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Our Changing Attitude Towards the Past.

Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg comments on the recent new interpretations the words "heritage" and "tradition."

05:00

Other segments from the episode on April 23, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 23, 1998: Interview with Ben Kieran; Commentary on the words "heritage" and "tradition"; Interview with Ian McEwan; Commentary on Cuban music in the U. S.

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: APRIL 23, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 042301NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: The Pol Pot Regime
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.

Pol Pot's death last week raises the question: if he was never held accountable for the killing of nearly 2 million Cambodians, who can be? And, will they ever be prosecuted? That question is now being debated in the United Nations and in Cambodia itself.

After decades of inaction, the U.S. last year called for accountability of the Khmer Rouge, and spearheaded the effort to capture Pol Pot.

For nearly 20 years, Ben Kiernan has been gathering evidence of Khmer Rouge war crimes, which he hopes could be used to convict the remaining leaders. Kiernan heads the Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University. They also have a counterpart in Phnom Penh called the Documentation Center of Cambodia.

Together, they've acquired a vast amount of information about exactly what happened in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, when the Khmer Rouge was in power.

BEN KIERNAN, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, DIRECTOR, CAMBODIAN GENOCIDE PROJECT, YALE UNIVERSITY, AUTHOR, "THE POL POT REGIME": There are various caches of documents that we've uncovered at various stages. The most recent and the largest cache is the security archives of the Khmer Rouge secret police, in which reports of repression, and arrests around the country, are forwarded to the top leaders of the regime, particularly those responsible for security, and copied to others, which shows the involvement of all the top leaders of the regime, including some of those still alive -- in the actual repression and knowledge of the repression and involvement in the repression.

We also have a large number of documents recording the minutes of meetings of the top ruling body, that is, the standing committee of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, in which the top central leaders of the Pol Pot regime got together and made decisions and made statements and held meetings which are recorded pretty much verbatim, along with a list of those present and what they said.

BOGAEV: How did you get these documents?

KIERNAN: That particular group of documents I have had in my collection for 12 or 13 years. More recently, the security police archives came to light, and we are currently cataloging and researching that material, which is a much larger collection.

BOGAEV: How did they come to light?

KIERNAN: We have Cambodian colleagues in the field who are very effective and very determined to document exactly what happened, and to search everywhere for all possible sources of evidence. And they knocked on doors and kept knocking on doors until documents were produced. And we were able to build up the largest collection of Khmer Rouge documents in the world.

BOGAEV: Wasn't it terribly dangerous for them to pursue that kind of activity, given the power -- or the waning or waxing powers of the Khmer Rouge in recent years?

KIERNAN: Well, they're brave people. I think they deserve a lot of credit for their work. And they have contributed enormously to understanding what happened. Many of them, of course, were victims of the Khmer Rouge who lived through that particular regime.

BOGAEV: The Cambodian Genocide Program also has a photographic database, and many -- I think all of these photos are on your website. It's just horrific. Most of these photographs were from a Khmer Rouge practice of photographing victims before executing them. Why did these police document their victims?

KIERNAN: I think they needed to have a record of what they had done, partly to show that they had carried out orders, but partly in order to achieve what they had done. It was on such a large scale that it could only have been attempted in a bureaucratic fashion.

It was attempted very systematically, and people were recorded from the moment of their entry into the death camp by photograph, an entry sheet, a list of names of people arrested on that day; then monthly compendiums of the numbers of people and the names in the prison at a particular time, for each month; and lists of people executed on particular days -- all signed by the executioners and interrogators and torturers, with cover notes about the specific types of torture that had been administered, in the form of a report to the chief of the prison, who was also chief of the security police, who then reported up the hierarchy to Son Sen, the deputy prime minister in charge of security, who then copied Pol Pot or Nuon Chea or other Khmer Rouge leaders, including the military commander Mok, with particular documents that were of interest to their role in security and repression.

So, we have a chain of command which is established by a paper trail from the photographs of the victims right up to the copies that were sent of the covering letters reporting on their arrest and their confessions.

BOGAEV: These photos came from a famous -- infamous -- police detention center in Phnom Penh, Tuol Sleng. How did you obtain the photos? Who found them?

KIERNAN: The photos were found initially by one of the seven survivors of the 20,000 or so prisoners who went through that prison. And the -- this survivor became the director of the museum that was established to record and memorialize what happened. And as he was searching through the archives, he found his own photograph the day he was arrested.

He remembered the date and he then set about establishing a photographic archive. And much later, a large number of negatives were found and printed out, and the Cambodian government made them available to us to display on the World Wide Web, so that family members looking for missing relatives or victims of the Khmer Rouge could perhaps help identify these largely unidentified victims of the Khmer Rouge.

BOGAEV: The prison is now a museum of genocide in Phnom Penh. Since the Khmer Rouge has had power in Cambodia off and on over the years, how has the museum explained its exhibits -- or what are its exhibits?

KIERNAN: Well, since 1979, when the Khmer Rouge were driven from Phnom Penh, it's been called the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide, and it has been a display of torture techniques and instruments of torture. The cells where the prisoners were held, and the archives of the actual prison are also there, including reports from the interrogators to the prison chief about the nature of the torture and particular prisoners' responses to the torture and the confessions.

In all, there are more than 100,000 pages of meticulous documentation of this particular crime.

BOGAEV: You also obtained from the prison many of the written -- so-called confessions the prisoners wrote under torture or threat of torture before execution.

KIERNAN: There are some documents where people plead for their lives, and there are others where people defiantly proclaim themselves, knowing that they are about to die. There are others where people proclaim themselves to be animals rather than human beings, abjectly begging for their lives. And the entire picture is a very sad one indeed.

BOGAEV: You conducted, I think, over 500 interviews yourself...

KIERNAN: That's right.

BOGAEV: ... to compile an oral history for the program and for your scholarship. How did you go about tracking people down and gaining their trust?

KIERNAN: I began to interview refugees abroad who had fled the Khmer Rouge regime, in Australia and particularly in France, in 1979, after the overthrow of the regime. And I interviewed about 100 Cambodian refugees in the months following the overthrow of the regime.

And then, I was able to go to Cambodia in 1980 and continue my work interviewing people on the spot, in their homes and workplaces; and interviewed approximately 400 more Cambodian survivors.

BOGAEV: How willing, though, were people to talk to you? It was dangerous, and also I would think that -- you were there in 1980, and that's a -- so recently traumatized by what the regime had done to the Cambodians.

KIERNAN: There were a number of people who did not want to talk, but the number was quite small, surprisingly enough. But I think you can understand that the Cambodians felt that the international community should know about what happened to them, and they were very keen in large part to talk and to talk on the record, in fact. Very few of them requested aliases, but I did choose not to reveal their names anyway, because the Khmer Rouge may wish to harm them.

BOGAEV: You describe the Khmer Rouge's regime as the most brutal onslaught on the family in history, and you argue that the regime targeted the family in order to make ethnic cleansing and genocide easier in their program. What evidence do you have from these materials, and the others that you've gathered, about their theorizing about how best to accomplish these goals?

KIERNAN: Well, the slogan that was used in the Khmer Rouge time was that the word "family" was used to describe a spouse. So the Cambodian word for "family" excluded the children in the Khmer Rouge period. And the children were considered by implication to belong to the government or to the state -- the organization -- as the party was known, headed by Pol Pot.

And the implementation of that ideology was that children were taken from their parents and brought up in barracks, from which they rarely saw their parents -- perhaps once a week or once a month, they would see their parents. Sometimes the parents -- the spouses themselves were separated and rarely saw each other.

And of course, family eating was progressively outlawed in the Khmer Rouge period, so that by the last couple of years, people would eat their meals, even breakfasts, in sittings with the parents in one and the children in another.

And this was something that had never happened in Cambodia before, or any other country, to my knowledge.

BOGAEV: And what was the purpose of that?

KIERNAN: I think the purpose was partly to undermine the family and partly to make sure that food supplies and rations were strictly controlled. People could only eat what was served up to them in these communal mess halls, which meant that they could not store food under their houses.

They were not allowed to pick fruit that was said to belong to the organization. They were not allowed to secretly cultivate private gardens for the family -- vegetables and so on.

And this prevented people from smuggling food to rebels who were opposing the Khmer Rouge regime. And that was a security purpose of this policy.

BOGAEV: I'd like you to talk a little bit about what you have learned about how genocidal regimes work in general, from studying all of the documentation that you have in the program.

KIERNAN: Well I think firstly, it's been a surprise to most scholars, including myself, just how much documentation survived, and indeed how much existed in the first place. The records, or even the existence of the prison, Tuol Sleng, was not known until after the Khmer Rouge were overthrown. It was such a secretive regime -- a closed country -- that the massive extermination center of Tuol Sleng remained unknown to the outside world for the whole four years of the Khmer Rouge regime.

And so, the massive documentation there was a surprise. But if you consider the enormous scale of the killing, and the rapidity and extremism of the projects that the Khmer Rouge embarked upon, leading to the death of nearly 2 million people in four years, it could only have been done by massive documentation and bureaucracy.

I also think that we can learn something from the ideology of the Khmer Rouge, which was a mixture of Maoism and racism, and also to some extents Darwinism -- an extremely explosive mixture developed by the Khmer Rouge, which propelled them to target entire groups of people for extermination or persecution, on the basis of their race or their social class -- and sometimes both, including all kinds of social groups, not just the city people and the elite, but peasants who died in approximately equal numbers to the urban dwellers who were evacuated from the cities.

BOGAEV: My guest is Cambodian scholar Ben Kiernan. He directs the Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University. We'll talk more after the break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Ben Kiernan, director of the Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University.

Part of the genocide program involves training human rights organizers in Cambodia in international criminal law and human rights law. What's the purpose of the training?

KIERNAN: Well, the training was provided in a couple of summer schools in '95 and '96, to enable Cambodians to participate in the search for justice for the victims of the genocide. And we've familiarized them with international criminal law, for instance the Genocide Convention, Crimes Against Humanity, and War Crimes -- and various case studies.

And then, we familiarized them with the procedures of actually holding a tribunal or a truth commission, which would come to some accounting of what happened. So, we were able to include Cambodian human rights workers as well as lawyers and prosecutors and police officials in Cambodia who may participate in a tribunal.

BOGAEV: What is the likelihood, though, of a tribunal occurring to try these war criminals? If one's -- almost every major member of the Cambodian government had some involvement with the Khmer Rouge at some time?

KIERNAN: My understanding is that Cambodians feel very strongly about justice, as well as about reconciliation and peace. They don't see the trial of Pol Pot, which they wished would have happened, as conflicting with reconciliation or the future development of the country.

They do, I think, insist that measures be taken to bring the remaining Khmer Rouge leaders to justice, especially the senior officials. And I think this is what resulted in the two Cambodian prime ministers last June, appealing to the United Nations to establish an international tribunal.

The UN has now set up a commission of experts to investigate the evidence of the genocide, and as well as that, the U.S. President Bill Clinton has committed the State Department to the search for an international legal accounting for the crimes that were committed at that time.

And I believe that the chances of apprehending one of the senior pillars of the Pol Pot regime, if not Pol Pot himself, who is now dead -- but the head of state at that time, Khieu Samphan is still at large; the military commander Mok is still at large; and the deputy party leader under Pol Pot, Nuon Chea -- number two in the regime -- is also still at large.

And these people could be apprehended because their military forces are dwindling, and they are restricted to a small area of Cambodia. And it's possible that in the future they -- or some of them -- could be captured.

BOGAEV: What model do you think a war crimes tribunal should follow in bringing human rights abusers to justice in Cambodia?

KIERNAN: Well, I think it needs to be international. The international community owes that to the Cambodian people. The ad hoc international criminal tribunals that have been established by the United Nations do provide a model for a Cambodian tribunal. Although much of the evidence has been gathered already, and in a particular Cambodian case, not so much prior work need necessarily be required.

And also, I think in the Cambodian view, they would like to see the tribunal in Cambodia itself, where the witnesses and the documents are located, and with Cambodian participation, which is slightly different to the Rwandan and Bosnian tribunals.

I interviewed King Sihanouk about this two years ago, and he was very strongly of the view that there should be an international tribunal established by the UN, but that there should be Cambodian participation and that it should be located in Phnom Penh.

BOGAEV: Do you think Pol Pot was murdered?

KIERNAN: It's always going to be in doubt because of his expeditious cremation, which prevented an autopsy and determination of the cause of the death. But it's an open question.

BOGAEV: I'm speaking with Ben Kiernan. He's a professor of history and the director of the Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University. You were in Cambodia in 1975, is that right?

KIERNAN: Yes, in early 1975.

BOGAEV: What were you doing there?

KIERNAN: I was a undergraduate student, and I visited Cambodia just before the end of the war, in February of 1975, from Australia.

BOGAEV: Did you have any idea what was happening politically in the country, or soon to happen?

KIERNAN: No. I was not able to predict that the Khmer Rouge regime would be as vicious and as systematically violent as it turned out to be.

BOGAEV: Did you have friends who were victims of the Khmer Rouge?

KIERNAN: Yes, all the people that I knew in Cambodia at the time of that visit died.

BOGAEV: Had -- were you trying to keep in contact with them during the time?

KIERNAN: It was impossible to keep contact, because the country was closed off as soon as the Khmer Rouge took over, and there was no postal contact and no other way of keeping in touch with people inside the country.

BOGAEV: Are young Cambodians today clear on what happened 20 years ago?

KIERNAN: I don't think the education system in Cambodia tackles this issue. There is still a good deal of research to be done before anyone will become clear about the total history of the Pol Pot regime. But the recently discovered documentation does make this possible in the long run, and certainly provides evidence for a legal accounting.

BOGAEV: Ben Kiernan directs the Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University. Here's their website address: www.yale.edu/cgp. That's www.yale.edu/cgp.

I'm Barbara Bogaev and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia
Guest: Ben Kiernan
High: Ben Kiernan is the director of the Cambodian Genocide Project at Yale University. Kiernan talks about why he is trying to document the mass killings and what the death of Pol Pot means for Cambodia. Kiernan wants those responsible for the crimes to face a war crimes tribunal. Kiernan is a professor of History at Yale and author of the 1996 book "The Pol Pot Regime" which has just been re-issued by Yale University Press. Pol Pot reportedly died last week of a heart attack at the age of 73.
Spec: Deaths; Asia; Cambodia: Genocide; The Pol Pot Regime
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: The Pol Pot Regime
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: APRIL 23, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 042302NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: New Take on Old Words
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:30

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev.

When we think of the words that capture the spirit of the age, we tend to think of words connected to the future -- expressions like: telecommuting, cyberspace, or techno-pop.

But as our linguist Geoff Nunberg points out, sometimes the words that are most revealing are the ones that signal our changing attitude toward the past, like the new uses of those old words "heritage" and "tradition."

GEOFFREY NUNBERG, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: I was visiting friends in L.A. a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to go to the new Getty Museum, but they said the lines would be too long, and took me instead to the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage, which opened a couple of years ago in Griffith Park.

"You'll be surprised," they said. And they were right. They have fine historical exhibits there, with appropriate multicultural nods to all the strains that came together in the old west -- conquistadors, Comanches, cowboys, and all the rest.

It was only the name of the museum that gave me pause. In fact, the word "heritage" seems to have completely replaced "history" in the names of museums. There's an American Airpower Heritage Museum in Midland, Texas; a Motorcycle Heritage Museum in Westerville (ph), Ohio, and an Anthracite Heritage Museum in Scranton. Not to mention a Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta, a Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, and heritage museums in other cities for Hungarians, Czechs, Irish-Americans, Native Americans, Italian-Americans, African-Americans, and women.

Actually, this "heritage" stuff all began in Britain, where the campaign to exploit historical monuments and stately homes has spawned what the critic Robert Hewison (ph) described as "the heritage industry." Over the past few years, though, we've been playing catchup with a vengeance, and not just in the names of museums.

Do a web search on the word "heritage," and you'll find sites for the McDonald's Heritage Bowl, Native American Heritage Collectibles, Heritage Glassware, Heritage Gift Baskets, and of course, the Heritage Foundation -- that bastion of the American right.

The best take on the meaning of the word, though, might come from all the outfits that advertise what they call "heritage furniture" -- including one that claims: "many of our pieces are replicas of actual family heirlooms." "Replicas of actual family heirlooms" -- that seemed right on for the general sense of the word, though in the case of museums, you might want to change it to "replicas of actual families."

At least when ethnic groups and nationalities talk about heritage, they're looking at the past the way a wealthy family looks at its ancestors: as a source of trust accounts to line its pockets and distinguished portraits to line its walls. It's a relentlessly upbeat word, which leaves no place for the possibility that our ancestors might have been rapacious or stupid or just plain incomprehensible to us.

There's no sense there that the past might be another country. It's just a long whiggish progression, as the world got ready for us.

Maybe this is what people are getting at when they talk about the end of history. Either we mine it for the mantlepiece souvenirs that we can label as "heritage," or we flatten it into anonymous folklore.

That's what's happened with the word "traditional." "Traditional" used to apply to things that have been handed down orally with no known source or author -- ballads, quilt designs, pumpkin pie recipes. But then about 40 years ago, people started to apply the adjective to things like houses, furniture, and weddings.

"Traditional" here doesn't actually have much to do with the older sense of the term. It's more just a way of evoking nostalgia for some imaginary pre-modern idyll of American middle class life.

When people say they grew up in a traditional house, you can be sure they're not talking about the shacks or tenements that most of our ancestors actually lived in. Nor, for that matter, are they talking about a Southwest-style adobe dwelling, say, even though the roots of that style go pretty deep in American soil.

Odds are they have in mind a Cape Cod or Tudor-style tract house that was thrown up by a developer some time in the '20s or '30s, and was furnished in that pastiche of New England and French provincial chairs and bedroom sets that goes by the name of "traditional furniture."

As it happens, it was just about the same time that people started talking about traditional houses and furniture that they started talking about notions like traditional values and the traditional family. In fact, those are just names for the way we imagine things were around those colonial-style dinner tables of those traditional houses -- a world where everything was clear and straightforward, with no moral problems so vexed you couldn't set it straight in a 10-minute heart-to-heart with Spencer Tracy or Louis Stone.

"Traditional" smooths out the wrinkles of social history in exactly the same way it smooths out the differences between chair legs. Of course, historians have always tailored their tales to the times, but I don't know that any age has ever been as efficient about the process as we are. Our predecessors merely rewrote history. We're doing away with it altogether.

It makes you long for a time when peoples did their forgetting more traditionally. As Marguerite Yorsenar (ph) once said: "we always rebuild monuments in our own way, but we ought to try to use the original stones."

BOGAEV: Geoffrey Nunberg is usage editor of the American Heritage Dictionary and a linguist at the Xerox-Palo Alto Research Center.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Geoffrey Nunberg, Palo Alto; Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg comments on the new interpretations of old words -- words like "heritage," and "tradition."
Spec: Words; Language; Culture
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: New Take on Old Words
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: APRIL 23, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 042303NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Enduring Love
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:30

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: British writer Ian McEwan's new novel "Enduring Love," begins with a crisis -- a crisis that acts like a domino, engendering a series of moral dilemmas for the main character, Joe.

Picture this: you and your wife are having a picnic out in the countryside. Your wife is just passing you a bottle of wine, when you hear a shout. You jump to your feet. You start running in the direction of the shout. You know it's an emergency and you see other men running towards this emergency, too.

Here's Ian McEwan reading from the beginning of Enduring Love.

IAN MCEWAN, AUTHOR, "ENDURING LOVE": What were we running towards? I don't think any of us would ever know fully. But superficially, the answer was: a balloon. Not the nominal space that encloses a cartoon character's speech or thought, or, by analogy, the kind that's driven by mere hot air.

It was an enormous balloon filled with helium -- that elemental gas forged from hydrogen in the nuclear furnace of the stars, first step along the way in the generation of multiplicity and variety of matter in the universe -- including ourselves and all our thoughts.

We were running towards a catastrophe, which itself was a kind of furnace, in whose heat identities and fates would buckle into new shapes. At the base of the balloon was a basket in which there was a boy, and by the basket, clinging to a rope, was a man in need of help.

BOGAEV: Your main character, Joe, goes to aid a man and a young boy who's caught in the basket of the helium balloon, as it seems to be being blown away by gusts of high winds. And of course, what eventually happens is that four men converge on this balloon, on the basket, hold onto ropes, and as the winds rise, one of them lets go and the basket is lifted up into the air.

And at that point, the remaining men, except for one, let go of the ropes, the balloon with its basket lifts off the ground with one man hanging onto a rope. And that man hangs on until he eventually falls -- falls to his death. And the other characters -- the other men, of course, watch this happen.

Now, the main character that you write about is this supremely rational human being. He's a former scientist, a science writer -- and he seems so ill-equipped to deal with all of the moral dilemmas and moral questions that arise out of this incident. For instance, was it wrong to let go? Was it wrong if letting go was an act of self-preservation? Was it wrong for him to let go -- if one person let go first -- these things start to cycle in this brain.

Was this the dilemma you posed to yourself when you sat down to write? How a rational mind goes about making sense of moral ambiguities?

MCEWAN: Yes, and actually I have to disagree with you a little there, because the novel is really built around the premise that perhaps there's a little more to be said for rationality than we often are prepared to accept. And that perhaps there are moral dilemmas to which we should bring some rationality, rather than just, you know, a welter of feeling.

And I wanted to sort of write a novel in which we might see a rather calm, organized, sensible chap like Joe finding his life torn apart by a complete whirlwind of -- an eruption of -- of unreason into his life, in the form of another man who becomes obsessed by him.

And I wanted to see if there wasn't ways in which, in fact, rationality has its strengths. And remember that as they're hanging there above the ground, with this terrible thing happening -- trying to hold this balloon down, knowing that if they all hang on there together, they'll keep the balloon weighted on the ground, if one of them lets go, then they'll all have to let go, that it's Joe who's able to actually articulate, partly through his understanding of science, something of the background to that dilemma -- you know, our selfishness against our altruism; the fact that we have within us these rather contradictory impulses towards other people. We want to help them, but we also want to save our own skin.

So Joe is in a sense quite well placed to bring us that dilemma, and experience it for himself.

BOGAEV: Before you wrote the book, did you have an answer of what you would have done if you had been there? I mean, did you have to have an answer for that to write?

MCEWAN: I think it's impossible to know. I mean, I'd like to think I would do the right thing, but the right thing can sometimes be suicidal. In other words, we can behave well when we're in a situation where behaving well makes sense, if you see what I mean. As long as they're cooperating -- those fellows hanging onto the rope -- they are in a sense, as Joe puts it, "a good society."

Once one of them breaks ranks and the balloon is going up higher, and you know that you're not going to be able to hang on and your options are narrowing, then you better start behaving selfishly, rather than throw your life away for nothing.

And that calculation is very difficult to make -- has to be made in a split second. And I think that people tend to make it on the basis of pure character alone. You know, there's hardly time to make a calculation as such. You sort of feel your way into it; key moments in a person's life, in which they're called on to respond in ways that actually surprise them and perhaps even change -- change them for the rest of their lives.

BOGAEV: It's interesting how you describe that moment. You write that the moment Joe felt the balloon lurch upwards, after someone let go, the matter was settled for him. Altruism had no place. Being good made no sense.

Do you find people lose their -- this veneer of civilization that quickly? In a moment?

MCEWAN: Well I -- I think they do. And I don't really think of it as a veneer. I think there are situations, for example -- I think war is one, civil war, when all the ordinary rules of everyday life break down. And then you'll find quite ordinary people behaving perhaps with great cruelty, and surprising themselves with their own ferocity.

We -- we are held in check, you know, by -- by living together, by cooperating, and by accepting that we can't satisfy every selfish impulse we have. And yet at the same time, we can't be completely selfless. We can't be completely altruistic. We do have to stick up for ourselves. And that -- that push and pull really does underpin, I think, much of what we do call "morality."

But certainly, when all the rules have collapsed; when no one is obeying any of the rules, then you might be a fool to obey them yourself.

BOGAEV: Now, one of the other men who held onto a rope before letting go, and his name is Jed -- he develops a romantic obsession with this main character Joe, and he stalks him, one of his intentions being to convert him to Christianity. What interested you in setting up this situation -- this complication?

MCEWAN: Well, Jed Perry (ph) is suffering -- we don't know this at the beginning of the book, but by the end you certainly do -- he's suffering from a rather rare psychological syndrome known as "declando" (ph) syndrome. It's a peculiar state of mind. It involves becoming completely convinced that a certain person has fallen in love with you and you are obliged to return that love.

It's a completely delusionary state. It requires no evidence. Often people who suffer from it feel that the loved one -- the person they are obsessing about -- is sending them messages, even if the loved one is calling the police or bringing the courts down on you or the, you know, getting court orders or screaming at you to go away. In your psychotic delusional state, you will reinterpret this in some other way. You'll see it as a -- strangely, as a form of encouragement.

So I don't think -- when I came across this -- this state of mind, I thought: I don't think I've ever read of anything more unreasonable than this state. And I can't think of anything quite so frightening or challenging for someone's grip on rationality than to become the object of obsession for such a person, because nothing you say or do would convince them to go away.

The other thing that struck me about it was that the object of obsession becomes somewhat obsessed himself or herself. If every time you step outside your apartment, there's this same person waiting there, if they're phoning you 30 times a day or turning up unexpectedly at your workplace, you begin to obsess about them. You're always expecting them around every corner. And you become something of a monomaniac, too.

You get dragged, as it were, into the madness.

BOGAEV: I'm speaking with British writer Ian McEwan. His new novel is Enduring Love.

You grew up abroad, in Singapore, I believe, and North Africa -- your father was in...

MCEWAN: That's right.

BOGAEV: ... he was in the British military?

MCEWAN: Yeah, I'm an army brat, and we traveled around, first in, as you say, in Singapore, but the really memorable time for me was in Tripoli, in Libya in North Africa. When the American Air Force bombed Tripoli, I was amazed to see that the place where Qaddafi was hiding out was my old school, where I went when I was eight years old. I recognized it so clearly. And I've always wanted to go back. I'd love to go back to Libya, but it hasn't been safe, obviously, for a number of years.

BOGAEV: Growing up an outsider, do you think that turned you into an observer? A writer?

MCEWAN: I've often thought about this. I mean, in some ways I think it did. I certainly wasn't an outsider in any grand existential sense, but my father was promoted from the ranks to become an officer sometime in the '50s when I was growing up. And we were immediately sent onto another kind of base where -- and had a complete change of friends.

And he occupied a sort of curious space as those officers do, not quite accepted by, you know, the middle class, officer class -- people who went to the, you know, the high-flying academies; but having left behind the sergeants and the corporals who were once his colleagues.

Then I went to a boarding school, which was a very sort of set-apart place way out in the countryside, filled mostly with very bright, but pretty rough kids from central London whose -- who had come from families that had broken up. And then, I went to a very brand new university.

And so that by the time I was 20 or so, and wanting to start writing fiction, I wasn't able to place myself in the way that most English writers can. A lot of English writing, I don't know if you're aware of this, traditionally has been very involved with class and status and the little sort of problems of when you rise in your class or fall in it. I had no idea where I stood in all that, and I was completely ignorant, really, of my own position or really of how other people lived.

And that's what rather impelled me to write these rather strange and Gothic tales of, you know, they were considered extremely perverse when they came out. In fact, they're still considered extremely perverse and I'm still castigated for them.

I think it did have something to do with my upbringing.

BOGAEV: It sounds very liberating, though.

MCEWAN: It was. Actually, it was -- you know, people used to accuse me of writing to shock, and I used to deny it vehemently. But I'm beginning to think that maybe there was an element of that; that I did want just to burst out and write in a way that was not just vivid, but over-vivid. It was -- writing was almost like super-real painting.

I don't write like that anymore. I mean, I certainly don't write short stories like that anymore. But it did -- yes, it did sort of uncork me. It did set me in motion like a -- like a kind of large watch. I've been ticking ever since, I hope.

BOGAEV: Your -- some of your first novels and your stories -- many of them were about children, or from a child's point of view. And I'm thinking that you grew up in pretty vivid circumstances, and that when I read a lot of your work, it sounds as if you can really call up childhood -- the experience of being a child, if not your actual experiences -- the impressions of childhood so vividly and so quickly. Are they right there in your arsenal for you? Fresh when you need them?

MCEWAN: Well, do you know, I invented a lot of childhood for myself in my fiction, although obviously I drew on all the emotional colors of my own memory. I don't know why it is -- I've got something of a prejudice against reading books by writers about their sensitive childhoods. And I always say to myself: "don't tell us about your childhood. Invent one for us, that we can all inhabit." And that was rather my own view of making up children and childhoods in my early fiction.

I've never been much interested in writing about my own. I don't know why. It's -- it's something about facts I find oppressive in -- when I'm writing fiction. I'd rather invent than remember.

BOGAEV: Ian McEwan, it's been a real pleasure talking with you today. Thank you.

MCEWAN: Thank you.

BOGAEV: Ian McEwan's new novel is Enduring Love.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia
Guest: Ian McEwan
High: British writer Ian McEwan's 1997 novel "Enduring Love" has been published in the United States. McEwan has written five other novels: "The Cement Garden," "The Comfort of Strangers," "The Child in Time," "The Innocent," and "Black Dogs." He's been shortlisted for Britain's prestigious Booker Prize twice and has won the Whitbred Novel of the Year Award. He lives in Oxford, England.
Spec: Books; Authors; Ian McEwan
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Enduring Love
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: APRIL 23, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 042304NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Cuban Music Festivals
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:55

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: In the last several years, the interest in Cuban music in this country has been on the rise. One reason is that more Cubans are coming to this country to perform. Last week in Springfield, Massachusetts, an international arts festival presented two shows featuring popular Cuban musicians.

Music critic Milo Miles was there and says the music ranged from cutting edge to mainstream.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, CUBAN MUSIC FROM FESTIVAL)

MILO MILES, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: There were three hot tickets last weekend in Springfield, Massachusetts: premier performances by some of Cuba's most celebrated musicians; an exhibition of professional wrestling; and a convention of the Titanic Historical Society.

Actually, variety is a sign of vitality in everything, and that includes the gradual return of live Cuban music to American venues. It was a sign of progress in relations that bands in this country were able to see the most explosive new dance band in Cuba, La Charanga Havanera (ph), when they were still smoking fresh to celebrity.

It's worth remembering that the other part of having normal traffic with another culture is that the mainstream has to start flowing. The Cuban evening in Springfield began sedately enough in the town symphony hall. The highlight was a performance by pianist and composer Jose Vitier (ph), with two string players and two percussionists.

Unknown here, Vitier is about as establishment as you can get in Cuba. The old pro has done scads of film scores and television themes, and in Springfield he showed he could weave together strains of folk, jazz, and chamber music with majestic ease. And his album, "Havana Secleta" (ph) is highly recommended.

The downside is, well, Vitier's "Misa Cubano" (ph) was played for Pope John Paul II during his Cuban visit. And when the Pope drops by, you don't play music that's going to cause trouble. So, the program perked up when unheralded singer Zio Mar (ph) did a few numbers with Vitier's group. With her throaty tones and elliptical phrasing, she proved to be something of a Cuban Dinah Washington.

The finale was a version of "Guantanamera" (ph) that stretched the tempo and tone of the piece and generally shook some life back into it. Vitier and Zio Mar showed that if you're going to do chestnuts, the way to do it is to toast them.

But Charanga Havanera finished off the evening with a wham at a club performance during their first visit to the United States. The crowd was much smaller than you would hope for one of the most all-out ferocious dance bands in the world, but those that did attend got all of that for an hour.

Under the precise, but freewheeling guidance of David Calzato (ph), the 13-member Charanga Havanera starts with all the equipment a knock-out group needs. They've got three lead vocalists -- none of them an overwhelming songbird, but each a combination of cut-up and bad-boy; two thumping percussionists who dance so well they must have springs instead of bones; a bass player off in his own world whose throb never stops pushing everything ahead; a tight weave of riffs and solos from two keyboards; and an absolutely blistering horn section of three trumpets and a switch-hit sax and flute player.

This is the dream of a Cuban party band. The music always up-tempo, in a rush, but never boring or brutal; a band where six guys can link arms and dance like nobody's business, then lead the crowd through calisthenics that are both silly and sexy.

The momentum of Charanga Havanera's performance seemed unstoppable -- on the edge of control. Then, bang -- the set was over. They bowed and walked off stage -- stars in any country they choose.

BOGAEV: Milo Miles is features editor for Soundstone.Com.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Milo Miles; Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: Music Critic Milo Miles talks about the renewed interest in Cuban music in the U.S. by talking about some Cuban bands recently featured at an arts festival.
Spec: Music Industry; Caribbean; Cuba
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Cuban Music Festivals
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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