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Arthur Goodfriend Papers

Oral History Transcription

:

Tape II, Side A: August 7, 1997

NOTE: AG = Arthur Goodfriend; JY = Jason Yamashita; ST = Shari Tamashiro

ST:

Today is August 7, 1997. Second day of taping.

JY:

Could you talk a little about the composition of this first image?

AG:

The composition really derives almost directly from these first illustrated or illuminated manuscripts of the medieval monks. You remember my talking about the fact that I was so captivated by, not only the beauty, the color and the magnificent design that they incorporated in their work but also there was a narrative that seemed to be emerging from the beauty of what they accomplished. And even as a little boy, this reached into me and to a point where I responded and felt that, gee, I want to do this too, and so therefore you see here the rather immature but the nevertheless, the aspiring effort of a young person to start memorializing his existence even though it was very, very early stages. So you see the highly decorated large initials, very much in the tradition of the medieval monks, interwoven with floral and geometric designs and the border in which I start with a cradle up here and move around to the early days of my childhood as I imagine them, infancy on and so on and then on to the present where I think I just about leave off in my first trip around the world signified by the globe and then it's interesting, it peters out, I never really complete this but nevertheless, I do anticipate up in the upper left hand corner with a coffin, I anticipate my eventual demise. Now I, forgive me for saying this, but I really do attach some importance to this because it means that even as a child or as a very young person I had a conception of life as something that was finite. It had a beginning, it had a. . .it ran its course, and inevitably it terminated. And I don't think that most people think of their lives as ending and visualize themselves in the final act of existence, which is of course, ones death. So there is something, I hope I don't sound immodest about this, but there is something poetic about this, there's a philosophical understanding of life and that permeates this and all the books which reflect my life from that point on. Every minute of my life seems somehow important to me. Now, again I have to say that I hope this is not ego. It isn't that I attach this great importance to my life but I do attach that importance to life. Your life, your life, the lives of all of us and basically what I'm really trying to say is that we seem to be contemptuous of our lives because we neglect them, we don't plan them, we don't appreciate the magnificence of the opportunities that our lives offer us. And so that is really the meaning of this page. It's a very interesting beginning to the many, many journals that follow.

ST:

What do the symbols. . .I see the cradle and a diploma, what about the other ones? The envelope and the heart?

AG:

Well, now this I think would be the fact that early sexuality, it would represent the heart and I was now encountering girls and girls were very fascinating. And it was very different, very different experience, let us say in the early 20s when this was happening when I was, let us say 17, 18, 19 years old. Very different from today. The permissiveness of today did not exist at that time. At that time, young people were corralled, were circumscribed more by the discipline inculcated by parents and by societies in general. But nevertheless, we were undergoing yearnings and desires and passions and so on, which expressed themselves in a lot of fooling around, in petting, in pawing and testing and trying and so on and hoping somehow to consummate this thing in ways that I don't think we even understood. In those days, incidentally, you did not have Playboy and you did not have Hustler and you did not have the explicit presentation of sexuality as, that you have today. And in my opinion, the mystery, the beauty of it all has been desecrated and been taken away by the fact that it's become so open that even a 10 year old boy can go into a store and flick pages and see things that never came into the minds of people of that age in the early part of the century. So in way, there is something historical about this, about the changes in society that at that time, sexuality would be designated by a heart being pierced by an arrow which is very childish and very immature, but that's the way we thought. Love and sex and so on at that time and you must compare that then with the way you would, a person would do that today. It would be done in, I'm sure, a very different manner. But I would be very interested in knowing how it would be done. How would you, for instance, you young people, how would you describe the hormones that are surging around in your bodies at a time when you've, when you're still in your late teens and early twenties.

ST:

What about the envelope?

AG:

The envelope, I think, that occurs early in my job situation. That would be raises in pay, pay envelopes and then some very beautiful things that were written by my employers complementing me and saying that I fit in very well and giving me pay raises and in those days, instead of everything coming out of a computer, it generally would be an envelope with a little sentiment inside and there would either be cash or a check or something of that sort to designate the financial asset that you have achieved. And then of course we get into the next symbol, which would be the globe. And that would indicate two things. That would indicate my first trip as a sailor sailing on the Benjamin Brewster and doing Europe in 1928. Six hundred dollars for six months of travel in Europe, during which my education began. And then it goes on and here, yes it goes on, and this I think is very interesting. Here is a ship. And in those days, if you went anywhere you had to go by ship. If there were airplanes, they were still pretty much Kitty Hawk and the Wright Brothers. There were ships and to me they were the most wonderful way to travel because you made great friends on board and the ships were magnificent in terms of the accommodations and the food that was served. The French line especially was marvelous in its elegance and what have you. So this was a great experience, the world opening up in a culinary way and in a fashion way and in a way of meeting people and so on. But then look what happens here is that it goes on down and here we find an airplane. And so here is the transition from a ship to an airplane. And then of course if this were to continue, it would eventually get around here to terrestrial travel, you know, NASA and Mars and it's just a progression, a technological progression from, let us say, what might be a beginning up here. Here up here obviously is my college and this should be an automobile in here somewhere. Here incidentally would be my first trip to Bermuda by boat. And here's the Eiffel Tower. I'm trying to find the. . .very earliest transportation of course would be a Ford automobile, what we called a Tin Lizzie in those days. So it would be a technological progression right on into the present going from the ship to the airplane and then on and on. So this is interesting, at least to me, because it includes so many different dimensions. It has a very personal, the cradle to the grave. Capturing the personalities in my life, it has the course of my existence, the school and college and the job and the travels and the first jobs and so on. It captures somehow the process of maturation, of growing up and it's all done on one page. Thanks to the inspiration of these magnificent medieval monks.

ST:

Have you thought of finishing it?

AG:

No. Oh no. I think this is interesting because that's where it began and that's where it stopped. And there's a lesson to be learned there because one of the things about this is that most people stop and stay stopped but I didn't. I stopped with this one, but I went on and on and on. And so you have this progression and that's the beginning!

JY:

There's an art palette and a little further along there's, it says "art prize" I think?

AG:

Yeah. Yes.

JY:

What was your artistic background prior to this drawing?

AG:

There was no artistic background in the tutorial sense, but as a child I was always sketching and drawing. Nobody ever saw this I suppose except my parents but I used to do a lot of my drawing on the concrete pavement of the street. With a stick of chalk. You know the kids, I'm sure you've done that. Playing games and so on. What I was doing was drawing pictures on the pavement of the street outside of my house and a man came along one day and he stopped and he looked at these things and he looked at me and he said, "Look, I'm going to write a little note to your parents" and he did. He gave me a piece of paper with a note on it and the note said, "You boy has talent, cultivate it." That was the first recognition by anybody that I. . .but my parents responded very, very positively. They provided me with all the paints and paper and so on and they sent me to the National Academy of Design in New York City. I probably was the youngest entrant into the National Academy. But then at that time, art was taught by charcoal renderings of busts of Julius Caesar and Aristotle and so on and so forth which I found very boring. Again getting back into sexuality, I was fascinating by the fact that upstairs there was a studio where there were naked women posing for adult artists and I went up there to peek through the door to see all this and I was caught and I was expelled from the National Academy of Design. So that was my first expulsion from school. But that was the beginning. It's very interesting that you've picked it up because that is the beginning of my artistic career. Now the prize. I won, there was a big department store in New York called John Wanamaker's and Wanamaker's offered a prize every year to children for their, in an art competition. And I don't remember what I submitted but probably my parents had submitted something that I had done and it won the Wanamaker Prize. So that was my first artistic triumph. Such as it was. But I think it should be said for the benefit for anybody who pays any attention to this, that I feel very, very fortunate that I was given this very, very slender gift of being able to draw, sketch and so on. There's no question in my mind that this is something I think I must have inherited because my aunt, incidentally, was a designer and something came down genetically to me so that as a child I was drawing and I've been drawing and painting ever since. So I'm in a rather fortunate position in that I have this ability to not only write what I experience but also to illustrate it. Now that means that other people might feel discouraged about this, but I don't think they should because in the first place I think they ought to try and it's the effort, it's not the result that matters. It's the effort in which the enjoyment is in at the time you're given to study, looking at a thing like this, instead of just looking at it, really trying somehow to see whether you can get the curve and the various aspects of it and trying somehow to register things visually by sketching and so. But if you can't do that or if you feel unsuccessful in doing that, today you have this magnificent ability of cameras and of so much great photography in magazines and newspapers and so on that can be cut out that can be used to illustrate your material. And this is a great exercise in creativity. To be able to select, when you write something, can you find something that illustrates the thing you are trying to say. That is such a great help to someone to whom you are trying to describe the experience. But it also means that you yourself are developing the ability to narrate, to marry, to wed these two elements, the [calligraphic?], the handwriting because that's what it was in those days, it wasn't a typewriter, it was handwriting. And at the same time, to visualize the meaning of this thing and to see if whether you can portray it in a sketch or in a cut-out or clipping or whatever it might be. So it's that combination that I think, people should not be discourage if they're not Michaelangelo or if they're not Andy Warhol or whatever it may be. They ought to realize however that everybody has a visual gift, the trouble is we neglect it and we neglect it because we do not think we have it. But wouldn't you agree that every child, you and you, when you were a child, maybe when you were two or three or four years old. That something like this was almost sure to happen. You grab a pencil and you start doing that [drawing] and that is the beginning of art and the trouble is, then a teacher will come along and say that's no good what you'll have to do is something very, very. . .but they're forgetting the fact that this is the impulse within every child, every one of my children, well three of them, three grandchildren, all underwent that same situation of always wanting to get a piece of paper. And it's the greatest to keep a child entertained. If a child gets restless and so on. Last night I was at a party and there was a three year old little boy, his name was Noah. So I asked him where his Ark was and he didn't understand. But at any rate, what he was doing all evening long when he got restless, his mother gave him a piece of paper and a pencil and that's exactly what this three year old boy was doing. He was expressing himself. Now, this is not a work of art, but it is an expression of something within that child. And pretty soon that child will start drawing dinosaurs and this little girl might drawing little girls or bunny rabbits or whatever the child is interested in will somehow be manifested in the drawing. And that then ought to be encouraged. But it should not be done on the basis of testing. You do this and you do it our way, you do it right or you're going to be spanked or you're going to get a D or you're not going to pass and so on. It's at that point when the impulse to visualize and to draw and to sketch becomes defeated by dogmatic teachers who say you do it our way and this is the way to do it. And you've got to study Picasso and you've got to realize that that's the way to do it and don't you do it your way, you do it our way and so on and so forth. And that always begins my great argument with education.

ST:

Which we'll get to eventually.

AG:

Yeah.

JY:

What was the art scene like in New York at that time?

AG:

Well the art scene in New York at that time, we're talking about my birth--Nineteen hundred and seven. Six years after I was born, in 1913, is my arithmetic right? 1907 to 1913 would be 6 years. That what was known as the armory show in New York City, there was an armory in which all of the great art of Europe was brought to the United States and it shattered the whole art scene with the new ideas and the new things that were going on in Europe. That was the first time that the United States saw what was called "modern art." Before that it was always classical art. And the things that were coming over from Europe were these great big paintings by Reubens of angels and saints and religious paintings and so on. And all of a sudden this stuff came in from Europe showing the demoiselle [ avignon ] , the first abstract paintings, the first cubist paintings. It changed everything and it must have had impact upon me because I remember how fascinated I was by this, I do not have a recollection of my mother or father ever taking me to the armory show, but the newspapers and the magazines and things were full of it and so on. And then I think impacted on me. Remember, the impact was the amount of interest in New York City. And I think the United States, showed for the first time, in this thing called art. It was sort of like an atomic bomb exploding. Now it would be the impact of an atomic bomb, at that time it was a cultural bomb that exploded and suddenly all preconceived ideas of art were being shattered and new visions were coming into play that enabled us to see the world in another dimension. And I as a child somehow was responding to this. But I don't think I was influenced by any particular artist. What happened was I became very interested in expressing myself more and more through art. And that's the reason why in these early books you see these rather childish drawings, but they should not be seen, they shouldn't be criticized really on the quality of their art. It ought to be recognized that this is the way a very young person saw the world and tried to record it.

ST:

You talked about, people need to make a plan for their lives when you were discussing your illuminated manuscript. What kind of plan did you go through?

AG:

Well, I don't think a small child can have a long range plan. I think, as I've already said now, I certainly had something like that when I started this thing and started to see that life was a progression. Whether it was really a design, a well constructed plan, I doubt very much. I think what happened was I became fascinated with life as it was going on around me. And I remember as a child being fascinated by the fact that on the Mexican border, there was a man by the name of Pancho Villa who was raiding Texas and the United States of America resisted this man by sending down General John J. Pershing. And the American Calvary to fight this man whose name was Pancho Villa. That was the first thing that happened that would be, let us say 1912, 1913, and the American army mobilized right outside the window where we lived. There was an armory on 94th Street. I lived on 97th Street. And the squadron of cavalry, remember in those days it was horses it was not tanks, they were all assembled below my bedroom window and I remember their trotting off to the railroad station where they set out to fight Pancho Villa. Now that was the first war and that fascinated me and I made my first sketches of history. Now, plan. That was the beginning. And I think that led to the next incident, and the next incident. Because what happened then was, that was 1913, on the Mexican border. In 1914, World War I broke out in Europe and in 1916, 1917, the United States went into World War I. And I remember then the American soldiers mobilizing again in the armory and marching off to the docks and being carried off to Europe. So history was coming into my life and history, I think, might be called the beginning of the word plan that you. . .it wasn't a total plan, but it was responding to the interesting things that were happening. And I was not indifferent to these things. I became fascinated by them. And just think of the effort it had on me. I become interested in history. I became interested in events. I became interested on the impact that these had on me because as a child in 1914, when I was seven years old and the United States went to war, we were issued ration stamps. My mother could not go out and shop without a little book of stamps that enabled her to buy so many potatoes and so many carrots and so many beans and so much bread and so on. There were, fuel was rationed and so in the winter time I remember, the whole family assembled around a stove and out of that stove came the gas heat on which we all rubbed our hands. Now this is, these are events impacting upon me and these events, in a narrative way, succeeding each other, became the essence of history. And that became part of my life and therefore I can say that history, in a way, inculcated within me a sense of planning. I was always responding to events regarding them as important and making a record thereon.

ST:

Are you okay with the manuscript then? Okay. Let's talk about what you see about humanity today. About the world and how we are. Just basically, with your experience, with your travels and everything, what do you see or what do think of humanity today?

AG:

Well I think that humanity today is probably exactly the same way humanity has always been. Humanity is an effort on the people, on human beings, to survive and survival is a matter of nutrition and is a matter of reproduction and is a matter of somehow striving for something called happiness in ones life. And this has been going on every since. . .in the beginning it was probably the early human specimens with clubs in their hands and going out and slaughtering a bear or a deer or whatever it was for food. And then that eventually changing over into agriculture and then settling down in certain places and planting seeds and then becoming agriculture, so to speak, farmers and fisherman and so on, learning to feed themselves in a more efficient way and in that process, reproducing more successfully so the world became more populated with human beings. And it's a progression that goes on to this very day. Except that the interesting thing is today, because of technological revolution, we are able to produce much more food for a much greater population. We have billions of people inhabiting the world today as compared to a few millions a thousand years ago. And today we're on the threshold of moving into outer space because we're running out of space on this planet and people are already planning extra-terrestrial activities which as given my age and given my background, I don't think I can imagine any human beings living on a place like Mars, which we're now so interested in. I do believe, however, that extra-terrestrial occupations will occur where laboratories and things like that will be set up in outer space where all the factors for gravity or non-gravity and so on in such a way that all kinds of new scientific developments will occur. I don't see habitation but I do see scientific development incorporating totally new activities and products coming back to this planet and originating in outer space. So, I think that there are two ways of looking at humanity. One is very pessimistically in saying we're going down the tube, we're killing ourselves, we're overpopulating the planet. The planet cannot support this enormous increase in population. It cannot deal with all these, internists and strifes of Arabs against Jews and Croats versus Serbs. All the hatreds that seem still to be in human beings. We don't seem to be able to overcome that. So it's still caught trapped in our humanity and our humanity has these magnificent positive elements. Our creativity and our ability to produce more and feed more people and live in a way where even as a child, polio killed thousands and thousands of children. Kids died of measles, kids died of scarlet fever. Today these things, polio is wiped out and malaria and tuberculosis and all the killers I remember as a child are now either moderated or subdued or don't exist anymore. But we're still threatened because today we have AIDS and we have new threats to our immune systems which mean that we are as vulnerable today as they were, as you and me. So I am both optimistic and pessimistic. Optimistic in the sense that I do think that human beings will have the wisdom somehow to overcome their more negative behavior. But on the other hand, I'm concerned about the hatreds and the feuding and the inability of human beings to reconcile their differences in peaceful ways and today of course, the ultimate problem is the possession of atomic and other energies that can wipe us out. A terrorist for instance bringing one bomb into New York can demolish an entire city and this becomes a genuine problem. It's so difficult to deal with. So there's optimism, pessim. . .but you know, I'll make a confession. I will not be unhappy to die. I think that I've had a wonderful, I've lived in a wonderful time. I'm not altogether sure that I would be able to be as fortunate a second time around. I don't know that I would be able to, I don't know that God would be on my side the second time around as he has been the first time. That would be a fortunate, such a fortunate thing that I can't believe I would be lucky enough to have it happen twice. So I'm going to say goodbye to you kids and wish you luck [laughs].

ST:

Thank you. [laughing]

AG:

You need it. I'm curious about how you respond to that.

ST:

Actually they say we've advanced so much technologically but we have not kept abreast of that progress morally. And in other ways. So it seems like, you know when they describe us as a nation without a soul, or we lose the meaning or just the compassion that we feel. It does feel like we lose sense of all of that, with all this technology and television and with how our lives are structured. So yeah. I guess I am curious a little bit about, I guess, the changes you see between society of today or the changes you've observed over time. Have you seen a marked progression that goes along with progress or with changing times where you see people, I guess, the make up of society and the children. Has it drastically changed?

AG:

Yes, I think it has drastically changed but in talking about it I'm almost sure to step on an awful lot of toes. Because basically I really believe, this is really exposing myself to an awful lot of criticism because people will not agree with what I'm about to say. I have a rather primitive outlook on the, in responding to your question. My response is based on a rather primitive concept or outlook. I think that there are men and women. Men are designed in a certain way and women are designed in a certain way. Now my recollection of my mother for instance, as a woman with somebody who is married to my father and her role in life was to bring up my sister and myself and she devoted herself completely to that. My father went out and worked and brought in the envelope for the pay and that paid for our food and our rent for our apartment and so on and so forth. And the role of the man and the woman were very, very distinct. Now I think that mother and father, my mother being at home when I came home from school, she was there and I always had my glass of milk and my cookie and I had my lecture and I was scolded for my bad behavior and praised for my good behavior and there was a natural relationship. The same relationship that you find in animals. The big bear and the little cubs, the cat and the kittens, that's the natural relationship. And that I think, has been broken by the totally new set of very legitimate [mores?]. My mother did not have any opportunity to get a job or anything of that sort. She wasn't schooled for it and she was trained and brought up rather in the European tradition. Stay home and take care of the kids. Well, that has changed and the consequences of that change are that you have a liberation of women which opens up all kinds of opportunities for them which I applaud. It's wonderful. But on the other hand, the penalty that we pay is the indiscipline, the fact that we have crime, the fact that we have delinquent children, we have children who are running wild, we have latchkey kids and we have role models that are so totally different from what they used to be. Now there is no use moaning about this and groaning about this, this is a very natural evolutionary process but we are paying a price and I don't know that we know yet the end, the bottom line on this because everything really depends on the way that we raise our kids. And we are now turning the kids over to teachers who I really don't think are qualified. I don't think that teachers should be, an English teacher should be teaching English but an English teacher should not be teaching a child about AIDS. Those lessons should come from parental responsibility. The intimate relationship that exists between parents and children should not be switched, moved over and then manipulated by an educational system that's even failing to teach basic mathematics or grammar for that matter. So that you have, what I really suspect myself of, an old man with old fashioned concepts and so on having difficulty seeing the modern world in terms of human relationships as having improved. I think that they have not improved. They have suffered because of the progress that we've made in so many ways but I would not want to say in any way that this should disenfranchise women. I think that women deserve the franchise and so on but somehow I don't think we've worked out the methodology, the social methodology that would enable families to regain the importance that they had, that I remember as a child. Now that throws implications into all sorts of things. It means the food we ate then was prepared by a mother who spent a lot of time preparing that food. Today, the fact that a woman would go to a store and bring back prepared food, there's no longer the people sitting around a table. I remember my mother and my father and my sister and myself always sat down at 7 o'clock or 6 o'clock and sat down and had our meals together and so on. Today the kids are off, God only knows where, the mothers up there and the fathers over there and so on. Well, we play a price for that [visiperous]. Do you know what visiperous means? Divisions, separation, the fragmentation of the family. So moan and groan, here's an old man.

ST:

How about religion. Your family was Jewish?

AG:

Yes.

ST:

But you were baptized?

AG:

Yes. Yes. Oh. You're opening the door to really one of the great aspects of my life. My mother and father were Hungarian immigrants. Jews who were fleeing the oppression that Jewish people suffered in Europe in those days. So they came over in the 1890s, I suppose and I was born into. . .with Jewish parents and brought up as a Jewish child. I went through all the traditional business and so on. But isn't it an interesting thing. This is a revelation of how bad my character basically is. My mother was an interesting person. She was blonde, she was blue eyed, she had absolutely no Jewish characteristics as they tended to be caricatured, you know the black, dark color and the big nose and all that sort of business. The caricature. She was a totally Aryan specimen, who in some way, I never could understand. My father never overcame his Hungarian accent or what might be called a German accent. My mother was able to. . .spoke absolutely immaculate perfect English. Somehow or other, as a child, I was absolutely imbued with admiration of my mother's Aryan nature and also I was brought up, we lived in a German neighborhood and we were subjected to all kinds of. . .there was a great deal of anti-Semitism at that time. So when my nursemaid, her name was Leni Rothschmidt one day, I don't know why she did it, but she was a Catholic, a nurse girl. She took me to St. Aloysius Church a couple of blocks from where I lived and she had me baptized as a Catholic. And then I used that knowledge when I learned about this later on as a child. As a baby I didn't really know what was going on. This became my defense against the insults and the difficulties that a Jewish kid would have in a German neighborhood because these kids were all anti-Semitic and they were really ready to punch out any Jewish kid that they could catch. Well I was always hiding, hiding my Jewish-ness because I did not want to be subjected to these insults and to the pummeling and the fighting and so on. And that really in a way had a terrible effect upon my character. It meant that almost all of life, I have hidden the Jewish aspect of my life. I myself am not conspicuously Jewish looking or anything. I was a very blonde kid, I had very blonde hair and pink skin and all that. I looked like a typical Hitler kid. There are pictures here that show what I looked like as a kid, so I was able to get by with this thing and I've used that all of my life, hiding, avoiding the insults and avoiding the difficulties that accrue to people because of their religious identification. Hiding behind that and thereby having two consequences. One is that I have never suffered the insults and the difficulties. I was able to go to Germany under. . .while Hitler was coming up and no one ever insulted me because I was one of them. And then the disgraceful thing about it was that when I saw then spitting on a Jew, I did not go over and defend that Jew. I just said, Gee, how lucky I am not to be spat upon. So it was a manifestation, I think, evidence of a real defect in my character and I can justify it by saying that as a result of that, I have had a very successful life. I myself have never run into anti-Semitism. I've never been disciplined or never suffered from prejudice because I was always able to get by and be accepted as a Christian. A Catholic, specifically, using this strange thing that happened as the defense mechanism against the outrageous things that were happening. And of course, in the Army, when I was one of the first soldiers to liberate Dachau, Beltsin, and Buchenwald, and saw what happened to Jewish people and so on at the hands of the Nazis, it broke me up completely . It completely made me realize in a way two things. In the first place, how lucky I was not to be in that situation, very largely because I was American and how good it was that I would be an agent of their liberation and so on. But on the other hand, a feeling of contempt for myself for never having identified myself with these people, always to use this device to separate myself from the negative consequences of anti-Semitism. And that carried right on to, let us say, my becoming a Peace Corp volunteer in Hungary. Hungary being a typical example of an old-fashioned culture where Jews still are looked. . .there's still a current of anti-Semitism in a place like that. Now if I had gone into the school that I was teaching and said, Look, I'm a Jew. Accept me. I don't think that I'd have a very good welcome. So I eased myself into that situation, never making an issue of religion. I was totally accepted by them, I was very successful as a teacher. Made a great many friends. I can't imagine any. . .the wonderful relationships that developed as a result of that and then the justification came at the end when I was able to say, but look, all of these anti-Semitic jokes that you've been telling and all these terrible things, you've been telling them to me and I am a Jew and I have accepted this, I have not quarreled with you about it but you must realize that you, that I, who you admire so much nevertheless, is a person who you recriminate in your anti-Semitic slurs and so on. So it's a very, very important part of my life that something that is so much a part of your basic nature is something that you hide in order to get along in life. And I've gotten along in life because this never became an impediment to me. I never lost a job, I never failed to get a job or anything of that sort because of race or religion. But on the other hand, the price I pay is the sense that I am a coward. I sense, I feel that I lack the moral courage that I should have had. I justify this, I rationalize this by pointing to my success. But on the other hand, I must recognize that underneath this success lies a very, very basic failure and that is the failure to acknowledge the bloodline from which I sprang. That really is, a real knockout of a question.

ST:

Do you see yourself as Jewish?

AG:

No. The answer to that is that I. . .when I was in Israel for instance, or when I'm in any situation where I run into very devout Jewish religious people. For instance, in Jerusalem, the Wailing Wall where men with great beards and caps on, little yamukas and things on their heads are knocking their heads against the stone wall and devoutly praying, I cannot identify with them. I cannot go into an orthodox synagogue and identify with people who are chanting and so on. It's foreign to me. I have to be honest about that. It's very strange to me. I feel exactly about that as I do when I go into a Hindu temple or a Buddhist temple or a Shinto temple. These people who are different and fulfilling their natures in rites and rituals and so on that mean a great deal to them. I am an observer of that. I am not part of that and I feel exactly the same way when I see, let us say, religious Jews separating themselves, let us say, with the men down here and the women up there and so on. And chanting in a language which is foreign to me. And going through motions and gesticulating in ways that are emblematic of the religion, with which I cannot identify. And so I feel separated from that. And really in a way, I justify that. I mean I can't, the predominant thing that's happened to me in my life is travel and therefore in Japan I observed the Japanese, in China let us say Confucianism. In India, Hinduism. In Thailand, Buddhism. I become an observer of each of these and in a way I become an observer of the Jewish tradition that I ran into in Israel. Yet on the other hand, there's this great appreciation. I love Jewish food, I love...I love Jewish music, I think that, I'm a great admirer of the Jewish tradition as it is expressed in literature, in music, in poetry. Jewish people...there's a genius in Jews very largely, I think, because of their persecution that enables them to rise above and to persevere and to continue to make an enormous contribution. But do you see the schism in the situation. How there's a fault line in my nature. Yes, there is a recognition of who I am and yet at the same time a realization that I've fled from that and used my sagacity, used my self-defensive measures to protect me from the consequences of of what Jews suffer manifested beyond all measure, beyond meaning in the Holocaust. And believe me when I, I was one of first American soldiers to liberate Dachau, to see what happened to these people. And then to go back, incidentally, in Hungary and see the Synagogues where they were all gathered and marched off to the railroad station, then taken away. To realize that this could have been my fate just as... if it hadn't been for the courage of my parents who left that and brought me up in in New York City.

ST:

Did your parents still strongly identify with Jewish religion?

AG:

No. No. And I think that...that would...

ST:

It's on? August 7, 1997. We're continuing and we're going to be talking about the Little Arthur character and how your size has affected your life.

AG:

Yes, I think we've touched on two things now that are very basic to my life. We've talked about the religious thing, the Jewish aspect, which I think has had a tremendous influence, both positively and negatively, on my life. And the other is size, which I think is just the physical dimension of the situation. To overcome the inadequacies you might call them of being deficient in large size and musculature and that sort of thing. One tends to compensate and the compensation is something that might be called a continual incursion in adventure in doing things that manifested my manhood, my courage, my power so to speak, in ways that were not manifested on the football field or in sports or anything of that sort where I was deficient. But showing that I had the courage to do things that compensated for any great triumphs in masculine activities involving size and strength and so on. It was not that I was lacking in strength. I think given my size, I was strong and able to endure a great many of the difficulties of what I was undergoing. It wasn't easy to live for a week as a bum on the bowery and so on but it took a certain amount to stamina and I must say, not only imagination but courage to do that and again and again and again, I could explain my behavior, much of it aberrational in the sense different from other people. . .my idea for instance, the age of eighty-five, I would become a Peace Corp volunteer. I'm the oldest person that ever happened in the Peace Corp. That incidentally is being recognized and was never intended that way but that's recognized now. Everything I've ever done really in a way, has been in response to the need to evidence my abilities in a way that compensates for an absence of height and weight and so on. An interesting symbolism. I'm sure that if I were a 6 foot tall man, I don't think that I would have ever done the things that I've done as a miniature man. So I ascribe much of my, what people would call courage and imagination and audacity, I would ascribe that to an impulse within me to show, "Look, I may small but by golly, I am powerful. I have a power that manifests itself in ways that most people don't." Now, that is not an argument for taking some sort of medicine that reduces your size. In other words, I'm not advocating [laugh]. . .I'm not advocating the idea of being small but it does mean that size, the Little Arthur thing, which I. . .which recurs again and again. I wrote three books: Little Arthur in the Great War; Little Arthur doing this and Little Arthur doing that. Very interesting incidentally that that Little Arthur theme came through so strongly in the. . .what's her name?

ST:

Ihsia

AG:

In Ihsia's work. Right. So the Little Arthur thing, again, you're touching on another very important little. . .physiological, philosophical concept that has determined in large measure, my behavior throughout life. It's very much like a person suffering, let us say, from. . .I'm trying to think, a person who has some defect of some sort, who is paralyzed and so on will then behave in a way that shows that he can overcome the paralysis by excelling in some other. . .I've forgotten the man in the wheelchair who has one of the greatest minds in the world. Scientific. . .an English philosopher. . .he's a physicist and I can't remember. . .[Steven Hawking]

JY:

Carl Sagan?

AG:

No, oh no, not Sagan. No, it's really. . .the point I'm trying to make is that if you suffer from a deficiency, whatever it may be, then there may be a tendency to compensate by exemplary and excessive behavior which shows that you have not been stopped by a deficiency, you've overcome it. And in the process of overcoming it, going way beyond what would be considered normal or conventional behavior.

ST:

Actually, I really really love your introduction to Scrap-Book, your autobiography. I don't know if you want to maybe touch on a little of what you've talked about there or. . . See, I just think that the message there is so clear and so beautiful. Partly how it ties into the message to people that you should examine your life and that it's very important. . . I don't know if you want to touch on it or I don't even know if we can record you reading parts of your book. I don't know how copyright works in that way but. .

AG:

No problem that way. Anything I'm saying, I'm saying ad-lib. So you ask the question and if it seems important to you that's. . .I think you are pointing to something that's very, very important and that is why. . .what's the meaning of this whole thing. I really do believe that you might want to record this. I think one of the interesting things about this whole activity that we're engaged in is that I am ninety years old. I think that lifts a person to a point where there is a large vista which he overlooks. In other words, you're overlooking a century, really, of time. You're looking over ninety years, as much of that as you can remember, which let us say would be certainly eighty or eighty-five of those years would be recollected and so on. And it gives you an opportunity to look at it and to think about it and say, "Well, what has it all added up to? What's the meaning of it all?" And then we suddenly realize that it's only now, at this stage of my life, where I do have this panorama before me which I'm able to observe from this mountaintop of ninety years and then you realize how unusual this is. There are not many ninety year old people who are alive or mentally, emotionally, psychologically competent to do this, so I feel very fortunate that I have this opportunity. What a privilege it is that I should be able to be here to do this thing and then to realize on the other hand, what a trial it is to look back on it all and realize the mistakes you've made, the sins you've committed, the crimes that you've committed and so on. And you have to recognize your failures and your fallibilities and your mistakes and do this as honestly as you possibly can, hoping that something will come out of this that will serve as an example to others and then coming to the conclusion as I do, I think, in. . .Well,

AG:

What a privilege it is, aged ninety, to examine one's life, to judge its quality, to ask what lessons have been learned, and what it has to teach. But what a trial to face one's failures, confess one's crimes and admit one's sins. And this I think is important. The residue of this life-long inquisition is less a memoir, it's more a revelation of the spur that drove my days--when I speak of a spur I would like to think there's a spur that drives your days and your days. In other words, life should be a spur that moves you forward, excites motion and so on and so forth. It drove me days, year after year after year--each year becoming a challenge to surpass in incident, adventure, substance and surprise what went before. Now here's an interesting one. It's a score-card of hits, runs and errors setting a standard by which my life might be examined. I would like to think that everybody ought to have a score-card. You know the [thick] of your life in the long run is a game, a score-card. What have been your runs, what have been your hits, and you've made some errors. But then there is something else and that is it's a legacy--it's not of flotsam, now I think this is important, it's not a flotsam of faded photos, a jetsam of senseless script--I know what I'm saying there. In everybody's house, I'm sure in your house, in your house, there's a shoe box full of photographs. It may not be a shoe box, as a drawer full, a collection of pictures that have been taken of you as a kid and then you've taken pictures of others--your girlfriends, your boyfriends and there's this party and so on. And you have a collection of photographs. And then written down also, all the diaries that you've began, all of the things you wrote and so on. A jetsam of what I call senseless script. The point I'm trying to make is the legacy should not be a flotsam of faded photos, a jetsam of senseless script--but it should be enduring evidence of your presence on the planet. Meaning it ought to be an organized narrative, in which each of these things plays a part in narrating your life and giving your life design and giving your life this concept of a goad, of a spur, making your life more meaningful because of the very concept of the score card of hits, runs and errors. So I then conclude by saying that it's neither an exercise in ego or penance for depravity, the real purpose of this thing is to invite, incite, inspire junior generations, meaning people like you, to live lives that pass examination. As Plato said, he said, "A life that is not examined is not worth living." Now, what a statement that is. Anyway, fill in the blank pages of your scrap-books, from adolescence to old age, with endeavors and accomplishments worthy of an enduring record. You should be writing an enduring record of your accomplishments. You should be challenging Plato's pronouncement that only an examined life is well worth living. And as my final feeling is stated here: adding to Plato's postulate that while a well-examined life does enrich its record, it is the disciplined, dedicated writing of the record that enriches life. In other words, if you write the records, that will provide the enrichment of your life but if you do not write the record, there is possibly very little that can be ascribed to your life as being well worth [ ]. So somehow or other, I agree with you that [laugh]. . .I think it's a good beginning.

ST:

It's very inspiring. You just finished your autobiography. How was that whole experience of putting it all together and kind of like looking back on ninety years? What was, I guess, what did you experience while you were writing this autobiography and how did it make you feel?

AG:

Well one of the things about writing an autobiography is the necessity of justifying the whole thing. Why. . .what an exercise in ego it really seems to be that you want to put down your life, recording it presuming that people will be interested in it and will benefit in any way. That's an exercise in ego and you've got to be very, very careful that if it is an exercise in ego it may not be justified because you are simply blowing your trumpet, blowing, patting yourself on your own back, blowing your own and so on. It has to justify the action. It means each day, putting in the time and the effort and so on. To get it down to that means great decisions that have to be made in terms of selection, of what is important to put down, what's important, what is not important. And making decisions all the way along the line. But then out of it comes a realization, a sense of design, of theme of what your life is really, why has your life been kind of a life that has been. . .and you detect that in the very, very early aspects of your life, and this is so important because it all begins with childhood. I think it probably begins with infancy. But I did have infantile recollections but I can't think of anything significant and so on. But certainly as a little boy, things started to register, which then you put down page by page as they occur. And then that would really entail ones very early experiences as they relate, let us say, to the religious thing that we've already dealt with. And it would relate very, very much in my case, to my educational experience. I had very unfortunate episodes that influenced my feeling about school and about teachers. So in a way my entire life seems to me to be in some way a consequence of insults that I suffered in school by insensitive teachers and by principals and by other officials who somehow rubbed me the wrong way as I rubbed them the wrong way. The injustice of this lies in the fact that there were probably very, very good teachers as well as the bad ones. And it bothers me as I look back on my childhood, it's the bad ones that influence me more than the good ones. There must have been good teachers and I do have a few recollections of teachers that I admired and liked and so forth. But they left marks on my character and on my nature much less invasive and pejorative than the marks that were left upon me all through my educational career. You saw me a little while ago doing a picture of Immanuel Kant and turning Immanuel Kant, one of the greatest philosophers of the world and turning him into a caricature of Adolph Hitler. Why do I do that? I do that because somehow or other there is something within me that discounts, that is affronted by the paragons that are erected before me by pedagogues, that these are the people you must admire and the minute they tell me, you must admire this man, I dis-admire him. I just want to be sure that he is worthy of this admiration and I generally find that the teachers who push these people before me are really in a way, pedagogues who are simply passing along that which has been accredited by education that these are the standards that go from generation to generation and so on. In a way, I really do believe that Shakespeare is ruined for me by the fact that teachers pushed Shakespeare upon me and because I was afflicted by Shakespeare, there became an aversion to Shakespeare. Now, I was not led into Shakespeare in the way that would have made Shakespeare acceptable to me. But always education put these, these were barriers over which I had to jump. They were never something meant for my enjoyment. They were never meant to [viture?] me in a significant way by appreciation and desire for emulation and so on. This is an examination, godammit, that you had to pass. And that was true of why didn't I learn French? Why didn't I learn Latin? Why didn't I learn mathematics? Why didn't I learn anything? Always I was told to jump this hurdle. And education became the bugaboo. It became the dragon of my life which I somehow, all my life, I've wanted to kill with my, you know, St. George and the Dragon. Seeing myself as St. George, and so on. So the story of my life then develops along these themes. Start with a scene dropped in childhood and then little by little, these things become dominant, dictating your behavior. And then the realization that there IS an alternative to this pedantic approach to life. Life is not dictated by what the teacher has in the syllabus and what the textbook has to offer you. Life and education begins with experience. And that's why I go back to the experience I had, let us say in Europe. Whereas I never was a good French student but when I got to France, boy, French became a necessity and I learned all I need. And other languages, you learn the same way. Italian, Spanish, and the German and even the Japanese. Now that's a tough language but in Japan I learned enough Japanese to get by in Japan. Unfortunately you forget it if you don't use it. But even in Hungary I was speaking Hungarian. You learn these things experientially. And so that became the railroad track on which my life has moved.

ST:

That's good. Shall we stop?

[END]

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