Or that Bush hadn’t been in charge. You don’t believe that?
No, I honestly don’t. Iraq was in such terrible shape as a society that it wouldn’t have mattered if Paul Bremer had been Pericles.
Is there anything you don’t have an opinion on?
My bet with Graydon [Carter, Vanity Fair editor-in-chief] is that he can ask me to write about anything at all, unless it’s mathematics or science.
Will you write about Virginia Tech?
I have no interest in it, but if it goes on for a couple of days I will. My heart sinks when yellow-ribbon events occur, if that doesn’t sound too cynical. What one needs in this society is less sentimentality and more stoicism. [He did write a Slate column last week, headlined SUCK IT UP.]
You’ve complained that American discourse is too polite. But a lot of people think you’re too rude.
I used to get told by nice old ladies at bookstores, “It’s so nice to meet you, because I used to think you were very unhappy and just disliked everything, and you seem quite friendly.” And I would think, Oh, God, is that how I seem?
You did write a book called Letters to a Young Contrarian.
I was contrarian enough to say that I thought contrarianism was a stupid title. But the idea that I think How can I enhance my reputation today by thinking of a famous person to trash?—if you thought that about me, I would feel I’d lost somehow. With Mother Teresa, the subject picked me. But I have written books positive about, say, George Orwell and Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine …
But those people are all dead.
Now you’ll have to let me brood on that … I do have a reply—did you think I would completely fail you? Rushdie, Mr. Amis, Mr. McEwan—but it is known that I’m friendly with them, so I get trashed another way: “Oh, well, you’re just sticking up for your pals.”
Have you ever prayed in your life?
I probably once did pray for an erection, but not addressed to anyone in particular. Nor completely addressed to my cock. You’re too polite to ask if the prayer was answered.
No. There was an answer, but I don’t think it was the result of the prayer. After all, if one was not a mammal, and could get erections on demand, there’d be no need for prayer in the first place.