The novelist on baseball, technology, and how French philosophy has infected the White House.
(Details, April 2006. Photo: Steve Pyke)
Q: You opened Underworld with the end of the Dodgers-Giants World Series in 1951, and your screenplay for the movie Game 6 revolves around the finale of the ’86 Mets–Red Sox Series. Why these two games?
A: I don’t know if there’s a link, but the odd thing about the two games is that the first of these was a heroic event and had a sense of triumph. Well, for the Giants, not for the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was not exactly pre-television, but it was pre-replay, so that the event was not exhausted by midnight of the first day with replays. And it became legendary. Troops serving in Korea and Europe all became involved in it: “Bobby Thomson hit a home run!” But the Mets and Red Sox in 1986 was a story of defeat and failure. The game was won and lost because a particular player, Bill Buckner, failed to pick up an easy ground ball, and this, unfortunately for him and for the Red Sox, made modern-day sports history. And at the time, few things, outside of history itself, were stronger than baseball.
Q: You’ve written before about this idea of exhausting the event through repeated viewing.
A: There was a period not long ago—and I’m not sure they still do this—when you’d have surveillance film from a little convenience store in Oklahoma. A guy would come in with a gun and hold the place up, and they would show this on network television. Why? Because they had the film. It’s a form of consumption. What’s curious is we no longer feel the impact of an event unless we have videotape or film. Something is missing in our regret over the loss of life and the destruction of property. Something is missing if we can’t see the replay.
Q: Your characters are suspicious of technology. I was wondering, do you use e-mail?
A: I don’t use e-mail. Absolutely not. As much as I want to enjoy things in the world around me, on another level my tendency is to keep the world out. I don’t want communication from people who communicate only because e-mail is handy. The nature of these devices is that we use them because we have them, not because they’re necessary. They become necessary because we have them.
Q: You have a reputation as a recluse, at least when it comes to the media. You rarely give interviews, and you’ve never done TV. Why is that?
A: It’s the sense that anonymity is threatened by television more than anything else. I’m just happy to be invisible and anonymous. People have knocked on my door. The most recent case is that a group of writing students tracked me down. There were four of them—very nice, but . . .
Q: You’ve written about how governments can twist reality through language. I was reminded of that recently when a White House official told a reporter, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” How does that strike you?
A: It’s what a French philosopher might have said 20 years ago. The White House has just caught up, but now it’s in the real world. It’s marched out of philosophy books and into the center of power. And every evidence is that the administration is trying to create a global reality but the reality won’t cooperate.