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When meeting Andrew O'Hagan we started the idea of two evenings. One where Andrew would interview and converse with Norman Mailer who he interviewed for the current Hot hot off the press issue of The Paris Review and a subsequent evening where he would do the same with Gunter Grass. What better way, I thought, of ending the season than having these two extraordinary creators come together on the same evening. And Andrew agreed to do this. Both Grass and Mailer as you know have dealt in fiction and in life with Hitler and his period and tonight for the first time they will share the stage to discuss among other 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 time and so will I. Each session must end to make time for the next patient. So Gunter Grass first interviewed by Andrew O'Hagan for 45 minutes, immediately followed by Norman Mailer interviewed by Andrew O'Hagan for 45 minutes and without pause a conversation between Gunter Grass and Norman Mailer and Andrew O'Hagan which will last 30 minutes. Gunter Grass and Norman mailer and Andrew O'Hagan have signed books which will be sold at the end of the evening including The Paris Review issue where you will 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 privilege and my pleasure to welcome to the stage tonight Andrew O'Hagan first with Gunter Grass, 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 in Brooklyn and was admitted to Harvard in 1939 where he studied Aeronautical engineering. Mailer was drafted into the army in World War II, famously and served in the South Pacific. In 1948 he wrote "The Naked and the Dead" based on his personal experiences during the war. And it's a bold evening already so let me so be bold and call it the best novel to emerge from the Second World War. Norman is intimate with the 20th century, his latest book, "The Castle in the Forest," is a re-imagining of Hitler's childhood and down through the years we see a writer fully engaged with that century and its totalities and its habits of mind, from Barbary Shore in 1951, a parable of Cold War politics to an explanation of the psychology of sex in 'An American Dream' and all the way 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 and reckless talent and it's a delight to have him here. Norman, the latest issue of The Paris Review - Before we start Yeah. 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? Yeah Let me state something to the audience. This may well be one of the very last times I appear public because old age is catching up with me. I am afraid that's the unhappy news. I am getting deafer every damn day. My eyes sight is such that I am always asking for the lights to get down. And I have a terrible time hearing. Gunter Grass you discovered in the course of our talk, how much I admire GÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¼nter Grass's work, but I had terrible time hearing what he said. So I would probably be repeating some things he said and 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 one reason 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 trying to 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 shyness and is inclined to be sensitive. Now what about those famous shyness of yours, I want to get this cleared off immediately. Well, there were a lot of guys who were they were bigger than me. That was one reason I was shy. When you grow up in Brooklyn and somebody comes down on you who is a little bigger than you are there is an almost animalistic instinct to turn shy. So that was one reason. Another reason was that human nature was up there around me in the way it is with a child and I I just had a terrible time sorting things out. And the other thing was my father himself, because he was a very complex man. He looked he was only 5'3 in height and immaculately neat. He dressed like a banker. He you would say he is one of the nicest neatest I have ever met. And under he was a compulsive no, not even a compulsive, he was a degenerate gambler. My mother would have worked her fingers to the bone to earn a little money in her business that just it lived along, and he would take the proceeds and gamble them away. And that's pretty good when you are 5'3. 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 was questions 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 that one has, when it comes to a matter of love of ones country. In a certain sense I have been angry at America most of the years in my life. But I have always been in love with America in the oddest fashion, which is as if I am married to America. In other words one's country is one's mate. And we all know and I am speaking out of the encyclopedic knowledge of six marriages and state that it's very difficult to understand a wife. And there's a great deal to learn. And one's relation with a wife is immense. And it's just as it's immense with the country. Now you asked, what do I think about Iraq relation to America? It's like a fairly good couple where the husband suddenly goes out and cheats on the wife with a really foul relationship. Iraq is a foul relationship that America is having. And I to 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 innocent people, nobody in war is ever is innocent, said ____ but nonetheless a huge number of relatively innocent people, Iraqis, have been killed for nothing. Probably more, I don't know what the numbers are by now, and we don't get them, but probably we now bear a good comparison of Saddam Hussein in terms of how many how many Iraqis meet a death they weren't looking for. And on top of that nothing good can come of it nothing good can come of it because those who saw that war as being aid to Israel were you know, given their intelligence, these neoconservatives, it's amazing how ignorant and stupid they were about what the result was going to be of that war. I mean at this point Israel is worse shape then it was five years ago. You took issue with Norman Podhoretz in the early days, have you been surprised by the 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, because human nature being what it is, it's very hard to believe that the right is not going to triumph sooner or later. I really I am a pessimist. I have always felt that fascism is a more natural governmental condition than democracy. Democracy is a grace; democracy is something essentially splendid because it's not at all routine or automatic. Democracy in fact depends on their concept, the notion that there are more people who are good than bad. And that's a very large notion. Fascism fascism goes back to our infancy and childhood 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 of fascism is it has this appeal to people whose later lives are not satisfactory. And and it's a very dangerous business. And the right wing the right wing which is perfectly willing for 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 that violence became a subject for American writers only in the 20th century following the example of Hemingway perhaps, that it became the subject really the writers took up and you certainly did? Well I have said that over and over, that it was the last frontier available to us. You know there was sex and then there was violence. And in the 19th century it was manners, it was society, it was good middle class society and it was a love and romance and any number of marvelous 19th century novels enter the intricacies of those matters. But the by the time we came along in the 20th century, sex was already opening up, Henry Miller had been one of the bushwhackers and marvelous word that is, isn't it? And all the time I was in the army our Sergeant would say, we got to do a little bushwhacking today. I never realized what he was offering us. At any rate at any rate there it was. Violence had not been 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 violence That 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 I certainly had suppressed it for my earlier years. And then it began to come out. And I began to feel that unless I come to some terms with this violence, in other words unless I begin to learn a few martial arts and not be that afraid of difficulties in street fights and what have you that I was going to sicken within, early. It was a deep inner feeling that I had to come to grips with violence. So over the course of coming to grips with it I became fascinated with it as well, because I began to pursue the notion of how much morality there was in very violent people. And I don't want to get into it tonight because it's an endless subject and worth a topic in and of itself. But it the key thing if you are a serious novelist is you wants to write about things on two counts. One, you want to be you want to be something you can write about very well indeed. And two it helps if you feel that you know something about the subject that others don't. The one thing you don't want to do 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 annihilation made 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 world annihilation or national annihilation or hundreds of thousands if not millions of people killed at the least in a nuclear conflagration and that we were able to think about and talk about. But individual acts of violence we didn't want nothing to with. You couldn't talk about it. It was considered hateful. There was an assumption being made by great many respectful people that it was okay to talk about nuclear warfare, to consider the possibility that 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 of deaths, but let one I remember once I wrote about two hoodlums that attacked an old candy store keeper. This is in "The White Negro"? Yeah. And I said that from the point of view of society they are monsters, absolute monsters. From their point of view they were daring society. So they saw themselves as brave. Now obviously they had no feeling for the old candy store keeper. And that's the ugly downside of it, very much so. But the very positive side of it the fact that they had a 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 end up with a literary reputation that's build by your detractors. You know it's as if it's as if you ask to have a house made of brick and the contractor says well, how about some very good dry brick? And then you discover, this isn't the dry brick you bought, it's the offal that they have dried in the sun and house stinks. All right, that's how literary reputations are created. You see it is false. Do you feel that there has been too much celebrity in your career? Too much other people building up a reputation and saying stuff about the books rather than the free assessment of 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 Naked and The Dead' was that successful, because my whole feeling was no body will ever treat me like someone anonymous again. And I wanted that because it enabled me to be an observer and I loved it. It took me about 20 years to come to grips and to be able to make my peace with the idea that I was not going to have a life like most people and that I probably 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 other writer in America. Well it happened over and over and over and then and maybe this can tie us into Gunter Grass, because then what happened is of course, became that moment in the very early 60s 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 they are very proud of their prize and I think they be damned, they are damned if they were to give the prize to a guy who is a wife stabber. And you know sour and bitter as I could become 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 plastics have 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 I enjoy at my age at my age you have to cling to your enjoyment and paranoia is one of them, I believe that the devil invented television and on top of that because god might have 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 is cannier and meaner and must be smarter than the lord. The lord is a creator. The devil is a manipulator. And so what the devil realized is that with commercials he could destroy the 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 are fascinated with the story and they learn to read and to their surprise this was proved 20 304050 years ago. They go up and say, "Mommy daddy, I read half that book tonight." They're overcome. Tonight, you are lucking if you have a kid who says, "You know, I almost got through the first chapter." And the reason is they are used to interruption. 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's even 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 to destroy the human mind and the devil, I offer the devil as the best candidate for whose behind it. Because even the people who are making money on television, don't go to don'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 the women's movement. I wonder if during those years, when that was at its height. Where you very angry at women? No. I was spoiled by women. I was really spoiled by women. I had a mother who was a very good mother and she adored my sister and myself. And I had four aunts who were generous 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 because I had these six splendid relations with women, that I could say anything that I pleased women 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 never got the time of day from their father and wanted to their notion of a good life is to destroy their father before his time and here I am making these idiotic remarks about women, you see. So, of course I became the number one target. I used to get up there and plead. I used to say, "Look, you want to make a revolution, take your strongest women and go down to Texas, where the men are really macho." None of us in New York are macho." It was the worst thing I could have said. They said, "They are not macho, we will eat 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 think she has earned the job. I am not fond of her altogether personally. She is nicer than people think, but how nice can you be when you have spent your time digesting all that political gruel year after year after year. And shaking hands with people you despise year after year after year. You know, politics does not improve human nature. But I think she has worked for it and I think she is probably entitled to. But it would depend probably on how much 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 enormous stamina. And I didn't have that kind of stamina. You need the kind of stamina that a man who gets into the NBA and plays professional basketball at a mediocre level. But stays around for five or eight years have stamina, that's why they keep him. And there are a lot of 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 to curdle the mouth if you got any sense of the English language. I mean George Bush has great 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. Reagan Reagan is the second worst. Do you think Reagan's worst crime was to pretend? I think you have written this. To pretend 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 good president. I mean, this is - in company with an immense vanity, there ought to be an immense caution to say, Barry Goldwater for God's sakes said at one point, I am not sure I am bright enough to be president. You know, Reagan never said that, never asked that question. 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 evil empire. I mean, that country had become a third world nation while he was still pretending 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 me away 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 New Yorker and I have to say that I think, it's one of the very finest, if not the finest piece of war writing that I have ever read. It's extraordinary. I don't think people know how good it is yet. It's certainly the best thing I have seen in New Yorker for a decade. And, you know, I really feel and this just presumptuous because I have great respect for Gunter as a novelist, even as I have great respect for myself as a novelist. And what I know is don't step 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 SS might have been. But on other hand I do had the feeling that if I had been in his shoes, if I had been a Polish at Danzig in Germany, his age, and had been in Germany at that time I would 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 so extraordinary that if there was any doubt about whether the SS was good or bad you don't have to worry about that things. This is could be Nazis or the SS but the other element of that is why did he take so long to write about it. And I thought about that a lot because Gunter and I have very similar relation to our countries which is we each are like Don Quixotes we are trying to improve our country through fiction, through articles, through attitudes and you know anyone who has got a critical sense could look at it from the outside and say this is appalling. You don't do that. But we take it very seriously, I know he does and I know why I do. For him the problem that the Germans had was profound beyond measure. How could they, the most cultivated nation in Europe, the nation that extolled culture beyond all other values in human and artistic and aesthetic endeavor how could this country have become so vile? It's like being married to a sort of beautiful and intelligent woman who ends up becoming a monster. Can you still love her at all? Can you find some explanation for her? So that his his journey is, I believe, is much more difficult than mine, much more difficult. Because America whatever it's faults have certainly 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. And certainly, we certainly don't have anything comparable to the Nazis. Gunter has been greeted over this book in Germany with what your old friend Kurt Vonnegut used to call the shit storm And 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 and a press enjoy enacting revenge on a writer. You have experienced something of that yourself of a Oh without question without question they love it. Because he is been telling the Germans 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 war around, you don't go around saying I am in the wrong outfit. You know, the generally pick you if you are sort of there and ready for life and ready for excitement. You see it probably is an honor. You know, they are part of the correct troops. That's not the wrong, 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 may never written about and may never write about. And it seems to me that stabbing my wife my wife Adele is probably what I will never write about and the reason is and there are many reasons. But there is one fundamental core reason. I have never felt ready to write about it because it's not enough to write. It simply isn't enough. You don't sit there and say, oh I did this on such and such a day and here are the reasons, that's the essence of bad writing. What you look for is to find an an organic expression of everything in your life and everything you have ever done and everything you ever believed in and everything that you portrayed yourself with. You are trying to find some way to harness those powerful thoughts to enact, that's out of character with the rest of your life. And if you can't do it, so that you write something that's brilliant and enlarges not only your own focus but the focus of others, then you are better off not doing it. And I think that was probably, what this is just my guess as a novelist. I have certainly never talked with Gunter about it, don't know him that well. But respect him that much. I think probably he felt he couldn't get into it before this because one he wasn't ready to write about it and two there was so much to lose. There was so much to lose as the years went by, there was more and more to lose in terms of what he believed in, in terms of improving that German wife. And so now we he is paying the dues. But I must say that I am happy to be here tonight with him and I honor the man. Sticking within the area have you encountered difficulties writing about Hitler that you had 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 encountered before as a novelist? No, you know, in a funny way, no ones gone near it. It's odd I thought there would be much 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 said it's not very good as they always do. You know the - the wonderful thing about a book reviewer and is you don't need competence to succeed. But in any event, no the book has had an easy ride and I think part of it is people don't want to get near it. It makes them very uneasy. What is Norman Mailer doing writing about Hitler? Why is he writing about America? And my answer, of course, is not satisfying to others. It's that I had lived with Hitler, ever since I was nine years old and my mother said he was going to kill half the Jews. Way back in 1932 when he was running for power and hadn't even got that yet. So in that sense, you know, this has being an easy book. I can't remember a book that was easier in terms of lack of large hostility. It's obviously people would rather say let's - let's move 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 in our interview I spoke about it. It was more exciting to be a major novelist than to be a movie star. That was then. Today you could line up 10 major novelists and three teenagers 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 from now we maybe as the only people who practice it. We are the kind of people who write five act verse plays in iambic pentameter. Well, Norman as you started off by saying this maybe your last public performance. I very much 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.