10.20.18 – A Death in the Family

From A Death in the Family by James Agee (1957):

“He heard the summer night.

All the air vibrated like a fading bell with the latest exhausted screaming of locusts. Couplings clashed and conjoined; a switch engine breathed heavily. An auto engine bore behind the edge of audibility the furious expletives of its incompetence. Hooves broached, along the hollow street, the lackadaisical rhythms of the weariest of clog dancers, and endless in circles, narrow iron tires grinced continuously after. Along the sidewalks, with incisive heels and leathery shuffle, young men and women advanced, retreated.

A rocking chair betrayed reiterate strain, as of a defective lung; like a single note from a stupendous jew’s-harp, the chain of a porch swing twanged.

Somewhere very near, intimate to some damp inch of the grass between these homes, a cricket peeped, and was answered as if by his echo.

Humbled beneath the triumphant cries of children, which tore the whole darkness like streams of fire, the voices of men and women on their porches rubbed cheerfully against each other, and in the room next his own, like the laboring upward of laden windlasses and the mildest pouring out of fresh water, he heard the voices of men and women who were familiar to him. They groaned, rewarded; lifted, and spilled out: and watching the windows, listening at the heart of the proud bell of darkness, he lay in perfect peace.

Gentle, gentle dark.”

Suitcase Notes – Fates and Furies

Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff (Riverhead Books, 2016)


“Grief is for the strong, who use it as fuel for burning.”

“Doomed people celebrate peace with sky bombs.”

“The word wife comes from the Proto-Indo-European weip. Weip means to turn, twist or wrap. In an alternative etymology, the word wife comes from Proto-etc, ghwihh. Ghwihh means pudenda. Or shame.”

“Mothers, Mathilde had always known, were people who abandoned you to struggle alone.”

“Unplug from the humble needs of the body and a person becomes no more than a ghost.”

“A speck on the slender child grows into a gross deformity in the adult, inescapable, ragged at the edges.”





“Widowhood sure as shit becomes you. Christ, look at you.”






Fran Lebowitz – A Transcript

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Fran Lebowitz in conversation with Evan Smith (CEO and Co-founder of the Texas Tribune) at the Long Center for the Performing Arts. Wednesday, March 8, 2017. 7 PM.


ES: Let’s pull back from the area around Trump Tower and talk about New York. You’ve been living in New York for how long?

FL: Since 1969.

ES: So we’re going on 50 years in New York. Obviously, the New York of the sixties and seventies is the iconic, mythic, romantic New York. The New York of the Woody Allen movies, the New York of seventies filmmaking…New York today is vastly different.

FL: Vastly different. But Woody Allen seems to be the same.

ES: Are you prepared to say, Fran, that in every single way, New York is worse today than the New York of those days?

FL: I am prepared to say that every single thing – object – is worse than it used to be. But some ideas, some things in life, are much better. Life is much better now for women. I mean, vastly better than when I was a girl. There’s no comparison. And it’s much better for gay people. Much better. It’s not perfect, but there’s no comparison. When I was a child, and I would ask to do something, the answer would be no. Why not? Because you’re a girl. Oh, okay. And that was everybody. Not just my parents. So. New York in the ’70s, the Woody Allen world, the Upper West Side – that was never a world I was in.

ES: It was a real world but it just wasn’t your world.

FL: Right. But you know. Kids – by which I mean, people in their twenties – are always saying to me, ‘Oh, Fran, I wish I lived in New York in the seventies. It was so fun.’ And this strikes me as odd for two reasons. When I was young, I never stopped people to say, ‘Oh I wish I’d lived in New York in the forties.’ I don’t think it’s the best thing for the country that people who are young have nostalgia for an era they didn’t live in. Because we really need our young people to, you know, look forward. Because we did a horrible job. You can see that. But New York was very dangerous then. There was a tremendous amount of crime. It’s not dangerous now, Mr. Trump. It was very dangerous then. I have given up none of my habits from New York in the seventies. By which I mean, when I’m on the subway, I see people put a bag down next to them, and they just leave it there. And I think, are you insane? If I have a pencil, I have a death grip on it. I lock my door with sixteen locks just like it’s 1970. It isn’t better that it was dangerous. But one thing that was great about it was that people hated it. So there were no tourists. Tourists ruin every place in the world. It’s not just New York. It’s every place in the world.

ES: You’re saying this right before South by Southwest, so there may be some sympathy for this position in the audience.

FL: It doesn’t matter where you live, if you live in a place where tourists come, you hate the tourists. And everybody is right about this, by the way. No matter where they live, everybody is right. Because no matter where you live, when tourists come, you have to make the place accommodating to the tourists. And the tourists are not you. And you want your town or city to be accommodating to you. So that, you know, if I were in charge of New York – which is my dream –

ES: Mayor Lebowitz!

FL: Here’s what I would do. In fact, this is my immigration plan. For Mr. Trump. I would stand at the border of New York City and I would say, ‘Everyone can come in, but you have to live here. You can come from anywhere in the world, but you have to stay.’ So if I see you with one suitcase, no. ‘What, are you going to be here for three days? Go back.’

ES: So in your mind’s eye when you remember New York, when you remember Times Square, you know, hookers and homeless people and drugs and –

FL: And three-card monte dealers! And no one ever says, ‘Where are all the three-card monte dealers?’ But now we know where they are. The White House.

ES: You went somewhere else with that than I thought you were going to go. But my point though was that Rudolf Giuliani takes credit as former mayor of New York for having cleaned up the streets. He made Times Square into Disneyland, a theme park, he made it family friendly. And I’m just wondering if that’s a better New York, a better Times Square, from your perspective.

FL: Nothing that Rudolf Giuliani could do would make it better, okay? He should be in prison. Alright? Period. And it wasn’t Giuliani, anyway. It was not Giuliani. Giuliani increased the police force. I remember when he did that and he said, ‘I have fifty-five thousand cops under me.’ And I thought, that is not a municipal police force. That’s an army. So yes, he’s very brutal. He still is very brutal. Times Square was a decision made by, like, four men. Okay? All bad things in the world are four men in a room with a pencil and a piece of paper. Okay? The Middle East! That’s how they made the Middle East. These four guys sat there and they said, ‘No we’ll put this here, we’ll put this there,’ they went back to England and they died and left the Middle East for everyone else to clean up. And [Times Square] was a decision made to figure out how we could get out of bankruptcy. Which by the way, I lived through it but I had no idea what that meant because if you have no money, it doesn’t matter if the city’s bankrupt. It made no difference to me. And they decided to do it by luring tourists here. How do you lure them here to a place they hate? You make it a place they like. Which is, not New York.

ES: Right. Did you like Bloomberg any better than you liked Giuliani?

FL: No. Hated Bloomberg. Let me just say – the last mayor I liked was David Dinkins [1990-1993]. Before David Dinkins the last mayor I liked was Lindsay [John Lindsay, 1966-1973]. Alright?

ES: So you were not a big fan of Ed Koch.

FL: I hated Ed Koch.

ES: In some ways Ed Koch is like the New Yorker people think of when they think of a New Yorker.

FL: I know. That’s because the rest of the country is anti-Semitic. Ed Koch is an anti-Semite’s idea of a Jew. I used to think I could never hate a mayor more than Koch. Then we had Giuliani, and I thought, I could never hate a mayor more than Giuliani. Then we had Bloomberg. I thought I could never hate a mayor more than Bloomberg. I like DeBlasio. None of my friends like him. I do.

ES: Make a thirty-second case for DeBlasio. Because a lot of people think that DeBlasio was actually not doing a good job, as you know.

FL: You know the people who think that? Rich people. You want to know why? Because he doesn’t cater to them. Mike Bloomberg was a concierge to the rich. DeBlasio is not the most charismatic. He’s not the quickest man on the planet, I agree. But his heart is in the right place. I think for all the things he’s done, the reason people like my friends don’t like him, is because they didn’t need universal pre-K. They don’t care about the public schools. And he does. I think his heart’s in the right place. He’s not very liked. I’m not sure if he’ll be re-elected, but I like him.

ES: You’re a fan of his.

FL: I am.

ES: So…you’re still doing all these things that you’ve done for years – you’re writing, you’re making your way around the city, you’ve just bought a new place to live.

FL: I did.

ES: And to your amazement, as we discussed before we came out here, that was news in some parts of the country – ‘Fran Lebowitz Buys New Apartment.’

FL: You know, I don’t have a computer, I don’t have any of these things. So I know about them, but I’m always astonished how invasive they are.

ES: You’re a celebrity! We like to cover the goings and comings of celebrities.

FL: I know. But where you live? I mean, really. I’m not America’s sweetheart, I get a lot of threats. I don’t need anyone knowing where I live.

ES: I can explain how Google works –

FL: No, don’t tell me.

ES: The point is though, you’re still doing your thing. You’re still at this and you haven’t made a decision now or at any point in the future to give up on New York.

FL: No. You know what? I mean, New York is now so psychotically expensive. It’s actually brutally expensive. It’s so expensive that no matter where you go when you leave, including Paris, you think, ‘Woah, what a deal!’ I’m not sure if I would go to New York now if I was 18. But I’m not 18. Truthfully, I don’t know where else I would live. I’m there, that’s where I am.

ES: And you continue to write although you’ve had over the last decade or so maybe the most famous case of writer’s block in recorded history. But you now seem to have broken through that.

FL: That’s very nice of you to think it was only a decade.

ES: I understand but I’m going to be respectful. How long would you say it’s been that you’ve had writer’s block?

FL: Mm….about fifty years.

ES: Fifty years. Well I know that you published many things in those fifty years. So it couldn’t have been literally fifty years. Metropolitan Life came out when?

FL: 1978.

ES: Okay. 1978. By the way, that was my first moment as a young person reading Fran Lebowitz and discovering your work and thinking, ‘This is what I want to do with my life.’ You were the catalyst for me.

FL: Thank you. Or, I’m sorry.

ES: So what has been the issue for you in the intervening period? There’s been other things since Metropolitan Life but it’s been awhile since you were publishing on a regular basis, publishing something big. And you seem to be coming out of it now but what was the sticking point for you?

FL: Sloth.

ES: It’s as simple as that?

FL: Sloth. Yes. Writing is very hard. As you know. And honestly, I’m lazy. And at a certain point I found out, you know what? I can make money talking, which is really easy.

ES: And so you do a lot of this actually.

FL: A lot.

ES: You had a book in progress some years ago. Is that the book that you’re now working on again? Or are you working on something new?

FL: Right now, I’m working on moving.

ES: That’s really all you’re focused on.

FL: That’s really all I’m focused on. I have ten thousand books. So ten thousand books have to be moved, they have to be rearranged, alphabetized. So this is what I’m concentrating on.

ES: But that is only a temporary condition.

FL: To you it seems temporary.

A: I’m trying to draw you out on talking about your work. Literally what are you doing on the writing front.

L: You mean, am I working on the novel that….

A: Yeah.

L: Periodically, Amazon seems to advertise. Because people will say to me, ‘Oh, I’m gonna order your book, I saw it on Amazon.’ I say well good luck. Order me one, because maybe they finished it! Amazon is so miraculous they finished my book for me.

A: So the fact is that all these rumors of activity are just that.

L: That’s what rumor means.

A: I see.

L: There’s no truth in it whatsoever.

A: You obviously are reading, though. If you’re not writing, you’re reading. The works of others. Do you have anybody you like at the moment? Anybody you want to recommend to us? Anybody who’s a favorite of yours?

L: You mean like, one of these…like…new young writers?

A: Whose work do you like?

L: …you mean, people who are alive?

A: It doesn’t have to be.

L: I mean, I prefer dead writers because you never run into them at parties.

A: I interviewed Joyce Carol Oates not long ago when she was here in town for the Texas Book Festival and I asked her whose work she recommends and she said Emily Dickinson. And I thought, she hasn’t done anything new in a long time.

L: Joyce Carol Oates writes about 27 books a month.

A: A year, I was going to say year. You say a month.

L: That’s right. I mean, that’s probably the last time she had time to read, was Emily Dickinson.

A: Alive or dead. What’s the last thing you read?

L: I mean, the last thing I read – I did this thing for the Times and it’s called ‘By the Book’…and one of the questions was what’s the last classic novel you had never read but you just recently finally did, and mine was [Charles Dickens’s] Little Dorit. Which I recommend! I had never read it, I was looking for something to read. I have two friends I would take recommendations from. Dickens, he’s coming along.

A: It’s like the President said about Frederick Douglass…I hear he’s hot now…

L: Let me assure you. Dickens, he has not heard of yet.

A: Do you enjoy doing magazine work more than longer form work?

L: No.

A: It’s all basically the same for you?

L: Yes.

A: How has that world changed? I had remarked to you earlier how I thought it was amazing the Vanity Fair has retained itself – it’s not a terribly different magazine than it used to be. Why is that? A lot of magazines these days, over the last couple of years, have changed. But that magazine is very similar.

L: That’s because Conde Nast is still owned by the Newhouses. It’s owned by a family. It’s not a public company. Companies that are public are worried about their stock price all the time. At this point, Vanity Fair still makes money, Vogue still makes money. They don’t make the money probably they used to, but the Newhouses continue to publish it.

A: And that world, the world of those magazines still appeals to you?

L: I like paper.

A: You’ve mentioned a couple different times that you’re not big on technology, and obviously a big revolution that’s happened in our business is how technology has changed everything that people like us do, and how the way the kind of stuff we produce is consumed, but you have stayed largely clear of the technology trap.

L: That is true.

A: How have you managed to do that? Or why have you chosen to do that?

L: It looks much more premeditated than it was.

A: It’s not a deliberate decision.

L: No. Here’s what happened. They invented…the first computer they ever invented that you could have in your house was called a word processor. Do you remember these things?

A: Yes.

L: Alright. So. I had a friend who was a screenwriter and she got one of these things. She said you have to come and look at this, it’s fantastic. So I went and looked at it. And I thought, this is just a very fast kind of typewriter. I don’t know how to type. I don’t need this.

A: You didn’t learn how to type?
L: I don’t know how to type. I write with a ballpoint pen. All of these other things, you type on them. You think you don’t, but you do. I didn’t learn it then and I’m not learning now.

A: And so the idea that social media has become this all-consuming thing for people, you’re just completely uninterested in that.

L : You know, luckily, I’m too old. I’m too old to have to do that. Obviously, if I was young, I would do it. But I’m not young. There has to be some upside to not being young. This is mine.

A: So if you’re not plugged into the technology, to the world around you, how do you stay informed? Do you read the paper?

L: I read the New York Times, only Sunday. I read the Sunday Times. In New York you get half of it Saturday, half of it Sunday. It takes me the whole weekend to read it. I have friends who read three thousand newspapers a day on their phones. And I say, how do you do this? It takes me the whole weekend to read the Times, and I’m not a slow reader. And they say, well Fran, that’s because you read it. Let me tell you something. It is impossible not to know about all the social media stuff. People tell you about it. Someone has a Twitter account in my name.

A: I found that Twitter account that presumed it was you, or pretended to be you.

L: And I found the guy who owns Twitter, I met him and I tell him: look, you have to take this off. And he said, no, here’s what you do. You have to open a Twitter account and call it ‘The Real Fran Lebowitz.’ And I said, I have to open it? Who’s company is this? These people who invented these things are – without question – they’ve figured out how to just make money and there’s no responsibility for anything.

A: Advice for young writers? Tell me what I need to do to get into this profession. You speak on college campuses. Kids come up to you today, what do you tell them?

L: You’d be surprised at the number of kids who ask me for advice, like I care what they do. These kids, their parents liked them so much they imagine that everybody’s that interested in them. Here’s what I mostly tell them. I listen to the radio and every once in a while they say something like ‘By the year 2035 there’ll be no water left.’ And I freeze. And then I realize, ‘oh it’s okay, I’ll be dead.’ So I always tell these kids, “If I were your age, I’d look for water. Because we drank it all. There won’t be any left for you.” 

A: I’m not sure that’s really the advice they’re looking for.

L: But it’s the advice they need.

A: Well, give me one bit of advice, to the degree that I can get you to be serious for one second. Give me one bit of advice – what would you tell them is the most important thing?

L: Read! Read, read. There’s all these writing schools now. When I was young I think there was the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and that was it. It never occurred to me to go there because it never occurred to me to go to college. You can’t LEARN how to write. Okay? This is a scam, these writing schools. You can’t learn how to write. Here’s what you can learn: grammar. I have on my desk a  list of people I know who went to Catholic school, because they are the only people who really know grammar. In Catholic school, if you didn’t get the answer right, the nuns hit you. That is how you learn Grammar. So I have these Catholic school graduates, and they know every possible thing about grammar. That’s my advice.

A: So we need to be hitting more kids to get them up to your standards?

L: There are certain things that can not be made fun. Grammar is ten of those things.




L: Hi. I am now going to answer questions from the audience in an entertaining fashion. You don’t have to ask them in an entertaining fashion. In fact, please do not. All you have to do is raise your hand, I will call on you, if the audience can’t hear the question, I will repeat it. It’s very simple.


How do you feel about the passing of the Waldorf Astoria ahotel?

L: As you may or may not know, the Waldorf was bought by some Chinese company. I only know that because the president of the United States, when he came to New York – because presidents used to come to New York instead of just stay there – they would always stay at the Waldorf. And when the Waldorf changed hands, Obama stopped staying there. Because he thought maybe it wasn’t the safest thing to do, to stay in a place owned by the Chinese. Perhaps this is what happened with Donald Trump. So they’re converting part of it into condos. Here’s the thing about a place like the Waldorf, or any place: people sit and they go, “It changed! That’s horrible!” And you’ll say, when was the last time you were in the Waldorf? People cannot stand places that change. But the interior of the Waldorf, the things most people remember, are landmarked. They won’t change that much, in case you were planning on buying a condo there.


Are you interested in a petition to make smokers an endangered species?

L: You mean, like, some sort of national park? Well, you know, according to people who don’t smoke, we are an endangered species. Nothing is more galling to the antismokers than the fact that I’m alive. No one in New York City gets more fresh air than smokers. We’re like Olympic skiers. To me, I find this to be ludicrous, I really do. Here’s the thing. They couldn’t get people to stop smoking when they found out it was bad for you. Although, what could they have ever thought before that? And so they invented this second-hand smoke thing which I absolutely do not believe in. And why do I not believe in it? I’ve known people who died of every possible thing on this planet including smoking, but I never heard of anyone who died because someone else smoked. I’ve never heard of it. And I will tell you, that when I was a child, every single adult smoked. Everybody’s parents smoked. We lived in choking smoke-filled rooms. When I was a child, I never heard of asthma. It didn’t exist. When I was a child, children were healthy. We ate peanut butter, no one dropped dead. There were no seatbelts. Now, children are bolted into the backseat dressed like astronauts. Here is where we sat in cars when I was a child. In the front seat on the laps of our smoking mothers. So I can only assume that this asthma is caused by insufficient exposure to secondhand smoke. So the only hope I have is when I’m outside smoking, the people I’m outside with are my friends’ children. And they’re always telling me, don’t tell my father I smoke. Please don’t tell my father I smoke. And then sometimes the father finds out and says why do they smoke? And I say, because it’s the only thing you disapprove of. That’s why. When we were kids, our parents just hated us. They disapproved of everything we did. So now, parents like their children so much that smoking is the only thing they disapprove of. My belief is, should I live long enough, when these kids are in power, they’re going to reverse these rules. Not that we ever let them get in power. Because we never leave. We never leave our jobs, they have no place to go. In New York they can’t move up. When I was a kid, an intern worked at a hospital. An intern was a person who was going to be a doctor and first they had to intern. Now we call them interns but they’re slaves. I could never have done this when I was young because I had to earn money. They’re like rich slaves. It’s a horrible system. People at a certain age should move along. Let the other people come up. Not me. But the rest of them.


I was wondering if there was a question that nobody has ever asked you that you wish someone would.

L: No.


L: But I will tell you that no one has ever asked me that. Which is astonishing because I’ve been doing this since 1978. I will tell you this, now that you’ve asked. Of the eight billion questions I’ve been asked, what I remember most is my favorite question I was ever asked. And the favorite question I was ever asked was during the Iran hostage crisis. I was in San Francisco. One of the worst things about the Iran hostage crisis was that it invented 24-hour news. The whole country was riveted, couldn’t believe it. I kept thinking, get them out! What is wrong with you! Every night they would show ‘day 150, hostages still there.’ We got really familiar with the names of all the hostages and we were encountering them every day. During this crisis a young man asked me if I had a favorite hostage. I told this young man that I didn’t have a favorite hostage, but I did have a least-favorite-hostage-wife. Whose name I can’t remember and if I did I wouldn’t say it because one of my least-favorite things is getting sued. And the reason she was my least-favorite hostage was because she was so avidly pursuing the press all the time. So when they finally released the hostages, I thought, this woman is very disappointed. Because this is over for her. That’s my favorite question, but the question you just asked, I’ve never been asked before.


Organization of toast-masters? (unintelligible)

L: Okay. Organization of toast-masters. In New York it’s called an emcee. I was the fashion council emcee – the CFDA – I was the CDFA emcee AND the National Book Award emcee in the same year. No one else has ever done that. I’ve often been the emcee, I’ve often given people awards, I’ve never received one. That is true. Some people say, did you turn down this award? I say no. My name just never seems to come up. So yes I have been in the organization fo the toast-masters, if that was your question, unless a toast-master is something else.


How was it collaborating wtih Martin Scorsese?

L: Martin made a movie about me called Public Speaking, and I did not collaborate with him. Marty Scorsese is the greatest working movie director and I am not. So I didn’t collaborate with him at all. He had final cut. I didn’t have any idea what he was doing, I never asked him. I talked. He filmed. But I never asked him. And when he was – it took – Marty is very slow in editing. He edits and edits and edits. In a documentary it takes forever. The first time I saw that movie I had no idea what was in it, i didn’t know there was all that archival material, I had no idea. I saw that movie seven times and I saw seven completely different movies. I saw the final one, the one you saw, right before it came out. And that’s how Marty works. I did not collaborate with him at all and wouldn’t think of it. See, I believe, unlike the President, in expertise. I might be a better filmmaker than some people, but those people would not be filmmakers. One of the things I can’t understand about our present era is why there is this idea that the worst thing a politician could be is a politician. Do they imagine that it takes zero skill to be a senator or a congressman? Oh, here’s the best thing: this person has no idea what they’re doing. Perfect! I have a horrible leak in my apartment, do you know someone who’s not a plumber? I actually believe in knowledge, I believe in skills, I believe in expertise. Hence, I did not tell Marty how to make the movie.


I asked this same question of Gore Vidal but I didn’t understand his answer so I’m going to see if you can answer it for me. I feel like we’re drowning in all this bullshit, the world is falling apart, etc, etc. What can we do about it?

L: I’m going to try to repeat this. He asked the same question of Gore Vidal, and you did not understand his answer, is that what you said? Yes, well, I’m not as pretentious as Gore so you’ll understand mine. The question is – he feels like we’re drowning, the world is falling apart, what can we do? Clearly Gore didn’t know. And he couldn’t have even imagined Donald Trump. Because before Donald Trump it was literally unbelievable. A species that could imagine sending men to the moon. A species that could imagine all the things mankind has imagined. No one could have imagined this. So if you’re asking me what we can do about it? We don’t know. I don’t know. Anyone who thinks up what we can do about this, I’m delighted to hear. What we could have done about it happened on November 8th. I have to say that I am probably one of the best voters in the United States. I vote in every single election, I vote in midterms, I vote in school board elections. And the reason for this is that my parents instilled in me the idea that if I did not vote I would have to go back to Russia and live in a ghetto and be attacked by cossacks. And I believed them. ‘Course we didn’t know the Russians would come here….but here’s what I’ll tell you. In the first Obama election, I lived in a neighborhood that I call NYU-istan. So when I went to vote for Obama, I stood in line, I was the oldest person by far. Two years later, i went to vote in the midterms, I was the youngest. You cannot just vote when it makes you feel great about yourself. Voting isn’t some sort of legislative selfie. It is a privilege and it is a duty. It is your job as a citizen. Truthfully, I don’t understand – we know Hillary Clinton got three million more votes, we all know that – of course we shouldn’t have the electoral college. It was invented for this. It was invented to overvalue Southern votes. It’s a ridiculous absurdity. The election of Donald Trump makes me feel like the confederacy won the Civil War. That’s what it feels like. People should stop blaming Hillary Clinton for losing this election. This election is the fault of the people who voted for Donald Trump. It is not the fault of Hillary Clinton. It is not the fault of people who voted for her. It is the fault of the Donald Trump voters. And so they may deserve him, but I don’t. Before the election I went around the country talking to people, and kids especially would say ‘I don’t like her.’ And I would think, so what? She’s not going to call you. don’t worry about it. You don’t have to like the president. You’re not going to meet the president. You don’t have to have the same relationship with every single person in the world. The president doesn’t have to be someone that you feel like having dinner with because you’re not going to have dinner with her. Donald Trump didn’t win this election because he did something right. He won because he did something wrong. The election of Donald Trump in my opinion is racism pure and simple. It’s nothing else. I don’t believe that the appeal of Donald Trump is that people really believed he’s going to bring back car manufacturing like it’s 1955. And if you’re that stupid you shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Rudolf Giuliani, when he ran for mayor the first time, it was exactly like this. His television ads, the first time I saw them, I said, ‘Listen to what he’s saying. Vote for me and it will be 1950 again.’ These guys want it to be 1950 again. Because what was 1950 great for? These guys. Who was it not great for? Everyone else. So I don’t know what you asked, but that’s my answer.


What advice do you have for the press in dealing with the Trump administration?

L: Ah, the press. In a certain way, I want them to stop covering it. I mean, I know they can’t. I know they think they can’t. Because they never HAVEN’T covered the president. But…they could. I would like them to just not show up. At these press briefings. Just don’t show up! That would be, to me – he would be so freaked out by that. It is immoral what he does with regard to the press. He doesn’t understand what it is. Among the many things he doesn’t understand, which is everything. I mean, if I was a reporter, it would be very tempting for me to just say, I’m not going. How do you like that? Because actually, you can cover him without covering him. You don’t have to go there. You don’t have to go to the briefings. Today I saw what seemed to be a 75-hour lie-a-thon, from like Sean Spencer, whoever he’s supposed to be. He just stood there and lied about the health care plan. Which someone tried to call TrumpCare. And I thought, there’s never going to be a piece of Republican legislation that has the word ‘care’ in it. I don’t understand how the reporters have the patience to sit there and ask questions where every single answer is a lie. I would be unable to do this. The only thing I can think of that Donald Trump ever said that was true is that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and people would still like him. That is true. Because his supporters don’t know where Fifth Avenue is.


Who or what influenced or inspired you to choose the styling that you have, the look that you have. Hair, glasses….

L: You’re talking about clothes, right? Okay. I can’t see you even with the glasses. You must be so young that you don’t realize – they’re for seeing. This is not some style whim. They’re for seeing and my eyesight is actually so terrible that they don’t work that well but they’re for seeing. That’s the glasses. The hair…is the hair. The styling of my hair seems to be the same, to people who don’t look at me as intently as I look at me. It is basically the same except it used to really be this color. The clothes? I just always wore these clothes. I didn’t always wear exactly these clothes because I couldn’t afford them. I wore clothes that looked like these clothes to people who don’t know anything about clothes. I always wore blue jeans. It was never this premeditated way that people now think about things like that. Life didn’t used to be as premeditated as it is now. People didn’t use to compare themselves to the whole world. One of the things that must be awful about being young now, is that it’s bad enough to be a teenager in any era, but at least when I was a teenager, you only knew about the other teenagers in your high school. It wasn’t every teenager on the planet earth. It must be unbearable. It’s unbearable for me to even think about it.





TOP SECRET TRANSCRIPT: Cormac McCarthy’s “The Passenger”

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO: Sixteen minutes of a private reading from Cormac McCarthy’s unpublished novel The Passenger surfaced on YouTube last summer. I just got around to watching it today. Having done so I can safely say it is either a really long ad for Italian violins or a hoax perpetrated by Richard Feynman’s estate. Most of the dialogue is monologue, and most of the monologue is math. The man is some kind of cardboard box. The woman is a robot who has learned to love atomic bombs and cry on the bus.

I love McCarthy too much to google him more than once a year. My heart can’t stand it. What if he’s lost his typewriter in that big leather chair from the Oprah interview? What if he’s flying around the world in a snakeskin balloon? What if – what if he’s trapped in a well?

young cormac

In 2014 they said it would be 2015. In 2015 they said it would be 2016. I know better than to hope anymore. I can only fear. The Passenger now has a rumored release date of December 2017, which means nothing except more crying for Molly. And let’s let not forget McCarthy is 83 years old. Meaning let’s not forget he’ll die before this book is published. He’ll die and win a second Pulitzer. Which he’ll probably deserve, unless the entire book is like the excerpt I heard today, but even then, he could still get another one, and they could let everyone know it’s really for Suttree, not for this last one about graphing calculators.

That is assuming McCarthy is in fact a mortal human being who can die at all. (Some brief hope to be gleaned here?) He may be some other kind, some transformed angel of death. Sent here to name and catalog the sum total of all man’s despair for Lucifer’s personal library. Incapable of dying. Could have left before but now it is too late. Sent here only to write books as punishment but now that punishment is over wants to stay forever. Will never leave us now, unless the sun explodes! Books will keep getting better and better into infinity! The man himself will never die – “he says that he will never die” merely a clue to the man himself! Possibly!

Anyway here’s the transcript.

Bold font indicates comically absurd levels of McCarthyism.


[reading begins] 

MYSTERIOUS PRETENTIOUS WOMAN (MPW): For all my railings against the Platonists, it’s hard to ignore the transcendent nature of mathematical truths. There is nothing else that all men are compelled to agree upon. And when the last light in the last eye fades to black and takes all speculation with it forever, I think it could even be that these truths will glow for just a moment in the final light. And then the dark and the cold will claim everything.

CORMAC MCCARTHY: Patient is a 20-year old Jewish Caucasian female. Attractive. Possibly anorexic. Arrived at this facility six days ago apparently by bus and without luggage. Admission signed by Doctor Wakener[sp]. Patient had plastic bag full of hundred dollar bills in her purse, something over forty thousand dollars which she attempted to give to the receptionist. Patient is a doctoral candidate in mathematics at the University of Chicago and has been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic with a longstanding ideology of visual and auditory hallucinations. Resident of this facility on two prior occasions. 

MPW: My father came in and found me there and I thought I was in trouble and I jumped up, but he took me by the hand and led me back to the chair and sat me down and went over the paper with me. His explanations were clear. Simple. But it was more than that. They were filled with metaphor. He drew a couple of Feynman diagrams and I thought they were pretty cool. They mapped the world of the subatomic particles he was attempting to explain. The collisions, the weighted routes. I understood, really understood, that the equations were not a supposition of the form whose life was confined to the symbols on the page which described them, but that they were there before my eyes in actuality. They were in the paper, the ink, in me, the universe. Their invisibility could never speak against them or their being, their age, which was the age of reality itself, which was itself invisible and always had been. He never let go of my hand. 

CORMAC MCCARTHY: The actual issue is that someone a hundred thousand years ago sat up in their robes and said “holy shit.” Something like that. He didn’t have a language yet. But what he had just understood is that one thing can be another thing. Not look like it, or act upon it. Be it. Stand for it. Pebbles can be ghosts, sounds can be things. The name for water is water. What seems consequential to us by reason of usage is in fact the founding motion of civilization. Language, art, mathematics, everything. Ultimately, the world itself and all in it. 

[recording cuts out and skips ahead] 

MAN: Do you think that the world exists? 

MPW: No. 

MAN: You’re not serious. 

MPW: Let’s just say that I don’t understand the question. It’s like the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. What it fails to address is that the ability of a quantum event to eventuate without any help from us is a very different thing from an observation of the event. What bridges the worlds of the event and the witness? It may take an observer to complete the picture of the event. Not to mention the need for apparatus with timers and steel gridlocked magnets. Not the event, but the engendering of it. 

MAN: I’m not sure I get that. 

MPW: It just seemed a useful analogy. It’s just that questions about the reality of things tend to be poorly formulated and vague answers are as likely to reflect the quality of the question as that of the answer. 

MAN: Why is it called mechanics? 

MPW: Because it explains mechanisms, how things work. Quantum mechanics is just the theory of things the size of an atom or smaller. We think. We don’t really know how small small gets. Even H-bar as a scale of variant of the world is a supposition. People think a lot of this will be sorted out once we get a theory of quantum gravity. But they’re looking through the wrong end of the glass. There will never be a theory of quantum gravity until there’s a better theory of the universe. It’s probably true that quantum mechanics has never been asked a quantum mechanical question it couldn’t answer, but if that were true of some domain in mathematics, you’d start sniffing around for tautologies. Heisenberg doesn’t get the credit he deserves because he seems to have been a Nazi sympathizer, and then he went crazy. As if he were a mathematician. He and Paullay were just kids. All they had to go on were some anomalies in the spectra. They used to write letters to each other. And at one point Paullay said that he was constantly amazed at the boldness with which Heisenberg approached these problems. And he could only attribute it to Heisenberg’s almost complete lack of understanding of physics. And of course Paullay was right. And of course he knew a great deal more physics than Heisenberg. But Heisenberg had what Einstein had: an almost faultless intuition as to the nature of physical reality. How things work. Mechanisms. 

MAN: You grew up in Los Alamos. 

MPW: Yes. We lived there ’til my mother died. 

MAN: And then you moved to Tennessee? 

MPW: Yes. 

MAN: Do you remember Los Alamos? 

MPW: Yes, of course. 

MAN: How old were you when you left? 

MPW: Four, the first time. Then eleven. 

MAN: What was it like? 

MPW: During the war, I think it was pretty primitive. Supposedly there were eight thousand fire extinguishers and five bathtubs. And endless mud. What I remember mostly is people at our house talking until 3 in the morning. 

MAN: You were awake until 3 o’clock in the morning. 

MPW: Yes. You could hear the clink of glasses. The house smelled of perfume and cigarette smoke. I would lie there listening until the last guest had left. 

MAN: You couldn’t understand what they were talking about. 

MPW: What I understood was that I had to learn what they were talking about. 

MAN: Where is Trinity? Is that in Nevada? 

MPW: New Mexico. 

MAN: Was your father there? 

MPW: Yes, of course. 

MAN: Did he talk about it? 

MPW: Not much. I’ve read the standard accounts. My father’s group was about six miles from ground zero. They’d been given glasses that were very dark. I think something like welding goggles. But my father had brought his own because he didn’t think he’d be able to see much with the government-issued glasses. I guess you could read that as a metaphor. But all the glasses had to do was block the ultraviolet light. They listened to the countdown over a loudspeaker. They were a pretty nervous lot. Not that it would go off, but that it wouldn’t. The thing I remember my father saying was that he put his hands over his glasses against the initial flare of light and that when it came he could see the bones in his fingers with his eyes closed. There was no sound. Just this searing white light. And then the reddish purple cloud rising in billows and flowering into the iconic white mushroom. Symbol of the age. The whole thing standing slowly to ten thousand feet. The wind from the shockwave was supersonic and it hurt your ears for just a moment. Lastly, of course, the sound of it. The ungodly detonation followed by the slow rumble. The after clap that rolled away over the burning countryside into a world that had never existed before. This side of the sun. The desert creatures evaporating without a cry, the desert birds incinerating and falling in slow arcs earthward like burning party figures and the scientists watching with this thing standing twinned in the black lenses of their glasses. And my father watching it through his fingers. Like, “see no evil.” But if they knew nothing else they all knew it was too late for that. 

MAN: What did they say, the scientists? 

MPW: They all stood up and said “holy shit.” Intelligence is numbers. It’s not words. Words are things we made up. Mathematics is the world. The math and logic questions on the IQ tests are a joke. 

MAN: How did it get that way? Intelligence is numerical? 

MPW: Maybe it always was. Or you could say that we got there by counting. For a million years before the first word was ever said. If you want an IQ of over 150, you’d better be good with numbers. 

MAN: I would think it would be difficult for someone to assemble the responses which you did on some of these tests without being familiar with the tests. 

MPW: I’d had a certain amount of practice. I had to make A’s in humanities in college without reading the idiotic material assigned. 

MAN: You wouldn’t read the material on principle? 

MPW: No, I just didn’t have time. 

MAN: Why didn’t you have time? 

MPW: Because I was doing math 18 hours a day. 

MAN: You no longer do math. 

MPW: No. Well. Maybe on the problem of problems, which won’t go away. 

MAN: Which is? 

MPW: The foundational problem. What to do about Prega, the Brutlagen, the unification question. The beginning and the end. What are we doing and how do we know? And insight. Does something know? Is that possible? And if it does, what must we become in order for it to tell us? The Langlands Project. Which is not ever going to tell me what I want to know. 

MAN: I see. 

MPW: I don’t think so. Mathematics is ultimately a faith-based initiative and faith is an uncertain business. 

MAN: I’m not sure I understand the idea of mathematics as, what, a spiritual undertaking? 

MPW: I know, I just don’t have something else to call it. I’ve thought for a long time that the basic truths of mathematics must transcend number. It is after all a rather ramshackle affair for all its considerable beauty. The laws of mathematics supposedly derive from the rules of logic. But there is no argument for the rules of logic that does not presuppose them. I suppose one thing that might evoke the analogy with the spiritual is the understanding that the greatest spiritual insights seem to derive from the testimonies of those who stand teetering in the dark. 

MAN: And I don’t see how mathematical truths could transcend number. 

MPW: I know. 

MAN: But you’re never the less a fan of Godel even if he was a Platonist? 

MPW: Yes, huge fan. I agree with Oppenheimer’s view. 

MAN: Are most of your heroes mathematicians? 

MPW: Yes. Or heroines. 

MAN: Who else do you admire? 

MPW: Cantor, Gauss, Riemann, Euler, Hilbert, Poincare, Eminota[sp], the ancients…Hypatia, Klein, Minkowski, Turing, Von Neumann…that’s not even a partial list. Kaushi, Lee, Ditkin, Brouwer, Pohl, Peano…Church is still alive…Hamilton…Laplace, Lagrange…You look at these names and the work they represent and you realize the annals of latter day literature and philosophy are barren beyond description. 

MAN: Beauty in mathematics? 

MPW: Yes. 

MAN: Is that a part of its description? Is that what makes it true? 

MPW: Profound equations are often said to be beautiful. Maxwell, I suppose, most famously. 

MAN: Are the equations themselves beautiful? 

MPW: Not if you don’t know what they mean. 

MAN: Alright. I don’t know that much about Godel. I know he had a theory that math couldn’t solve all the questions it posed or something like that. 

MPW: Something like that, yes. Two papers in 1931. 

MAN: Is that a theory you agree with? 

MPW: Of course. The papers are brilliant. They are beyond argument. I said that mathematical platonism was incoherent, but that’s not quite right. The truth is that there’s nothing to cohere. The theory is simply barren. In his later years Godel jerked away from mathematics and studied philosophy. Then he went crazy. 

MAN: How crazy? 

MPW: Pretty bad. He wouldn’t eat. Thought the food was poisoned. When he died he weighed about seventy pounds. Oppenheimer was head of IAS at the time and he would go to see him in the hospital. One day the doctor came in and Oppenheimer told him to take good care of Godel because he was the greatest logician since Aristotle. And the doctor nodded and began to edge toward the door, and Oppenheimer realized that he was thinking, “Good god, now there’s two of them.” 

MAN: So you took this Amati violin home on the bus? 

MPW: Yes. When I got home, I sat down on the bed with it in my lap and opened the case. Nothing smells like a four-hundred year old violin. I plucked the strings and it was surprisingly close. I took it out of the case and sat there and tuned it. Ebony pegs. I wondered where the Italians had gotten ebony wood. And the fretboard of course. I got out the bow. It was German-made. Eighteenth century. Very nice ivory inlays. I tightened it and then I just sat there and started playing Bach’s Chaconne. Such a raw haunting piece. He composed it for his wife Barbara. She died while he was away. But I couldn’t finish it. 

MAN: Why not? 

MPW: Because I started crying. I started crying and I couldn’t stop. 

MAN: Why were you crying? Why are you crying now? 

MPW: I’m sorry. For more reasons than I could tell you. I remember blotting the tears off the spruce top of the Amati and laying it aside and going into the bathroom to splash water on my face. But it just started again. I kept thinking of the lines, “what a piece of work is a man.” I couldn’t stop crying. And I remember saying, ‘What are we? What are we?” And sitting there on the bed, holding the Amati, which was so beautiful it hardly seemed real. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen and I couldn’t understand how such a thing could even be possible. 

MAN: Do you want to stop? 

MPW: Yes. 

[end of recording]