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… the Soltan?”

The Soltan is currently at home, resting up after having interviewed Fran Lebowitz last night at a George Washington University event.

UD is rather curious in that appearing on the PBS News Hour, where her interview was watched by millions, did not make her nervous, but going to a teeny little reception at a lovely historic Foggy Bottom home scares the bejaysus out of her. I suppose it’s about people being an undifferentiated mass versus people being in your face. So she had her friend Gabe accompany her to the gathering at the president’s house, where we welcomed Lebowitz and where UD introduced herself to Lebowitz as her interviewer.

I have a bunch of questions for you, I said.

Great. I have one answer, she said.

Great, I said. We’ll do variations on that answer.

The evening was pleasantly chilly, with late afternoon sun on budding pears and dogwoods. Gabe and I were joined by Molly McCloskey, a terrific writer who’s in residence at GW this semester. Sweet and ceremonious undergraduates met us at the door of the president’s home, took our coats, and led us to the drinks. We quickly encountered another Ireland-related English professor (Molly lived in Ireland for a long time), and UD had a chance to talk about La Kid’s upcoming departure for Galway.

In formally welcoming Lebowitz, GW’s president made a number of gaffes. He began by calling her the author of many books. She is, famously, the author of not many. He described her as the author of Notes From A Broad. Lebowitz said she is not the author. The author of A View From A Broad is Bette Midler.

Ultimately, UD was willing to be forgiving. Being president of a university means fourteen similar events a day, and his staff screwed up on this one. Big deal.

At some point we trudged over to the auditorium at the public affairs building for the main event. UD took the stage a few moments before Lebowitz came out, and as she sat down the audience hushed. “Don’t get excited,” UD told them. “It’s just me.” UD was damned if Lebowitz was going to get all the laughs.

Lebowitz entered to applause, wished UD a good evening, UD returned the favor, and they were off.

UD began by reminding FL that like a lot of satirists she thinks human beings stink (UD read the following phrases from FL’s writings and interviews: “human nature is horrible …people – they’re not that great …human beings are not the finest species”), and she went on to inquire what’s wrong with us, and how can we fix it. This got a laugh from the audience and seemed to set FL up nicely. She went off on a long riff about our ghastliness. When she finished the riff, UD – who had decided to conduct this interview in a serious way, FL being an intellectual who makes claims about the world, and UD being the sort of person to challenge claims – went on to establish that FL doesn’t believe in hope – finds people who hope contemptible. So UD asked her why she votes, why she’s politically active in New York City issues, etc. If people are unimprovably awful, and if hope about change for the better is contemptible, why do anything? Beyond writing about it?

Which led to further questions about the nature of the satirist in the Swiftian tradition (quoting Orwell here: “Swift’s world-view is felt to be not altogether false — or it would probably be more accurate to say, not false all the time. Swift is a diseased writer. He remains permanently in a depressed mood which in most people is only intermittent, rather as though someone suffering from jaundice or the after-effects of influenza should have the energy to write books. But we all know that mood, and something in us responds to the expression of it. … Part of our minds — in any normal person it is the dominant part — believes that man is a noble animal and life is worth living: but there is also a sort of inner self which at least intermittently stands aghast at the horror of existence.”) and how odd this particular, pretty nihilistic impulse is…

So we bounced it around for a half hour, and UD kept trying to see if she could land somewhere near as many laughs as FL, and although actually the whole exchange is a bit of a fog, UD seems to recall that she did get her share. UD was also pleased to see that FL took her serious questions seriously, and as a result the interview seemed to UD a cut above a number of the FL interviews on YouTube, which tend to be people tossing softballs (“Talk about Michael Bloomberg.”) at FL.

UD went home on a very late-arriving, very-crowded metro train with her old friend Kim, who also attended the event. They stood and swayed and gabbed, at high volume, for the whole trip.

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3 Responses to ““Now pass me that bikini and where’s …”

  1. janet gool Says:

    Margaret – glad this went so well. Any way I could see your interview in my neck of the woods? (Youtube, for instance?)
    Janet

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Hi Janet: The interview was definitely filmed – I’ll see whether they’ll put it on YouTube. M

  3. University Diaries » “No one earns $100 million. You steal $100 million.” Says:

    […] Fran Lebowitz’s words in mind (UD, you recall, interviewed Lebowitz not long ago), let us once again, very gingerly, sidle up to the Sketchy Benefactor […]

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