Government Work

In an interview with the Bangkok Post about his travel writing, Paul Theroux explains why some authors and power figures don’t get along. I’m not sure I buy the bit about Steinbeck falling out of favor because he coddled LBJ (or the argument that nobody reads Steinbeck anymore), but it’s an interesting read:

How much influence do you believe travel writers have in the international arena?

I don’t know whether I have power. First I don’t re-read something after it’s published. In terms of power, I think the nearer you are to power, political power especially, you become morally blind or morally ambiguous. Political people have to make very pragmatic decisions, so it’s wrong to seek power and it’s a big mistake to be close to power, because you begin to blur the line between truth and practicality. Take John Steinbeck, for example. He was on good terms with President Johnson, whose son was in the Vietnam War, and he became kind of an apologetic for Johnson for the war. No one really reads his books these days. So if a US president like George Bush Jr invited me to the White House I would worry a lot if he took interest in me. There are two kinds of writers, I think. There are great writers that governments are afraid of, because writing is like a moral authority, whereas the second group of great writers governments love, because they can use them. So I’d like to be in the first category.

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