The Dan Schneider Interview 11: Edward Hoagland (first posted 5/25/08)
DS: This DSI is with a writer whose nature essays I
first stumbled upon twenty or so years ago, along with those of Loren
Eiseley. I was in a period where I read almost nothing but poetry and
science books, and his books were among those that left an impression on me,
albeit the sort of impression that is not life-wrenching, but which takes time
and flowers in unexpected ways later on in one’s life. He is well known as a
science writer, essayist, fictionist, and writer of travel books. Thank you for
agreeing to be interviewed, Edward Hoagland. Since there are many avenues to
explore, we will hit them momentarily. But, for those readers to whom your name
is unfamiliar, could you please give a précis for the uninitiated, on who
Edward Hoagland is, what you do, what your aims in your career are, major
achievements, and your general philosophy, etc.
EH: My ouevre (sic) is obtainable from Wikipedia. I became
a professional writer in 1951 when I joined Ringling Bros. and Barnum &
Circus as a cagehand and wrote a book, which I sold to Houghton Mifflin in 1954.
Nineteen further books have followed. By 1968 I had become primarily an
DS: Is there nothing more you can add to that for the
readers? Anyway, I actually own a copy of Loren Eiseley’s The Night
Country, an edition from 1971, which you blurbed for. I find it
distressing that such a supernal writer of prose is so utterly forgotten. I have
interviewed some well known people in the sciences who have written books but
have never even heard of the man. How can this be? I mean, putting aside the
natural outdating of scientific presumptions, just the sheer incredible
construction of sentences, the indelible imagery, the poetic juxtaposition of
ideas and events, and other factors, such as the personal aspects of his essays,
reveal a master storyteller who could illumine even the most banal subject
matter, and this should make this ma’s work mandatory reading for anyone
aspiring to write books on science, or even simply pursue a career in the
sciences. He is simply to science writing what, right or wrong, William
Shakespeare is to drama- an essential. So why is he forgotten, and
why are so many of his works out of print? Comments?
EH: I would equate Eiseley more with Eugene O’Neill than
the truly supernal Shakespeare, but many scientists do not read literature and
in any case belittle outstanding talents who are less narrow than their own. E.O.
Wilson should be a Nobelist in our own time.
DS: Well, Wilson’s a solid writer, but not on a par
with Eiseley as a wordsmith, so I’d leave real criticism to the pros; but you
didn’t really answer my queries. Anyway, have you ever thought about using
your name in the science writing field to help resuscitate some of the better
writers from the past, like Eiseley, who have fallen out of print? Perhaps by
offering to write a Preface or Foreword for a Collected Works?
EH: I have written many prefaces, as Wikipedia will tell
you; three apiece for Thoreau and Muir alone, and edited the thirty-volume
Penguin Nature Classics series, and reviewed many of my contemporaries for the
DS: There are many newspapers called ‘The Times.’
Could you be more specific- L.A., N.Y., etc.? In this same vein, what science
essayists influenced you, other than Eiseley? How about some current science
writers and essayists? Have you ever read Barry
Lopez or Wyn Wachhorst? Of course, Stephen Jay Gould was, before his death,
likely the most well known science essayist, due to his monthly columns in Natural
History magazine. Any comments on them, in terms of content, style, or
EH: I disliked Gould’s ignoring of the current natural
holocaust consuming the world and his unconscionable cruelty to the much better
Wilson. Lopez of course I have reviewed for the front page of the NYTBR, like
Matthiessen, McPhee, etc. and have long championed my friends Edward Abbey,
Gretel Ehrlich, Annie Dillard.
DS: So, you prefer people you like to works that are good?
And what does Gould’s personal preferences or personality have to do with his
writing ability? I’m not interested in gossip, but an exchange in this
interview. Anyway, let’s focus on your bio, and start off with some in depth
queries on your background. You were born Edward Morley Hoagland, on December 21st,
1932, in my hometown, New York City. Was this Manhattan or the outer boroughs?
And what are some of your earliest memories of the late Great Depression and
World War Two years?
EH: Manhattan; and I remember men singing for tossed coins
in the stairwells of buildings, and breadlines in the street. In 1941 we moved
to suburban Connecticut. I saw of course much more poverty near the Bowery when
I lived on the Lower East Side in the 1960s. Also hitchhiking cross-country in
the 1950s, during which I also served two years as a private in the army.
DS: My dad used to regale me with tales of life in
those days, although he was born in 1916. You grew up, from what I’ve read, in
a far more affluent setting than he did. Did your young tastes run more to the
Dead End Kids or The Great White Way?
EH: My tastes ran to the words and the circus and the
DS: Due to your date of birth, you are not considered a
Baby Boomer, nor are you really a member of the so-called ‘Greatest
Generation,’ like my dad. To what degree did this sort of ‘tweener’ status
play in your developing ideas about the world- be they scientific, political, or
EH: I was a socialist by the age of 12, and hated
segregation and anti-Semitism and was at the 1963 March on Washington, at 30,
and other less famous demonstrations. Sandburg and Steinbeck were early
enthusiasms, along with Bellow and Whitman and Tolstoy. (Now Turgenev and Mann
and on and on.)
DS: What of your parents? I have read that you did not
have a good relationship with your father, who was a corporate executive. Was
this typical generation gap stuff, or was he a drinker, physically abusive, or
an absentee dad? It seems to me, from what I’ve read, that he was more
interested in material things, and detested your chosen profession as a writer.
Is it true he legally tried to block the publication of your first book?
EH: Yes, it is true that
he wrote to the publisher’s lawyer with that in mind. However, ge (sic) was
not abusive or a drinker, and I learned good working habits from him and his
temperate relations with others. I dislike things such as his boycotting the
Metropolitan Opera after Marian Anderson was permitted to sing.
DS: What did your mother do? Was she the stereotypical
‘stay at home,’ pre-1950s Leave It To Beaver mom? Was she more
supportive of your writing? Often you hear of parents chiding such nonconformist
dreams as being unrealistic. Did she, also, want you to ‘be reasonable,’ and
get a job where you could ‘make money’? Or did she encourage your pursuit of
the arts and sciences?
EH: She was slightly more supportive in that regard and
very supportive in other ways. Also, unlike my father, she didn’t disinherit
DS: I’ve read you have a sister. Any other siblings?
Did any of them go into science? Do they share your views on life, politics,
EH: My sister is a retired dairy farmer in upstate New
York. We have good relations. She was adopted at three months when I was ten.
DS: What was your youth like, both at home and in terms
of socializing with other children? Were you smarter than average? The classic
bored gifted child? Since you seem to have come from a well off family, did you
go to boarding school?
EH: I stuttered badly but was not picked on in private
schools. I was happiest in the woods. Fortunately my father did not make partner
at his law firm on Wall Street, so we’d moved to the country.
DS: What sorts of books did you read? Name some of your
favorite books- be they science or not, fiction or nonfiction, as well as those
you think among the best ever published
EH: I love Felix Krull; Sportsman’s Notebook; my
contemporaries Roth, Updike and Marquez and Grass and Naipaul. Homer was an
early favorite. You repeat the nonexistent connection between me and
‘science.’ I’m an essayist.
DS: Well, I’d hardly call your connection to science
non-existent. After all, you’ve mentioned your
Wikipedia page, and it’s clear from a scan of the titles of essays and
books that science/nature writing is what you are most known for. You, yourself,
in prior answers, have portrayed yourself in that vein. So, there’s a definite
connection; why you would object to that is baffling. Anyway, I don’t know if
you are a fan of Woody Allen’s films, but you would be right of the age where
his great little 1987 film Radio Days might have some relevance.
First, are you a fan of Allen’s? Have you seen that film? And does its
invocation of a pre-television era strike a chord with you?
EH: Yes, of his earlier ones, being a native New Yorker,
certainly pre-television. I still live without electricity for a third of the
DS: Ok. Whether you have seen it or
not, the film ends with this voiceover narration by the character Allen essays:
never forgot that New Year’s Eve when Aunt Bea awakened me to watch 1944 come
in. And I've never forgotten any of those people, or any of the voices we used
to hear on the radio; although the truth is- with the passing of each New
Year’s Eve those voices do seem to grow dimmer and dimmer....’
Many of your essays, like Loren Eiseley’s, are sort of personal ‘hidden
essays.’ I.e.- you use real events from your own existence (past and present)
as an entrée to higher ideas. Of course, there will always be the patchwork
reality of memory, and the need to reconstruct via filling in the gaps. Yet, my
mother, who is 85 years old, will tell me stories of her earliest years (ten or
younger) with far, far more clarity than she can relate anecdotes of things that
happened in her early adult or middle aged years, much less a few months ago.
And, having volunteered as a teenager at assorted senior citizens centers where
my mom worked, I noticed this time and again with oldsters not ravaged by
senility and Alzheimer’s Disease. My query is, are the oldsters simply making
their pasts up as they go along, filling in the blanks with niceties, or does
the end phase of life truly bring the whole of one’s existence into greater
focus? In essence, is Allen’s voiceover narrative claim true only to a point,
and then does it reverse itself, similar, perhaps, to nearsightedness getting
worse throughout life, until, in old age, it actually ameliorates a bit?
EH: I’m 75 and not yet at the phase where I can answer
your question any better than you.
DS: Ok, but I gave no answer. Did you even read the
question? Or are you always this paranoid? You seem to have a lackluster
approach to the interview, as if you do not care to let people in on your life.
Why is that? And how did geography (growing up urban) and the time of your youth
affect your later outlook on life, especially that with a scientific and
nature-loving bent? Were you a kid who grew up playing in dirty tree boxes?
EH: One must be in the woods by eight, and fortunately I
was. I also had chickens, goats, snakes, dogs. I am a novelist and have no
DS: Well, as I showed earlier, your
Wikipedia page argues against your not having a scientific bent, and earlier
in this last reply you typed ‘One must be in the woods by eight, and
fortunately I was,’ so it’s a little bizarre for you to eschew your
renown as a nature/science writer, and instead focus on your novels, which are
not even distinguished on your
Wikipedia page, and which have not been published for years. Don’t you
think? Back to some queries: online bios of you state that you went to Harvard
University. What did you study there? 1950s Academia has an almost mythic place
in American arts and letters, as a time of great ferment and creativity. Did you
have any professors who were well known in their fields, and which professor
influenced your career most?
EH: Berryman and
MacLeish were my mentors, each differently valuable- healthily crazy and
usefully sane. I learned bravery from Berryman and generosity from MacLeish.
DS: I mentioned that you had blurbed for Loren Eiseley,
and one of the most repeated blurbs about you is novelist John Updike’s claim
that you are ‘the best essayist of my
generation.’ Since that’s sort of a generic claim that is
often made for any writer or artist, is there a blurb or compliment you have
received for your writing that was especially honest, cogent, and trenchant?
I.e.- a compliment that showed that the person fundamentally ‘got’ your
points or aims, and understood why an essay or article was constructed a certain
way? I ask because blurbery has become merely a way to ‘make connections’
and reinforce the public relations aspect of the business of books rather than
being a genuine admission of admiration.
EH: Updike gets my work
and his praise is not routine. I have many quotes from others, like Bellow,
DS: Perhaps you misunderstood, or you’re just not
making sense again; but when someone chimes in with the standard ‘best
of his generation’ quote, it says nothing specific. In fact, it’s
often seen as a backhanded damnation only the clueless would preen about.
Perhaps Updike does ‘get’ your work, but my point was the blurb imparts
nothing of that, and you could have provided me some of the quotes from the
others. I’m asking very specific questions and you seem to not be
paying attention; whether out of smarminess or insecurity, I don’t know. Also,
you received a couple of Guggenheim Fellowships. Are these like other grants,
which are for specific projects, or are these Lifetime Achievement awards,
where, as a fellow, you are inducted into a society? I ask because such terms
are often bandied about with such ease, as if the layety have any idea what they
are. Also, what were the two Fellowships for? And how much politicking is
involved in these sorts or things? I.e.- are they, like the Nobel Prize In
Literature, given only to Left Wing icons?
EH: I traveled to
British Columbia and Africa on them. Now I tend to give fellowships, and find
your glibness jejune.
DS: Well, since again, I was very specific in
the query, therefore I can only conclude you did not really read the query, or
don’t know what either glibness or jejune mean. I am trying to
expose you and your work to a whole new audience of potential readers, far more
than you’ve ever had in your lifetime, but you are coming across as a snob and
elitist, one who thinks he’s above the masses. And dodging specific questions
does not portray you in a good light. But, in a similar vein, you were elected,
in 1982, to the American Academy Of Arts And Letters. What is that, and do you
serve on a board of directors, divvying up grant money, or the like? Again,
these alphabet soup sort of organizations are bandied about with ease, yet few
people understand how they work and what they are? Are they cabals,
bureaucracies, crony-laden networking tools, etc.?
EH: I find it hard to
answer you seriously, so I will pass.
DS: So, can I take your pass on that question as a yes
or a no? Why did you agree to be interviewed if you did not want to answer real
questions? I stated in my introductory letter that this interview would not be
the fellatric sort, nor the kind you could merely give canned answers to. I’d
hoped for some real cogitation on your part, as it tends to destroy the canned
answers you seem eager to have given. But, excelsior! You spent the bulk of your
career in Academia, at many colleges and universities. What did you teach, and
were there any students that went on to careers in science- future Nobelists or
the like, or future writers in science or other subjects? And at which
university setting did you feel most comfortable in, and why? Have you ever felt
that your creativity was suffering or utterly stifled because of your ‘day
EH: The great bulk of my career was spent writing. Teaching
never constrained me, or I wouldn’t have done it, but instead enhanced my
life. And yes, I have had many, many wonderful students.
DS: That’s a pretty generic and flippant answer. You
cannot describe what you taught for decades in any detail? And you have no
deeper opinions to share on your Academic career? Ok. Let me work backward, a
bit, for now. I’ve read you served in the military in the mid-1950s. Which
branch, and where did you serve?
EH: Army, In Pennsylvania, as a hospital lab technician.
DS: Care to elaborate? A few years back I worked at a
job gathering information from alumni of schools and retired military folk, and
I was most impressed with how much pride most of the military folk looked back
on their service, even if they were swabbies or cooks. Almost all looked at that
period in their lives as, if not defining, then certainly as nearly essential.
Are you among them? And do you still belong to the assorted organizations that
ex-military folk do? Have you any lifelong friends from those days?
EH: No, but I’m glad I served as a draftee in my era.
During the Vietnam War I would not have; in fact ripped up my documentation and
,ailed (sic) it to Lyndon Johnson.
DS: Did that time in your life instill discipline, or
any other qualities that you lacked till then, which have proven helpful
subsequently- in either a personal or professional way?
EH: I have always had self-discipline- had already
published a 110,000 word novel- but discipline in talking to police officers,
DS: What are some of your earliest memories of youth?
What are your feelings on religion- especially organized religion, in regards to
it as being compatible with science, ala Stephen Jay Gould’s Non-Overlapping
EH: I dislike Gould, as I said, but am an Emersonian.
DS: So, no early memories? And neither Emerson nor your
personal dislike for Gould are an answer to the query. At this point in your
life, have you accomplished most of the things you wanted to do? If not, what
failures gnaw at you the most? Which of those failures do you think you can
accomplish yet? And why do you think you have failed at some of those things,
and why have you succeeded at others? Sheer luck?
EH: I do not think I failed in my dreams; I simply shifted
them from fiction to essays. Twenty books at 75, plus three or four more due
soon, is a total that would have exhilarated me to learn about at 25.
DS: Again, you seem to not be reading my questions, and
instead are resorting to vanity and puffery. Everyone has had failures, but if
you wish not to speak of them, simply say so.
I’ve read that you have been married several times. Are you currently
married? If so, how did you meet? How long have you been married? What is her
EH: Twice, for four and twenty-five years. My present
partner and I have been together for twenty.
DS: What of children? Do you have any, and what
career paths have they followed?
EH: I have a daughter, 39, married to an actor, in
Brooklyn, who is taking care of her three- and seven-year old (sic). Harvard
’90; Has a masters (sic) in European history.
DS: Earlier, I asked you of your religion, so let me now
use this as a jumping off point regarding your political views. Are you a
Democrat, Republican, Independent, member of a Third Party? Who will you be
voting for this year, in the Presidential race? How has your view of politics
grown over the years? How has it affected your art at various stages of
EH: I’ve always, from the age of 12, considered myself a
radical, but vote Democratic so that it counts a little.
DS: But no connection between your politics and art?
I’ve read of a number of scientists who loathe the current administration’s
policies re: funding research- stem cells, etc. Last year, several Surgeons
General testified before Congress regarding the interference they’ve received
from this and past administrations. Although you are not directly involved in
research, have you any friends who are, who have tales that they bitch to you
EH: I have (sic) not a scientist, I am an artist.
DS: But, again, you have written extensively on the
sciences, so that was wherefore the query. Do you consider yourself a builder or
sculptor when it comes to wordsmithing? I’ve met two basic types of writers,
regardless of prose or poetry, fiction or nonfiction, etc. There are sculptors-
who crank out reams of words, then pare back, the way Auguste Rodin once
mentioned that his sculptures were always there, and he just removed whatever
material needed to reveal them. Others are builders, who start with a small
first draft and revise by pruning a bit, but adding depth and bulk with each
draft. Is there any difference in the methodologies you use for book-length
prose, and short essays? If so, what about each form elicits the different
methodology? And, what do you think that says of human creativity re: writing?
EH: I write ten words per hour in fiction and twenty words
per hour in essays, mostly the many drafts are for polishing, not adding or
DS: Would you agree with my claim that this is a Golden
Age for science writing? I feel that since the mid-1970s or so, writers like E.O.
Jay Gould, Carl Sagan, Jared Diamond, Martin Rees,
Timothy Ferris, Robert Bakker, and a few dozen others, have shown the world of
science is bristling not only with ideas, but people who can clarify and excite
the public. Science books often make best seller lists, yet, if that is so, why
are Americans so ignorant on things like abortion, stem cells, evolution, race,
sexuality, and on and on? Is it the old phenomenon of wanting to have the books
on their shelves, as status symbols, but their never being actually read? I
recall the old scene in Annie Hall, where Woody Allen exasperates
over some boob misinterpreting Marshall McLuhan, and Woody pulling out the man,
himself, to depants the fool. Do you ever encounter folks like that, who think
they know more about your work than you do?
EH: No, I don’t. And once again, I am in no way a
scientist, or science writer. I am not Eiseley.
DS: Well, once again you are reacting in a very strange
way. As stated earlier, your
Wikipedia page contradicts your sudden abnegation of your career aims, and
the fact that I sent a draft of these questions to you, in toto, with no chance
to adjust to your answers and their claims, it’s a bit disingenuous, to say
the least, for you to still be trying to act as if I am dissing you for
mentioning what your own entry on a well-known webpage contradicts, ok? And, for
the record, a great writer like Eiseley could have gotten away with the attitude
you’re displaying; but, as you state: you’re not Eiseley!
Regardless, how can scientists do a better job of educating the masses?
Sometimes, layfolk tend to feel that, on a given subject, scientists often come
across as lion keepers, safely ensconced at a zoo, rather than lion hunters, or
lions themselves. There’s not a great vitality that comes across to the
masses, whereas religion seems more passionate, even if science comes across
more honestly, not feigning to know everything, like religion. Do you see a
disconnect between science and the masses? Do you diagnose it my way? And what
is your cure? Do we simply need to bring back updated book series (in print or
online) like the old How, Why, And Wonder Books of the 1960s and
1970s, and install them online?
EH: I am of course much closer to a religious writer than a
science writer, like any Emersonian.
DS: Ok. What of sheer ‘celebrity’ in the sciences-
such as Steven Pinker’s noted curly mop of hair, or Steven Hawking’s ALS? Is
this evidence of the dumbing down of science, or does it represent an ‘in’
that scientists should exploit to further logic, the scientific method, and
basic sanity in society?
EH: Nuff said?
DS: Lemme guess, as a recluse,
you’re just not used to interacting with others, are you? Another writer I
hope to interview for DSI is evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who coined
the term ‘meme.’ Yet, what I find ironic is that, if you read his definition
and usage of the word, it is clearly a metaphor. Yet, in virtually every
published non-Dawkins mention of the term that I’ve ever read, its metaphoric
sense is lost, and the meme is treated as if a material thing. The meme’s meme,
in other words, has been dumbed down to a memetic dead end. This is surely not a
good augury for the cultural understanding of the sciences. Any thoughts?
DS: Please what? You agreed to an interview, yet,
despite non-generic queries, and those specifically crafted with your career in
mind, you seem insistent on dissing potential new readers. And you do realize
that one word answers tend to be the hallmark of pseudo-intellectualism? Anyway,
let me turn to some queries about writing as a business, before I dig into some
of your specific writings. Let us leave the more aesthetic aspects of writing
prose and poetry behind, and turn to the politics, internal and external, of
writing. To start, let me make this claim, and see if you agree: the
failure of ‘published’ literature today lies more with the failings of
publishers, editors, and critics to do their jobs well, more so than the bad and
generic writers who are published. My point is that bad writers have
always been with us, but the cronyism, favoritism, and grants giving NEA cash
cow has led to a system of writers and editors (especially in fiction) who dare
not say negative things about another writer’s work lest find their own
publication chances minimized, if not extirpated. Do you agree, and if so, what
observations can you add? I ask this because you have published some fiction,
but that was years ago. Is nonfiction a less politicized area of the publishing
EH: I don’t know becau se (sic) I don’t really agree
with your basic premise.
DS: Could you expand? After all, you could help
some readers with your past experience, no? Have you ever been involved in the
Creative Writing programs at any of the places you’ve taught? And, is not the
MFA writing workshop archipelago merely a vast networking tool for the bad
writers who are gulled out of their money?
EH: It can be a bit of that, but in
general I found the four programs I participated in valuable, honorable,
worthwhile for everybody concerned.
DS: Yet, it’s still a bit of
that, despite its honor? That would seem a contradiction. I’ve always felt
that the abundance of bad writing today, in any field or genre, has less to do
with the bad writers and more to do with the bad agents, editors, and
publishers. Agree? Then there are the critics. Who have been some of your worst
critics, what were there claims, and how did or do you respond to them? And, are
most of the criticisms mere stylistic complaints, political shots, or simple
EH: This question presupposes a life
experience different from mine. In the past half-century I’ve known
magnificent critics like Kazin and Cowley and fine ones like Updike and Sheed.
The bad writing, like the bad politics in this country, is what the public has
DS: So, you have never
encountered a bad critic nor been riled by a bad review or criticism? One form
of criticism I think is bad and illogical is the ‘criticism of intent.’
This is where a work of art is ripped because it is not what the critic hoped it
would be. In short, the criticism deals not with what is presented, but with the
supposed lack of what the critic feels should have been presented. Do you agree?
I argue the criticism of intent kills real art, for intent in art is utterly
meaningless- only accomplishment matters. Yet, it is far and away dominant. Is
this the influence of Political Correctness, Postmodernism, both, or other
forces? And what remedy can you foresee, other than the natural swing of the
pendulum back to critical sanity? And, to what degree do you think this
ridiculous demoticism, based in politics not aesthetics, has hurt the quality of
EH: This question I tend to agree
with. (Somebody warned me that your intention in these interviews is mainly to
interview yourself.) The computer and Internet have done untol (sic) damage to
reading and criticism, I think, but this problem predates that; you’d see it
in the Thirties; in the neglect of Melville and Thoreau, et al.
DS: Now you are getting a bit bizarre, to say the least. I asked a specific question about types of criticism, and because I use the personal pronoun I you see this as a reason to justify paranoia, and also your attitude? Again, you are not doing much to reach out to new readers. As I explained in my query letters for these interviews:
the online world is so Lowest Common Denominator, my interviews have tried to
add depth to the process, and make themselves less about just pimping a product.
It is along the lines of the classic Playboy interviews, or what William
F Buckley did on Firing Line. He, David Susskind, Dick Cavett, Charlie Rose, or
Phil Donahue, are more along the lines the interviews I run, rather than the
puffery of today. While I don't mind focusing on a latest work, an interview
needs to illuminate more than it pimps. While all of these interviewers have
been criticized for their aggressive styles, all of them elicited memorable
moments, debates, and questions that left their audiences better for the process
than lesser interviewers who practice puffery.
Here is an object lesson about interviews. Interviews are best when they
are conversations, not fellatio sessions nor mere advertisements. They probe,
and are not meant to stand in awe of the subject, but reveal connections between
the interviewee and the readership, by being conducted at an eye-to-eye level.
To probe, the interviewer must draw on what is best and most connected to the
subject both inward and outward. One does not ask queries that anyone else
would, or what would be the point? Finally, interviews are for the readers’
benefit, not the interviewee nor their ego. So, if you want abject fawning
and/or a BJ, ring up Bill Moyers. I’ve given you well written and incisive
questions, yet you feel some odd need to preen and act puerile, or descend into
passive/aggressive flippancy. That’s most disingenuous, and reveals you as a
pretty hollow and empty fellow (as well as an ingrate) to readers I was hoping
you’d impress; to say the least. Please just stick to the questions. I’ll
express a theme or idea, ask the query, and then you answer yea or nay, and
expound. Ok? Question, answer. See? Now, what of the movement toward art as
therapy? Does this abnegate the art and craft of art? Also, since real artists
are naturally more empathetic and sensitive toward the world, this allows those
mentally ill or unbalanced, whose problems may include heightened sensitivity,
to delude themselves they are artists- and when they cannot match their
sensitivity with talent, this claim that ‘everyone
is creative,’ or that ‘everyone is an artist,’
does far more damage in the long run than the fallacious claims that the
mentally unbalanced are ‘artists’ does to their egos in the short term. No?
It’s akin to calling retarded people ‘special,’ as if a mere word will
relieve their ills. My wife argues that such a claim is akin to claiming ‘everyone
is athletic,’ simply by virtue of exercising one’s lungs during
respiration. What are your thoughts?
EH: I agree with your premise but find it less harmful than
you do. More Harmful (sic) is the idea that blogs make everybody equally
DS: Re: Postmodernism. It is just another in a seemingly
endless laundry list of silly -isms and schools of art that any real artist must
dash, for the greatest art and artists are those most individuated. One does not
mistake Whitman’s poetry for Milton’s, nor does one mistake a Hemingway
paragraph for Proust’s. Real artists rebel against stricture; only hacks find
comfort in their confines. Any thoughts?
EH: I agree.
DS: In a related vein, I posit,
‘Only bad artists claim all art is subjective.’ Logically, if
all is subjective, then there’s no reason doing a damned thing in this life.
Yet, just as a single drop of blood would de-purify, say, the Pacific Ocean-
were it wholly purely water, so does one objective fact objectify a subjective
universe, for anything then can be related or parallaxed to or against it. In
writing, as example, clichés are greatly numerically repeated images or groups
of words that are placed together in greatly numerically repeated situations.
Thus, there is nothing subjective about a manifest cliché like ‘bleeding
heart.’ Only if a writer somehow subverts that, out of the context of
emotional sorrow, and perhaps uses that phrase in a poem or story about someone
literally stabbed or shot in the heart, might that term be annealed or wholly
subverted. Do you agree or not? And, how does this account for the dominant
claim in most writing today, that agents and publishers toss off in rejection
slips, that it’s a ‘subjective business?’
EH: Your self-interview loses me
here. Read Montaigne to clear your head.
DS: A real lightweight reply. And now you are being
disingenuous and flip again. How did you maintain this state during all the
hours it took to type this- twenty words per hour, by your claim? And I’d
rather read Wilde. On a related score, another noxious claim is that ‘all
art is political.’ Aside from its logical absurdity; one can substitute
the words ‘about poodles’ for ‘political,’ and the statement is just as
true, or absurd. If one does not deal with poodles in one’s story, poem, or
painting, then one is actually making a statement about the condition of poodles
in the cosmos by ignoring their plight. No? Of course, this is silly, yet it
dominates the art that the ‘system’ buoys up today. Anything can be defined
in relation to another thing in a simplistic manner. So what? Is shitting a
political act? These may seem absurd to young readers of this interview, but
literally, I have heard such nonsense espoused in Marxist, Feminist, PoMo,
Christian, and other methodologies on art. Similarly, the ‘all art is truth’
claim is likewise BS, for ‘art’ has the same root as ‘artifice.’
It can never be truth. Comments?
EH: Will young readers
desire your self-intervie (sic)
DS: Disingenuity- I warned you. And given your utter
disdain for new readers, I think I could type the word FART across the page and
engage them more. No? Now stop it, Teddy (as you identified yourself on my
telephone’s answering machine), and maybe consider this a chance to serve
those with less experience than you. A few years back I co-hosted an Internet
radio show called Omniversica.
On one show we spoke with a poet named Fred Glaysher, who- in arguing with my
co-host Art Durkee, claimed that, in art, change does not come until some giant-
or great artist, comes along, and buries the rest of the wannabes. It’s akin
to Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions. Do you
EH: Great artists like Kafka and Faulkner and Dostoyevsky
DS: Need I bring an alarm clock to keep you awake during
this? To digress for a moment, and in light of the mention of Kuhn; what do you
think has been the biggest scientific ‘truth’ that has been disproved in
your lifetime, and what has been the biggest scientific ‘heresy’ that has
become a ‘truth’?
EH: That eggs were bad for you? That music and exercise are
Teddy, you’ve now sunk below philosopher Daniel
Dennett as the interviewee in this series with the worst sense of humor. You
see, I started these interviews because so many interviews, online and in print,
are atrocious. They are merely vehicles designed to sell a book or other
product- film, CD, etc. One of the things we’ve tried to do with these
interviews is avoid the canned sort of responses that most interviews- print or
videotaped, indulge in, yet most people find comfort in hearing the expected.
Why are the readers and the interviews so banal? Where have all the great
interviewers like a Phil Donahue, Dick Cavett, David Susskind, or Bill Buckley
don’t know where they went, but bestsellers usually recount what people
already believe or know or retell familiar tales.
DS: I coined a neologism- deliterate.
It’s a term I came up with in opposition to illiterate. By deliterate
I mean the willful choice to not read great nor compelling writing. To avoid the
classics in favor of reading blogs. To write in emailese rather than proper
grammar. Basically, I claim that deliteracy is far more a problem than
illiteracy is. Do you agree? And aside from deliteracy and illiteracy, there is
also a lack of true understanding of science. When I interviewed paleontologist Jack
Horner, he blamed the laziness of scientists and professors. Do you agree
with his posit, and with mine?
EH: I agree with your position, not his, and I like your
DS: The deliteracy I mention seems to be a common thing
these days, where people deny all responsibility for their actions. Many artists
seem to even deny their own creativity, pawning it off on God, or some other
force or demiurge. I call this the Divine
Inspiration Fallacy. There is no Muse. For better or worse, it’s
all me, or you, or any artist. Comments on its existence, origins, verity?
EH: I don’t meet artists who deny their own creativity.
Nor do I. Dumbing down the readership, indeed, increasing everybody’s
illusions of creativity.
DS: Let me segue into creativity and intellect. I
believe that artists are fundamentally different, intellectually, than
non-artists, and that the truly great artists are even more greatly different
from the average artists than the average artist is from the non-artist. Let me
quote from an essay I did on Harold
Bloom: ‘….the human mind has 3 types of intellect. #1 is the
Functionary- all of us have it- it is the basic intelligence that IQ tests
purport to measure, & it operates on a fairly simple add & subtract
basis. #2 is the Creationary- only about 1% of the population has it in any
measurable quantity- artists, discoverers, leaders & scientists have this.
It is the ability to see beyond the Functionary, & also to see more deeply-
especially where pattern recognition is concerned. And also to be able to lead
observers with their art. Think of it as Functionary2 . #3 is the
Visionary- perhaps only 1% of the Creationary have this in measurable amounts-
or 1 in 10,000 people. These are the GREAT artists, etc. It is the ability to
see farther than the Creationary, not only see patterns but to make good
predictive & productive use of them, to help with creative leaps of illogic
(Keats’ Negative Capability), & also not just lead an observer, but impose
will on an observer with their art. Think of it as Creationary2 , or
Functionary3.’ In the sciences, this dynamic I also find
applicable. When I interviewed Steven
Pinker, he seemed to feel IQ was good at predicting success in life- at
least socially, academically, and career-wise. But my 3 Intellects posit is
something I don’t think he fully got the point of. That is that creativity is
wholly ‘outside’ the axis of IQ. In other words, there could be someone with
an IQ of 180, and a Functionary Mind, vs. someone with a 120 IQ, and while the
180 may be better suited for test taking, the 120 IQ, with a Creationary or
Visionary Mind, will be able to understand concepts at a deeper level. IQ
measures narrow problem solving, but is utterly useless in regards to
creativity. To use an analogy: think of vision tests. In a real world sense,
this is akin to the Functionary being able to see on the 20/20 scale, while the
Creationary might be able to see on the first scale- yet only at 20/50, but also
be able to see in other light- X-rays or infrared, etc. Then, with the
Visionary, not only are the two sorts of sight available, but also the ability
to see around corners, through steel, etc. In a scientific sense, the
Functionary might be represented by your typical person working in the sciences,
the Creationary by someone along the lines of a Madame Curie, or Nicolaus
Copernicus, who can discover great ideas, but which are logical extensions of
prior paradigms. The Visionary, however, might be able to make even greater
leaps- such as Hutton reaching far beyond Bishop Ussher, EHrwin’s and
Wallace’s ability to transcend Lamarckism, Newton’s development of a new
mathematics- calculus, etc. What are your thoughts on this, since you span the
arts and sciences? And, if you are copacetic with such a system, where on the
scale would you place yourself?
EH: Real self-ijterview (sic)!
DS: Again with the disingenuity, Teddy? Really, I’m
not interested in your need to rebel and spout nonsense- that’s so Third
Grade. Instead, I’m putting forth a real explication of creativity’s
varieties and you are not even interested, despite trying to claim the mantle of
an intellectual. And I thought Daniel Dennett lacked intellectual probing! Ok,
let me ask if you believe in the poet John Keats’ ideas of Negative
Capability- the ability that great minds, especially artists, have to
make creative leaps of seeming illogic that later turn out to not be as
illogical as thought?
EH: I do. Jeffers’ visions ninety years ago that humanity
DS: How about things such as the book, The Bell
Curve, Howard Gardner’s
Seven Intelligences: language, math and logic, musical, spatial, bodily &
kinaesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. I mention this, because as I
prepared these questions, this idea of natal intelligence differences between
races was stirred up again by Nobel Laureate Dr.
James Watson, who said he was, ‘inherently gloomy about the
prospect of Africa’ because ‘all our social policies are based
on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours- whereas all the testing
says not really.’ Comments on these ideas?
EH: In my travels, which presumably have been different
from his, I don’t find myself superior. We are not a chosen people.
DS: Sometimes young wannabe
writers email me and ask me why do I write, and I usually say that in ten
thousand years, on some starship ten thousand light years away, I want some
sentient being, human or not, who may be lonely on some interstellar freighter,
to seek to alleviate his tedium by searching the Encyclopedia Galactica, to
stumble across my work- read a poem or story or essay, and say to himself, ‘Ah,
that ancient earthling- he knew!’ What it was I knew is no matter, but
I want that power to awaken. To me, there’s no other reason to write, save to
bring pieces of your life and knowledge to others, so they can benefit
intellectually or emotionally. Can there be a deeper or more profound concept of
immortality? After all, when we speak of Shakespeare, we do not usually refer to
the guy stiff under Avon, but to the ideas and feelings his art ushers forth. Is
this why you write, for an audience yet to be, as well as those that exist?
EH: Sure, in a more modest sense,
but you’re self-interviewing again.
DS: Well, no I’m not, but
you’re sure being disingenuous and flip again. Why? It
seems your claim of modesty is belied by your constant desire to be considered a
novelist (having been born in the era of the Great American Novelist as
superstar), even though your fiction is out of print and your essays are your
claim to fame. Is there some issue or
insecurity that you have that you cannot engage in an eye-to-eye level exchange
of ideas, and need to feel that the only proper query to you need be a
supplication? Please try to be mature and serious. You are 75 years old, after
all. Dr. Jonas Salk once said something to the effect that our greatest duty is
to be good ancestors for future generations, and this is especially true in the
arts, because art is communication, and if we want future people to understand
their human past, we need to produce as good and great art as we can. Artists
should always create looking upwards, towards that future, and smarter
generations, rather than looking downwards at the current morass, for those
artists that have done so in the past are no longer recalled. Do you agree?
EH: To a degree; but I think I’m a
straw man or straight man here, on stage as a foil for your stunting. Why
don’t you just write these things and see if they’re publishable. That’s
what I’ve done with my ideas.
DS: Teddy, your condescending nonsense is getting a bit
absurd. First off, unlike you, born with a silver spoon, and who got published
50 years ago, when it was infinitely easier, and there was a thousandfold less
static in the public domain, I have put these things into the public arena, and
succeeded wildly. Thus the website’s popularity; seen here.
You seem to be severely out of touch. If you were to add up all the people who
ever bought or read a book or essay of yours in the last five decades plus, then
multiply by a hundred, you’d get as many readers as I’ve garnered in about
1/8 the time frame. Again, you seem so insecure to be confronted by a person
with genuine ideas, and not one groveling to kiss your ass, that you resort to
these childish asides. Indeed, it is you who are ‘stunting,’ for
I am the
one who is giving you an opportunity. After all, I have the audience,
not. If you look up your works on Amazon.com,
as of my typing this, not a one of your books cracks the Top 200,000 in
popularity, and most don’t crack the top half million. And most of your books
end up on remaindered shelves- like the one I bought (Tigers And Ice)
which prompted this interview, or being pulped for lack of sales (thus most are
out of print and few are readily available to be read). In short, unlike
bestselling writers, like Steven
Pinker or Desmond Morris,
who bring me a wider audience, with writers like you or Phillip
Lopate- another privileged old white man so out of touch with reality that
he actually thought I should pay him for giving him a wider audience (when the
reverse would be more appropriate), I’m doing you a huge favor;
so get a grip on your ego, and just answer the questions. Ok?
DS: No expounding? Yet you just claimed you were a man
of ‘ideas.’ Not exactly getting the youngsters panting to read your every
word, now. Why is it that science books, when reviewed, are almost always
reviewed solely for their social or political relevance and their rightness or
wrongness on a given issue, rather than their crafted skill with words?
I pointed this out when I interviewed Steven
Pinker and reviewed his latest book, The
Stuff Of Thought, as I focused not only on the book’s ideas, but
its style, for good or ill. Earlier, I mentioned how Loren Eiseley’s poetic
prose transcended the temporal limits of his time’s current knowledge, but
that does not invalidate his truly great writing. Similarly, while your prose is
not as ultra-poetic as his, nor is it as stuffed with anecdotes and statistics
as Stephen Jay Gould’s, it is more specific, and the reader feels almost as if
a wise old friend is relaying things to them whilst strolling in the woods. Not
that your writing is Waldenesque, but there certainly is a quality
that allows you to simply lay out ideas, walk a reader through them, and tie
them up in a seemingly simple fashion, but one which, at the beginning of the
essay, most readers could not discern coming. So, again, why is style deemed
almost irrelevant in science writing?
EH: I don’t do science writing,
but I am a stylist and aspire to be more Orwell than Eiseley, Abbey than Gould.
DS: You’re stunting again, Teddy. Need I again point
out your Wikipedia page
argues against your claim? And why would you aspire to be Orwell and Abbey
rather than Eiseley and Gould, since the former writers are demonstrably lesser
than the latter? Let me begin winding up this interview with a plenum of diverse
little questions. I think that smell is the most underrated sense, for so many
ideas and memories for my poems, tales, or essays are instigated by a smell. Do
you similarly find it a spur? What smells do you most associate with past
memories? And, if smell is not, for you, the most memory-inducing sense, which
of the others is?
EH: I suppose you’re a Proustian and I’m a Thoreauvian,
but again your purpose is a self-interview.
DS: By asking ‘you’ a question? And I highly doubt
old Henry David would act as childishly as you have in this interview. Your
whole tone of condescension has worn thin, as you try to bludgeon me and the
readers because of your insecurities. And, admit it, you’ve never even read a word of
Proust. Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, who heads The Hayden
Planetarium, caused a stir some years back, when he singlehandedly
demoted Pluto from planethood. Then the International Astronomical Union
redefined it as a dwarf planet. I see the demotion of Pluto as an
example of ad hoc reasoning at its worst, and also specious
semiotics. If a dwarf tree is still a tree, and a dwarf kangaroo is still a
kangaroo, and- of course, human dwarves are still humans, then logically a dwarf
planet has to still be….(drum roll, cymbal crash) a planet!
No? Any thoughts on this sort of thing as an example of bad science? Are there
similar things that you have encountered in your years in the sciences which you
have railed against?
EH: I am not in the sciences; nor really being interviewed.
DS: What number stunt is this, Teddy? Ok, again: your
Wikipedia page argues against you. And, what really is going on here? After
all, I know you’ve never answered questions as focused and directed as this in
print, and given your stuttering, manifestly never being recorded, so, was there
something going on in your personal life that led to this sour display? It’s
gotten older than you. Let me turn to your essays, now. But before I delve
deeply into them- a brief digression; I note that you have written a handful of
fictive books, but they were all written years ago. Did the muse for fiction
simply abandon you? And were the books novels or short fiction? Also, do you
think your nonfiction writing superior to your fiction? If so, why, and is this
the major reason for dropping the fictive world?
EH: Have you been too lazy to look up my four published
novels, two or three in print; and pretty good; and/the (sic) recent long Yale
Review story? My new novel is not out yet but exists. But sure, I’m a natural
DS: Uh, no, I have looked up your oeuvre, again, on your
Wikipedia page, and, as demonstrated, seem to be more attuned to its
contents than you. And the purpose of an interview is not a hagiography, Teddy,
but a chance to allow you to explain yourself against criticism, or in support
of it. Do you not even understand the basics of the form? And, again, you have
not even attempted a good faith answer. Get a grip. Back to the essays and
nature writing. The book which sparked my desire to contact and interview you
was stumbling across, and reading, a copy of your 2000 book, Tigers &
Ice, in a bookstore. As mentioned earlier, I’d read some of your books
a few decades back, mostly library copies, and while I knew and recalled your
name and work, I had forgotten what a damned good essayist you were, despite
whatever personal problems you are now exhibiting. But I want to use this
specific book as a jumping off point for my next set of queries. There are some
specific points about your personal life that are mentioned throughout the
essays in Tigers & Ice, chiefly your stuttering and a bout of
blindness you suffered. Let’s speak of the blindness first. When and how did
it occur, how long were you blind, and how did you regain your sight?
EH: Through operations, after three years. If you’d
troubled to read my memoir you’d know that. Why would you interview me without
reading my 2001 memoir? Because I’m a straw man (sic)?
DS: Here’s a clue, Teddy. The world does not revolve
around you. I’ve not the time nor money to get and read every book of every
writer. I came across that anecdote in the above mentioned book- which prompted
me to want to help you get a larger audience (the classic good deed that you
seem intent on not leaving unpunished), and, so that your fans (as I’m sure
few new readers will care to crack open your work after reading this) could have
an idea, have allowed you the opportunity to put things in your own words.
Again, an interview is not for self-promotion alone, but to help others get an
‘in’ to the subject. And, does it not occur to you that you might actually
get new readers for your memoir if you were to discuss interesting aspects of
your existence that may spur a desire in them to do so, rather than expecting
the world to know or care about every fart you take? As for straw men, I get the
distinct feeling that I am at the end of a rage you are nursing against someone
else, and I frankly don’t appreciate your taking out whatever personal or
professional frustrations you have on me, and more importantly, my readers, who
have come to expect quality interviews with writers who actually value a learned
and interested readership. Anyway, in researching this interview, you are
quoted, from an essay called In The Country Of The Blind, as saying that
‘My sense of divinity was visual.’ In the book I mention, in Behold
Now Behemoth, you write of regaining your sight, and being disappointed at
how the faces of friends and relatives had changed. You wrote, ‘I was
truly, sadly startled, though, in the midst of my exuberance, to notice how many
of my friends’ faces had changed during my blind years. They looked battered,
bruised, disheartened, bereft of illusion, apprehensive, or knocked awry by the
very campaigns and thickets of life that I was giddy with delight to have
regained.’ I thought it was a very astute, and well wrought, observation
since most people do not notice the slow change of others’ looks over years
because we see these people we hold dear daily, weekly, or at least monthly.
These are the sorts of ‘moments’ that few other published writers- essayists
or not, ever notice, much less write about. Were you more disappointed in their
miens or, ultimately, yours?
EH: Why mine? (Nor did I love them less.)
DS: Stunting, straw manning, and dodging questions. I
should have kept a tally at the start of this interview, so I could know which
asinine trick you’ve done the most of. This leads into the next personal thing
you mention throughout Tigers & Ice; your stutter. I’ve read that
when you were blind your stutter almost disappeared completely. First, did you
always stutter, and what do you think led to it, and its dominance in your
speaking voice? Also, why do you think it went away when blind? Were you
literally less self-conscious since you could not gauge others’ reactions to
what you said, and how clearly and efficiently?
EH: I can’t imagine why you would embark on this
project without bothering to read the books where all this is laid our (sic),
like Compass and Turtles. Are you a massive egotist?
DS: Ok, so stunting is in the lead. First, you’re
utterly irrational if you expect the whole world to know or care who you are;
especially the diminishing reading public under the age of 40, to whom your name
is meaningless. Thus why I wanted to interview you, to help you, not
myself, in getting a wider audience for a quality writer, despite whatever
personal issues you cannot control. And this forum is not the proper place for
you to work out those issues. Geez, I wonder what childhood trauma or bully
I’m getting your shit for? I’m sorry you felt a need to take out your
frustrations on me, but you need a severe reality check, my man, for, guess
what?, you’re not the center of the universe. Being published is not
deification. But, in answer to your query- no, but clearly you are, or
you are seriously delusional, or a narcissist. The point of an interview is not
to recapitulate what you wrote, but to distill and condense major points ad
allow the subject to add to them- such as the information my query contains. In
reading that question, you have a partial explanation of why I ask it, and an
opportunity to help younger folk who are struggling with that problem, to let
them know how you have coped with it. But, as you are 75, and still are dealing
with a problem that most conquer in their early adulthood, at latest, perhaps it
is not surprising to see such a sad display of your lack of self-confidence and
self-awareness on display. I’ve often told others that virtues in one area
(like art) do not mean that the person, themselves, is overall worthy or
virtuous. But did you have to prove it so definitively? And, if you did not want
to answer queries, and only wanted to promote a book, is it fair for you to
expect me or potential readers to know all about you ahead of time? That’s
silly. On a personal side note, in contacting you for this interview, I had to
speak to you via old fashioned telephone, and snail mail the written questions
to you, as you have no computer nor email. When we spoke on the telephone, live,
and man to man, you stuttered, and at times quite badly. Yet, the one time when
you left a message on my answering machine there was not a trace of stuttering.
Again, I wonder if the fact of speaking to a cold, dispassionate, machine,
utterly incapable of forming an opinion about you or your speech patterns,
stripped any nervousness away, and made leaving the message ‘easy,’ whereas
speaking to another human being, and a total stranger, was somehow
‘dangerous,’ because I might opine and judge you, perhaps negatively?
EH: Not necessarily. The affliction is more complicated
than you ‘opine.’ But I explain so elsewhere.
DS: Well, 1) it’s not that complicated, for it’s
largely borne of insecurity (as you’ve demonstrated), and 2) you are again
shafting potential readers with one of the worst forms of egotism that occurs in
interviews: the self-quote, or the reference to a prior work one hopes the
reader will buy because the interviewee is too lazy or conceited to deign to a
prospective audience. Thanks for dissing my readers again, Teddy. I’ve also
read that your stutter was one of the reasons why you turned to essayry from
fiction, claiming, ‘the painful fact that I stuttered so badly that
writing essays was my best chance to talk.’ I have to say that this
does not make sense to me. How does stuttering affect the choice between fiction
and nonfiction? I can understand giving up public speaking, due to stuttering,
but giving up fiction? I can understand nonfiction giving voice to yourself,
Edward Hoagland, vs. a character, Joe Blow; but in reality Joe Blow would just
be another aspect of Edward Hoagland, no?
DS: Another stunt. Are you losing focus, or did you just wake up? I’ll ask another question, although most readers will have long grown bored with your petulance. In the Introduction to Tigers & Ice you write about the arts and the sciences, you delineate how the knowledge of science is, basically, always destined to be revised, whereas the knowledge of art is not. This goes back to my prior query about creativity. I’ve always felt that science uses creativity in service to discovery, whereas art uses discovery in service to creativity. Do you agree, and what are some examples you have known of that process in both directions?
EH: I do.
DS: Another point you make in
that Introduction is your upset when people use the ‘canary
in the coal mine’ analogy re: other animals’ extinctions, and their
consequences on humans. You say that you care about what’s happening to frogs
for their own sake, not just ours. I agree wholeheartedly, and loathe the human
hubris that because we have the ‘highest’ intellect and social organization
that we, therefore, are the only or primary, things on the planet. I once
grieved for a pet I lost,
and a friend of mine could not understand my grief, stating that it was just a
cat. Yet, the vast majority of human beings, who lack real, deep
creativity- and I’m talking about the creativity that brings awareness,
depth and change, not the superfluous creativity of tying one’s shoelaces in
an extreme knot, offer little more than the typical cat or dog, and usually
their psychological weaknesses aggrieve with far more tsoris. Why do you feel
human beings allow their emotional selfishness to almost always override their
EH: They’re needy. So are you: ergo the self-interview.
DS: You really need to seek
professional help. As Hank Hill would say, ‘That boy ain’t right.’ In the
essay Behold Now Behemoth you write of a period you were a
Pentecostalist, then a Transcendentalist, but now are not religious. Are you an
atheist, agnostic, or simply irreligious? Atheists come in Weak and Strong
versions. Weak (or small a atheists) are generally agnostics under a different
guise, and tend to be carefree re: religious queries. They tend to admit that
they are finite beings and an infinite thing (a deity) would necessarily be
beyond their ken, even if they’ve seen no evidence. Then there are the Strong
(capital A Atheists), who seem to be every bit as inflexible and dogmatic as
Fundamentalist religiots of any religion, claiming not only do they not believe
in a deity, but that there can be and is no deity- period. So, if an atheist,
what type are you?
EH: I never said I was an atheist or a Pentecostal (sic). I enjoyed being hugged by the latter in my few visits, but remain a Transcendentalist.
DS: Again, I seem to have a
better grip on your oeuvre than you do. Natheless, the book’s titular essay, Tigers
And Ice, is an excellent musing on the aging process. I’m 43, yet when
I realize that my grade school days were three or more decades past, I’m
flabbergasted that it was that long ago. It simply does not ‘feel’ that long
ago. Earlier in this interview, I asked of memory actually starting to improve
with real old age, but let me now ask, since you also have written of the
feeling of seeing your friends’ faces when your blindness ended; are you ever
startled to look at your face in the mirror, and see a face more akin to your
dad’s or grandfather’s than your own? Do you sometimes feel the exhilarating
compression of time’s ebb and flow like a squeezebox?
EH: I never look in the mirror, and my memory does not improve.
DS: Perhaps if you looked in the
mirror, Teddy, you may find a reason to improve, no? In Heaven And Nature
you write about suicide, the pros and cons, the ethics and cultural baggage it
carries, and then reveal that you had ‘a bad dip into suicidal
speculation.’ What prompted this? How did you move past it, and has it
EH: I moved past it be (sic) writing the essay.
DS: Another blown opportunity to
enlighten readers. Great. You end that essay claiming that man’s dour and
darker sides are evolutionary adaptations that served him well. This reminded me
of Pascal Boyer’s book Religion
Explained, but the basic posit he makes re: the origin of religion is
that it is fear based. The example he uses is that the Neolith who feared every
sound in the jungle, would avoid the Saber-toothed tiger waiting behind a bush
that stirred, whereas a fearless rationalist would not be swayed. While 99 times
out of 100 the rationalist would suffer no ill consequences, that 1 time in a
100 where he became cat food, whereas the fearful proto-religiot did not,
eventually had a selective effect in weeding out rationalism in favor of
supernatural beliefs. Any thoughts as to how religion may have ‘evolved’ out
of the real world desires of the human mind? And does this tie in to your own
ideas re: man’s darker side being evolutionarily beneficial?
EH: I agree with your paraphrase of
what I have not read in (sic) him.
DS: But, would you agree with the transcription of what you have not written in this interview? Think hard, now, Teddy- don’t embarrass yourself again. In another essay, Running Mates, you speak of a famed suicide who was your friend, John Berryman, the poet who wrote, most famously, The Dream Songs. Was he a professor of yours, for he was almost two decades your senior? If not, how did you meet him, and what effect did he have on your writing?
EH: He was one of my teachers and introduced me to Bellow, as my memoir again describes.
DS: Why didn’t you include the
title, ISBN, and price of the book, since that seems to be your only motivation,
here? That essay ends with the claim that most people want to see their friends
succeed, and elsewhere in that book you seem to take the position that the good
things people do outnumber the bad. I don’t really buy that. I’m reminded of
Gore Vidal’s famed quote, ‘Whenever a friend succeeds, a little
something in me dies.’ Also, I’ve always subscribed to the notion
that perhaps 1% of the things most people do are demonstrably ‘good,’ 9%
demonstrably bad, but the overwhelming majority, 90% or so is utterly
indifferent. Granted, there is no empirical evidence for this, but every day, in
personal relationships, at work, walking in a mall, I see people gossiping about
each other, setting up obstacles for others to overcome, acting in blatantly
self-aggrandizing and selfish ways. It may not be outright ‘evil,’ the way a
cop taking a bribe is, but it is certainly bad, and ‘corrupt,’ in the small
way that a cop who writes out a phony traffic ticket to make his desk
sergeant’s quota is. And I think the philosophes who claim that the good acts
in life outnumber the bad are simply ignorant of the indifferent, as well as not
fully cognizant of the ‘real’ little evils in the world. It’s easy to
decry the Hitlers, Stalins, and serial killers, but these folk always get away
with things because of the enablers, whose actions go largely unnoticed and
uncounted. Have I convinced you? Or do you have a riposte?
EH: You like Vidal more than I do. No, you have not convinced me of anything but I agree that we the people are the enablers of George Bush as well as Adolf.
DS: Actually, there is no like
nor dislike of Vidal implied, merely a quote to opine on; or did you, again,
merely skim a question to justify your silly attitude? And, another tired
comparison of Bush to Hitler? I mean, c’mon. You have probably turned off a
whole generation of potential readers to your works by this point, but you just
had to dip into that Loony Leftist canard? In the book, as a whole, you describe
myriad adventures, including a trip to Antarctica. Are you regularly sent on
paid assignments by your publisher, or magazines, or do you make enough money to
fund your own globetrotting? If the latter, please give me the secret to your
EH: I am financed to witness the world by editors and their employees.
DS: Tigers & Ice
ends recalling your youthful employment at a zoo. What are your thoughts on
modern zoos? Are they vital in stemming specific extinction, or are they somehow
‘cruel,’ as many animal activists claim? And did this job spur your nature
writing, or vice versa?
EH: I was never employed in a zoo. Do you know nothing about me? Are you that lazy? But yes, the circus and writing as passions bolstered each other.
DS: As pointed out more than once
before, I apparently know quite a bit more than you seem to recall, unless the
essay Wild Things was wrong- page 148? And earlier, you even
stated ‘in 1951 when I joined Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Circus as
a cagehand.’ You do realize that circuses often have traveling zoos?
So, two for two or oh for two?’ As far as laziness- one need only read the
depth and breadth of the questions to realize I did research you and your work
quite well, rather than ask the same old trivial queries most interviewers do.
Apparently you prefer trite questions you could type canned answers to, and have
no appreciation that I had appreciated your work. That’s your loss, Teddy, not
mine. And that’s not laziness, a trait that aptly describes your pithy and
pathetically witless answers. Nonetheless, this is almost over. What do you
still want to accomplish before you die? What do the next few years hold in
store for you?
EH: I am publishing two books this
year, it seems, and have two more to shop around, plus more.
DS: I would usually end an interview by stating,
‘Thanks for doing this interview, Edward Hoagland, and let me allow you a
closing statement, on whatever you like;’ however, since you’ve shown no
good faith nor class, and tried to veer the interview off into places it should
not have gone for whatever bizarre ulterior motives, and put as much effort into
this interview as you do a fart, I think I’ll pass (but not gas, I’ll leave
that to you).
EH: (no reply)
[This interview was conducted via U.S. Postal Mail, and
published with Mr. Hoagland's written and verbal permission. The
font was boldened and enlarged from size 12 to 18 so that Mr. Hoagland could
better read its contents. Not a single word of Mr. Hoagland’s replies has been
altered, thus the occasional (sic) notations. The photo was taken
from Mr. Hoagland’s Wikipedia
page at his urging and with his written permission. The text of this interview is copyrighted. Questions
are © Dan Schneider; answers are © Edward Hoagland.]
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