The New York Public Library presents The 20th Century on Trial with Norman Mailer. This portion of the event includes Norman Mailer in conversation with Andrew O'Hagan followed by a Q&A session with Norman Mailer and Gunter Grass.
Born in the 1920s, Gunter Grass and Norman Mailer went on to become grand men of letters. They witnessed the 20th century at close quarters. At the center of each writer's consciousness is the role of their respective countries in World War II and the legacy of violence and guilt that created the Cold War. Yet as stylists these two novelists appeared to internalize the great forces of their times: the appeal of totalitarianism and the cult of celebrity, the struggle for national definition and the psychology of sex.
Mailer and Grass set out to create revolutions in the consciousness of their times, and now might be the moment to ask how the 20th century itself emerges from their work. What was that century? What would they write for its epitaph? Nobel Prize-Winner Gunter Grass's memoir Peeling the Onion takes him back to his wartime childhood and adolescence - it is a searing book that provides evidence on behalf of the self-accusing. Norman Mailer's latest novel, The Castle in the Forest, is his take on Hitler's own youth. These two great writers have come full circle, to the same place and time, and their creativity puts the 20th century itself on trial- The New York Public Library
Gunter Wilhelm Grass (born October 16, 1927) is a Nobel Prize-winning German author.
He was born in the Free City of Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland). Since 1945, he has lived in (the now former) West Germany, but in his fiction he frequently returns to the Danzig of his childhood.
He is best known for his first novel, The Tin Drum, a key text in European magic realism. His works frequently have a strong (left wing, socialist) political dimension, and Grass has been an active supporter of the Social Democratic Party of Germany. In 2006, Grass caused a controversy with his belated disclosure of Waffen-SS service during the final months of World War II.
Norman Mailer was born to a Jewish family in Long Branch, New Jersey. He was brought up in Brooklyn, New York, graduated from Boys' High School and attended Harvard University in 1939, where he studied aeronautical engineering.
He is a former member of the Harvard Advocate. At the university, he became interested in writing and published his first story when he was 18. Mailer was drafted into the Army in World War II and served in the South Pacific. In 1948, just before enrolling in the Sorbonne in Paris, he wrote a book that made him world-famous: The Naked and the Dead, based on his personal experiences during World War II. It was hailed by many as one of the best American novels to come out of the war years and named one of the "100 best novels" by the Modern Library.
In the following years, Mailer continued to work in the field of the novel. Barbary Shore (1951) was a surreal parable of Cold War left politics, set in a Brooklyn rooming-house. His 1955 novel The Deer Park drew on his experiences working as a screenwriter in Hollywood in the early 1950s. It was initially rejected by numerous publishers owing to its sexual content. But in the mid-1950s, he became increasingly known for his counter-cultural essays. He was one of the founders of The Village Voice in 1955. In the book Advertisements for Myself (1959), including the essay The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster (1957), Mailer examined violence, hysteria, crime and confusion in American society, in both fictional and reportage forms.
Other famous works include: The Presidential Papers (1963), An American Dream (1965), Why Are We in Vietnam? (1967), Armies of the Night (1968, awarded a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award), Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968), Of a Fire on the Moon (1970), The Prisoner of Sex (1971), Marilyn (1973), The Fight (1975), The Executioner's Song (1979, awarded a Pulitzer Prize), Ancient Evenings (1983), Harlot's Ghost (1991) and Oswald's Tale (1995). His new novel, to be released January 2007, is called The Castle In The Forest.
In 1968 he received a George Polk Award for his reporting in Harper's Magazine.
In addition to his experimental fiction and nonfiction novels, Mailer has produced a play version of The Deer Park, and in the late 1960s directed a number of improvisational avant-garde films in a Warhol style, including Maidstone (1970), which includes a brutal brawl between himself and Rip Torn that may or may not have been planned. In 1987, he directed a film version of his novel Tough Guys Don't Dance, starring Ryan O'Neal, which has become a minor camp classic.
A number of Mailer's works, such as The Armies of the Night, are political. He covered the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1992, and 1996. In 1967, he was arrested for his involvement in anti-Vietnam demonstrations. Two years later, he ran unsuccessfully as an independent for Mayor of New York City, allied with columnist Jimmy Breslin (who ran for City Council President), proposing New York City secession and creating a 51st state.
In 1980, Mailer spearheaded convicted killer Jack Abbott's successful bid for parole. He helped Abbott publish a collection of letters to Mailer about his experiences in prison. Abbott committed a murder not long after his release. Mailer was subject to criticism for his role; in a 1992 interview, in the Buffalo News, he conceded that his involvement was "another episode in my life in which I can find nothing to cheer about or nothing to take pride in."
His biographical subjects have included Pablo Picasso and Lee Harvey Oswald. His 1986 off-Broadway play Strawhead starring his daughter, Kate, was about Marilyn Monroe. His 1973 biography of her was particularly controversial; in its final chapter he stated that she was murdered by agents of the FBI and CIA who resented her supposed affair with Robert Kennedy. He later admitted that these speculations were "not good journalism."
Mailer has been married six times, and has nine children by his various wives. In 1960, Mailer stabbed his second wife, Adele Morales, with a penknife at a party. While Morales made a full physical recovery, in 1997 she published a memoir of their marriage entitled The Last Party, which outlined her perception of the incident. This incident has been a focal point for feminist critics of Mailer, who point to themes of sexual violence in his work. Another of his wives was the British heiress and journalist Lady Jeanne Campbell, a daughter of the 11th Duke of Argyll and a granddaughter of Lord Beaverbrook; by her, he had a daughter Kate Mailer, an actress.
In 2005 he co-authored a book with his youngest child, John Buffalo Mailer, titled The Big Empty. In 2007 Random House will publish his latest novel, The Castle in the Forest. Novelist David Ebershoff edited the novel for Random House.
He currently lives in Provincetown, MA.
Andrew O'Hagan was born in Glasgow, Scotland and grew up in Kilwinning, North Ayrshire. He studied at the University of Strathclyde before joining the staff of the London Review of Books, one of the UK's leading literary publications.
In 1995, he published his first book, The Missing, to considerable critical acclaim. A genre-crossing book which explored the lives of people who have gone missing in Britain and the families that they left behind, The Missing was shortlisted for three literary awards.
O'Hagan's debut novel Our Fathers (1999) was also nominated for a raft of awards, including the Booker Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Award, and the IMPAC Literary Award. His next novel Personality (2003) won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. His third novel, Be Near Me, was published in August 2006 by Faber and Faber, to outstanding reviews and long-listed for the year's Booker Prize.
O'Hagan has also published non-fiction and edited a number of literary compilations. He is a contributing editor to both the LRB and Granta, and writes occasional articles for the mainstream press. In 2001, he was named as a Goodwill Ambassador by the UK branch of UNICEF, and he has since been involved in fundraising efforts for the organization.
Internationally acclaimed author and journalist Norman Mailer discusses his views on national pride, the Iraq war and American Neoconservatives. This excerpt is taken from a program in which Norman Mailer talks with authors Gunter Grass and Andrew O'Hagan on the topic of The 20th Century on Trial, and was recorded in collaboration with the New York Public Library.
Mailer, 1968Newsweek photo by Bernard Gotfryd, Copyright Newsweek, 1968(born Jan. 31, 1923, Long Branch, N.J., U.S.died Nov. 10, 2007, New York, N.Y.) U.S. novelist. He studied at Harvard University. He drew on his wartime service in the Pacific for his novel The Naked and the Dead (1948), which established him as one of the major American writers of the post-World War II decades. A flamboyant and controversial figure who enjoyed antagonizing critics and readers, he became best known for journalistic works that convey actual events with the richness of novels, an approach known as New Journalism; these works include The Armies of the Night (1968, Pulitzer Prize), Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968), Of a Fire on the Moon (1970), and The Executioner's Song (1979, Pulitzer Prize). His novels include An American Dream (1965); Harlot's Ghost (1991), about the Central Intelligence Agency; and The Castle in the Forest (2007), about Adolf Hitler.
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I am astonished that there are no comments other than by FORA itself on this extraordinary broadcasting here. Extraordinary in the sense of having two world famous authors who left their marks on the second half of the 20th century at one table.
Did nobody watch?
Grass was quite disappointing, but for me he always is. I detest his ways of being the national teacher with his air of superiority. That behaviour was the main cause for the shit storm that hit him in Germany after his confession so late in his life.
He might have been better if he'd been humble enough to have his word translated for him. As it is his utterings are an ordeal for the listener.
Mailer in contrary was sheer pleasure to listen to.
When meeting Andrew O'Hagan we started the idea of two evenings. One where Andrewwould interview and converse with Norman Mailer who he interviewed for the current Hothot off the press issue of The Paris Review and a subsequent evening where he would dothe same with Gunter Grass. What better way, I thought, of ending the season than havingthese two extraordinary creators come together on the same evening. And Andrew agreedto do this. Both Grass and Mailer as you know have dealt in fiction and in life with Hitlerand his period and tonight for the first time they will share the stage to discuss amongother matters the relationship between fact and fiction.As your program makes clear the proceedings tonight are very simple. Two interviews,each the length of a psychoanalytical session. Andrew as any good shrink will keep timeand so will I. Each session must end to make time for the next patient. So Gunter Grassfirst interviewed by Andrew O'Hagan for 45 minutes, immediately followed by NormanMailer interviewed by Andrew O'Hagan for 45 minutes and without pause a conversationbetween Gunter Grass and Norman Mailer and Andrew O'Hagan which will last 30minutes. Gunter Grass and Norman mailer and Andrew O'Hagan have signed bookswhich will be sold at the end of the evening including The Paris Review issue where youwill find the quite brilliant interview that Andrew O'Hagan did of Norman Mailer.So sit back or rather forward and pay attention. Ladies and gentlemen it's my privilegeand my pleasure to welcome to the stage tonight Andrew O'Hagan first with GunterGrass, then with Norman Mailer. Thank you very much.We have got two halves and it's great to welcome you back, Norman Mailer.Oh Thank You.We are dipping these lights, is that fine?Yeah.Norman Mailer was born in 1923 in Long Branch, New Jersey. He was brought up inBrooklyn and was admitted to Harvard in 1939 where he studied Aeronauticalengineering. Mailer was drafted into the army in World War II, famously and served inthe South Pacific. In 1948 he wrote "The Naked and the Dead" based on his personalexperiences during the war. And it's a bold evening already so let me so be bold andcall it the best novel to emerge from the Second World War. Norman is intimate with the20th century, his latest book, "The Castle in the Forest," is a re-imagining of Hitler'schildhood and down through the years we see a writer fully engaged with that century andits totalities and its habits of mind, from Barbary Shore in 1951, a parable of Cold Warpolitics to an explanation of the psychology of sex in 'An American Dream' and all theway through "Why We Are In Vietnam," "The Executioner's Song," "Ancient Evenings,""Harlot's Ghost.' Norman Mailer is possessed with the most upgrading and moral andreckless talent and it's a delight to have him here. Norman, the latest issue of The Paris Review -Before we startYeah.I have got to be able to hear you. So I am going to move forward.Let's get cozy.Yes.This the very funny thing in this current issue of The Paris Review -You have to talk -Can you hear me? YeahLet me state something to the audience. This may well be one of the very last times Iappear public because old age is catching up with me. I am afraid that's the unhappynews. I am getting deafer every damn day. My eyes sight is such that I am always askingfor the lights to get down. And I have a terrible time hearing. Gunter Grass youdiscovered in the course of our talk, how much I admire GÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¼nter Grass's work, but I hadterrible time hearing what he said. So I would probably be repeating some things he saidand be in absolute disagreement with other remarks of his and I won't have a clue.Okay.Everyone in the audience will be more aware of what's going on than I am. That's onereason why I think we are coming to the end of the world of public appearances.Okay, well let's -However I got to be able to hear you Andrew.Let's make the most of the your father wrote a letter to Harvard when you were tryingto gain entry there and he I have the letter here, it's in The Paris Review.He says his this is Norman's short comings as such of the times he displays shynessand is inclined to be sensitive. Now what about those famous shyness of yours, I want toget this cleared off immediately.Well, there were a lot of guys who were they were bigger than me. That was onereason I was shy. When you grow up in Brooklyn and somebody comes down on you whois a little bigger than you are there is an almost animalistic instinct to turn shy. So thatwas one reason. Another reason was that human nature was up there around me in theway it is with a child and I I just had a terrible time sorting things out. And the otherthing was my father himself, because he was a very complex man. He looked he wasonly 5'3 in height and immaculately neat. He dressed like a banker. He you would sayhe is one of the nicest neatest I have ever met. And under he was a compulsive no, noteven a compulsive, he was a degenerate gambler. My mother would have worked herfingers to the bone to earn a little money in her business that just it lived along, and hewould take the proceeds and gamble them away. And that's pretty good when you are5'3. Now why didn't they think that was funny?They are tough crowd, we will warm them up.All right all right, any way my father's letter forget it, let's move on.Listen, one of the things that we I just discussed with Gunter Grass just now wasquestions of honor and shame.Yes.I would like to draw you on the question of honor and shame when it comes to America now in Iraq.Oh I would like to take a long swing through the question.Not too long.Well, here is the swing. While Gunter was talking I was thinking of the pure nature thatone has, when it comes to a matter of love of ones country. In a certain sense I have beenangry at America most of the years in my life. But I have always been in love withAmerica in the oddest fashion, which is as if I am married to America. In other wordsone's country is one's mate. And we all know and I am speaking out of theencyclopedic knowledge of six marriages and state that it's very difficult to understanda wife. And there's a great deal to learn. And one's relation with a wife is immense. Andit's just as it's immense with the country. Now you asked, what do I think about Iraqrelation to America?It's like a fairly good couple where the husband suddenly goes out and cheats on the wifewith a really foul relationship. Iraq is a foul relationship that America is having. And Ito say that, it's to say it all. It's the worst war we have ever been in.Why the worst?Because there was no way you could succeed and a huge number of relatively innocentpeople, nobody in war is ever is innocent, said ____ but nonetheless a huge number ofrelatively innocent people, Iraqis, have been killed for nothing. Probably more, I don'tknow what the numbers are by now, and we don't get them, but probably we now bear agood comparison of Saddam Hussein in terms of how many how many Iraqis meet adeath they weren't looking for. And on top of that nothing good can come of it nothinggood can come of it because those who saw that war as being aid to Israel were youknow, given their intelligence, these neoconservatives, it's amazing how ignorant andstupid they were about what the result was going to be of that war. I mean at this pointIsrael is worse shape then it was five years ago.You took issue with Norman Podhoretz in the early days, have you been surprised bythe success and the rise of that kind of neo-conservatism in America?No no I have always been a pessimist about the possibilities of the left, always, becausehuman nature being what it is, it's very hard to believe that the right is not going totriumph sooner or later. I really I am a pessimist. I have always felt that fascism is amore natural governmental condition than democracy. Democracy is a grace; democracyis something essentially splendid because it's not at all routine or automatic. Democracyin fact depends on their concept, the notion that there are more people who are good thanbad. And that's a very large notion. Fascism fascism goes back to our infancy andchildhood where we were always told how to live. We were told do this, don't do that,no, no, yes you may do that, no you may not do that. And so fascism the secret offascism is it has this appeal to people whose later lives are not satisfactory. And and it'sa very dangerous business. And the right wing the right wing which is perfectly willingfor the most part to give up the joys of intelligence, to give up the joys of free thinking,the joys of following your thoughts to where it lead.Let's remain with the central question of violence for a second. Would you say thatviolence became a subject for American writers only in the 20th century following theexample of Hemingway perhaps, that it became the subject really the writers took up andyou certainly did?Well I have said that over and over, that it was the last frontier available to us. You knowthere was sex and then there was violence. And in the 19th century it was manners, it wassociety, it was good middle class society and it was a love and romance and any numberof marvelous 19th century novels enter the intricacies of those matters. But the by thetime we came along in the 20th century, sex was already opening up, Henry Miller hadbeen one of the bushwhackers and marvelous word that is, isn't it? And all the time Iwas in the army our Sergeant would say, we got to do a little bushwhacking today. I neverrealized what he was offering us. At any rate at any rate there it was. Violence had notbeen written about and it was there to write about. And I was drawn to it.Was it during the writing of "The Naked and the Dead" or perhaps "An American Dream"that you began to realize your own personal capacity for violenceThat I had a what capacity?- that you had a personal capacity for violence?Well I first of all I think most men do. And I think most men suppressing. And Icertainly had suppressed it for my earlier years. And then it began to come out. And Ibegan to feel that unless I come to some terms with this violence, in other words unless Ibegin to learn a few martial arts and not be that afraid of difficulties in street fights andwhat have you that I was going to sicken within, early. It was a deep inner feeling that Ihad to come to grips with violence. So over the course of coming to grips with it I becamefascinated with it as well, because I began to pursue the notion of how much moralitythere was in very violent people. And I don't want to get into it tonight because it's an endlesssubject and worth a topic in and of itself. But it the key thing if you are a seriousnovelist is you wants to write about things on two counts. One, you want to be you wantto be something you can write about very well indeed. And two it helps if you feel thatyou know something about the subject that others don't. The one thing you don't want todo if you are a serious novelist is to write one more novel that's like other people novels.Can you say what it was about violence in America that you knew, the other people did not?No no, that will be talking about my own work in a way that I don't think appeals to me.Well, can you at least say if you think living under the threat of atomic annihilationmade Americans experience violence at psychic level during the Cold War?No, the contrary what I felt was that, here we were living under the threat of worldannihilation or national annihilation or hundreds of thousands if not millions of peoplekilled at the least in a nuclear conflagration and that we were able to think about and talkabout. But individual acts of violence we didn't want nothing to with. You couldn't talkabout it. It was considered hateful. There was an assumption being made by great manyrespectful people that it was okay to talk about nuclear warfare, to consider the possibilitythat we are going to a nuclear war with the Russians. We would destroy so many of them;they will destroy so many of us, would we win? And they were talking about millions ofdeaths, but let one I remember once I wrote about two hoodlums that attacked an oldcandy store keeper.This is in "The White Negro"?Yeah. And I said that from the point of view of society they are monsters, absolutemonsters. From their point of view they were daring society. So they saw themselves asbrave. Now obviously they had no feeling for the old candy store keeper. And that's theugly downside of it, very much so. But the very positive side of it the fact that they hada positive side was absolutely it outraged people.Out raged people at the time that you seem to suggest they were existential heroes?No, no, no. That's what the critic say.That's why I am saying.The critic said, ____ says that these punk killers are existential heroes.I defy you to find any place where I say they were extensional heroes. No, no, no you endup with a literary reputation that's build by your detractors. You know it's as if it's as ifyou ask to have a house made of brick and the contractor says well, how about somevery good dry brick? And then you discover, this isn't the dry brick you bought, it's the offalthat they have dried in the sun and house stinks. All right, that's how literary reputationsare created. You see it is false.Do you feel that there has been too much celebrity in your career? Too much other peoplebuilding up a reputation and saying stuff about the books rather than the free assessmentof the books that may come to readers in the course of reading them.Well I can't pretend I mean in the beginning of my career I was upset that "The Nakedand The Dead' was that successful, because my whole feeling was no body will ever treatme like someone anonymous again. And I wanted that because it enabled me to be anobserver and I loved it. It took me about 20 years to come to grips and to be able to makemy peace with the idea that I was not going to have a life like most people and that Iprobably was not going to be able to write about most people.Or even like most writers.Uh-huh?Or even a life like most writers. And you have had more celebrity probably than any otherwriter in America.Well it happened over and over and over and then and maybe this can tie us intoGunter Grass, because then what happened is of course, became that moment in the very early60s when I stabbed my second wife. And after that there was no turning back, no, no, no I mean it was -Norman, do you think that cost it you the Nobel Prize?Well I will tell you one things. Swedes are very intelligent people and I think and theyare very proud of their prize and I think they be damned, they are damned if they were togive the prize to a guy who is a wife stabber. And you know sour and bitter as I couldbecome I don't think I can blame them. By the way you can hear me in back or not?Norman do you think these twin inventions of the 20th century, television and plasticshave degraded our sense of reality?Well as Leon Trotsky once said, certain questions answer themselves by being asked?Talk about television though, can you talk?Television is interruption. Television is designed you know when I get paranoid which Ienjoy at my age at my age you have to cling to your enjoyment and paranoia is one ofthem, I believe that the devil invented television and on top of that because god mighthave being going along with him, thinking well, we have something new and creative,may be this will help to educate the mass mind. I do work on the notion that the devil iscannier and meaner and must be smarter than the lord. The lord is a creator. The devil isa manipulator. And so what the devil realized is that with commercials he could destroythe human mind by 10, 20, 30 percent, how? By interrupting narrative. Because narrative- narrative is what get kids is what gets kids reading. A kid starts reading and they arefascinated with the story and they learn to read and to their surprise this was proved 20304050 years ago. They go up and say, "Mommy daddy, I read half that booktonight." They're overcome. Tonight, you are lucking if you have a kid who says, "Youknow, I almost got through the first chapter." And the reason is they are used tointerruption. There, the commercial come along, they have nothing to do with the story.They just bombard the kid and very often there are clusters of commercials and that'seven worse. And so, they don't know what's going on. It's all sort of a of equal value.Narrative, exposition, color, black and white, plots, absence of plot, documentary,passion; it's all a mix and it's destroying the human mind. Television is working todestroy the human mind and the devil, I offer the devil as the best candidate for whosebehind it. Because even the people who are making money on television, don't go todon't sleep all that well, when they think of what they are doing to the American mind.You have a you have suffered or enjoyed many entanglements over the years with thewomen's movement. I wonder if during those years, when that was at its height. Whereyou very angry at women?No. I was spoiled by women. I was really spoiled by women. I had a mother who was avery good mother and she adored my sister and myself. And I had four aunts who weregenerous loving women. I have one sister, who has always been a terrible close friend,we've always been close. No, I love women. And I made the mistake of thinking becauseI had these six splendid relations with women, that I could say anything that I pleasedwomen because they understood, they knew I was on their side they knew I love them.What a fool? You know, and then you take some of those tight lipped women who nevergot the time of day from their father and wanted to their notion of a good life is todestroy their father before his time and here I am making these idiotic remarks aboutwomen, you see. So, of course I became the number one target. I used to get up there andplead. I used to say, "Look, you want to make a revolution, take your strongest womenand go down to Texas, where the men are really macho." None of us in New York aremacho." It was the worst thing I could have said. They said, "They are not macho, we willeat them up in New York." And they did.Would you support Hillary Clinton for President?Probably probably.Say why?What?Say why?Well, it would depend on whether I think she could win or Barack -Obama.Obama could win or even Edwards could win. I do want a Democrat to win. I thinkshe has earned the job. I am not fond of her altogether personally. She is nicer thanpeople think, but how nice can you be when you have spent your time digesting all that politicalgruel year after year after year. And shaking hands with people you despise year after yearafter year. You know, politics does not improve human nature. But I think she hasworked for it and I think she is probably entitled to. But it would depend probably on howmuch she moves to the center to win. So, - but on provisionally, yes I would support her.Do you think the relationship between writing and politics was more exciting in America in the past?I don't know. I was excited by it because a part of me wanted to be a politician.You stood for Mayor in '69?Yeah. And you know, I wasn't that good at it. I realized that politicians need enormousstamina. And I didn't have that kind of stamina. You need the kind of stamina that a manwho gets into the NBA and plays professional basketball at a mediocre level. But staysaround for five or eight years have stamina, that's why they keep him. And there are a lotof politicians like that. They have stamina and they are still around.Do you think you also need to have an essential phoniness to make it work?Corniness?No if that would do. Phoniness I said.Let's say shamelessness.Shamelessness. Well, I mean, you really you really have to espouse causes that have tocurdle the mouth if you got any sense of the English language. I mean George Bush hasgreat power because he could say anything and it never bruises his tongue.So far as we know.So -Who in your opinion -You are an optimist.I am trying to be. It's very hard. Who in your opinion was the worst president of the 20th century?Well I'd say he is the worst.Well -I used to think Reagan was the worst but he has changed my mind about Reagan. ReaganReagan is the second worst.Do you think Reagan's worst crime was to pretend? I think you have written this. Topretend that there was a real arms race going on and therefore to impoverish an entire -I am sorry there was a "what" going on?That there was an arms race. A nuclear arms race when in fact there wasn't -That was - his essential crime was that he accepted the idea that he could make a goodpresident. I mean, this is - in company with an immense vanity, there ought to be animmense caution to say, Barry Goldwater for God's sakes said at one point, I am not sure Iam bright enough to be president. You know, Reagan never said that, never asked thatquestion. He is just - it's like acting. If you can do with acting with all those double lines,I can handle these double lines too and he did. You know, the evil empire the evilempire. I mean, that country had become a third world nation while he was stillpretending that they were out to destroy us.You went to Russia during that period and did you come back angry about the state of that nation?Yes very angry angry of America than I have ever been, angry at the wife.Same war?Well the America is my constant wife. Which by the way, you have been keeping meaway of what I really want to talk about.Well go for it.Which is Gunter's relations at Germany and mine to America.Okay.Because you know, I read this section from his last novel. It was printed in the NewYorker and I have to say that I think, it's one of the very finest, if not the finest piece ofwar writing that I have ever read. It's extraordinary. I don't think people know how goodit is yet. It's certainly the best thing I have seen in New Yorker for a decade. And, youknow, I really feel and this just presumptuous because I have great respect for Gunter as anovelist, even as I have great respect for myself as a novelist. And what I know is don'tstep on the other man's territory for too little. I don't like when people do it with me.And so I hesitate to talk about what I think Gunter's relation to service in the Waffen SSmight have been. But on other hand I do had the feeling that if I had been in his shoes, if Ihad been a Polish at Danzig in Germany, his age, and had been in Germany at that time Iwould have ended up in the SS and wouldn't have known the difference. So that part of it- that part of it didn't bother me a bit. And I think the way he wrote about it was soextraordinary that if there was any doubt about whether the SS was good or bad you don'thave to worry about that things. This is could be Nazis or the SS but the other elementof that is why did he take so long to write about it. And I thought about that a lot becauseGunter and I have very similar relation to our countries which is we each are like DonQuixotes we are trying to improve our country through fiction, through articles, throughattitudes and you know anyone who has got a critical sense could look at it from theoutside and say this is appalling. You don't do that. But we take it very seriously, I knowhe does and I know why I do. For him the problem that the Germans had was profoundbeyond measure. How could they, the most cultivated nation in Europe, the nation thatextolled culture beyond all other values in human and artistic and aesthetic endeavor howcould this country have become so vile? It's like being married to a sort of beautiful andintelligent woman who ends up becoming a monster. Can you still love her at all? Canyou find some explanation for her? So that his his journey is, I believe, is much moredifficult than mine, much more difficult. Because America whatever it's faults havecertainly not become a total monster. You know, we - we show small signs of it at times.We show ugliness at times. We show the possibility of becoming a worst country. Andcertainly, we certainly don't have anything comparable to the Nazis.Gunter has been greeted over this book in Germany with what your old friend KurtVonnegut used to call the shit stormAnd we pressed I pressed him on some of these questions that amounts from all that,but the fact is that it maybe, it maybe the case that this incidents shows that the public anda press enjoy enacting revenge on a writer. You have experienced something of thatyourself of aOh without question without question they love it. Because he is been telling theGermans off, for all these years. So they were delighted, they were absolutely delighted.The key question is not where he served, any one of us could in the same circumstances,would have served in the SS. Now when you are 17 years old and and there is a wararound, you don't go around saying I am in the wrong outfit. You know, the generallypick you if you are sort of there and ready for life and ready for excitement. Yousee it probably is an honor. You know, they are part of the correct troops. That's not thewrong, the problem is why did he hold on to it so long. And I started searching my own life.What have I held on to for a long, long time and never written about and indeed maynever written about and may never write about. And it seems to me that stabbing mywife my wife Adele is probably what I will never write about and the reason is andthere are many reasons. But there is one fundamental core reason. I have never felt readyto write about it because it's not enough to write. It simply isn't enough. You don't sitthere and say, oh I did this on such and such a day and here are the reasons, that's theessence of bad writing. What you look for is to find an an organic expression ofeverything in your life and everything you have ever done and everything you everbelieved in and everything that you portrayed yourself with. You are trying to find someway to harness those powerful thoughts to enact, that's out of character with the rest ofyour life. And if you can't do it, so that you write something that's brilliant and enlargesnot only your own focus but the focus of others, then you are better off not doing it. And Ithink that was probably, what this is just my guess as a novelist. I have certainly nevertalked with Gunter about it, don't know him that well. But respect him that much. I thinkprobably he felt he couldn't get into it before this because one he wasn't ready to writeabout it and two there was so much to lose. There was so much to lose as the years wentby, there was more and more to lose in terms of what he believed in, in terms ofimproving that German wife. And so now we he is paying the dues. But I must say that Iam happy to be here tonight with him and I honor the man.Sticking within the area have you encountered difficulties writing about Hitler that youhad never encountered before as a writer?Well I had trouble, could you repeated it again please?Have you encountered difficulties writing about Hitler that you had never encounteredbefore as a novelist?No, you know, in a funny way, no ones gone near it. It's odd I thought there would bemuch more flak and much more outrage, much more support, much more denigrations,none of it. The book came out. Some people said it's a very good book, other people saidit's not very good as they always do. You know the - the wonderful thing about a bookreviewer and is you don't need competence to succeed. But in any event, no the book hashad an easy ride and I think part of it is people don't want to get near it. It makes themvery uneasy. What is Norman Mailer doing writing about Hitler? Why is he writing aboutAmerica? And my answer, of course, is not satisfying to others. It's that I had lived withHitler, ever since I was nine years old and my mother said he was going to kill half theJews. Way back in 1932 when he was running for power and hadn't even got that yet. Soin that sense, you know, this has being an easy book. I can't remember a book that waseasier in terms of lack of large hostility. It's obviously people would rather say let's - let'smove on, which ofcourse aggravates me.Uh-huh. Would you say the America now is a good place in which to practice the arts?A good place to -A good place to practice the arts.The novel, the American, the series American novel.Yeah.No, no longer. When I was young it was the most exciting thing you could do. I think inour interview I spoke about it. It was more exciting to be a major novelist than to be amovie star. That was then. Today you could line up 10 major novelists and threeteenagers would run them down in order to shake a movie stars hand, male or female. No,the fact of the matter is that, the novel maybe on the way out. You know, essentially fromnow we maybe as the only people who practice it. We are the kind of people who writefive act verse plays in iambic pentameter.Well, Norman as you started off by saying this maybe your last public performance. I verymuch hope on the basis of this -I hope I am wrong.- I very hope you are wrong and I know that this audience agree with me. Norman Mailer.