is to escape accountability. Errors and failings don’t cling to you the way they do back home. You’re able to drift across continents and languages, suspending the operation of sound thought. Tourism is the march of stupidity. You’re expected to be stupid. The entire mechanism of the host country is geared to travelers acting stupidly. You walk around dazed, squinting into fold-out maps. You don’t know how to talk to people, how to get anywhere, what the money means, what time it is, what to eat or how to eat it. Being stupid is the pattern, the level and the norm. You can exist on this level for weeks and months without reprimand or dire consequence. Together with thousands, you are granted immunities and broad freedoms. You are an army of fools, wearing bright polyesters, riding camels, taking pictures of each other, haggard, dysenteric, thirsty. There is nothing to think about but the next shapeless event.
Topics: Travel, Tourism
The figure of the gunman in the window was inextricable from the victim and his history. This sustained Oswald in his cell. It gave him what he needed to live. The more time he spent in a cell, the stronger he would get. Everybody knew who he was now.
Don’t you realize that as long as you have to sit down to pee, you’ll never be a dominant force in the world? You’ll never be a convincing technocrat or middle manager. Because people will know. She’s in there sitting down.
Fame is the circumstance of one man imparting an erotic terror to the dreams of the republic.
Film is more than the twentieth-century art. It’s another part of the twentieth-century mind. It’s the world seen from inside. We’ve come to a certain point in the history of film. If a thing can be filmed, the film is implied in the thing itself. This is where we are. The twentieth century is on film. You have to ask yourself if there’s anything about us more important than the fact that we’re constantly on film, constantly watching ourselves.
Men with secrets tend to be drawn to each other, not because they want to share what they know but because they need the company of the like-minded, the fellow afflicted.
If we are on the outside, we assume a conspiracy is the perfect working of a scheme. Silent nameless men with unadorned hearts. A conspiracy is everything that ordinary life is not. It’s the inside game, cold, sure, undistracted, forever closed off to us. We are the flawed ones, the innocents, trying to make some rough sense of the daily jostle. Conspirators have a logic and a daring beyond our reach. All conspiracies are the same taut story of men who find coherence in some criminal act.
People stress the violence. That’s the smallest part of it. Football is brutal only from a distance. In the middle of it there’s a calm, a tranquility. The players accept pain. There’s a sense of order even at the end of a running play with bodies strewn everywhere. When the systems interlock, there’s a satisfaction to the game that can’t be duplicated. There’s a harmony.
I think it’s only in a crisis that Americans see other people. It has to be an American crisis, of course. If two countries fight that do not supply the Americans with some precious commodity, then the education of the public does not take place. But when the dictator falls, when the oil is threatened, then you turn on the television and they tell you where the country is, what the language is, how to pronounce the names of the leaders, what the religion is all about, and maybe you can cut out recipes in the newspaper of Persian dishes.
I’ve come to think of Europe as a hardcover book, America as the paperback version.
If I were a writer, how I would enjoy being told the novel is dead. How liberating to work in the margins, outside a central perception. You are the ghoul of literature. Lovely.
Topics: Fiction, Authors & Writing
Wondering Whom to Read Next?
- Norman Mailer American Novelist, Journalist
- Cynthia Ozick American Novelist, Essayist
- Joseph Heller American Novelist
- John Irving American Novelist
- John Barth American Novelist
- John Updike American Author
- Russell Hoban American Author
- Truman Capote American Novelist
- Sinclair Lewis American Novelist
- Joyce Carol Oates American Novelist