Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Miss McCarthy Explains - this war was "not an accident," as Trotsky was fond of saying

May 16, 1971 NYT

Miss McCarthy Explains (Part 2)
Jean-Francois Revel 
Mary McCARTHY (USA)- writer. -  - Clothing, Human being, Interior, Man (all ages), McCARTHY Mary, Necklace, Old age, Seated, Woman (all ages)

You have been here, living in France, for almost 10 years. Has this had any impact on your writing, or what kind of impact could it have in the future?

I think eventually I would lose my subject matter. Of course, this book took a long time to write. I started it way back in '64. Then I had those two Vietnam trips in between. Anyway, aside from that, I don't think the international theme--the confrontation of cultures--exists any more. Not because of formal developments. It no longer has any bearing: maybe air travel killed it.
In my case, living in Paris and writing more or less in the realistic tradition, I couldn't do a novel about French people, because they'd have to talk French. I couldn't even write about English people. I'm incapable of writing at length about anybody except an American, so it's not only a question of being out of touch with the native speech but of being out of touch with the native subject matter. Joyce could write about Dublin while he was in exile because he was not interested in the present. Bloomsday, June 16, 1904, was all the more real to him because of the distance in geography as well as time. But if you're not that type of writer, by staying abroad, you eventually lose your subject matter. Certainly in my case the subject is social--is always social.

Do you plan to go back?

I don't think people's movements should be dictated by artistic needs. It would be horrible, evil, for one to make one's artistic needs the motor of one's life. George Orwell was against it too, on sort of puritan grounds. Maybe I'm a puritan too, I don't know. Of course it's true, about the egotism of writers--this monstrous egotism that we seem to have. Bellow is a most ghastly example of it. I don't think that wives and children and dwellings ought to be sacrificed to the needs of the artist, though there are certainly moods when I feel it. But on the whole I believe in a certain amount of submission to fate and also to chance. All that, too, is part of the natural and the vitality of the natural. Some subject has to propose itself to me--not me proposing myself to the subject. In writing, there has to be some element of the Tolstoyan "I cannot be silent." That's more true, of course, of political polemics; but you don't sit down and decide to write a polemic. You reach the point of saying to yourself: I cannot be silent any longer, about whatever it is.
Somebody wrote rather wittily about a woman poet in America that her only relation to poetry was the desire to write poems. I am rather against the autocratic will. If I moved home to America to pursue my subject matter, the subject would run away from me, I'm sure, as a punishment.

Do you always write your novels slowly? This one was begun in 1964; and "The Group," which was published in 1963, was begun in 1952.

Not always, just those two. "The Group" became a terrible problem--partly a moral problem--not about sex of course. But I began to feel as though I was persecuting those girls and just hammering away at them and knocking their poor heads together and that I ought to stop that, this just could not go on, and so I put it away for several years. I didn't work on it at all and wrote another novel instead and then I went back and reread it and I thought, this isn't so bad, I had been exaggerating. This happened repeatedly during those 11 years, and I did several books in between. Whereas, with this one, Vietnam got in the way. That is, I felt that I could not go on writing about a boy of that age and not do something myself about Vietnam; that the whole book would have been some sort oftrahison if I had just sat on my bottom. I wrote those two books, accomplishing nothing, doing absolutely no good. When Johnson fell out of office, we had one joyous moment of feeling that we had all accomplished something. In any case, after those trips, I felt I was free to go on.

Do you really think that the American writers who wrote about Vietnam didn't accomplish anything?

Well, it's true. I'm so discouraged. I really thought when Nixon first came in that he wanted to get us out of the war, for whatever motives. I think maybe he did; but the office doesn't want to get the President out of the war, which means that I think this war was "not an accident," as Trotsky was fond of saying. It must come out of something very deep that we had not noticed in American life, because it took us all by surprise--this slow involvement in Vietnam, and it took us by surprise about America. A European could say we should have known before, but we were sort of like Peter's mother in imagining that there was this ideal American republic, with some shortcomings. I find the situation extremely alarming now and, I don't know, I see no prospect of getting out of there; and, after all, the war is expanding.
Mary McCARTHY (USA)- writer. - USA. The writer Mary McCARTHY. 1971. - American (nationality), Cigarette, Female personality, Interior, Laughter, Living room, McCARTHY Mary, Portrait, Proper name in caption, Seated, Smoker, United States of America (all), White people, Woman - 45 to 60 years, Writer
With the ever-present Lucky Strike - I love this pic