LETTERS FROM A WAR ZONE

WRITINGS 1976-1989



by
Andrea Dworkin

Part II
WORDS

Nervous Interview
1978

Copyright © 1978, 1988, 1993 by Andrea Dworkin.
All rights reserved.

In 1978 I wrote a whole bunch of short articles. I desperately needed money and wanted to be able to publish them for money. Of these articles, Nervous Interview is probably the most obscure in its concerns and certainly in its form and yet it was the only one that was published at all, not for money. Norman Mailer managed to publish lots of interviews with himself, none of which made much sense, all of which were taken seriously by literati of various stripes. So this is half parody of him and his chosen form and half parody of myself and my chosen movement.
She was edgy. Ambivalent would be too polite a word. She came at one, then withdrew. It wasn't a tease, it wasn't coy. Her enemies said Paranoid. She said, Commonsense. In the age of the Glass House, everyone a stone thrower, Commonsense. But the pressure had been mounting. Account for yourself, explain. Ever since that fateful day when she had juxtaposed the two words, "Limp Penis," she had been forced to hide or explain. She didn't count those who wanted apologies. Being a prudent person, she had hidden. An ex-friend had just written her, in accusation, saying that she did not understand "the chemistry of love." Nor, she was willing to admit, the physics or mathematics (or even simple arithmetic) of love. She only understood its laws, the stuff of literature and sexual politics, not science. Now, after nearly two years of absence/exile she was returning to New York. Feeling like a sacrifice. Wondering when the priests would come at her. Determined to defy the gods.

Q: It seems strange that anyone so aggressive in her writing should be so reclusive, so hostile to a public life.
A: I'm shy, that's all. And cold and aloof.

Q: A lot of men in this town think you're a killer.
A: I'm too shy to kill. I think they should be more afraid of each other, less afraid of me.

Q: Why don't you give interviews?
A: Because they're so false. Someone asks a question--very posed and formal, or very fumbling and sincere. Then someone tries to respond in kind. Cult of fame and personality and all that. It's all wrong.

Q: So why this? Why now?
A: I couldn't sleep. Very edgy. Nervous nightmares about New York. Going home. Cesspool and paradise. You see, I've lived many places. I keep leaving them. I keep returning to New York but I can't stay put. But that's what I want most. To stay still. So I'm restless and irritated.

Q: People are surprised when they meet you. That you're nice.
A: I think that's strange. Why shouldn't I be nice?

Q: It's not a quality that one associates with radical feminists.
A: Well, see, right there, that's distortion. Radical feminists are always nice. Provoked to the point of madness, but remaining, at heart, nice.

Q: I could name you a lot of feminists who aren't nice. You yourself have probably had fights with just about everyone I could name. Isn't this a terrible hypocrisy on your part--and silly too--to say that radical feminists are nice?
A: At a distance or very close, nice is true. At any midpoint, it seems false. Also, you see, we love each other. It's a very impersonal love in many cases. But it is a fierce love. You have to love women who are brave enough to do things so big in a world where women are supposed to be so small.

Q: Isn't this just another kind of myth building?
A: No, I think it's a very neutral description. Women who fight fierce battles, as all radical feminists do, encounter so much hostility and conflict in the regular transactions of work and daily life that they become very complex, even if they started out simple. One must learn to protect oneself. This means, inevitably, that one exaggerates some parts of one's personality, some qualities. Or they become exaggerated in the process of trying to survive and to continue to work. So when one sees that in another woman, one loves her for it--even if one does not like the particular defenses she has worked out for herself. That doesn't mean that one wants to be intimate with her. Just that one loves her for daring to be so ambitious. For daring to continue to associate herself with women as a feminist, no matter what the cost, no matter what walls she has to build to keep on doing what's important to her.

Q: What alienates you most from other women?
A: Failures of courage or integrity. Those ever-present human failures. I'm in the midst of the mess, just like everyone else. I expect too much from women. I get bitterly disappointed when women are flawed in stupid ways. As I myself am. And then I resent women who are bitterly disappointed in me because I'm flawed. It's the old double standard, newly cast. I expect nothing from men--or, more accurately, I rarely expect much--but I expect everything from women I admire. Women expect everything from me. Then when we find that we are just ourselves, no matter what our aspirations or accomplishments, we grieve, we cry, we mourn, we fight, and especially, we blame, we resent. Our wrong expectations lead to these difficulties. For me, wrong expectations make me sometimes alienated, sometimes isolated.

Q: People think you are very hostile to men.
A: I am.

Q: Doesn't that worry you?
A: From what you said, it worries them.

Q: I mean, any Freudian would have a field day with your work. Penis envy, penis hatred, penis obsession, some might say.
A: Men are the source of that, in their literature, culture, behavior. I could never have invented it. Who was more penis obsessed than Freud? Except maybe Reich. But then, what a competition that would be. Choose the most penis obsessed man in history. What is so remarkable is that men in general, really with so few exceptions, are so penis obsessed. I mean, if anyone should be sure of self-worth in a penis-oriented society, it should be the one who has the penis. But one per individual doesn't seem to be enough. I wonder how many penises per man would calm them down. Listen, we could start a whole new surgical field here.

Q: The Women's Movement seems to be more conciliatory towards men than you are, especially these days. There is a definite note of reconciliation, or at least not hurling accusations. What do you think of that?
A: I think that women have to pretend to like men to survive. Feminists rebelled, and stopped pretending. Now I worry that feminists are capitulating.

Q: Isn't there something quite pathological in always looking at sex in male terms? Say you describe male attitudes towards sex accurately. Don't you accept their terms when you analyze everything using their terms?
A: Their terms are reality because they control reality. So what terms should we use to understand reality? All we can do is face it or try to hide from it.

Q: Are there men you admire?
A: Yes.

Q: Who?
A: I'd rather not say.

Q: There are a lot of rumors about your lesbianism. No one quite seems to know what you do with whom.
A: Good.

Q: Can you explain why you are so opposed to pornography?
A: I find it strange that it requires an explanation. The men have made quite an industry of pictures, moving and still, that depict the torture of women. I am a woman. I don't like to see the virtual worship of sadism against women because I am a woman, and it's me. It has happened to me. It's going to happen to me. I have to fight an industry that encourages men to act out their aggression on women--their "fantasies," as those aspirations are so euphemistically named. And I hate it that everywhere I turn, people seem to accept without question this false notion of freedom. Freedom to do what to whom? Freedom to torture me? That's not freedom for me. I hate the romanticization of brutality towards women wherever I find it, not just in pornography, but in artsy fartsy movies, in artsy fartsy books, by sexologists and philosophes. It doesn't matter where it is. l simply refuse to pretend that it doesn't have anything to do with me. And that leads to a terrible recognition: if pornography is part of male freedom, then that freedom is not reconcilable with my freedom. If his freedom is to torture, then in those terms my freedom must be to be tortured. That's insane.

Q: A lot of women say they like it.
A: Women have two choices: lie or die. Feminists are trying to open the options up a bit.

Q: Can I ask you about your personal life?
A: No.

Q: If the personal is political, as feminists say, why aren't you more willing to talk about your personal life?
A: Because a personal life can only be had in privacy. Once strangers intrude into it, it isn't personal anymore. It takes on the quality of a public drama. People follow it as if they were watching a play. You are the product, they are the consumers. Every single friendship and event takes on a quality of display. You have to think about the consequences not just of your acts vis-a-vis other individuals but in terms of media, millions of strange observers. I find it very ugly. I think that the press far exceeds its authentic right to know in pursuing the private lives of individuals, especially people like myself, who are neither public employees nor performers. And if one has to be always aware of public consequences of private acts, it's very hard to be either spontaneous or honest with other people.

Q: If you could sleep with anyone in history, who would it be?
A: That's easy. George Sand.

Q: She was pretty involved with men.
A: I would have saved her from all that.

Q: Is there any man, I mean, there must be at least one.
A: Well, ok, yes. Ugh. Rimbaud. Disaster. In the old tradition, Glorious Disaster.

Q: That seems to give some credence to the rumor that you are particularly involved with gay men.
A: It should give credence to the rumor that I am particularly involved with dead artists.

Q: Returning to New York, do you have any special hopes or dreams ?
A: Yeah. I wish that Bella were King.


"Nervous Interview," first published in Chrysalis, No. 10, May 1980.
Copyright © 1978 by Andrea Dworkin. All rights reserved.

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