"We're living a national ideology that's invisible to us because we're inside it."
At the outset of his career E. L. Doctorow told Paul Levine, "History written by historians is clearly insufficient." Doctorow's novels carry out that conviction by imagining the great moments of American history--the Old West, the gilded age, the Depression, the cold war--as backdrops for tales of excruciating moral pain and injustice in America.
In Conversations with E. L. Doctorow Christopher D. Morris has gathered over twenty of the most revelatory interviews with the acclaimed author of Ragtime, World's Fair, Billy Bathgate, The Book of Daniel, and other novels, plays, and short stories. Whatever the setting or time period, Doctorow's characters spark an unparalleled urgency in the novelist's recreations of history. In his work the American dream and the values his characters try to live by turn to madness and ashes.
Within this collection Doctorow explores the themes of his work not only in the contexts of national and literary history but also in terms of disturbing trends in contemporary American culture. Talking about style, Doctorow discusses his experiments with shifting points of view and unreliable narrators as part of the modernist heritage to which readers have become accustomed. But he stresses that these techniques are always subordinate to the telling of a good story and the creation of memorable characters.
"My portrait of J. P. Morgan in Ragtime is truer to the man's soul and the substance of his life than his authorized biography," he says. Doctorow's critical and popular success comes from the creation and re-creation of such great characters and the telling of captivating stories in which the writer serves as an independent witness to both the ideals and the corruptions that have driven our history.
Christopher D. Morris has been the Charles A. Dana Professor of English at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont, since 1996. He is also the author of Models of Misrepresentation: On the Fiction of E. L. Doctorow and regularly publishes in journals like The Ohio Review, Critique, and Film Criticism.
What People are Saying About This
I don't see how it's possible for a novelist not to recognize the political implications of his work. If you write a book about your marriage, your own neurosis, your divorce, your affairs, the writer can derive a political universe from that and find the forces that reinforce a certain political point of view.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this collection of transcribed interviews. I especially liked the one conducted by Bill Moyers in 1990 but then both men in that conversation obviously enjoyed each other's intelligence and were obviously comfortable in shared beliefs. I find that I have political beliefs very similar to those men, and Mr. Doctorow in particular. Here's a couple of lines from the interview conducted by Richard Trenner in 1982 in response to a question about what President Reagan appears to represent: "...It turns out after all we were not supposed to be just a nation, but a confederacy of stupid murderous gluttons. ......The religious fundamentalists and the political right have made explosive contact, and in light of their conjunction it says Armageddon." And again in Winifred Farrant Bevilacqua's 1988 Budapest interview, after she asked him to comment on the situation of the writer in the West and in other parts of the world, he said this: "America is generally an anti-intellectual country and the literary life occupies the attention of a very small number of people ...... which is not true in other countries of the world." These statements, among many others, resonated strongly with me. I don't think anything has changed and I don't think it ever will - despite Oprah Winfrey's efforts to get more people to read and read. Also - we have been to war several times post Reagan and we learn little from the experiences.