Japanese star map. Tenmon Bun’ya no zu he (1677)
Could you describe your involvement in the 1984 presidential campaign?
I spoke for Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro and for the good guys running against the bad guys in North Carolina, Texas, Iowa, and Michigan. Campaigning was especially depressing on college campuses. I cared more about abortion rights than my audience of students who were fucking each other day and night and taking for granted that they would never have any trouble getting an abortion. I cared more about whether their generation was going to suffer another Vietnam in Central America—although, as I told them, I wouldn’t be one of the Americans sent to die there, those Americans would come from their generation. A lot of well-fed, well-dressed, career-oriented young people smiled back at me with a kind of what’s-he-worried-about? look on their faces. At the New School once some wit in the audience hollered out to me when I was talking about The Cider House Rules. The subject was migrant workers and the period in the late 1950s when I worked in the orchards with black apple pickers from the South, and I was saying that not much had changed for the migrants since then and that I felt great sympathy for poor people as a kid and I always wanted to write about them as truthfully as I could. And this jerk in the audience pipes up: “Will the migrants read it?” And there’s a small chant from about two or three of his pals saying “Yeah!” And raised fists; shouts. I don’t know exactly what their point was but they seemed to think they had made one—possibly, the migrants won’t read it, therefore so what? Of course, if you know the book, you know that’s one of my points about the migrants: They can’t read! Anyway, I thought it was funny, and bewildering, and typical.
People are angry—politically—and the last people they see as helping a political or just plain social situation are the artists and writers and intellectuals. And as a group we have been of next to no help in this country. Every administration thinks we’re silly, not to be counted, and in the popular media, intellectuals and artists are always cast as totally unreliable and selfish people, as flakes and phonies and wimps altogether out of touch with the common man. Some problem, wouldn’t you agree? I have an instinct for victims; that’s all I can tell you. I see who gets hurt and I describe it. Do people like to see themselves as victims, or to hear about victims? In my experience, no.
Ron Hansen, “John Irving, The Art of Fiction No. 93” (The Paris Review, No. 100, Summer-Fall 1986)
Taylor Swift – Shake It Off (The Singles Jukebox)