From Here to Eternity
Michael March's interview with Arthur Miller in New York on 1st March 2001.
Yasunari Kawabata, the Japanese writer, said that the grave is a work of art.
I know a couple in Connecticut, who had bought a grave, a space, in a particular small cemetery up in the country, because they liked the view. And it was serious. They wanted the good view. My grandfather, my mother's father, asked to be buried in one of the cemeteries in Brooklyn, jammed packed, very crowded, and he asked that he not be buried on the aisle, because he didn't want people stepping over him to get to where they were going. He would rather have it off in a corner somewhere where nobody would be bothering him. What weird things we are.
An artist goes by instinct. What are your feelings for this new century?
I can't get rid of the idea that it is within the range of possibility for someone in a small boat to bring an atomic bomb into New York harbour, figuring he's going to go straight to heaven. To me this is possible. About fifty years ago this could not be thought, except by a lunatic. Certainly a maniac like Saddam Hussein is perfectly capable of justifying this act. You know, they're messing around with Israel which has atomic bombs. And the Israelis are not going to be destroyed before they destroy somebody else. We're standing on the edge with India and Pakistan. In my plays I search for illumination, but I've lost any illusion of safety. I'm not paranoid, it's perfectly real. You have a billionaire at the end of the Arabian desert pouring money into training people to do this. And if they ever manage to lay their hands on it, they will. The point is that they have an ideological and religious justification for the whole thing. So they're as reasonable as we are.
What death would your salesman affect today?
First of all, "Salesman" is produced more now than it ever was, and people say it's more reflective of reality now. It's more real. Because in the old days, he simply represented an extreme, from which the majority was remotely connected. Now it's a majority. And moreover, there's an interesting thing here. One of the proposals of Mr. Bush, is that money be removed, and they're billions of dollars, from the pension funds to be invested on the stock market at the behest of the owner of such funds. So Bush would make gamblers out of everyone who had not yet tuned into this. People who simply wanted be reassured that they would not starve in their later years. Now, they want to free up that money, so that these people become "investors", which is really a nice word for gambling on this market. Now, in the last year the market has lost a substantial amount of its value. So what would have happened to all these people and their pensions, if the government had already done this?
We travel from evil to power: talking about forces which deprive man of his dignity and work. We have been totally impoverished through this dream, through the illusion of wealth, a form of evil through the investment of power.
I agree with that. It's what they're doing or trying to do, it's not yet been done, but it could very well happen. They're trying to make unreal what at least had a certain amount of reality. This spread unreality into the masses from the smaller, or relatively smaller class of people who are gambling on the stock-market.
And social security?
When you speak of the dream, the more detailed you get about this system, the more illusionary it becomes, and in many cases the more hallucinatory it becomes. The big resistance, for example, to this new tax proposal, which would give even more benefits to the wealthiest two percent of the population, and I don't think it's that much really, it's about one percent, is coming from a small group of extremely rich people, like the Rockefellers, who have tens of billions of dollars. Bill Gates, who is probably the richest man in the world, objecting to this proposal on the grounds that it would simply make them somewhat richer, but it will reduce the amount of charitable donations in the country. That way it will create a class of heirs who will be no doubt idle and unworthy of very rich people. Which we didn't think, they didn't think, American philosophies should encourage.
At this moment, they feel secure in their wealth. Why disturb it?
They feel that it will cause a degeneration of the system from which they benefited so greatly. And that it will, as I say, create a class of people who simply stand with a big basket and all the money falls in, who are not necessarily moved to invent or work or do anything else. The question you have to ask yourself is: whence comes this idea? From a brand new president. And I can only imagine that, since he is in the oil business, and the oil business is notoriously predatory (don't go where the oil is, even if it's in your bathroom) they figured that their man could extract more money from the tax department. And to hell with everybody else.
Travelling backwards we could say that art mummifies life. Through mummification, we receive a sense of reality. It's extremely ironic.
Basically, that's what its function is now. It's just to stop time. You stop time. That massive flow of images that flood every country, with no meaning, no definition. Art stops it. Long enough for you to say, "Oh, that's what the hell it is?" It gives you a moment of recognition. But all you get is that moment. If I can generalise from my small experience with the younger people, they know something is missing. They're quite conscious of it. They think, in relation let's say to my work or the work of my generation, that this something once existed. They long for an emergency. An emergency which will give them values, in other words, things you have to do. Ideas you have to understand in order to survive. They don't have any such ideas. Every idea is something they choose to have or not choose to have. Everything they do is arbitrary. There's no necessity in anything. That's a very common situation now, probably the most common situation, really forced by the culture which throws up an endless string of meaningless images.
We've reached a state, where the communicable world a lost.
I don't know what the reason is, but I do know what the effect is: that economic man is all there is anymore. There isn't a culture. And I'm wondering really, whether it was the victim, destroyed by the many wars of the last hundred years or so. You know, a religion, for example, which offers itself as a means of dignifying humanity, and blesses, or does not condemn, a Holocaust. Finally, it evolves into a vapour in the human mind. We now have the religion in this country that is like a football game. People get together in large institutions and cheer the minister. The idea of changing one's life by turning towards some set of values is very remote. The only value is that we're all together. That's the value. We're all together. We're all singing together and we're all praying together.
We're all on the sinking ship together.
Yes. The one thing about this country you can be sure of is that it's gonna change. That's the only certainty I know. Whatever is today will be somewhat different tomorrow.
Hospodářské noviny, 9th November 2001
Information content: © 1998-2003 Festival spisovatelů Praha, Křemencova 7, 110 00 Praha 1, email@example.com
WebSite © 2001-2003 CP Online, a.s.