Thursday, June 23, 2016

Movers and shakers no more

     John Mortimer. In Character (1983) Collection of interviews of important, influential, and interesting people, first published mostly in the Sunday Times. Mortimer has the knack for getting people to talk frankly about themselves, and knows how to assemble the quotations that reveal and illuminate character and life. He’s an engaged interviewer, more than willing to give us hints of his own reactions and impressions.
     We end up believing that we know these people. We certainly know them better than we knew them before, but are Mortimer’s versions of them the real thing? That’s a pointless question: a person is their interactions with other persons. Mortimer’s willingness to give us his side of the interplay convinces me that we get an accurate record of what was done and said in that interview, even if obviously edited. What I make of these people is up to me; but in every case where I had prior and alternative knowledge, my impression of those people was enhanced and clarified. I’m left feeling that I would like to spend some time with any of these people, politicians, novelists, journalists, bishops, actors, artists, etc. I’m not sure whether I would have such a good time as Mortimer had, though.
     It’s also a record of its time. Many of the interviewees are now at best semi-remembered. The interviews remind me of the politics that seemed important at the time, and 30-odd years later, they show that some problems are as difficult to solve as ever, not because they are insoluble, but because the attitudes and values that cause them continue to prevent action. We humans are an irrational animal. As often as not, irrelevant feelings and wishes interfere with the ability to accept reality, and to fix what can be fixed. ***

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