Martin Scorsese's documentary film charting literary, political and cultural history as per the New York Review of Books, America's leading journal of ideas since 1963.
Browse content similar to The 50 Year Argument - The New York Review of Books. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
This programme contains very strong language and scenes which some viewers may find upsetting.
"There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly
"transmitted or recorded in our brains.
"They are experienced and constructed
"in a highly subjective way.
"Our only truth is narrative truth,
"the stories we tell each other and ourselves.
"The stories we continually re-categorise and refine.
"This sort of sharing, this communion,
"would not be possible if all of our knowledge, our memories,
"were tagged and identified and seen as private, exclusively ours.
NEWS REPORTER: 'Lawyers from the Washington-based
'Partnership for Civil Justice Fund say,
'"Massive false arrests are unconstitutional and without merit."
'Police maintain the protesters were arrested
'because they moved from the walkway to the bridge's roadway.
Bob called me up.
This is a phone call at 11, 12 at night, and he said,
"There've been some arrests on the bridge.
"700 or 800 of them. And I think there's something going on here."
This is America!
"Do you think you can go down and write something about it?
"I think there's something interesting here.
"It's not just nothing."
"I've spent several days and nights are Zuccotti Park.
"And the protesters of Occupy Wall Street
"are still debating whether to make a single political demand
"and what it would be.
"A tricky proposition that, it seems to me, they have done well to defer.
"What they cared about was the process."
SHOUTING AND UPBEAT CHANTING
"This was the people's mic. Used in lieu of bullhorns,
"megaphones, or other amplification devices that were prohibited
"because the protesters had no permit.
"In the large crowd,
"the repetition created a kind of euphoria of camaraderie.
"Until now, the movement has seemed protected by public opinion.
"Still, in response to Mayor Bloomberg's announcement on October 12th
"that the occupants would have to temporarily leave the park
"for it to be cleaned,
"confrontation was likely as this article went to press."
-Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!
This is a peaceful protest!
This is a peaceful protest!
In 1984, after moving to New York,
Bob and Grace invited Angela and myself and others
to dinner at their home.
And I remember Elizabeth Hardwick saying something.
And as soon as she finished, Bob said,
"I couldn't disagree with your more."
And they just continued to argue about what the point was.
And nobody was angry and no-one was upset.
And, to me, that's what The New York Review is. It's a long argument.
I think it's a 50-year argument...
There she is!
Hello, hello! Thank you for coming.
I wouldn't miss it for anything.
Hello, Tom, how are you?
Jason is here.
The initiator of the whole fucking thing. You know Jason Epstein?
1963 was the year when we did this.
And that was 50 years ago.
My wife, Barbara, and I lived in a wonderful apartment
on West 67th Street. Our next-door neighbours who were the Lowells.
Robert Lowell, the poet and his wife, Elizabeth Hardwick.
And so, the four of us had dinner,
and Elizabeth had written in Harper's Magazine,
commissioned by Bob Silvers,
who was an editor there then,
a pungent attack on The New York Times Book Review.
Which in those days was really a disgrace.
It was very pious and timid, barely literate.
"The flat praise and the faint dissension,
"the minimal style in the light little article.
"The absence of involvement, passion, character, eccentricity,
"the lack at last of the literary tone itself have made,
"The New York Times Book Review into a provincial literary journal."
ANGRY SHOUTING, CAR HORNS BEEP
-The New York newspaper strike is now in its 75th day.
Which could shut down several newspapers in New York
and throw thousands out of work.
The publishers are going crazy.
Because there was no New York Times and no New York Times Book Review.
The books are coming out and there's no place to advertise.
Jason was a great publisher, said,
"This is the only time when we'll ever be able to start a new Book Review
"without any money."
Seems like just yesterday.
I really don't feel any great difference, Jason.
The accident of a newspaper strike.
The accident that the Lowells were living next door
and came for dinner that night.
The accident that we happened to be talking about her article,
which was commissioned by Bob Silvers.
And those accidents all came together
and created a critical mass.
As long as we could pay the printer
we could publish anything we wanted and no-one could stop us.
No-one could say, "You're being too daring.
"You're being too...intimate.
"You're being too political.
"You're being too much on the right
"or too much on the left or too much in the centre."
We could do what we wanted in any way.
MUSIC: "Take 5" The Dave Brubeck Quartet
We waited a long time for freedom.
Now is the time!
When I was beginning to read and get books for myself,
I came to Dublin in about '72.
The presence of Robert Lowell
in that world of mine was quite significant.
And slowly, you realised
that there was a small group. And you suddenly realised
this small group actually spoke to you.
On the edges around, there were people like Norman Mailer
who were superstars.
But then you found your own strange figures,
who you would follow,
you know, within that, and who were not necessarily so well known.
And so the paper, the New York Review Of Books in Ireland,
which is a strange idea, actually mattered.
Actually was something that... It was a small group of people...
I hesitate to use the word "intellectuals".
But people that cared about ideas and books in Dublin would meet
and we would talk about it as a crucial part of our lives.
That ideas were maybe sensuous.
Glen, it's Bob Silvers.
I've just received, from Inge Feltrinelli,
a book of Daniel Barenboim, La Musica e Un Tutto -
a collection of essays by Danny.
I'm very interested in publishing the essay entitled
"Wagner Is Really A Palestinese" or Palestinesi?
And the question is,
is there any reason why we shouldn't go ahead and translate it?
Could you call me at 2-1-2 7-5-7 8-0-7-0?
TRANSLATION FROM FRENCH:
We have invented the nigger.
I didn't invent it.
White people invented it.
I've always known, I had to know by the time I was 17 years old...
..what you were describing was not me
and what you were afraid of was not me.
It had to be something else.
You had invented it, so it had to be something YOU were afraid of.
You invested me with it.
I learned this because I've had to learn it.
But you still think, I gather, that the nigger is necessary.
Well, it's unnecessary to me, so it must be necessary to you.
So I give you your problem back.
You're the nigger, baby, it isn't me.
MUSIC: "Oh, No, Babe" by Jimmy Smith
I had no idea why I was so absorbed in James Baldwin's novel,
Giovanni's Room, but everyone else in the car knew.
It was 1967 and we were days from Indianapolis
on our way to Disneyland.
We were actually on Route 66 and I didn't care.
I was 13 years old and I wasn't causing trouble.
Sitting between my two sisters with James Baldwin's novel,
about a man's love for another man, in my face.
I remember my mother glancing back at me.
We'd driven through a dust storm awhile ago but I'd missed it.
"Until I die there will be moments,
"moments seeming to rise up out of the ground like Macbeth's witches.
"When his face will come before me. That face in all its changes.
"When the exact timber of his voice
"and tricks of his speech will nearly burst my ears.
"When his smell will overpower my nostrils.
"Sometimes in the days which are coming, God grant me the grace
"to live them, and the glare of the grey morning, sour mouths,
"eyelids raw and red, hair tangled and damp from my stormy sleep,
"facing over coffee and cigarette smoke, last night's impenetrable
"meaningless boy who will shortly rise and vanish like the smoke.
"I will see Giovanni again as he was that night.
"So vivid, so winning.
"All the light of that gloomy tunnel trapped around his head."
I'd not read his essays because I knew that they were about race,
a matter I was determined to put off for as long as I could.
But the subject of race would not wait.
And in 1971, a teacher who understood
showed me Baldwin's Open Letter To My Sister,
Miss Angela Davis in The New York Review of Books.
"The enormous revolution in black consciousness that has
"occurred in your generation, my dear sister,
"means the beginning or the end of America."
"I come from preachers, I recognise that speaker.
"Away, and on my own at last, drinking and cruising,
"I read in my dorm room what I refused to at home.
"I fell under the spell of Baldwin's voice.
"I can see the scratches in the desk in my room
"where I was reading Notes Of A Native Son -
"Baldwin's memoir of his hated father's death.
"The day his father's last child was born in 1943,
"one day before Harlem erupted
"into the deadliest race riot in its history.
"I can feel the effects of this essay within me still."
Quite often I pick it up and I think,
"I have no idea of anything to do with this subject."
And I've lived this far without... without needing to know
and I'm not sure I have any interest.
You know, what I'm saying is I like it because it educates me.
I mean, that's a sort of embarrassing thing to say
cos it reveals all the failings of my formal education.
But, I really... I bet, a lot of the people
you're going to get in here are going to say this
and that and they won't fess up to this.
But, you know, it's really that... it's been part of my education.
-You like that?
-I like it.
-Which do you prefer?
-I wonder if these legs go a little lower?
-OK. That's it?
-So, you make the whole thing a little bigger.
-And the legs will come down to there.
I put that in the text.
This would be in...up there.
So it would be more or less...
but then we'd have to get the extra space for that.
-Bob, we have changes from Bromwich.
In the last quarter of 2010...
That's it. Let's have it reset, and we'll send it to Jenny...
-..just like that.
Bob, he is, of course, extremely imaginative.
Many of the books I have been asked to review by him
have been really a bit outside my comfort zone or, superficially,
not areas I'm particularly expert on.
He sent me a book by the late John Boswell,
which was on gay people in the Middle Ages and that was,
the Middle Ages, quite outside my territory.
Bob is interested in science, he's interested in art,
he's interested in literature, he's interested in human rights.
And every piece in The New York Review is something that holds
particular interest to him,
If you notice on the masthead the "Of Books" is much smaller
than the "New York Review".
And the reason for that is to open it up
to allow it to be much more than a book review.
In every issue of the Review,
there are always some articles that are not book reviews.
Maybe two, maybe three.
A lot of it is simply a question of impulses.
Natural impulses, and you can't contain them.
I grew up in what used to be called Fleet Street.
And you know on a Friday night some surly senior hack
would come to me and say, "Bjorn Borg is getting married again.
"You must, er, you must write a retrospective for tomorrow.
"Here's the clippings file. Concentrate on the sex."
LAUGHTER And in those days, you could...
You would write on a very big old-fashioned computer.
And the guy would hack into what you were writing,
while you were writing it, and give comments.
"Very boring! - ED. Get to the sex quicker!"
So, naturally, I feel as if, when I finally bit the bullet,
and started writing for Bob,
I feel as if I've entered paradise.
Even if you begin your piece with the nastiest word
in the language for "vagina"...
..Bob will take it on the chin.
The problem with a lot of magazines is that they tend to edit
and you get this feedback of,
"Well, it was felt that
"the beginning would work better at the end."
And they come back and,
"Well, we had a meeting
"and we thought that maybe we could do without the beginning."
And when that happens too often,
it inhibits you because the next time you write,
you start to second-guess them.
You say, "Well, this is the way I would do it,
"but I bet they'll come back and say, 'Well, we felt that...'"
That never happens with Bob. Because it's one man.
It's one editor and you trust him. And he trusts you.
Often in periods of crisis, Bob's had a very good sense.
I mean, I think in the Bush The Younger period,
The New York Review "had a very good war" as they used to say.
They were sceptical from the beginning,
even when everybody, including The New York Times,
was pussy-footing around, terrified not to be unpatriotic,
to be unpatriotic, and so on.
And Bob had a very clear sense of where he stood.
And I think it did the Review a lot of good.
So, I think that's the... perhaps the latest instance of where
he had a very sharp sense and has been proven right.
Final question on the President's decision this week to disclose
the documents dealing with terrorist interrogations,
a series of officials
who served with President Bush have come out and blasted it.
One of the reasons the President was willing to let
this information out was already the information was out.
So, if they're saying that you basically exposed something
it's been written, go get The New York Review of Books, it's there.
I used to write for the Wall Street Journal
and I would get phone calls from my editors -
at the time I was based in Dubai - and they would call and they'd say,
"Yasmine, we need a story that says XYZ,"
and my response would be, "But XYZ is not happening."
And his response would be, "Well, The New York Times wrote it.
"The Washington Post wrote it, we have to write it."
I decided a long time ago, that unless I am a witness to something,
I won't write about it.
GUNFIRE, CAR ALARMS BLARE
That morning, I got a phone call very early that the police
had surrounded the camp and that they were going to disperse.
So I rushed over there.
You know, once gunfire begins and once shootings begins,
it is really hard to know exactly what is happening
and it's quite scary.
But I was there, I felt,
long enough to see that there was violence from both sides,
that the people within the camp, some of them had weapons
and that there was a very clear exchange of gunfire.
And I ended up writing a story that was very, very different
to what all the other newspapers and magazines had written.
I think the standard narrative was the Egyptian military
massacred a thousand people.
What was closer to the truth was,
the Egyptian military sent the police force
to surround these camps, to disperse them
and people within the camps had weapons
and there was an exchange of gunfire and hundreds were killed.
And police were killed and people were killed in the crossfire
and the aftermath and the rampage of angry Islamists attacking
police stations and churches and homes.
And I sent it in to Bob, and Bob kept sending me clips
from The New York Times saying,
"But they're saying this! But they're saying this!"
There were long e-mails back and forth.
I pushed back a lot and I explained why I can't take the stand
that The New York Times is saying and why their information is...
to me, was skewed, and why we had to take the stand.
You know, he trusted me, as a writer,
and he trusted my information, and so they ran this piece,
that generated a lot of hate-mail for me.
I don't know if you've seen it. It's a book we're reviewing.
It's a very radical book.
It's called Digital Disconnect. A book by Robert W McChesney.
INDISTINCT VOICE FROM PHONE
Well, I think you would find it rather fascinating.
Very... yeah, we're reviewing it.
So, it's not for review, but I'm going to send you a copy.
Robert W McChesney, a professor at the University of Illinois.
But it's about control of the media.
Good evening. Just six days ago,
the people of America were jolted by an announcement.
Our casualties in Vietnam in a single week had exceeded
the average weekly rate of dead and wounded in the Korean War.
AMERICAN PATRIOTIC MUSIC
Three months ago, the first Air Cavalry division shipped out
from Charleston, South Carolina.
Young men trained in a new concept of war.
Proud. Sure of themselves. But still to be tested in battle.
They were destined for the high country of Central Vietnam.
Last week, some of them came home.
Their lives were the price of victory
and the Battle of Ia Drang Valley.
In those days, the war in Vietnam was like a great cloud.
A great central concern,
and throughout the country.
We were, from the beginning, sceptical about State power,
matters of war, of human rights.
of the use of napalm against thousands of people,
a horrible weapon.
The concept of legality
and the concept of justice are not identical.
They're not entirely distinct, either.
Very often, when I do something which the State regards as illegal,
I regard it as legal, because I regard the State as criminal.
If we don't do anything more than sign our names.
And this whole thing continues on its course, unarrested.
If somehow, we aren't able to reach
the political conscience of Washington,
we will really not be much better off than the German people
under the Nazis whose excuse was, "Well, we didn't know about it.
Or, "What could we do? We were just one person." and so on.
I would like to play some part,
I would like to have some sort of political effectiveness.
And, of course, one's always... It's always possible to write something.
ROTOR BLADES WHIR
"I confess that when I went to Vietnam early in February,
"I was looking for material damaging to the American interest.
"And that I found it. Though often by accident
"or in the process of being briefed by an official.
"Finding it is no job.
"The Americans do not dissemble what they are up to.
"They do not seem to feel the need, except through verbiage,
"e.g., napalm has become 'incindergel'
"which makes it sound like Jell-O.
"And defoliants are referred to as weed killers,
"something you use in your driveway.
"The resort to euphemism denotes, no doubt,
"a guilty conscience or, the same thing nowadays,
"a twinge in the public relations nerve.
"If you ask a junior officer what he thinks our war aims are
"in Vietnam, he usually replies without hesitation,
"to 'punish aggression'.
"He probably imagines that he is thinking
"when he produces that formula.
"And yet, he does believe in something profoundly,
"though he may not be able to find the words for it - free enterprise.
"A parcel that, to the American mind,
"wraps up for delivery hospital, sanitation, roads, harbours,
"schools, air travel, Jack Daniel, convertibles, Stim-U-Dents.
"That is the C-ration that keeps him going.
"They plan to come out of the war with their values intact.
"Which means they must spread them,
"until everyone is convinced, by demonstration,
"that the American way is better.
"Just as American seed strains are better and American pigs are better.
"Their conviction is sometimes baldly stated.
"North of Denang, in a Marine base, there is an ice-cream plant
"on which is printed, in large official letters, the words,
"ICE CREAM PLANT:
"A-R-V-N morale builder."
"Or it may wear humanitarian disguise.
"e.g. Operation Concern, in which a proud little town in Kansas
"airlifted 110 pregnant sows to a humble little town in Vietnam."
My own sense is that a number of factors
have hardly been mentioned in some of these articles.
One is the Iranian connection,
and the cooperation with Iran in sending weapons to Syria.
The second is the continued sectarian fighting.
The third is the question
of just where the various streams of revenue,
particularly from oil, are going.
-OK, shall I read that back?
"My own sense is that a number of factors have hardly been mentioned
"in some of these articles. One is the Iranian connection,
"and the cooperation with Iran in sending weapons to Syria.
-"A second is the continued sectarian fighting..."
-No. No, no. Say Syria.
But then, there was the larger question
with relations between the al-Maliki government
and the Iranians.
-I'll be upstairs in a minute.
-OK, I'll see you soon.
Hey, Michael, how are things?
No, I will tell you what, I am going to have one more look
and if there is anything I'll call
but otherwise, I thought it was very, very good
and I was particularly glad about
the critical kind of reappraisal, so to speak.
An interesting role of the writer
is to be always somewhat adversarial.
You know, things are going too much in one direction.
You say, "Hey, look at that side."
You want to keep shifting what the centre is.
And that means probably supporting things which are more marginal
or more despised. Some people will have lousy views.
And some people will have terrific views and actions
and that's the human condition.
And one doesn't worry about reputation
if one is a person of honour. One just tries to do the best one can.
In the mid-'70s,
Hitler's favourite film-maker, Leni Riefenstahl, came to America.
She was trying to remake herself and it was all going pretty well
until the Review published Susan Sontag's piece,
Fascinating Fascism, a reminder that Riefenstahl's sense of beauty
went hand-in-hand with German Fascism.
That article was so urgent, morally urgent.
"Riefenstahl's current de-Nazification and vindication
"as indomitable priestess of the beautiful -
"as a film-maker and, now, as a photographer -
"do not augur well for the keenness
"of current abilities to detect the fascist longings in our midst."
"The force of her work is precisely in the continuity
"of its political and aesthetic ideas."
-I'm looking at...
-The last issue that we did?
Yes, middle of August. Nixon and Kissinger,
and then Lars-Erik Nelson, "From Little Rock to Washington DC".
The reason I read all that is it's a lot of politics.
If you look inside, there is a Michael Wood piece on three novels,
we try to cover novels that we think are lasting.
We always try to aim for a kind of balance,
we try to have something on science or something on art.
I do commission all the articles
and have since Barbara,
my co-editor, died in 2006.
We both shared some kind of quest.
A quest for great writing and great... and brilliant writing.
When Barbara and I started the Review, we were not seeking
to be part of an establishment - quite the opposite.
We were seeking to examine the workings
and the truthfulness of establishments,
whether political or cultural.
It's down there.
Box down there.
-Now, Susan, smile.
The movie camera lets us savour the mobility of each face.
The still camera embalms it.
Photographs show people there and then.
Grouping together people and things which, a moment later,
have already disbanded, changed,
continued along the course of their independent destinies.
Photographs are the way we possess people, places, time.
They're the way we capture experience.
Look at this advertisement.
All but one of the group looks stunned, excited, upset.
The one who wears a different expression
is the one who holds a camera to his eye. He seems self-possessed.
He's almost smiling.
The others are passive, clearly alarmed spectators.
Having a camera has transformed one of these people
into someone active, into a voyeur...
"Prague, Woodstock, Vietnam, Sapporo, Londonderry - Leica."
Crushed hopes, youth antics, colonial wars
and winter sports are alike - equalised by the camera.
An event known through photographs certainly becomes more real
than it would have been if one had never seen the photographs.
Think of the Vietnam War.
Or for a counter example, the Gulag Archipelago,
of which we have no photographs.
But the shock of the photographed atrocities
does wear off with repeated viewings.
Just as the surprise and bemusement that you feel the first time
you see a pornographic movie wears off after you see a few more,
and the horrible begins to appear more ordinary.
I think they give one an unearned sense of understanding things
and an unearned relation to the past.
-That is rather interesting.
-PhotoShelter is something we can get a hold of.
The unkempt... In the Wilds of Leopardi.
-In the Wilds.
-With the hair?
-With the hair...
The funny thing about the blog was, when we started,
we had writers who still wrote long-hand.
The blog is so much a part of the Review,
these writers are perfect for the blog form.
It's hard to imagine now, but Garry Wills said,
"Well, I don't about blogging, you know, I'll try."
After the school massacre in the fall of 2012,
he did this amazingly powerful piece called Our Moloch,
which was just such a profound statement about gun culture.
It could run at any time.
So, it's been this kind of odd engagement with very new media
from a very old tradition of writing and thinking about the world.
HE PLAYS LILTING PIECE
Where else could you start a blog and have Charles Rosen
fax in a beautiful text about the dying pleasures
of browsing in a physical book store?
And then we would edit the text and fax it back to Rosen
who, of course, didn't even have e-mail.
There's this amazing intelligence at work from these writers,
but often it needs a kind of dissection
and you have to constantly ask these questions.
The wonderful thing TS Eliot said, I mean,
which is really the only thing worth contemplating.
He just said that the critic, which is a stupid word in a way, "critic".
But he said that the function of criticism
was to be as intelligent as possible.
And it's very beautiful. Eliot, of course, loved words.
You know, "to be as intelligent as possible."
It's what Elizabeth Bishop said,
that the thing she got most pleasure from
was something she believed in fundamentally.
Being demolished by someone she knew well and loved.
So, she never thought it again. I'm talking about that idea.
And it's not, it doesn't necessarily always happen
when someone demolishes someone because the paper,
The New York Review of Books doesn't do that.
I mean, it's not as though you are going to have
blood on the floor in every issue.
-Sisterhood is powerful! Join us now!
Sisterhood is powerful! Join us now!
The Founding Father had strong views
on the position of woman (under the man)
and one of the few mistakes he ever admitted to
was the creation of Lilith as a mate for Adam.
Using the same dust as his earthly replica,
but let us hear it in his own words,
rabbinically divined in the 5th century, quote,
"Adam and Lilith never found peace together.
"For when he wished to lie with her, she took offence
"at the recumbent posture he demanded.
"'Why must I lie beneath you?' she asked.
"'I also was made from dust and am, therefore, your equal.'
"Because Adam tried to compel her obedience by force,
"Lilith, in a rage, uttered the magic name of God,
"rose into the air and left him." End quote.
The outcast Lilith is still hanging about the Zeitgeist,
we are told, causing babies to strangle in their sleep,
men to have wet dreams
and Kate Millett, Betty Friedan, Eva Figes
and Germaine Greer to write books.
When a man and a woman have a bitter, furious, violent quarrel,
there comes a point when he's either going to hit that woman or not.
Now, if he hits the woman, he's lost the argument
because finally he has blown up the premise of the argument.
On the other hand, if a man swears to himself
that he will never strike a woman
and he's dealing with a woman who has less honour than he does,
which believe me, ladies, is conceivable,
-then that woman will proceed...
You're asking for a dialogue - here it is.
This is my half of the dialogue. You can counter.
I'll teach you and you teach me! Fuck you!
I want to teach you, too! I mean, fuck you, you know?
MURMURS AND APPLAUSE
You know, I'm not going to sit here and listen to you harridans
harangue me and say, "Yessum. Yessum."
The response to Sexual Politics, Feminine Mystique et al
has been as interesting as anything that has happened in our time,
with the possible exception of Richard Nixon's political career.
The hatred these girls have inspired is, to me,
convincing proof that their central argument is valid -
men DO hate women.
Or as Germaine Greer puts it,
"Women have very little idea of how much men hate them."
I want to ask, I want to ask a very quiet question to...
I want to ask a very quiet question to Norman.
Norman, it is true that women find, with the best of will,
the way you talk to them patronising.
-And one of the things is your use of the word "lady".
When you... And this is what I want to ask Diana.
When you said "Diana Trilling, foremost lady literary critic",
I, if I were Diana, I wouldn't like to be introduced that way
and I would like to know how Diana feels about it.
I don't like being called a "lady writer", Norman.
I know it, it seems like gallantry to you.
But it doesn't feel right to us.
I could have called Diana a "woman critic" or a "female critic".
-I could not call her...
Or I could have called her a critic.
But I wished to say that she was the best in kind.
SHOUTING AND HISSING
And, anyway, as you all should have known,
if you had had the wit,
I was doing it precisely to put Diana on.
CLAMOUR AND BOOING
It is no accident that in the United States,
the phrase "sex and violence" is used as one word.
To describe acts of equal wickedness, equal fun, equal danger
to that law and order our masters would impose upon us.
Yet, equating sex with violence does change the nature of each.
Words govern us more than anatomy.
And it is quite plain that those who fear
what they call "permissiveness" do so because they know
that if sex is truly freed of taboo,
it will lead to torture and murder.
Because that is what they dream of.
Or as Norman Mailer puts it -
"Murder offers us the promise of vast relief. It is never unsexual."
Why don't you ask him if he had a copy
-of this notorious piece of writing?
-This notorious piece of writing.
He brought one page of it. A piece on women's liberation.
And particularly, on the people who had started to attack the women.
And some of the attacks, particularly Mailer, Irving Howe.
I thought uncalled for in their tone.
And, I suppose, I was kind of rough in mine.
But, you know, these things aren't personal.
And Norman is taking everything too personally.
He happened to be one of my examples of what was wrong
with what the women's-lib people would call "sexism".
The good thing about him is his constant metamorphosis.
He does re-bare himself like the phoenix
and what the next incarnation will be, I don't know.
Well, you seem to have me figured out as the next
reincarnation for me is going to be Charles Manson!
-Why don't you read what you wrote?
-You let yourself in for it.
And I will tell you,
I'll give you a little background here that... Mailer...
We all know that I stabbed my wife years ago.
We do know that, Gore, you were playing on that. Now, come on.
-I want to forget about...
-You don't want to forget about it.
You're a liar and a hypocrite. You were playing on it.
But that wasn't a lie or hypo... I wasn't going to talk about it.
The fact of the matter is the people who read
The New York Review of Books know perfectly well.
They know all about it. And it's your subtle little way of doing it.
You know The New Yorker once...
Oh, I'm beginning to see what bothers you now.
-OK, I'm getting the point.
-Are you ready to apologise?
I would apologise if, if it hurts your feelings, of course, I would.
No, it hurts my sense of intellectual pollution.
-Well, I must say...
-As an expert,
-you should know about that.
-I would like to...
'There has been, from Henry Miller to Norman Mailer
'to Charles Manson, a logical progression.
'The Miller-Mailer-Manson Man or "M3" for short.'
You said I compared you to Charles Manson.
I said, "Henry Miller in his way. Norman in his.
"And Manson in his far-out, mad way are each reflecting
"a hatred of women and a hatred of flesh."
CONVERSATION INAUDIBLE, APPLAUSE
..if I may say so...
"There has been, from Henry Miller,
"Norman Mailer to Charles Manson,
"a logical progression. Period.
"The Miller-Mailer-Manson man, or 'M3' for short,
"has been conditioned to think of women as, at best, breeders of sons.
"At worst, objects to be poked, humiliated, killed."
And from there on in the piece, you speak of Miller,
the great writer Henry Miller. The greatest writer alive in America.
If we're going to talk like muckers I'll talk, too, like a mucker.
Henry Miller, the greatest writer alive in America.
And myself and Charles Manson,
a hugely complex Raskolnikovian figure
are spoken of lumped together as "M3".
Now, do you call that good intellect working?
To lump together three people as curious as Henry Miller,
Norman Mailer and Charles Manson?
-You must read the piece. You can't go...
-I've read it.
You have to read it, but the audience has not.
You are selecting this one passage as representative of the whole.
I make my case very carefully.
But I will say, given you a few minutes more on the programme,
you will prove my point.
Actually, the conflicts in the pages of The New York Review
over the years have become legendary.
Edmund Wilson versus Vladimir Nabokov about Russian translation,
Edward Said versus Bernard Lewis on Orientalism,
Gore Vidal versus...
well, versus the whole world, on everything.
A quote from Norman Mailer on Tom Wolfe's A Man In Full.
In his article, A Man Half Full, Mailer writes...
"Reading the work can even be said to resemble the act
"of making love to a three-hundred-pound woman.
"Once she gets on top, it's over.
"Fall in love, or be asphyxiated."
I may have some difference, some reservation.
I am not going to impose my views on these people.
I am interested in them doing their best to put forward their views.
The Review is based on the idea that highly skilful, intelligent,
interested people can write fascinatingly
and revealingly about nearly any subject.
And, of course, the great problem is to find that person.
MUSIC: "Take Five" by The Dave Brubeck Quartet
You can encompass all that's fascinating and deep
and revolutionary about the current geology
of plate tectonics and ceaseless motion with the following line...
"The summit of Mount Everest is marine limestone." 29,002 feet,
and it's marine limestone at the top, meaning it was deposited
under water and there has been more than 29,002 feet of vertical motion
to bring those rocks up to the summit
of the highest mountain on Earth.
I know you wrote a piece once for The New York Review of Books
-It's one of those classic sort of psychosomatic things
and actually, the author of the book, Oliver Sacks,
suffers from them himself, so he knows what he's talking about!
HE ORATES IN GERMAN
You might see the cover line -
WH Auden, Hitler, God and you,
all in the same size font.
Not because you were as important as each other...
Hello! Andrew, how you are?
-So good of you to come.
..but because it was collegiate in that way.
Neither time nor space have been spent on books
that are trivial in their intentions
or venal in their effects.
Except occasionally to reduce
a temporarily inflated reputation
or to call attention to a fraud.
Our one and only editorial for 50 years.
One review in the very first issue of the paper opens
with a sentence that many of us would have enjoyed writing.
'In the most recent issue'
there are two brilliant pieces. One by Jeremy Waldron,
reviewing a book on political thought,
and one by Stephen Greenblatt,
reviewing a book on the classical tradition.
Both fantastically elegantly written,
coming to diametrically-opposed conclusions
about the classical world.
It would be interesting to see if it sparks the kind of controversy
that one would hope. As Waldron is saying,
"Look, you might wonder why thinking about Herodotus
"has got any use for us at all, when we're doing
"modern political history. Why should we bother with Herodotus?"
He goes through saying why you should. It's brilliant.
Saying, you know, political culture is the culture of memory.
We're always reflecting about ourselves, in relation to the past.
We can't understand our own politics without understanding that.
Greenblatt, with equal eloquence and elegance,
looks at this history of the classical tradition
and, basically, it is an elegy for the classical tradition.
It says, you know, "This is over, guys", you know?!
"Our obsession with the Greeks and Romans is gone.
"No-one knows Latin any more...
"and this is going to be the last book of its kind.
"All the undergraduates, all the kids, want to know
"is about what's happening now."
"Across 11 years of the war on terror and two presidents,
"the politics of fear have not been forestalled or banished or defeated.
"The politics of fear have been embodied in the country's
"permanent policies, without comment or objection by its citizenry.
The politics of fear have won.
'We have actually been living with enhanced interrogation,'
I would call it torture, since 2004.
When I say living with it, I mean,
it's been exposed, we've known about it.
There has been a large body of evidence about it. We know the techniques, we know who ordered them.
I've published documents and others have.
If September 11th remains undigested, it is surely, at least, in part,
because the lines between history and drama,
the genuinely political and the reductively personal,
are being increasingly blurred throughout the culture.
11 years after the disaster, all we have produced are a handful
of hero and spy-themed entertainments,
amounting to little more than smoke, shielding us from
what we are not yet ready to see.
People have this notion that writers don't like to be edited -
we are all geniuses and editors are interferers -
but that's not true!
'That's what you WANT, as a writer,
'to have an editor who knows more than you...'
It's very, very good of you to stick it out.
..who can then say, "I think you're going too far.
"I don't think this is fair. You might want to consider this.
"Have you looked at X, do you know about Y?" That's what you want.
So it's going to be like Jordan.
That is, the Islamists would get 35% or something.
-They would be represented, but wouldn't control.
-And they won!
Of course, they got a majority!
-What's up with you?
-Well, I'm just working away, really!
Now, Michael Chabon, as it happens, was born only a few months
after our first issue appeared.
He grew up along with us.
I grew up in a house that subscribed to The New York Review of Books.
And so, you know, every time I get the latest issue
and I look at the cover, the design of which,
although it has been toyed with and adjusted,
still very much resembles The New York Review, as I remember it,
in the magazine rack that my dad kept next to his chair,
with his Playboy and his Newsweek.
The piece I'm going to share is just a short excerpt from a piece
that I wrote about a time when being able to appear in the pages
of the Review was just, you know, a far distant dream.
"I slid a floppy disk into drive B.
"I took a deep breath and started to write,
"on a screen so small that you had to toggle two keys
"to see the end of every line.
"A passage that began like this..."
"..wait to carry me up, up, up, through the suites of moguls,
"of spies and of starlets, to rush me straight to the zeppelin mooring
"at the Art Deco summit, where they keep the huge dirigible of August,
"tied up and bobbing in the high winds."
Reading and writing are done in silence.
But they must, you must, have the idea that other people
are reading the book you're reading and that other people
will read the novel you're writing.
And that idea of community, within a world which depends on silence,
is so fundamental that often we don't think about it or remember enough
how important it's been,
if we don't join forces as readers. In some strange way, also in silence,
we don't...our reading becomes a strange, desiccated Mr Casaubon
sort of activity - for ever about to produce the book
that you know nobody will read.
I'd like to see this article cited here by Haley Sweetland Edwards.
Do you see this footnote?
Hello, Michael. You know, we're going to press with your piece
and I suddenly looked at this rather powerful piece
by Haley Sweetland Edwards.
'The Review has always been'
just the place where ideas really matter.
I mean, I think it is the thing that engaged me in the very beginning,
both as a reader and as a writer, but I really learned it when I worked
with Bob on a piece about my late husband, Tony.
The book Tony had written when he was ill, Thinking The 20th Century,
was about to come out
and I had this sense that I wanted to say something about it, but I didn't
quite know if I was going to be able to do it.
And so, I went to Bob and I talked to him about it
and said, "I'd like to try to write something.
"Will you work on this with me?"
And we started on this path, which was a very, sort of,
emotional thing for me. He was able
to approach it with such restraint
and he, in a way, helped me
be restrained, because there would be certain passages where
I was a little bit overwrought.
He would say, "Well, I really don't think we need that.
"I think it's stronger if we just have this sentence."
And, for a while, I was stubborn and then I realised that he was
actually right and, you know, that there was something almost
classical in the way he approached a very difficult emotional situation.
We are the ones who are supplicants, in a way.
We are asking them for things all of the time.
That is the life of the editor.
We are not commanding anything. We are asking...and we are hoping.
These writers are people that are in one's life, in one's mind.
We are concerned about them - about them as people and writers.
"Those blasted structures plot and rhyme.
"Why are they no help to me now?
"I want to make something imagined, not recalled."
'I think that poetry, particularly, deals with'
an eternal restlessness, a mortal restlessness, that is there
of the spirit which is, "Where is the ultimate home?"
The Bible has this quotation, which is a great quotation,
"And man goeth to his long home," you know, which is death, of course,
or anything beyond death.
I think poetry may involve the quest of equality. What is equality
of man's restlessness?
"The life itself is shattering.
"Lowell died at 60. Most of that life had been spent
"recovering from, and dreading, mental attacks.
"Of having to say early, "My mind's not right."
"But more than drugs restored him.
"The force that is the making of poetry,
"while it took its toll of his mind, also saved him.
"Bedlam, asylum, hospital -
"his bouts of mania never left him, but they also never left him mad.
"To use the past tense about him, not Lowell, so much as "Cal",
"is almost unendurable. The present is the tense of his poetry.
"The eyes, with their look of controlled suffering, still hurt.
"We wince and look away.
"I've described the sundering that put me off Lowell for a long time,
"during which, he went into hospital and I cursed and told everyone
"Yes, I, too, was tired of his turmoil."
"But I want to record tears edging my eyes when he invited me,
"later, to his apartment on West 67th Street.
"The dissolving sweetness of reconciliation.
"He opened the door, hunched, gentle, soft-voiced,
"while he muttered his apology.
"I gave him a hard hug and the old love deepened.
"The eyes were still restless, haunted..."
"During the breech I had asked his friends,
"how badly had he treated them?
"Violently, unutterably, forgivably.
"Pity the monsters he had written.
"No other poetry I can think of is as tender, as vulnerable,
"in which a pitiless intelligence records its own suffering.
"Lowell refuses to let go of himself. It is not masochistic, this refusal,
"but a process of watching how poetry works, to learn if it can heal.
"Once, I told him how much I admired that line of his in which
"the ice floes are compared to the blank sides of a jigsaw puzzle,
"and asked him how long it took him to see that.
"He said it was like pulling teeth.
"But the line from the same poem, Westinghouse Electric Cable Drum,
"he had gotten from his daughter, Harriet, who had been skipping along,
"I was at the Chelsea Hotel in September, 1977
"when a friend called to say that Cal had died.
"I felt more irritation
"than shock. Death felt like an interruption, an impudence."
They would do anything for their writers. They would do anything.
And a lot of them were friends. And Barbara had
a real capacity, or a gift, for friendship.
And her girls would phone all day long -
one amazing woman after another.
The phone would just go, go, go, go, go.
They also, sort of, employed me,
because, I guess, I wasn't really employable anywhere else.
I was, for instance, Helen Epstein's babysitter.
They say there have been 15,000 pieces.
Remember that Bob and Barbara have read them several times.
And not only that, also the books under review,
and I could never figure out how they became experts
on what I was writing about before you hand in the piece.
But they were, you know, always very present and ready.
And they were doing this for everyone.
Bob involved me in writing about stuff
that I had no interest in, whatsoever.
I mean, for example, domestic politics.
I had no interest in domestic politics.
I could go through 28
Democratic and Republican conventions,
I could be on the floor, I could be there with a floor pass,
and I would have no interest, whatsoever.
Bob, grasping this about me, in some way, immediately assigned me.
And, at the conventions, there is nothing easier to get
than yesterday's New York Times, right?
Bob sent it down by messenger!
He was simply determined that anybody he assigned
to do something would do it in the most efficient way possible.
I needed him so much to... walk me through something.
I mean, not so much to walk me through it, as to give me
the confidence that I could walk myself through it.
TV REPORTER: It is the ages of the accused, 14 to 17 years old,
and the horror of their alleged crimes, that has caused a furore.
A woman, jogging in New York's Central Park last Wednesday night,
raped and nearly beaten to death.
There was this big alarm in the city about that case.
And I talked to Joan about it.
And she said, "I want to write about it."
It was her impulse. It was her idea. "I want to write about it."
One reason it's so long is because Bob and I had this argument,
this fight, about it.
And, by the time I cried all night, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Then, he gave me some thoughts about
places where it was deficient.
And so, I took the places where he thought it was deficient
and made them longer. And so, it ended up, probably, about
three times as long as it would have, if he had never edited it.
She simply thought
there were gaps, big gaps,
that were being filled by assumptions,
assumptions of evil-doing, on the part of the young black men.
And she felt that she should try to
analyse this language in the press,
the language on the television and radio,
and the quickness by which guilt was assigned.
"Although the American and English press convention of not naming
"victims of rape
"derives from the understandable wish to protect the victim,
"the rationalisation of this special protection rests on a number
"of doubtful, even magical, assumptions -
"that rape involves a violation absent from other kinds of assault.
"The convention assumes that this violation is of a nature
"best kept secret, that the act of male penetration
"involves such potent mysteries that the woman so penetrated,
"as opposed, say, to having her face crushed with a brick or her brain
"penetrated with a length of pipe, is permanently marked 'different',
"especially if there's a perceived racial or a social difference
"between victim and assailant, as in 19th-century studies
"featuring women taken by Indians -
There was no question that these young men who had been arrested
had been adopted as a symbol of a, kind of,
anarchic violence in the city by young black men.
That had been a, kind of, assumption throughout the coverage.
And Joan perceived that this was a, kind of, leap beyond
any evidence that we had been shown.
That she saw that there were a number of highly-emotional devices
in play. One of them was the,
kind of, vision of these gangs haunting Central Park.
And the word used was "wilding".
TV REPORTER: While the rape victim remains in a coma,
the police have arrested eight teenagers,
charging them with rape, assault and attempted murder.
Now that the police have learned what wilding is,
they're now looking for ways of taming it.
"There was, in this case, a special emotional undertone that derived,
"in part, from deep and elusive associations and taboos attaching
"an American black history to the idea of the rape of white women.
"Rape remained in the collective memory of many blacks,
"the very core of their victimisation.
"Black men were assumed of raping a white woman.
"Officials said they made public the names of the youths charged
"in the attack on this woman because of the seriousness of the incident.
"There seemed a debatable point here - the question of whether
"the seriousness of the incident might not, in fact, have seemed
"a compelling reason to avoid any appearance of a rush to judgment,
"by preserving the anonymity of a juvenile suspect."
"One of the names released by the police, and published in the Times,
"was that of a 14-year-old. He was, ultimately, not indicted."
Joan's analysis, I thought, a highly-imaginative venture,
on her part,
because she had to get outside what was the very much common, accepted,
conventional wisdom of that moment.
She had to stand apart and question it.
That's what a journalist should do.
They should examine below
the surface of commonly-accepted and, often, official, statements.
I was gratified.
It didn't get me anywhere, being gratified,
or the case being vacated didn't get me anywhere,
but being right did.
We do receive quite a few books, but you are welcome to send it along.
"I see that Joanie did an introduction to a book of portraits
"of human rights activists and that the book is dedicated to him.
"I send the introduction, in case it is of any use.
Robert Silvers' office.
'I grew up in Mississippi.'
I was editor of the newspaper there, that, for years,
was the most racist paper in America.
We completely changed it, won all of these prizes.
My family fired me and I moved to New York. Most of the work that
we did was investigative journalism that was actually quite dangerous.
A lot of our photographers were threatened,
I had police put guns to my head and pull the trigger,
because of stories that we were doing about police brutality
against blacks and a variety of other different stories.
Reading The New York Review, I thought,
"God, here is somebody that is trying to not just deal with human rights
in a very local way, but globally,
and that attracted me greatly.
"As Occupy Wall Street enters its fifth month,
"dislodged from most of the public spaces it had staked out
"around the country last Fall,
"the movement seems weakened, its future uncertain.
"It sometimes appears to be driven by a series of tactics,
"designed to maintain
"its public presence, with no discernible strategy or goal.
"A kind of muddled, loose-themed, ubiquity.
"The movement has proven adept at provoking media attention,
"but one may wonder what it amounts to, apart from its ability
"to reaffirm its status as a kind of protest brand name."
The typesetters would like to have the title for this letter.
'The writers who we have dreamed of writing for us, have,
'for the most part, been willing to do so.'
-You get your thing and then we'll send it off.
Isaiah Berlin was a great friend of mine. He simply enjoyed, I think,
the whole idea of the Review.
Whenever I asked him who should review something,
he always had a suggestion.
He wouldn't review books,
because he always knew the person who wrote the book.
He was willing to give us some of his grand and important essays
that fit in with his idea
that the Enlightenment, and the philosophers of the Enlightenment,
with their universal aspirations of rights and liberties for all,
that this project of the Enlightenment
had run into a Counter-Enlightenment.
I think the idea of "the best"
is, perhaps dangerous, but the idea of "the better" is all right.
That's to say, we must say, poverty, we must eliminate,
as far as possible. There is a great deal of injustice, we must cure it.
There is a great deal of oppression, we must do our best to eliminate it.
I don't mean to say that there aren't acute problems,
for which we must bend our efforts.
It is all right to have crusades to eliminate this problem,
that problem, this misery, that misery, but the idea that
there is a single solution, which, therefore, any amount of sacrifices,
so to speak, justifies any amount of sacrifices -
hundreds of thousands of people must be slaughtered, in order that
hundreds of millions might be happy. About that, I feel doubts.
I think it was the Russian thinker Herzen, whom I often read,
who said, "When people say we must kill millions
"in order that hundreds of millions might be happier,
"we can't ever be certain about the hundreds of millions,
"but what is certain is that millions are dead."
I like to say,
"Ich bin ein Berliner",
meaning Isaiah Berliner.
His attempt to combine liberalism and pluralism...
..is more relevant than ever, now,
because we all live in incredibly diverse multi-cultural societies.
Everybody lives cheek-by-jowl on the Internet.
China, India, Brazil and others are setting the agenda,
intellectual as well as political, so there you have it.
This incredible diversity and pluralism.
How do we negotiate that relationship
between an incredibly plural world
and the basic fundamental principles of liberalism,
like equal treatment for all under the law, for example?
Fundamental human rights, free speech.
It was better to write to The New York Review of Books
about Israel and get response in Israel, ricochets there,
than to write to an Israeli newspaper,
in many cases, because, first of all,
I mean, it was magnified.
You knew that you had the space to be explicit
and tell the story in full.
This is actually the platform that unites a great deal of people
who are interested in books and ideas in the world.
It's a cosmopolitan magazine
anchored in this kind of mental Europe.
We - The New York Review, The West, liberal internationalists,
Enlightenment liberals, in the broadest sense -
speak about the universality of individual human rights.
THEY - Russia, China, Saudi Arabia,
English Eurosceptics who want to renege
from the European Convention on Human Rights -
speak about sovereignty.
And so that's the way the conversation is set up -
us talking about universal individual human rights,
them talking about the sovereignty of states.
I think the world has an idea that if a government
and a president are democratically elected,
it means you have democracy,
and we actually just had fascism.
I think we need to learn about really what democracy is.
What does it mean to be democratic?
My generation, you know, we grew up under this dictatorship
and we say we want to free ourselves from those behaviours,
but, when I look at how we have acted so far,
I wonder if we know anything else.
You know, we've put our deposed leaders in cages,
and, looking at Libya,
they slaughtered their own president
and paraded him, paraded his flesh.
So I feel we are making, in a sense, the same mistakes.
I just wonder what it will take to learn new moral codes
and to undo the learning of the past 30 years
and to move forward in a different way.
I feel we have a really long way to go.
In 1969, in Havana, Cuba,
Heberto Padilla surreptitiously gave Bob Silvers
a sheaf of poems which the Review published
after Silver's return to New York.
Padilla was later arrested and publicly confessed to crimes
he had never committed.
It would be almost ten years before he was allowed out of Cuba.
One of the sad and terrible things
is that sometimes the very people who we supported
because they were being repressed,
once they got power, engaged in repression themselves.
When the war in Vietnam was coming to an end
and the Americans were preparing to leave,
there was an article we published by Father Gelinas,
who had been in Saigon
and observed the repression that was taking place
by the North Vietnamese.
The burning of books,
the finding in certain places of dead bodies
that had been people rubbed out.
When we published this article, we got dozens of cancellations
by people who were only willing to see the North Vietnamese as victims,
as they WERE victims...
but, once they were taking power,
we published a number of articles calling attention
to their OWN authoritarianism, brutality and repression.
TRANSLATED: You should ask the Soviet authorities that question.
I don't have my own opinion on that.
I probably don't have the right to have one.
The Soviet authorities must resolve this question.
We actually published ten articles by Andrei Sakharov
when he was a leading dissident.
I don't want to exaggerate...
Magazines don't change the world,
but they shape a certain kind of climate of ideas.
There is this metaphor...
Influence goes like the knights in chess.
One move straight and then diagonal.
It doesn't go in straight lines.
I never wanted to be a political writer.
I think that good writers and directors,
and particularly good theatre, is always political.
We published one article after another by Vaclav Havel.
The first essay he wrote was called Kicking the Door.
And how he had been so frustrated, he'd kicked the door of a bar,
and he knew that that kind of behaviour
could have gotten him into prison,
just because the regime had set up rules by which people
who were frustrated and showed it were therefore vulnerable.
It was a very brilliant and subtle essay.
1989 was this year of wonders.
First in Hungary, then in Poland, then in East Germany.
And then it...
The balloon went up in Prague,
and I was of course on the next plane into Prague.
I found Vaclav Havel in his basement pub.
"Students started it.
"Small groups of them had been active for at least a year before.
"They edited faculty magazines, they organized discussion clubs,
"they worked on the borderline between official and unofficial life.
"They got permission to hold a demonstration in Prague
"to mark the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Jan Opletal,
"a Czech student murdered by the Nazis.
"But the numbers grew and the chants turned increasingly against
"the present dictators in the castle.
"The demonstrators decided - perhaps some had planned all along -
"to march to Wenceslas Square,
"the stage for all the historic moments of Czech history,
"whether in 1918, 1948 or 1968.
"Here they were met by riot police
"with white helmets, shields and truncheons,
"and by special anti-terrorist squads in red berets.
"Large numbers of demonstrators were cut off and surrounded,
"both along Narodni Street and in the square.
"They went on chanting "Freedom!"
"and singing the Czech version of We Shall Overcome.
"Those in the front line tried to hand flowers to the police.
"They placed lighted candles on the ground
"and raised their arms, chanting, "'We have bare hands.'
"But the police, and especially the Red Berets,
"beat men, women and children with their truncheons."
-We are now experiencing very dramatic days.
Young people are brutally beaten in the streets.
And the ideals for which I have been struggling for many years
and for which I have been several times in prison
are beginning now to enter real political life,
as an expression of the will of the Czechoslovak public.
"The great new idea of this revolution
"was the revolution itself.
"It was not the 'what' but the 'how'.
"Not the end but the means.
"The new idea of 1989 was non-revolutionary revolution.
"In talking of these events,
"the word revolution has always to be qualified with an adjective -
"peaceful, or evolutionary, or self-limiting, or velvet -
"because the leaders of the popular movements
"deliberately set out to do something different
"from the classic revolutionary model
"as it developed from 1789 through 1917,
"right up to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.
"As I remember people actually discussing at the time
"in the Magic Lantern Theatre in Prague,
"an essential part of earlier revolutions
"had been revolutionary violence.
"Here there was a conscious effort to avoid it."
When the time came in 1989
and Havel was suddenly elevated to President,
as President, again and again,
he was willing to say things that were unpopular.
When it comes to someone who, after a revolution, has taken power,
and the question is posed to them,
will they support the rights of opposition?
Or the rights of people who are frowned on?
Havel said yes.
Of course, not every transition in history is as peaceful,
and so it's amazing that so much writing has survived.
So many stone tablets and cylinders have been shattered
and so many manuscripts have been destroyed
and so many libraries have burned to the ground.
In 1992, during the Siege of Sarajevo,
people formed a human chain to rescue as many books
as they could from the National Library
before the building was reduced to rubble by Serbian shelling.
A woman named Aida Buturovich died trying to save those books.
She was killed by a mortar.
If The New York Review has, from the first,
been a kind of movement - and it has -
one of our longest-standing
and most admired comrades is Darryl Pinckney.
..as new works by James Baldwin came out in the 1970s,
they showed a falling-off in his writing.
His exhortations to the nation came across as perfunctory.
Baldwin's loss of his cool
was a subject I thought I'd thought a lot about
when, in 1979, Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein
suggested that I try to write about what would be his last novel.
Just Above My Head is a sprawling saga
about a black, gay gospel singer and his family.
I'm embarrassed three decades later by the knowingness of that review,
from the typewriter of Mr Little Shit.
I was young, Baldwin was young no longer,
and therefore I had his number.
I eased scorn
on what I saw as his sentimental portrayal of a gay couple.
Because the two men in Baldwin's novel considered themselves married,
I accused him of having them imitate heterosexual behaviour.
He'd given up on sexual liberation, I said.
Mary McCarthy advises that a good way to get started
as a writer is to publish reviews.
I was going about the business of trying to become a writer,
willing to do so at the expense
of this tender, brave, and brilliant soul.
A few years later, at a party for Baldwin
after he read his blues poems at the Y,
I, drunk, asked - yes, asked - if he'd seen that review.
He graciously said no.
And I'm afraid I can't pretend that I did not,
in a seizure of self-importance,
rehearse some of my arguments against his book
right there in the middle of a cocktail party for him,
this adored figure.
His smile was all forbearance and understanding.
He had my number.
James Baldwin died in France in 1987.
His funeral at the Cathedral of St John the Divine
was the first funeral I'd ever attended.
In 1998, the Library of America
published Baldwin's collected essays.
The Library of America edition of his novels came out two years later.
The New York Review let me turn these reviews
into opportunities to make up for the past.
I'd some experience and had more sympathy
for the pressures in Baldwin's life,
especially toward the end of the Civil Rights Movement.
"Suffering has everybody's number," he once wrote.
I remembered and tried to honour that Baldwin's exalted prose
had made me decide something about myself.
He was right about so much in our political and social culture,
not to mention gay marriage
and how liberating is the freedom to be like everyone else.
I said then and say again that his voice has not aged
because of the purity of his language.
The journey out of Egypt is his true theme,
and in the kingdom of the first person, he has few peers.
James Baldwin has been on my mind all my writing life,
as has been The New York Review of Books,
ever since 1973, when the great Elizabeth Hardwick,
surprised I'd not read FW Dupee on Baldwin,
which appeared in the very first issue,
sat me down with a big red bound volume
of the first decade of the paper.
Over the years, certain names on the cover of the Review
have made my heart race.
I miss Barbara Epstein every day,
as do many, many gathered here.
I am humbled by the lessons of Robert Silvers' dedication.
I have received so much from this noble intellectual enterprise.
I learned of that English poet James Fenton
from the pages of The New York Review of Books.
"This is the wind,
"the wind in a field of corn.
"Great crowds are fleeing from a major disaster.
"Down the long valleys, the green swaying wadis,
"down through the beautiful catastrophe of wind.
I thought, "Whoa", and I still do...
..even after 23 years of making him cups of tea.
And so thank you.
'Are you interested in Plato's Republic?
'Well, I am Plato's Republic.'
I'll recite myself for you whenever you like.
'Now, here is Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.
That skinny fellow is Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
Oh, you see the little blonde coming towards us? Watch her blush.
I am Jean-Paul Sartre's "The Jewish Question." Delighted to meet you!
"Literature", said Samuel Johnson,
"is a kind of intellectual light,
"which, like the light of the sun,
"enables us to see what we do not like."
Then Johnson asks a very disturbing question -
"Who would wish to escape unpleasing objects
"by condemning himself to perpetual darkness?"
-We managed to get inside the field hospital in the sit-in,
which is very difficult.
The only entrance to the Rabaa sit-in that's still open
has government snipers firing down an alley
targeting people going to and from the hospital.
Once you get inside,
the first thing you notice is that the floors are slick with blood.
There's blood everywhere - on the walls, on the floors.
There's a constant stream of dead and wounded
being shuttled in and out of the hospital.
The youngest I saw was a boy no older than 13 years old.
We saw four floors at the main field hospital
and each floor is full of the dead and wounded,
most of them having suffered from gunshot wounds.
Now, that meshes with what you see outside and what you hear outside.
There's the constant sound of automatic gunfire
ringing around from every place around the camp.
You also hear the sharp crack of sniper fire
from government snipers positioned on buildings surrounding the sit-in,
so a very chaotic scene this morning
at the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in.
Now, we did not see any of the pro-Morsi demonstrators
carrying anything other than rocks and Molotov cocktails...
..I think one of the great novels.
I also like The Mill on the Floss.
It's a rather different kind of book
and there's certainly more picture painting,
more delicate watercolour...
..What kind of thing is a right? Is it something you have at birth?
Is it something stamped upon you?
Is it something intrinsically characteristic of a man?
Is it something which someone has given you? Who, for example?
Can rights be conferred or taken away?
Can you waive a right? What does that mean?
Can you lose a right, or is a right something which somehow
is an intrinsic part of your nature
in the way in which thinking is, or choosing, or having will?
..not a phenomenon in America. I can't see the good side
or the bad side.
I hate no longer, I love no longer. I've got to get out of here.
I'm looking back on it now because,
when you write a book, you don't say you'll do it for these reasons...
..but perhaps what we all seem to be talking about is very casual,
which you try to write as well as you would try to write a poem...
..I believe all history is fiction.
In a way, I suppose, one might say that all fiction is history.
After all, most novels are about who went off with someone else's wife
last summer at Sussex University...
Considered a very important subject for a novel.
It's considered a little excessive to write about a Roman Emperor,
and that means one runs the risk of being trivial...
..1977, Greg had come to one of the hospitals where I work.
He was a 25-year-old with profound memory and other problems...
..around 700 police and navy officers
entered the Lins de Vasconcelos favelas.
In less than an hour, control of the 12 communities
had been placed into the hands of the special police unit...
The 50 Year Argument is Martin Scorsese's latest film, co-directed with his longtime documentary collaborator David Tedeschi. It charts literary, political and cultural history as per the New York Review of Books, America's leading journal of ideas since 1963. The film weaves rare archive material, interviews and writing by icons such as James Baldwin and Gore Vidal into original verite footage, filmed in the Review's Greenwich Village offices with longtime editor Robert Silvers.