Feb/Mar 2007

Excerpts

Mark Twain, Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Theodore Dreiser, and Jack Kerouac


MARK TWAIN

I think interviewing as an institution is good enough where the man under torture has something to confess, and the torturer knows how to worry it out of him.
SOUTH AUSTRALIAN REGISTER, OCTOBER 14, 1895

MR. T.: The fact is, I detest elevators, and I'm not ashamed to own it.
R.: Then you like walking?
MR. T.: Much better. I do my own walking and talking and write my own books, which is more than everyone can say.
R.: You don't believe in plagiarizing then?
MR. T.: No, sir; I never plagiarize—unless I can do it successfully.
R.: Do I understand that you never have done it?
MR. T.: No, sir; but that was probably because I wasn't successful at it. . . .
R.: May I ask what you are now politically, Mr. Twain?
MR. T.: Politics have completely died out within me. They don't take to me or I don't take them. Since I have come in possession of a conscience I begin to see through things.
R.: Then you have not had a conscience until lately?
MR. T.: No, sir; it is only recently that I discovered it. It doesn't prove so great a blessing as I supposed it would. Only a day or two ago I exhausted my second deposit at the bank.
R.: I don't quite understand what you mean.
MR. T.: Why, simply this: Every one who knows that I have a conscience takes me now for a philanthropist.
BOSTON GLOBE, MARCH 19, 1877

DOROTHY PARKER

INTERVIEWER: How do you name your characters?
PARKER: The telephone book and from the obituary columns.
INTERVIEWER: Do you keep a notebook?
PARKER: I tried to keep one, but I never could remember where I put the damn thing. I always say I'm going to keep one tomorrow.
INTERVIEWER: How do you get the story down on paper?
PARKER: I wrote in longhand at first, but I've lost it. I use two fingers on the typewriter. I think it's unkind of you to ask. I know so little about the typewriter that once I bought a new one because I couldn't change the ribbon on the one I had.
PARIS REVIEW, 1956 (INTERVIEWED BY MARION CAPRON)

REBECCA WEST

INTERVIEWER: Have you never had a close relationship with an editor, who has helped you after the books were written?
WEST: No. I never met anybody with whom I could have discussed books before or after. One doesn't have people on one's wavelength as completely as that. And I very rarely found The New Yorker editors any good.
INTERVIEWER: They have a tremendous reputation.
WEST: I don't know why.
INTERVIEWER: When you read, do you just follow your imagination completely?
WEST: Well, I've had eighty-five years to read in.
INTERVIEWER: I wondered whether you made book lists?
WEST: Yes, I do, but I'm often disappointed. I do think modern novels are boring on the whole. Somebody told me I ought to read a wonderful thing about how a family of children buried Mum in a cellar under concrete and she began to smell. But that's the sole point of the story. Mum just smells. That's all that happens. It is not enough.
PARIS REVIEW, 1981 (INTERVIEWED BY MARINA WARNER)

THEODORE DREISER

People take it for granted that certain things exist. But let a thing lift itself up in the eye of the public and what happens? A storm of abuse and a public horsewhipping. There are places today in the United States where the drama of "The Scarlet Letter" could be re-enacted. Americans love that kind of thing. They like to see communities aroused to wipe out an evil which every man in his heart knows that he can privately condone. We're a nation of reformers. We like to set examples for our neighbors. Many of the younger writers disgusted with this sniveling hypocrisy have swung to the other extreme and do nothing but talk sex from cover to cover. I don't know which is worse.
NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, DECEMBER 23, 1923 (INTERVIEWED BY ROSE C. FELD)

I would like the novel and the short story to continue to exist; they are beautiful genres. But, you know, I'm not sure. . . . Now, television is coming on the heels of the cinema and the radio. I went to a demonstration. And I had the clear impression that the screen could be placed at the foot of my bed and that I could see and hear Mussolini, or Roosevelt, or Toscanini conducting a concert, or a film, or a comedian on a stage. And I would be there, stretched out comfortably in my bed. It is possible, perfectly possible, that the variety offered to me by television would prevent me, that day, from opening a book.
LES NOUVELLES LITTÉRAIRES, AUGUST 1936 (INTERVIEWED BY VLADIMIR POZNER)

JACK KEROUAC

MIKE WALLACE: All is well?
JK: Yeah. We're all in Heaven, now, really.
MW: You don't sound happy.
JK: Oh, I'm tremendously sad. I'm in great despair.
MW: Why?
JK: It's a great burden to be alive. A heavy burden, a great big heavy burden. I wish I were safe in Heaven, dead.
MW: But you are in Heaven, Jack. You just said we all were.
JK: Yeah. If I only knew it. If I could only hold on to what I know.
NEW YORK POST, JANUARY 21, 1958

WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY JR.: Give that man a drink. Now Jack, Mr. Kerouac, what I want to ask is this: To what extent do you believe that the Beat Generation is related to the hippies? What do they have in common? Was this an evolution from one to the other?
JK: This is the older ones, you see . . . I'm forty-six years old, these kids are eighteen, but it's the same movement, which is apparently some kind of Dionysian movement in late civilization, and which I did not intend any more than, I suppose, Dionysius did, or whatever his name was. Although I'm not Dionysius to your Euripides. I should have been.
WFB: Yeah, that's a point, yeah.
JK: No, it's just a movement which is supposed to be licentious. But, it isn't really.
WFB: Well, now, licentious—in what respect?
JK: The hippies are good kids, they're better than the Beats. The Beats, you see, Ginsberg and I, well . . . Ginsberg [is] boring. We're forty, we're all in our forties, and we started this and the kids took it up, and everything, but a lot of hoods, hoodlums, and communists, jumped on our backs, well my back, not his [gestures toward Allen Ginsberg sitting in audience]. Ferlinghetti jumped on my back and turned the idea that I had that the Beat Generation was a generation of Beatitude and pleasure in life and tenderness, but they called it in the papers the "Beat Mutiny," the "Beat Insurrection," words I never used, being a Catholic. I believe in order, tenderness, and piety.
FIRING LINE TRANSCRIPT, SEPTEMBER 3, 1968

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