Leslie Fiedler #3

An interview with cultural theorist Leslie Fiedler in his home in Buffalo, New York.

00:00Copy video clip URL Continued from Tape 15283. Static.

00:14Copy video clip URL The interviewer talks about Leslie Fiedler’s recent travels, and Ternopil, in Western Ukraine, where is grandparents were from. “It’s difficult to get there. You need a special Visa. Everything in Russia is made just a little bit more difficult than it needs to be. I went with my wife. She was scared.” He said crossing the border, the tourist in front of us had a copy of Der Spiegel. The Russian customs agent got suspicious of this, flipped open the magazine to a random page that happened to have a picture of a Russian plane. They tour his luggage apart and interrogated him. He notes the Russians love science fiction. When it came time for Fiedler and his wife to go through customs, the officer said he first wanted to see all the literature they had on them. He opened his briefcase and took out a copy of Star Wars. The officer smiled and waved us through. Science fiction is  a passport everywhere in the world.

03:41Copy video clip URL Fiedler says the writer’s union of Romania invited him once to speak. They wanted him to talk about science fiction. They know about all the American writers. Fiedler notes that for a long time science fiction was an underground interest of his, then he started going to conventions of science fiction writers and talking with them. “One I’m fond of is Philip Farmer. He the first to introduce sex to science fiction. I once made a pilgrimage to Peoria, Illinois, to see him. He invited us in, we had fried chicken.” He talks about a ghost haunting his bathroom. His wife warned him that people would think he’s crazy talking like this, but science fiction writers are crazy! Science fiction is about cognition, about ways of knowing, and alienation. He goes on to say he’s written an anthology of science fiction, a science fiction short story, and a science fiction novel. “Now I’m writing a book about the giant of science fiction, Olaf Stapledon. His most famous books are The Star Maker, and Last and First Men.

08:00Copy video clip URL Fielder praises Stapledon, saying he has a vast imagination. The Star Maker covers billions of years, billions of universes. He’s an extraordinary person. Hardly known in America. His prototype was HG Wells. He wasn’t into pulp, he wrote novels. He preferred to call them myths, not novels. When asked about Stapledon’s relationship to CS Lewis, Fiedler says Lewis thought of Stapledon as the enemy. He admired his imagination, but hated his philosophy.

10:55Copy video clip URL Fielder adds that science fiction has never been immensely popular. It’s not elite literature, but it has a band of committed fans. It’s through the movies it’s made it’s way to a larger audience. Close Encounters of the Third Kind isn’t so much about science fiction as it is gospel. When the aliens appear they appear as old fashioned angels. It represents a change in American’s mood towards foreigners — aliens. Years before we always imagined aliens coming to Earth hostile. HG Wells started that. But this notion of aliens coming as superior friends, trying to rescue us is something new in American thought. In Star Wars you notice it’s not set in the future, it’s long ago and far away. It’s space opera with religion mixed in. If science fiction is going to reach a large audience it has to touch on those kind of things.

15:49Copy video clip URL Fiedler says he’s looking for success in a popular genre for a long time. He’s aiming for success in pop criticism with Freaks. It got favorable reviews in SoHo News and Village Voice and Time Magazine. “When I was young, we despised Al Eisner because he ended up a script writer in Hollywood. I want to write something like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, something kids and uneducated people can read. Freaks exists as text and pictures. You can read it just by looking at the pictures. What I want to do now is make a movie. I’d like to make New Croquet. It cries out to be visualized. I’m trying to have my cake and eat it, too.”

19:57Copy video clip URL Fiedler notes that one problem with movies and the way they exploit nudity is that they show beautiful bodies,”and most of us don’t have beautiful bodies.”  It would be a real revolution if New Croquet were made into a movie because people would see images of decayed, dying bodies. The interviewer notes Fiedler’s work depicts the disturbing aspects of the physical and emotional. It’s hard for the public to accept. Fiedler argues that there’s a place for anguish and suffering. He notes the daytime serials on TV. All the indignities of humanity are there. “I’m writing an article now on the soaps.” He says he has a friend connection to soap opera production who might be able to get him a small part on a soap so he can experience the genre from the inside before writing about it.

23:40Copy video clip URL Fiedler says he interested in writing about literature in a way that doesn’t make a distinction between what is okay literature and what is junk. “I wanted to work out a way to talk about books that don’t make that distinction, and why it’s no longer viable. I’d like to write about Uncle Tom’s Cabin which came out when Moby Dick did. Then write about Thomas Dixon’s The Clansmen and The Leopard’s Spots (anti-Tom books). Then write about Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind (another anti-Tom book). Then I’d finish with Roots (the anti-anti-Tom book). If I work out this new kind of popular criticism, I can establish a new canon of American Literature. Some books would be moved up a little in their popularity. I can answer questions like how come Dracula has never been out of print through all these years, though no Victorian era critic thought they were worth writing about? We could talk about the great invention of Superman and everything that’s spawned from that: Wonder Woman, The Hulk, Spiderman.”

28:13Copy video clip URL When asked about Melville, Fiedler says Melville started out as a popular writer. People loved his work until Moby Dick came out. His fate is like Norman Mailer who started out strong and then went on to write books that nobody liked and then became a popular figure again. He’s a rich man, or he would be if he didn’t have so many wives and children.

29:57Copy video clip URL Fiedler says over all he is happy that he gets paid for doing something he loves to do. He says that he used to translate books from Italian for his family, but it’s such a hard task. And once you pass 60-years of age you start asking: how do I want to invest the time I have left? The talk turns to translating Japanese and Chinese poetry. Fiedler says after World War Two we left a slew of marvelous Japanese translators behind. Most who are doing it now are old classmates of mine.

32:55Copy video clip URL VIDEO ENDS in mid-sentence.



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