The Brooklyn Rail: Ubu Sings Ubu
The Brooklyn Rail: Ubu Sings Ubu
The next morning, I had a black eye, and I didn't remember how I got it.
Alfred Jarry’s absurdist satire Ubu Roi and the art punk songs of the cult experimental band Pere Ubu come crashing together in Ubu Sings Ubu, replete with a Live Band! Dancing Girls! And Five Dollar Drinks! Tony Torn and Julie Atlas Muz prance, terrify, and delight audiences as Pa and Ma Ubu, and Dan Safer's rollicking co-direction and choreography make for a whiplash theatrical experience. Recently, I tempted Dan and Tony out for drinks, two orders of mussels, and an interview.
John Reed (Rail): We are live now.
Dan Safer: All right.
Tony Torn: Great. Grill us, man. Grill us.
Rail: So, all right. First question of the evening: So is that the same seat every show?
Torn: Excuse me?
Rail: Is that the same seat every show, the seat where Julie finds the hidden treasure?
Torn: Do we want to give that away?
Rail: Well, I might go back.
Read more: http://www.brooklynrail.org/2014/04/theater/ubu-sings-ubu
Talked with to Seka for Vice.
Sex in the 70s was Seka. Half Cherokee, half Irish, and looking like a perfect Hollywood trophy, or a divination of death from the Norse Gods—Seka was a flinty mirage of whatever fantasy you had. Porn mag High Society dubbed her the “Marilyn Monroe of porn." Her costars were just as effusive. Jamie Gillis: "She was porn, but a little above it—sort of a white trash queen in a way that I found really erotic." Veronica Hart: "As long as I have a face, Seka has a place to sit." ...
Read more: http://www.vice.com/read/seka-raising-penises-for-three-generations
Art in America: "To the Letter," Peter Neumeyer and Edward Gorey
Art in America: "To the Letter," Peter Neumeyer and Edward Gorey
Talked with Peter Neumeyer about his collaborations with Edward Gorey, and their collected correspondence, Floating Worlds:
Summer of 1968. Harry Stanton, editor and vice president of textbook publisher Addison-Wesley, arranged a day of sailing with Harvard Professor Peter Neumeyer and Edward Gorey, who was already well on his way to an impactful legacy. Gorey, working away on his own books, in addition to editorial and illustrative work that didn't always please him, warmed to the Neumeyer "children's book" project, which fixed its sentiments on a housefly. Donald and the ... was the first of three projects Gorey/Neumeyer collaborations, along with a fourth masterwork, tucked away in Neumeyer's secretary since 1969. A trove of correspondence, rich with insight into the Donald collaboration, and the aesthetic underpinnings of Gorey, an artist notoriously close-lipped as to his methodology and practice. In a gloriously designed and full-color edition from Pomegranate Books (September, 2011), the artful correspondence—post cards, letters, and even envelopes—is faithfully reproduced. ...
Rain Taxi: "Talking Animals"
Rain Taxi: Talking Animals
VOL. 16 NO. 3, FALL 2011 (#63)
Interview with Adam Hines about his book, Duncan the Wonder Dog:
In Adam Hines’s debut graphic novel, Duncan the Wonderdog (AdHouse Books, $24.95), the animals can talk, and their revolution is underway. Hines moves beyond superheroes and the crusty assumptions of many graphic novels to tell his story with the patience and sprawl of a grand novel, or an epic television series. Humanity, he posits, is less evolutionary miracle than environmental upstart. Gauging by the seven years he spent on the first installment, the next four planned installments of Duncan may well take Hines the remainder of his life to complete, a Gaian pace, to move mountains. …
Bomb Magazine: Charlie Smith
Bomb Magazine: Charlie Smith
Long talk with Charlie Smith for Bomb Magazine. With audio clip.
Another summer in the city. It’s a heat wave—as bad as it used to be, but a month early. Nowadays, August cools off, and in July, we’re still new to this new summer—and better able to withstand the heat. Maybe it’s the sense that material stuff doesn’t have quite the same hold on us, maybe it’s that the rents have gone down, maybe it’s the accumulation of happenstance that makes for fate, but this summer, the city is smiling, almost enlightened. Charlie Smith arrives at my office dressed for a divine day anywhere in the world: white linen and jeans.
Smith, the recipient of numerous accolades and the author of six novels and seven books of poetry, distinguishes his prose with precise metaphor, and insight that bridges lyricism and candor. His most recent novel, Three Delays (Harper Perennial), chronicles the deep love and bumpy journey of Billy Brent and Alice Stephens. Istanbul, Florida, Italy, Mexico—the geography is global, but the cartography is internal, and one of dissolute sameness. Through multiple partings and reconciliations, the lovers can never entirely leave one another—but nor can they find one another.
Smith and I discuss the best seating arrangement, move the table closer to the air conditioner, and hunker down. I nervously deploy the space-age digital recorder. …
read more: http://bombsite.com/issues/113/articles/3642
Brooklyn Rail: Frederic Tuten
Brooklyn Rail: Frederic Tuten
As published in the Brooklyn Rail:
I met Frederic Tuten at the diner we only managed to identify as, “that place a block down from the Strand,” where we talked about his essays, his short stories, and his five novels—The Adventures of Mao on the Long March (1971), Tallien: A Brief Romance (1988), Tintin in the New World (1993), Van Gogh’s Bad Café (1997), and The Green Hour (2002)—and his interest in the visual arts.
Tuten’s writing has a painterly character—composed, visual, and very often with cartoonish, or cubist, or surreal elements. In a moment of the big, formulaic book, Tuten’s Self Portraits (Norton, 2010) is a deftly delivered group of highly crafted inter-related stories. The “Fictions,” as Tuten subtitles them, are diamond-faceted adventures, glistening with love and death, friends and strangers.
We spoke by phone, several times, while working on the interview—an email correspondence that spanned several days at the height of a New York City summer.
John Reed (Rail): So, where are you now?
Frederic Tuten: Finishing up the summer in Southampton and writing a new novel.
Rail: What’s it about?
Tuten: People vanishing and huge ships evaporating in Brazil’s Tocantins River in the middle of the day. It’s a detective story, a love story, and a story about a man who has found a secret way to change the world. And, finally, like the character of Tintin in my novel, I’m working on my memoir. The Self Portraits is part one of an ongoing autobiography, the stories being transformations of me and of people in my life. That’s why I have dedicated each story individually.
Rail: Since we met at the Bon Vivant Diner, any exciting new developments?
Tuten: It’s a season of blessings. One of my stories in this book, “Self Portrait with Sicily,” is coming out this fall in a little book in Italian and English and with illustrations by the artist Mimmo Paladino. Another story from my book, “Self Portrait with Sicily” is appearing as a book in Spanish and English published in Madrid by the Residencia de Estudiantes, where the poet Garcia Lorca stayed as a young man.
I have started on a project for the young Mexican artist, Pedro Reyes, creating the characters for the puppets of figures such as Mao and Lenin for an internet show called “Baby Marx.” And in October (12) at the Getty in L.A., Steve Martin and I are having a conversation about our new books and about the role of art in our work.
Rail: I have a great story about Steve Martin—I wish I could remember who told it to me. An art dealer, I think. He had gone to a party thrown by Steve Martin, who as you know collects contemporary art, and he needed a break, and took respite in a kind of dark kiddie-structure in Martin’s backyard. My memory is that it was a miniature train tunnel. Another man was sitting in there, also taking refuge, and he and the art dealer had a long conversation about art, and then exited the tunnel together. Of course, the mystery man was Steve Martin.
Tuten: There’s a wonderful playfulness in all that Steve does. In his books, films, standup, and banjo playing, there is always at the heart this childlike innocence and openness, which I admire and is essential in any art. Lichtenstein, Hergé, Queneau, and Resnais all have it. I hope that this spirit shows itself in my book of self-portraits. Anyway, it will be a lot of fun to appear at the Getty with Steve, to talk as we so often do, informally, about art and what it has meant to both our lives, but this time with back-up dancers, a few seals, and a finale involving a fountain.
Rail: Where do you make camp in the city?
Tuten: I’m more of a nester than a camper. I like being in one place that I love and staying there. I get attached in the same way to people. In 1962 I moved into a 6th floor walkup on 8th street between C and D, and when I left two years later, the rent had gone up to 26 dollars a month. The building was a warren for young artists and writers from all over America—and at that rent, they did not have to have roommates and three jobs. The heating was good and the water ran hot and everyone kept their hall clean. I would have stayed there until I died but then I got married, and after a year or so my wife thought we should have a bathtub that was not in the kitchen.
In 1964, I moved into an apartment where I still live. It overlooks Tompkins Square Park on the north side, so I have been blessed with an open sky and a window filled with old sycamores. The park often finds its way into my stories.
Rail: In Self Portraits, have you done away with neighborhoods? Or born witness to their being done away with? Or none of the above?
Tuten: I guess none of the above. Parks and gardens and orchards are my neighborhoods, are my bull rings, my battlefields, my Edens. In Self Portraits, one setting is a park with roving bands of murderous children and a murdered poet, another is a hotel garden bordering the Prado, where rivals toss a coin for their life, and there is also an orchard in the Bronx, under which runs the gold stream that Pissarro went to find in Mexico. The Bronx Park of my childhood is my paradigm of the Golden Age and of all civil wars.
Rail: How so?
Tuten: When I was a kid, we had terrible fights in the parks. Rock fights. I have a scar over my left eye from one of them. The sides kept shifting so that your best friend may be on the other side and throwing rocks at you. You might say that sometimes we were a neighborhood divided. And sometimes gangs came from another neighborhood and wanted to fight with bats. So I see the park as a great field of battle. But it was also a place of great calm and beauty.
My grandmother and I would sit on the same bench in Spring looking over the famous rose beds of the Bronx Botanical Garden. She knitted, I read. I have never felt exactly such peace again. Maybe I’m looking to return to that tranquility in those stories set in parks and gardens. But I can’t detach from the other, violent, side. I brought those twin elements into the story, “The Park on Fire.”
Rail: In Self Portraits, there’s a sense that all the characters are either on a journey, or about to embark on one.
Tuten: In many of these stories, the same two lovers meet at different places, in different guises, sometimes even as different people and at different times—even before and after death. Sometimes they are strangers. They are eternally in flight from and to each other. The narrator also sometimes enters the stories, and the narrator, like the characters, is subject to similar transformations.
Rail: Are we strangers everywhere?
Tuten: Everywhere but in fiction.
Rail: Even to our children?
Tuten: I have no children but I have a godson I’ve known from his infancy. I understood for the first time in my life the feeling that I know parents have, that they would jump in front of a bus to protect their child. I dedicated a story to him, “The Ship at Anchor,” for his seventh birthday and he is a character in my last novel, The Green Hour. He is almost a teenager now, and like most teenagers, a mystery. I suspect that we are all mysteries to each other, and mysteries to ourselves—for all our attempts at self-knowledge. I think that is why characters in fiction are so comforting; we know them better than our friends and lovers; they are fixed and they will not change on us. And let us hope that they are interesting.
Rail: “The Ship at Anchor” is a story about strangers, a father and a son. And a journey as well. There’s some sense of the two having at least sat together at a café. No?
Tuten: “The Ship at Anchor” is a story about a father, son, and grandmother, a distant echo of my own. No café this time, but an exotic banquet in the bowels of a pirate ship, where the boy trades his drawing of Death for his dead grandmother’s soul, which the pirates have stolen. Growing up, I used to tell my grandmother adventure stories from the books I was reading and I think “The Ship at Anchor” is something like our own adventure story.
Rail: I see that Self Portraits: Fictions is dedicated to the film director, Alain Resnais.
Tuten: He my oldest of older friends. The others—Queneau, Hergé, Lichtenstein—are all gone. And deep parts of my life with them. Resnais is in his late 80s and still making beautiful, fresh films. I loved his work before I met him in 1971 or 72 and above all I love Last Year at Marienbad. One of the stories, “The Park Near Marienbad” is a homage to that film. The recurring motifs and the gardens and park settings in my book are in some ways echoes of that film. Books, films, paintings—people—vanish from your mind after the long haul. Some stay forever. This film stays for me in its perfection and beauty and a kind of example of what to reach for in art.
Rail: To reach for what?
Tuten: For something engaging, mysterious, a glimpse of the ineffable.
Rail: And Roy Lichtenstein? His painting is on the cover of your book. Of, if I’m not mistaken, many of your books.
Tuten: He’s an artist I revered and he was my oldest and closest friend. He changed what we all thought was valid imagery, for art while keeping and furthering the tradition from Poussin to Picasso. He taught me that we go to make a work, a painting or a story, with a preconception of what a painting or story should be like. That’s one of the reasons why we have endless repetitions of the same stories and novels.
Roy made original art for the covers my Adventures of Mao on the Long March and Tintin in the New World novels. This one of Roy’s is called “Self Portrait with Cheese,” which tells you a lot about his wit and his debunking of self importance. He also did one called “Self Portrait with Mirror”—the head is a mirror. I used these images in a story I dedicated to him. Roy inspired me. And he was a reminder to approach my work with questions.
Rail: There are some works that are very visual—they somehow appeal to the memory of sight. Self Portraits is that way for me—I remember scenes, conversations, almost in tableau. Does that reflect your intent, your interest?
Tuten: I appreciate that the stories left that impression and memory with you. It’s everything I work toward. To have you see is the life of fiction.
Rail: In Self Portraits, your narrators are always on the brink or periphery of a quest. Thinking of your novel, Tintin in the New World, is eternal youth a journey?
Tuten: The thing about Hergé’s Tintin is that he is always young and innocent in a shrewd way. He also goes from one adventure to another, responsible to no one, except maybe to his dog, Snowy. I like his immortality and how his soul is untainted by the world. In my novel, I have him transformed by love and crime. A kind of fall into the human. The characters in my stories are not seeking youth, but life. And even in death, their souls continue to search. The concept of eternity, of continual growth, of transformations, interests me more than youth. In my novel, Tintin in the New World, the New World into which Tintin embarks is Time, and by accessing time, he falls subject to all its joys and curses. He grows up, but he also grows old. In my new book, Self Portraits, the world of death figures into the landscape as an extension of life, as perhaps its shadow. The living and the dead exist together, echo each other even if unknowingly. Moreover, in one story, Death actually appears. He is a young, handsome waiter in an elegant New York bar facing the Metropolitan Museum where, what else, a couple in deep flirtation are dining. The service is excellent.
Bomb Magazine: Ann Lauterbach
Bomb Magazine: Ann Lauterbach
Long talk with Ann Lauterbach for Bomb Magazine:
The third week of August: historically, it’s the week when New Yorkers blow town. Air conditioners rattle and spit and give out, and windows are open wide, as if the rolled glass of the tenements would melt in the white sun. But New York is different now. The air conditioners work better, the windows are double-paned. Hot air spews into the streets, making the city an abandoned Martian metropolis, but everywhere inside it is cool. Almost everywhere. Ann Lauterbach—lifelong New Yorker and the author of five collaborations with artists, one book of essays, and eight books of poetry (including the 2009 National Book Award finalist, Or to Begin Again)—meets me in my grossly under-air-conditioned Crosby Street office. The window unit has declared war, apparently, with our digital recording device.
Lauterbach greets me warmly, though she has no idea what to expect; I have planned a series of questions and follow-ups to questions that I hope will give some articulation to not only Lauterbach’s poetry, but her longstanding involvement in the arts, and her expectations of our swiftly evolving era.
I confess my worries about the digital recorder—that the air-conditioner is overpowering it, that I don’t know how to work it—and we begin. ...
Brooklyn Rail: Stephen Graubard
Brooklyn Rail: Stephen Graubard
All The Presidents as Men
As published in the Brooklyn Rail: http://www.brooklynrail.org/2005/02/books/all-the-presidents-as-men
Stephen Graubard’s Command of Office is a monumental and challenging analysis of what has come to encompass the contemporary U.S. presidency. The Brooklyn Rail recently caught up with Graubard to discuss with him the historical impact of the presidency on this hour in America.
John Reed (Rail): Has the U.S. presidency had a consistent reaction to disasters and human suffering around the world? What are the variables that come into play when presidents are looking at their involvement in crises abroad?
Stephen Graubard: I am not sure that I know what disasters and human suffering can be said to encompass. I would point out, however, that Theodore Roosevelt was very proud of his efforts to help persecuted minorities in Europe, that FDR literally “saved” Britain by what he did in 1940 and 1941 before Pearl Harbor, not only by pressing Congress but also by his executive orders. He helped in all sorts of ways to alert the country to the dangers of Nazism and therefore kept British resistance alive. He knew something of what Hitler was doing to the Jews, but never all that came to be revealed about the Holocaust. In any case, he did not see what he could do to help the endangered Jews, never taking in the full character of the catastrophe represented by Auschwitz and the other death camps. Harry Truman, by his Marshall Plan, but also by his help to Greece and Turkey and Point Four program, did much to reduce human suffering in the devastated societies that had experienced World War II. John Kennedy imagined that he was helping to liberate Cubans from their oppressors by his Bay of Pigs, a tragic mistake. Richard Nixon withdrew many of the American forces from Vietnam but believed he could not cut and run, that to do so would only increase suffering in the whole of Southeast Asia. Jimmy Carter sought to rescue hostages taken in the invasion of the American embassy in Tehran and failed entirely to do so. Ronald Reagan imagined that the policies advanced by his aides, represented by the unforgettable word “Irangate,” would liberate hostages and at the same time offer aid to “freedom fighters” in America. The plot, when revealed, was only embarrassing to him. Clinton took few risks, though he imagined that he had helped rid Serbia of its oppressor, as George W. Bush also imagined when he toppled Saddam Hussein and rid Afghanistan of the Taliban. Of yesterday’s inaugural speech by Bush II, one can only echo Robin Cook’s words, as given in The Guardian this morning. Cook, once Blair’s foreign secretary, writes: “The Bush administration is in denial about its disastrous failure in Iraq.” His article is entitled “Fireworks in Washington, Despair Around the World.” Presidents generally try to engage themselves when they think they can win popular and world support by doing so. At times, they make grievous mistakes in respect to both.
Rail: At the moment, there’s some idea that the U.S. election process has become exceptionally vulnerable to tampering, even that elections might be or might have been stolen. What’s the historical precedent in this century?
Graubard: Nixon, defeated by Kennedy in 1960, believed he had been cheated by “boss” chicanery in Illinois and Texas. Eisenhower urged him not to contest the election. Bush II, elected by the grace of the Supreme Court, almost certainly won by tampering in Florida, but Gore thought better than to continue the fight. In short, there have been contested elections in this century, but not that many.
Rail: The 19th century saw a good deal of political graft. In whose administrations, in what areas, would we look for that kind of corruption in the 20th century?
Graubard: Corruption was common in the 19th century. It was less common in the 20h, though it reached a very high level in the time of Harding, in the revelations that followed his death. He may not have been himself personally involved, but some in his cabinet were, and others made his administration seem a time of theft. “Teapot Dome” is the best shorthand for 20th century political graft, represented by illegal concessions given to some, including many in high places. The theme of political corruption, though spoken of frequently, not least in the time of Truman, has been partisan political propaganda more often than is sometimes acknowledged. It is not America’s chief political problem, though those who support presidents financially are often the beneficiaries of their largesse. In an age when television costs are so high and it is so important politically to use that medium, money counts as never before.
Rail: Is there a uniformity to the background of U.S. presidents and their administrations? Is there, as is commonly assumed, a political royalty in the United States? And, if so, has there always been one?
Graubard: Is there uniformity to the background of U.S. presidents and their administrations? Yes and no. All have been men, and none has been black. Yet the administrations are very different in their professional composition and in their ideologies. Henry James spoke of “Theodore Rex,” an elected king, a monarch of sorts. Theodore Roosevelt knew the situation but acknowledged that it was important not to emphasize it. He knew how great was his constitutional authority and how he could use it in foreign affairs, a presidential reserve in many ways. Wilson learned from him and was also a “king” of sorts, with a very major courtier, Colonel House. He was a great war president, aspired to be a peacemaker, and failed in that. Men (and women) sought to be close to FDR, a true monarch, again with many courtiers, and we know that the Kennedy court, the court at Camelot, was a reality, made so not only by the journalists who celebrated its qualities. Reagan was a monarch who hid his royalty, pretending to be just a “good Joe.” As for George II, the British and many others are writing today about his “coronation.” Neither of his daughters is dubbed a “princess” in the manner of Alice, Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter, but this is a “royal” family, thought to be remarkable by some, ludicrous by others. The important thing is that George W. controls the foreign policy of the United States, and neither the Senate nor the media is able to limit his authority in that critical sphere.
Rail: Has the influence of religion on the presidency evolved over the century? What kind of influence has religion had on policy shaped by the presidents you examine?
Graubard: Religion has always been important in the United States. Until John F. Kennedy won the primary in West Virginia, no one believed that a Roman Catholic could win the presidency. The sad fate of Al Smith in 1928 seemed to suggest that the presidency was a “Protestant preserve.” Presidents have always in this century been proud of what has been called America’s “civil religion”—its belief in the unique character of the American people and its democratic institutions, blessed by God, America’s protector in time of war and peace. Catholics, until recently, were deemed dangerous, and not only by the Ku Klux Klan and others like them. Today, great numbers of fundamentalist Christians deem dangerous and immoral all who do not believe in religion as they do. On all manner of issues—federal support of religious schools, gay marriages, abortion, and the like—religion counts. The hostility to the Soviet Union was based in part on hostility to a godless world, and not only by the Hearst press. In short, presidents have to pay attention to religious belief in what they do with respect to both domestic and foreign policy.
Rail: What are your predictions concerning the continuing evolution of the presidency? What about independent candidates?
Graubard: I do not expect the powers of the presidency to diminish in the near future, but it is not certain that it will long remain so dominated by the kind of crude patriotic ideology so dominant today, based on a too-simple notion of what the United States is—what it can do in the world. I do not expect independent candidates to emerge outside of the two great parties who will cause things to change greatly. The only hope for change rests in men more like Harry Truman being selected by one or other of the parties—proud to exercise power, willing to do so, but also aware of its limits. We live in an age of presidential and national hubris, and it is dangerous for the republic but also for others, not least for those abroad. We have lived in far more dangerous times than the present, when Hitler ruled from Berlin and Stalin from Moscow, but FDR’s famous first inaugural words need to be recalled: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Brooklyn Rail: Karen Liebreich
Brooklyn Rail: Karen Liebreich
Karen Liebreich with John Reed
As published in the Brooklyn Rail: http://www.brooklynrail.org/2004/10/books/karen-liebreich
In 1646, the Piarist Order, which had introduced education to the masses—and not only an education in Latin but also an education in basic reading and arithmetic—was disbanded by Pope Innocent X. The order had succumbed to myriad sexual abuse charges that had been buried by the founder of the order, Jose de Calasanz (who has since been named the patron saint of Catholic schools). The scandal, largely lost to history, and the subject of a massive suppression by the Roman Catholic Church, has been painstakingly reconstructed by Karen Liebreich’s Fallen Order. The work painfully establishes the inability of the Roman Catholic Church to put its children before itself; even today, the reforms of the Church are hardly impressive. In recent weeks, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn introduced a sexual abuse hotline—although the hotline is manned by its own lawyer.
John Reed of the Brooklyn Rail sought out Karen Liebreich for a discussion about the four-hundred-year-old travesty and its implications today.
John Reed (Rail): Over the centuries, how much evidence of these crimes was destroyed by the Roman Catholic Church? What was the quality of that evidence? Important?
Karen Liebreich: By definition, we do not know how much evidence was destroyed over the centuries. In the case of this particular order, there are several areas where I know material is missing. After the initial allegations about the activities of a headmaster, Father Stefano Cherubini, another Piarist teacher, Father Garzia, was sent to Naples in 1629 to interrogate the school’s teachers and boys. He compiled a dossier of the evidence, which, given the reaction of Father Stefano when it fell into his hands, must have been damning. Father Stefano grabbed the dossier and took it to his brother, the important lawyer at the Vatican, and it has never been seen since. Calasanz told Garzia to destroy all his letters and any other correspondence that mentioned this scandal. He obviously failed to destroy everything, since I have copies of these letters, but nevertheless he probably did destroy a great deal.
In 1659, thirteen years after the suppression, one of Father Stefano’s closest colleagues, Father Glicerio Cerrutti, also a man with a very dubious reputation, built an enormous bonfire out of any incriminating material. Given what I found anyhow, just think what I might have found had that material remained in existence.
Why was there no material in the Inquisition archive? From the archive of the order I found instructions and correspondence from the Inquisition and correspondence to the Inquisition, but in the Inquisition itself—nothing. It could, of course, be that the material has been lost in the destruction of the centuries, or that it is misfiled, or that I simply didn’t spend enough time in the archive, but at any rate, such indexes do exist, and such sources as I consulted had no record of any material concerning the Piarist order. Given that the Piarists were suppressed as a result of investigations led by the Inquisition assessor Francesco Albizzi—unprecedented legally and shocking—and that the founder was arrested by the Inquisition and then subjected to house arrest, it is strange that there is absolutely no record.
So, who knows how much evidence was destroyed, or what its true quality. But important material was certainly destroyed, and destroyed in a deliberate attempt to cover up the evidence. This is true in the particular case I studied, and I think one can safely extrapolate that it will be true for other instances through the centuries.
Rail: There’s a blurb on your book from Kirkus: “Cover-ups never work.” Is that true?
Liebreich: Again, by definition, who knows? The really successful cover-ups have presumably remained successfully hidden to this day. And in a way, this cover-up worked for nearly four hundred years, so it was pretty successful. If the attitude of the Church today to the publication of my book is “Who cares, it’s four hundred years ago,” then you could say this cover-up was successful. Incidentally, we have sent copies of Fallen Order to Cardinal Ratzinger, the Vatican Library, and Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome, and have had no response whatsoever. I sent a copy to the U.K. cardinal, Cormac Murphy O’Connor, and got a polite thank-you, along with a little comment that if I had issues about Calasanz being a saint, I should take it up with Rome.
On the other hand, the Church’s cover-up about priestly pedophilia in general is coming home to roost in a quite dramatic way now, so probably it would have been healthier for them to have been less successful in covering up and more open about the problems. So in that sense, the cover-up has certainly not worked.
Rail: Do you believe that the Roman Catholic Church’s policy of covering up sexual abuse began as a result of the Piarists or predated that?
Liebreich: I would bet that the policy—if you can call an automatic, secretive reaction a policy—predated the Piarists. One of the straplines for the book is “the first priestly child sex abuse scandal,” but in fact I would be surprised to learn that this was the very first case ever of priestly pedophilia and the first case where the authorities deliberately covered it up. But it seems to be—at least so far—the first properly documented, absolutely provable case.
Rail: What is the policy/historical policy of the Catholic Church to the jurisdiction of secular authorities? According to its own doctrines, does the Church answer to anyone?
Liebreich: The Catholic Church historically does not permit secular authorities to exercise jurisdiction over its clergy, so tonsured clerics were not subject to lay courts. At the period of my book, for instance, Venice had fallen under an interdict in 1606 because Paul V was offended that the Republic of Venice had dared to try two clerics and throw them into jail, interdict being a pretty serious punishment—no marriages, funerals, baptisms, confirmations, or anything involving the Church permitted. And this is a problem the Church faces today—traditionally, it has been trying to deal with its own problems without calling in the police, and this is something that those outside the Church find unacceptable. Much of the recent debate seems to have centered on when Church authorities are obliged to tell the secular authorities. I think most outside sources would argue that since the Church has failed so signally to deal with its own dirty linen, it has forfeited any rights it may have had, and priests should be subject to the law of the land as all other people accused of crimes are.
Rail: You mention in your book that the Vatican is not alone in its problems with child abuse—a position often taken by Roman Catholic governing bodies. Are there any other organizations that have committed sexual abuse on the same scale or maintained a comparable policy of enabling offenders through an at-all-costs concern for institutional reputation?
Liebreich: The Catholic Church is one of the oldest, largest, and most centralized religious bodies, so by definition it is likely to have the longest track record of abuse, the widest selection of abusers, and the most hierarchical methods of dealing with the problem. Celibacy, the traditional Catholic view of sexual activity; the loyalty of brothers-in-arms (or brothers-in-order) to one another; the subservient role of the laity, along with the corresponding elevation of the priest to a position of such respect that questioning his actions is unthinkable; the lack of selectiveness faced with unsuitable candidates; a lack of imagination about the impact of child abuse—all these elements create an environment ripe for abuse to flourish.
Certainly in the U.K., I would imagine that the Catholic clergy far outstrip any other organization in the number of cases coming to court.
Rail: Do you feel that the confessional does anything to redeem incorrigible pedophiles?
Liebreich: Again, who knows, since what is said in the confessional remains secret, so who knows how many potential offenders have been helped or prevented from offending. However, the number of cases of priests who had confessed their problems to their confessors or bishops and then continued to offend is significant. For instance, in France Father Rene Bissey admitted his crimes to his bishop, who simply moved him to another parish. In June 2001 Monsignor Pierre Pican, bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux and president of the Episcopal Committee for Childhood and Youth, member of the Commission on the Family, was charged with “non-denunciation of sexual attack and poor treatment of minors” for failing to tell the police about Bissey’s activities, which included rape and child molestation. So in this case, no, I don’t think the confessional helped. Maybe it helps in some cases. Surely the priest hearing the confession has a duty to society, and shouldn’t his duty to his parishioners’ children take priority over his duty to his confessee?
Rail: The running estimates of the number of people killed in Roman Catholic holy wars and by the Roman Catholic Church itself, in myriad forms of inquisition, range from 50 million to 150 million. If you were to estimate, how many children would you say have been preyed upon?
Liebreich: A couple of estimates: Three thousand people file for compensation in Ireland out of a population of 3.8 million, or 0.08% of the population (which is almost entirely Catholic). There are 1,092,853,000 Catholics in the world (Encyclopaedia Britannica). Extrapolating from that, 873,000 people currently alive have been abused (and in fact, 3,000 who come forward in Ireland is probably underreporting). So, 873,000 victims alive now times 2.5 to get the figure for the 20th century alone equals 2,182,500 for the 20th century. Say 500,000 per century for the previous 500 years, based on a smaller population and fewer Catholics (pretty rough guesses), but that adds another 2,000,000. So this estimate comes in at over 4 million.
According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ independent survey of February 2004 (the results are on www.religioustolerance.org) between 1950 and 2002, 110,000 priests served in the U.S., of whom 4,450 have been accused of abuse, or around 4%. According to 2001 figures, there are 405,000 priests in the world, so if 4% of them are abusers, that is 16,200 priests, assuming the same rate of abuse in America as in the rest of the world (and who knows and why not?). So 16,200 priests abusing a modest 30 victims each is 486,000 victims over the last 50 years. So that comes out at 972,000 victims for 20th century, a few thousand less by this estimate, but still perhaps around 3 million.
But it is very hard to make estimates. Thomas Fox, in the National Catholic Reporter, estimates that the “average pedophile priest abuses 285 victims.” William Reid of the Psychiatric Times has written that “careful studies have indicated…that child molesters commit an average of sixty offenses for every incident that comes to public attention.” Fox’s figure does seem very high, so I would be reluctant to use that as a true basis, even for such rough guessing as we are doing here. Anyhow, that would bring the sum up to 9,234,000 or 1,944,000 for the 20th century, bringing the total number perhaps into the tens of millions.
Rail: In your research—I know you trolled through mountains of documents—how much actual discussion of the gospels was brought to bear in dealing with child abuse? Was there any talk of the weak?
Liebreich: I found no mention of the gospels in any of the documentation dealing with child abuse. I found no mention of the victims and/or the children. Only one child was ever named. In my documents, the concern is always for the public scandal, then for the priest, never for the child. I was careful to quote the relevant sections of the documents comprehensively for fear of being accused of selective quotation, so had they mentioned the gospels, I would have included it.
Brooklyn Rail: Paul Auster
Brooklyn Rail: Paul Auster
Paul Auster with John Reed
As published in the Brooklyn Rail: http://www.brooklynrail.org/2003/08/books/paul-auster
Paul Auster’s 10 novels include, most recently, The Book of Illusions, which comes out in paperback from Picador this August. He has also written several books of poetry, as well as screenplays including Smoke and Blue in the Face (both 1995).
The Rail’s John Reed caught up with him on the 4th of July, at Auster’s home in Park Slope.
John Reed (Rail): Is there a cultural war going on in this country?
Paul Auster: How so?
Rail: Well, for our purposes, a relationship between conservatism and sort of a squashing of creative endeavors.
Auster: I wouldn’t call it a cultural war. I think it’s a real political war that’s going on. We’ve gone through bad periods in the past. McCarthyism, for example, to cite something fairly recent. The Vietnam War was bad, tumultuous, but at the same time invigorating— because a lot was being aired about the nature of our society and culture that was very healthy. Now that the right wing has taken over, we’ve entered a new realm of danger. It’s certainly the scariest moment that I’ve experienced in my lifetime. In a serious way, we’re running the risk of eroding all that’s good about American democracy; and I think these sons of bitches are doing it on purpose, with their eyes wide open. What the right wing wants is to bankrupt the government. They want to make it impossible for any kind of social programs to be affordable. The only money— public money— they want is for the military. Everything else they want privatized. The thing that shocks me about what’s going on is not so much that it’s happening— but that no one is really screaming about it. I would think now, after more than two years of Bush, that the country would be hysterically, passionately against it, but he’s rolling over everybody. That’s appalling to me.
Take something like the Halliburton contract in Iraq. A few years ago, this would have caused a major scandal; it would have been an outrage to the American public. Now nobody seems to think twice about it. On every front, these people are doing things that I’m entirely opposed to. Whether it’s foreign policy, economic policy, social policy, or environmental policy— everything, everything is 180 degrees against what I think the country should be doing. Am I alone in feeling this way? No. Most of the people I know in New York are thinking similar thoughts— but out in the rest of the country I’m not sure. I’m just not sure. I’ve been so angry, I even wrote a song against George Bush, when the war broke out. One Ring Zero, a group of young musicians from Brooklyn, have set it to music, and recorded it on a CD. I’ll play it for you later, if you like.
Rail: That would be great.
Auster: It’s a silly song, but just writing it gave me a chance to let off a little steam. I simply don’t know what to do anymore.
Rail: Well, that’s the next question. What about literature?
Auster: Literature is something else all together. I believe that it’s dangerous for novelists or poets to entangle themselves directly with politics in their work. I’m not saying that we don’t all have a right and a need and sometimes a duty to speak out as citizens, but the value of fiction— let’s just confine ourselves to that for the moment— is that it’s about the individual, the dignity and importance of the individual. Once you start dealing in ideas that are too large or too abstract, you can’t make art that will touch anyone, and then it’s valueless. No matter how angry I am right now, for example, I believe my job as a writer is to stick to my guns and keep writing my little stories.
Rail: Then it’s benign?
Auster: Literature benign? Hardly.
Rail: In that you’re not hurting anyone.
Auster: Well, no, a book can’t hurt anyone. It can disgust people, it can amuse people, it can move people, it can challenge people, but it certainly doesn’t put bullets in their body and take food out of their mouths.
Rail: In the landscape we’re talking about, what role do media conglomerates play?
Auster: Under the new Bush administration, one truly feels that the media is functioning as a kind of propaganda machine for the government. It’s very, very frightening. Look at the paper sitting here on the table, the New York Times. It’s a middle-of-the-road paper, but it’s certainly not pro-Bush. But they can’t attack him to the degree I think they would like to because then the reporters would lose their sources. No one from the administration would talk to them anymore. So they’re in a very delicate position. But other organs of the media are just blatantly pandering to the public, giving them what they think the public wants, entertaining war coverage on cable TV. It’s become impossible for me to look at that stuff anymore— it seems so tainted and biased and twisted.
Rail: Ok, now to Brooklyn. On a social/ cultural map, where is Brooklyn?
Auster: Brooklyn. I’ve lived here now for 23 years, and it’s also the place where my mother grew up. So Brooklyn is a big part of my life, both present and past. Interestingly enough, my daughter Sophie, who is about to turn 16, was born in the same hospital my mother was born in. So we skipped a generation. Brooklyn has changed enormously since I got here. It was much more rundown 23 years ago.
Rail: I remember when you moved to Brooklyn.
Auster: You do? It was the first days of 1980.
Rail: You had a little place on the Upper West Side.
Auster: Well, that was way, way back. Then I had a room on Varick Street in Tribeca for about a year, and I lost it. I tried looking for something in Manhattan and couldn’t find a place I could afford. So I wound up crossing the river into Brooklyn and have been here ever since. I think it’s a very exciting place these days. As neighborhoods have been rejuvenated, there’s been an influx of younger people, creative people. Of course, there’s a downside to all this gentrification— it’s getting expensive. I probably couldn’t even afford to buy this house today, but 10 years ago I could. As it gets more expensive, it’s harder for young people to come in. Still, overall, I think things in the borough have improved a lot.
Rail: Since 9/11 has your relationship with the city changed?
Auster: Not really. Only to the degree that I understand more fully how much I love it. When the attacks came, there was a feeling of tremendous loyalty to the city, and a feeling of solidarity with the people who live here, a sense of pride in our incredible diversity and overall tolerance for one another. You look at other cities in the world— Jerusalem or Sarajevo or Belfast, places where you have ethnic conflict, horrible, murderous antagonisms. Then you look at New York, where we have representatives from the entire world. Nearly 40% of us were born in other countries, which is astonishing to contemplate. The fact that most people most of the time make a real effort to get along with one another is remarkable. I think it makes New York a unique place in the world. I would love to see New York break away from the United States and become an independent city-state. Because I think we represent something more than just America. We represent the entire world. And I think we should be on our own.
Rail: In Europe, they think we’re a European country.
Auster: We’re not that either. We’re an Asian country and a Latin American country. Everybody is here.
Rail: Do you feel that New York City’s relationship with the rest of the country has changed? Or, maybe we should say with the rest of the country, and the world.
Auster: New York has traditionally been both admired and despised around the United States. To say that it was simply hated is false, because a large number of young people in the hinterlands dream only of coming here. New York is filled with young people from all over the country.
Rail: And you don’t have to be from New York to be a New Yorker.
Auster: The minute you stay here for a week you become a New Yorker.
Rail: Put on a Yankees hat and that’s it.
Auster: That’s it. In my case a Mets hat, but we won’t quibble about it. At the same time, New York has been vilified, and people are afraid of it. After 9/11, did the relationship change? Momentarily, everyone was in love with New York, momentarily everyone thought it was an extraordinary place. There was a great surge of sympathy and compassion for us. But now, after close to two years, most of those feelings have faded. We’re back to business as usual.
Rail: In Hand To Mouth, you wrote about your struggles as a writer. Do you see the struggles today as being the same?
Auster: Yes. Anyone who is driven enough to want to become an artist— painter, poet, novelist, filmmaker— has to walk a very difficult road. First of all, it’s not easy to become good at what you’re hoping to become good at. It takes years and years of hard solitary work to write a good sentence, to learn how to paint. And in these apprentice years, you’re obviously giving up a lot of your time for activities that are not going to produce any money. And therefore that is going to put you in a bind. I think this remains true today. You have to earn money, get a job of some kind. But the job eats up all your time. You’re not going to be able to pursue your dream of becoming an artist, and I don’t see how this is ever going to change. There’s a beautiful poem by Charles Reznikoff, a poet I love very deeply. He always worked, he always had jobs. In one of his short poems, he wrote about coming home from work and feeling exhausted and uninspired, unable to write, but nevertheless he sat down and started to write a poem, and little by little the ideas came to him, and little by little he felt his energy return. And the last line is, "Surely the tide comes in twice a day." A very lovely line. I think it expresses what all young artists have to face. Don’t you agree with me?
Rail: Poets have a particularly hard time.
Auster: There’s no way to make a living as a poet. You have to do something else. On the other hand, the only reason people do it is because they’re compelled to do it. No one forces you to becoming a writer. There’s not a single argument for it. I would never advise a young person to become a writer.
Rail: It’s a pretty dumb idea.
Auster: If you choose to become a writer, the world doesn’t owe you a thing. Nothing. Nothing. Sometimes artists fall into the trap of feeling entitled. But they’re not. They’re doing what they have to do. But that doesn’t mean that someone has to support you for it.
Rail: So, the softball. I’d like you to talk about anything you want to talk about in your new project. I’ve phrased it: What is most exciting to you about the project you are working on now?
Auster: What I’m doing right now is correcting the proofs of a novel I finished in April. It’s coming out in December. Oracle Night is the title. It’s taken up all my time and all my thoughts. Sooner or later, I suppose I’ll start writing something else. But I’m not ready yet. Beginning a book is always a scary moment. I always feel extremely shaky when I get into something new.
Rail: Anything else for The Brooklyn Rail?
Auster: Why not end with the lyrics of the George Bush song?
King George Blues
O Mr. Bush you scare me so
From the top of your head to your
You prowl the halls of Texas death row
Only the rich are in the know
The fat men are in charge
The thin men take the barge
To hell, to hell, to hell
O demon of the hanging chad
How’d you get to be so bad?
You say the others are filled with evil
But you pray at the shrine of the black boll weevil
The fat men are in charge
The thin men take the barge
To hell, to hell, to hell
It used to be we’d never attack
Now our troops march through Iraq
You don’t like a dictator named Saddam?
Just search him out and drop a bomb
The fat men are in charge
The thin men take the barge
To hell, to hell, to hell
O tool of big bucks oil
How you make my blood boil
You stomp the poor and make them toil
For nickels, for pennies, for nothing at all
The fat men are in charge The thin men take the barge
To hell, to hell, to hell
Paul Auster March 2003
Band: One Ring Zero