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AN INTERVIEW WITH DIANE JOHNSON DIANE JOHNSON Diane Johnson is the author of thirteen books, nine of them novels, including Persian Nights, Lying Low, Le Manage and Le Divorce, which was a 1997 National Book Award finalist. In addition to her fiction, she has written several collections of essays, a biography of Dashiell Hammett and the screenplay of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Randall Fuller, assistant professor of English at Drury University, is currently at work on a novel. This interview was conducted in 2002. An Interview with Diane Johnson/Randall Fuller Interviewer: Tm struck by the sense oífun in your work, something I seldom see in contemporary fiction. Johnson: I too find that quality strangely lacking—not true of authors we now think of as "classic," like, say, E. M. Forster, or even James, who can be very funny. I have no explanation for the American lack, and it has even crossed my mind that a sense of fun can be a curse in the U.S., preventing readers from seeing the serious issues and thoughts thatmay find their way into a writer's pages. Interviewer: Along those lines, in Le Manage, former movie star Clara Holly recalls Colette's words, "Vice is bad things done without pleasure ." I gather the equation of pleasure and vice is something you see as peculiarly American. Johnson: I wonder if Americans have much understanding of vice. We tend in fiction, and perhaps in life, to examinations of (a) crime, (b) sin. Vice of course is something different. And French people would say we have no understanding of pleasure anyhow. Interviewer: How come? Johnson: French people often refer to American Puritanism, and ascribe many of our failings to this non-Catholic feature of our history. In this view, we have the defects of Protestantism: We're humorless, ridden with a sense ofguilt or sin and unable to confess and be rid of our guilty feelings. Thus we do not take pleasure in, say, overeating. We suffer and diet. The same with most of the pleasures of life, according to this view; we can'tjust enjoy them. The French might also add that we have fewer occasions of pleasure in our lives. I found myself quoted in a French newspaper to the effect Diane Johnson The Missouri Review · 111 that Americans would never have the cherished French institution of cinq à sept (five to seven, a time of day to meet a lover) because we are all on the freeways. We have not organized our society for pleasure, and we put up with the institutions we have created, like traffic jams, because we think they allow us to work, to get to work, et cetera. Interviewer: Speaking of work, what are you occupied with right now? Johnson: Tm writing a novel, still about Americans in France but perhaps a bit more about European anti-Americanism, and also skiing. Interviewer: Skiing? Johnson: I set my new novel in Courcheval because I thought I needed to get out of Paris for a while. The world of skiing is a sort of microcosm , and European skiing provides a microcosm of European types— thus, the very place for some American characters to find themselves. European skiing is different from American skiing—the pistes are bigger , everyone in France skis (luckily not at once) and it's much more a part of life. We try to spend two weeks or so each year in the Alps, and it's very reviving. Interviewer: This setting is the backdrop for anti-Americanism? Johnson: Yes, which does seem to be at its worst right now, largely because of the Bush administration. Europeans can't understand how Americans can be so stupid—in this case the foolish blustering about "dead or alive," while failing to catch the terrorists, combined with the rather silly campaign in Afghanistan against civilians, which has nothing to do with the actual terrorists. But then, almost everything the Bush administration has done since September 11 has seemed not only counterproductive but "simplistic," as the French minister remarked. At leastthat's the European point ofview. Anti-Americanism started before September 11, of course, with our general unwillingness to cooperate—Kyoto...


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