The Dan Schneider Interview 11: Edward Hoagland (first posted 5/25/08)


DS: This DSI is with a writer whose nature essays I first stumbled upon twenty or so years ago, along with those of Loren Eiseley. I was in a period where I read almost nothing but poetry and science books, and his books were among those that left an impression on me, albeit the sort of impression that is not life-wrenching, but which takes time and flowers in unexpected ways later on in one’s life. He is well known as a science writer, essayist, fictionist, and writer of travel books. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed, Edward Hoagland. Since there are many avenues to explore, we will hit them momentarily. But, for those readers to whom your name is unfamiliar, could you please give a précis for the uninitiated, on who Edward Hoagland is, what you do, what your aims in your career are, major achievements, and your general philosophy, etc.

EH: My ouevre (sic) is obtainable from Wikipedia. I became a professional writer in 1951 when I joined Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Circus as a cagehand and wrote a book, which I sold to Houghton Mifflin in 1954. Nineteen further books have followed. By 1968 I had become primarily an essayist.

DS: Is there nothing more you can add to that for the readers? Anyway, I actually own a copy of Loren Eiseley’s The Night Country, an edition from 1971, which you blurbed for. I find it distressing that such a supernal writer of prose is so utterly forgotten. I have interviewed some well known people in the sciences who have written books but have never even heard of the man. How can this be? I mean, putting aside the natural outdating of scientific presumptions, just the sheer incredible construction of sentences, the indelible imagery, the poetic juxtaposition of ideas and events, and other factors, such as the personal aspects of his essays, reveal a master storyteller who could illumine even the most banal subject matter, and this should make this ma’s work mandatory reading for anyone aspiring to write books on science, or even simply pursue a career in the sciences. He is simply to science writing what, right or wrong, William Shakespeare is to drama- an essential. So why is he forgotten, and why are so many of his works out of print? Comments?

EH: I would equate Eiseley more with Eugene O’Neill than the truly supernal Shakespeare, but many scientists do not read literature and in any case belittle outstanding talents who are less narrow than their own. E.O. Wilson should be a Nobelist in our own time.

DS: Well, Wilson’s a solid writer, but not on a par with Eiseley as a wordsmith, so I’d leave real criticism to the pros; but you didn’t really answer my queries. Anyway, have you ever thought about using your name in the science writing field to help resuscitate some of the better writers from the past, like Eiseley, who have fallen out of print? Perhaps by offering to write a Preface or Foreword for a Collected Works?

EH: I have written many prefaces, as Wikipedia will tell you; three apiece for Thoreau and Muir alone, and edited the thirty-volume Penguin Nature Classics series, and reviewed many of my contemporaries for the Times.

DS: There are many newspapers called ‘The Times.’ Could you be more specific- L.A., N.Y., etc.? In this same vein, what science essayists influenced you, other than Eiseley? How about some current science writers and essayists? Have you ever read Barry Lopez or Wyn Wachhorst? Of course, Stephen Jay Gould was, before his death, likely the most well known science essayist, due to his monthly columns in Natural History magazine. Any comments on them, in terms of content, style, or both?

EH: I disliked Gould’s ignoring of the current natural holocaust consuming the world and his unconscionable cruelty to the much better Wilson. Lopez of course I have reviewed for the front page of the NYTBR, like Matthiessen, McPhee, etc. and have long championed my friends Edward Abbey, Gretel Ehrlich, Annie Dillard.

DS: So, you prefer people you like to works that are good? And what does Gould’s personal preferences or personality have to do with his writing ability? I’m not interested in gossip, but an exchange in this interview. Anyway, let’s focus on your bio, and start off with some in depth queries on your background. You were born Edward Morley Hoagland, on December 21st, 1932, in my hometown, New York City. Was this Manhattan or the outer boroughs? And what are some of your earliest memories of the late Great Depression and World War Two years?

EH: Manhattan; and I remember men singing for tossed coins in the stairwells of buildings, and breadlines in the street. In 1941 we moved to suburban Connecticut. I saw of course much more poverty near the Bowery when I lived on the Lower East Side in the 1960s. Also hitchhiking cross-country in the 1950s, during which I also served two years as a private in the army.

DS: My dad used to regale me with tales of life in those days, although he was born in 1916. You grew up, from what I’ve read, in a far more affluent setting than he did. Did your young tastes run more to the Dead End Kids or The Great White Way?

EH: My tastes ran to the words and the circus and the highway.

DS: Due to your date of birth, you are not considered a Baby Boomer, nor are you really a member of the so-called ‘Greatest Generation,’ like my dad. To what degree did this sort of ‘tweener’ status play in your developing ideas about the world- be they scientific, political, or otherwise?

EH: I was a socialist by the age of 12, and hated segregation and anti-Semitism and was at the 1963 March on Washington, at 30, and other less famous demonstrations. Sandburg and Steinbeck were early enthusiasms, along with Bellow and Whitman and Tolstoy. (Now Turgenev and Mann and on and on.)

DS: What of your parents? I have read that you did not have a good relationship with your father, who was a corporate executive. Was this typical generation gap stuff, or was he a drinker, physically abusive, or an absentee dad? It seems to me, from what I’ve read, that he was more interested in material things, and detested your chosen profession as a writer. Is it true he legally tried to block the publication of your first book?

EH: Yes, it is true that he wrote to the publisher’s lawyer with that in mind. However, ge (sic) was not abusive or a drinker, and I learned good working habits from him and his temperate relations with others. I dislike things such as his boycotting the Metropolitan Opera after Marian Anderson was permitted to sing.

DS: What did your mother do? Was she the stereotypical ‘stay at home,’ pre-1950s Leave It To Beaver mom? Was she more supportive of your writing? Often you hear of parents chiding such nonconformist dreams as being unrealistic. Did she, also, want you to ‘be reasonable,’ and get a job where you could ‘make money’? Or did she encourage your pursuit of the arts and sciences?

EH: She was slightly more supportive in that regard and very supportive in other ways. Also, unlike my father, she didn’t disinherit me.

DS: I’ve read you have a sister. Any other siblings? Did any of them go into science? Do they share your views on life, politics, religion, etc.?

EH: My sister is a retired dairy farmer in upstate New York. We have good relations. She was adopted at three months when I was ten.

DS: What was your youth like, both at home and in terms of socializing with other children? Were you smarter than average? The classic bored gifted child? Since you seem to have come from a well off family, did you go to boarding school?

EH: I stuttered badly but was not picked on in private schools. I was happiest in the woods. Fortunately my father did not make partner at his law firm on Wall Street, so we’d moved to the country.

DS: What sorts of books did you read? Name some of your favorite books- be they science or not, fiction or nonfiction, as well as those you think among the best ever published

EH: I love Felix Krull; Sportsman’s Notebook; my contemporaries Roth, Updike and Marquez and Grass and Naipaul. Homer was an early favorite. You repeat the nonexistent connection between me and ‘science.’ I’m an essayist.

DS: Well, I’d hardly call your connection to science non-existent. After all, you’ve mentioned your Wikipedia page, and it’s clear from a scan of the titles of essays and books that science/nature writing is what you are most known for. You, yourself, in prior answers, have portrayed yourself in that vein. So, there’s a definite connection; why you would object to that is baffling. Anyway, I don’t know if you are a fan of Woody Allen’s films, but you would be right of the age where his great little 1987 film Radio Days might have some relevance. First, are you a fan of Allen’s? Have you seen that film? And does its invocation of a pre-television era strike a chord with you?

EH: Yes, of his earlier ones, being a native New Yorker, certainly pre-television. I still live without electricity for a third of the year.

DS: Ok. Whether you have seen it or not, the film ends with this voiceover narration by the character Allen essays: ‘I never forgot that New Year’s Eve when Aunt Bea awakened me to watch 1944 come in. And I've never forgotten any of those people, or any of the voices we used to hear on the radio; although the truth is- with the passing of each New Year’s Eve those voices do seem to grow dimmer and dimmer....’ Many of your essays, like Loren Eiseley’s, are sort of personal ‘hidden essays.’ I.e.- you use real events from your own existence (past and present) as an entrée to higher ideas. Of course, there will always be the patchwork reality of memory, and the need to reconstruct via filling in the gaps. Yet, my mother, who is 85 years old, will tell me stories of her earliest years (ten or younger) with far, far more clarity than she can relate anecdotes of things that happened in her early adult or middle aged years, much less a few months ago. And, having volunteered as a teenager at assorted senior citizens centers where my mom worked, I noticed this time and again with oldsters not ravaged by senility and Alzheimer’s Disease. My query is, are the oldsters simply making their pasts up as they go along, filling in the blanks with niceties, or does the end phase of life truly bring the whole of one’s existence into greater focus? In essence, is Allen’s voiceover narrative claim true only to a point, and then does it reverse itself, similar, perhaps, to nearsightedness getting worse throughout life, until, in old age, it actually ameliorates a bit?

EH: I’m 75 and not yet at the phase where I can answer your question any better than you.

DS: Ok, but I gave no answer. Did you even read the question? Or are you always this paranoid? You seem to have a lackluster approach to the interview, as if you do not care to let people in on your life. Why is that? And how did geography (growing up urban) and the time of your youth affect your later outlook on life, especially that with a scientific and nature-loving bent? Were you a kid who grew up playing in dirty tree boxes?

EH: One must be in the woods by eight, and fortunately I was. I also had chickens, goats, snakes, dogs. I am a novelist and have no scientific bent.

DS: Well, as I showed earlier, your Wikipedia page argues against your not having a scientific bent, and earlier in this last reply you typed ‘One must be in the woods by eight, and fortunately I was,’ so it’s a little bizarre for you to eschew your renown as a nature/science writer, and instead focus on your novels, which are not even distinguished on your Wikipedia page, and which have not been published for years. Don’t you think? Back to some queries: online bios of you state that you went to Harvard University. What did you study there? 1950s Academia has an almost mythic place in American arts and letters, as a time of great ferment and creativity. Did you have any professors who were well known in their fields, and which professor influenced your career most?

EH: Berryman and MacLeish were my mentors, each differently valuable- healthily crazy and usefully sane. I learned bravery from Berryman and generosity from MacLeish.

DS: I mentioned that you had blurbed for Loren Eiseley, and one of the most repeated blurbs about you is novelist John Updike’s claim that you are the best essayist of my generation.’ Since that’s sort of a generic claim that is often made for any writer or artist, is there a blurb or compliment you have received for your writing that was especially honest, cogent, and trenchant? I.e.- a compliment that showed that the person fundamentally ‘got’ your points or aims, and understood why an essay or article was constructed a certain way? I ask because blurbery has become merely a way to ‘make connections’ and reinforce the public relations aspect of the business of books rather than being a genuine admission of admiration.

EH: Updike gets my work and his praise is not routine. I have many quotes from others, like Bellow, Roth, etc.

DS: Perhaps you misunderstood, or you’re just not making sense again; but when someone chimes in with the standard ‘best of his generation’ quote, it says nothing specific. In fact, it’s often seen as a backhanded damnation only the clueless would preen about. Perhaps Updike does ‘get’ your work, but my point was the blurb imparts nothing of that, and you could have provided me some of the quotes from the others. I’m asking very specific questions and you seem to not be paying attention; whether out of smarminess or insecurity, I don’t know. Also, you received a couple of Guggenheim Fellowships. Are these like other grants, which are for specific projects, or are these Lifetime Achievement awards, where, as a fellow, you are inducted into a society? I ask because such terms are often bandied about with such ease, as if the layety have any idea what they are. Also, what were the two Fellowships for? And how much politicking is involved in these sorts or things? I.e.- are they, like the Nobel Prize In Literature, given only to Left Wing icons?

EH: I traveled to British Columbia and Africa on them. Now I tend to give fellowships, and find your glibness jejune.

DS: Well, since again, I was very specific in the query, therefore I can only conclude you did not really read the query, or don’t know what either glibness or jejune mean. I am trying to expose you and your work to a whole new audience of potential readers, far more than you’ve ever had in your lifetime, but you are coming across as a snob and elitist, one who thinks he’s above the masses. And dodging specific questions does not portray you in a good light. But, in a similar vein, you were elected, in 1982, to the American Academy Of Arts And Letters. What is that, and do you serve on a board of directors, divvying up grant money, or the like? Again, these alphabet soup sort of organizations are bandied about with ease, yet few people understand how they work and what they are? Are they cabals, bureaucracies, crony-laden networking tools, etc.?

EH: I find it hard to answer you seriously, so I will pass.

DS: So, can I take your pass on that question as a yes or a no? Why did you agree to be interviewed if you did not want to answer real questions? I stated in my introductory letter that this interview would not be the fellatric sort, nor the kind you could merely give canned answers to. I’d hoped for some real cogitation on your part, as it tends to destroy the canned answers you seem eager to have given. But, excelsior! You spent the bulk of your career in Academia, at many colleges and universities. What did you teach, and were there any students that went on to careers in science- future Nobelists or the like, or future writers in science or other subjects? And at which university setting did you feel most comfortable in, and why? Have you ever felt that your creativity was suffering or utterly stifled because of your ‘day job’?

EH: The great bulk of my career was spent writing. Teaching never constrained me, or I wouldn’t have done it, but instead enhanced my life. And yes, I have had many, many wonderful students.

DS: That’s a pretty generic and flippant answer. You cannot describe what you taught for decades in any detail? And you have no deeper opinions to share on your Academic career? Ok. Let me work backward, a bit, for now. I’ve read you served in the military in the mid-1950s. Which branch, and where did you serve?

EH: Army, In Pennsylvania, as a hospital lab technician.

DS: Care to elaborate? A few years back I worked at a job gathering information from alumni of schools and retired military folk, and I was most impressed with how much pride most of the military folk looked back on their service, even if they were swabbies or cooks. Almost all looked at that period in their lives as, if not defining, then certainly as nearly essential. Are you among them? And do you still belong to the assorted organizations that ex-military folk do? Have you any lifelong friends from those days?

EH: No, but I’m glad I served as a draftee in my era. During the Vietnam War I would not have; in fact ripped up my documentation and ,ailed (sic) it to Lyndon Johnson.

DS: Did that time in your life instill discipline, or any other qualities that you lacked till then, which have proven helpful subsequently- in either a personal or professional way?

EH: I have always had self-discipline- had already published a 110,000 word novel- but discipline in talking to police officers, etc., yes.

DS: What are some of your earliest memories of youth? What are your feelings on religion- especially organized religion, in regards to it as being compatible with science, ala Stephen Jay Gould’s Non-Overlapping Magisteria posit?

EH: I dislike Gould, as I said, but am an Emersonian.

DS: So, no early memories? And neither Emerson nor your personal dislike for Gould are an answer to the query. At this point in your life, have you accomplished most of the things you wanted to do? If not, what failures gnaw at you the most? Which of those failures do you think you can accomplish yet? And why do you think you have failed at some of those things, and why have you succeeded at others? Sheer luck?

EH: I do not think I failed in my dreams; I simply shifted them from fiction to essays. Twenty books at 75, plus three or four more due soon, is a total that would have exhilarated me to learn about at 25.

DS: Again, you seem to not be reading my questions, and instead are resorting to vanity and puffery. Everyone has had failures, but if you wish not to speak of them, simply say so.  I’ve read that you have been married several times. Are you currently married? If so, how did you meet? How long have you been married? What is her profession?

EH: Twice, for four and twenty-five years. My present partner and I have been together for twenty.

DS: What of children? Do you have any, and what career paths have they followed?

EH: I have a daughter, 39, married to an actor, in Brooklyn, who is taking care of her three- and seven-year old (sic). Harvard ’90; Has a masters (sic) in European history.

DS: Earlier, I asked you of your religion, so let me now use this as a jumping off point regarding your political views. Are you a Democrat, Republican, Independent, member of a Third Party? Who will you be voting for this year, in the Presidential race? How has your view of politics grown over the years? How has it affected your art at various stages of development?

EH: I’ve always, from the age of 12, considered myself a radical, but vote Democratic so that it counts a little.

DS: But no connection between your politics and art? I’ve read of a number of scientists who loathe the current administration’s policies re: funding research- stem cells, etc. Last year, several Surgeons General testified before Congress regarding the interference they’ve received from this and past administrations. Although you are not directly involved in research, have you any friends who are, who have tales that they bitch to you about?

EH: I have (sic) not a scientist, I am an artist.

DS: But, again, you have written extensively on the sciences, so that was wherefore the query. Do you consider yourself a builder or sculptor when it comes to wordsmithing? I’ve met two basic types of writers, regardless of prose or poetry, fiction or nonfiction, etc. There are sculptors- who crank out reams of words, then pare back, the way Auguste Rodin once mentioned that his sculptures were always there, and he just removed whatever material needed to reveal them. Others are builders, who start with a small first draft and revise by pruning a bit, but adding depth and bulk with each draft. Is there any difference in the methodologies you use for book-length prose, and short essays? If so, what about each form elicits the different methodology? And, what do you think that says of human creativity re: writing?

EH: I write ten words per hour in fiction and twenty words per hour in essays, mostly the many drafts are for polishing, not adding or subtracting material.

DS: Would you agree with my claim that this is a Golden Age for science writing? I feel that since the mid-1970s or so, writers like E.O. Wilson, Stephen Jay Gould, Carl Sagan, Jared Diamond, Martin Rees, Timothy Ferris, Robert Bakker, and a few dozen others, have shown the world of science is bristling not only with ideas, but people who can clarify and excite the public. Science books often make best seller lists, yet, if that is so, why are Americans so ignorant on things like abortion, stem cells, evolution, race, sexuality, and on and on? Is it the old phenomenon of wanting to have the books on their shelves, as status symbols, but their never being actually read? I recall the old scene in Annie Hall, where Woody Allen exasperates over some boob misinterpreting Marshall McLuhan, and Woody pulling out the man, himself, to depants the fool. Do you ever encounter folks like that, who think they know more about your work than you do?

EH: No, I don’t. And once again, I am in no way a scientist, or science writer. I am not Eiseley.

DS: Well, once again you are reacting in a very strange way. As stated earlier, your Wikipedia page contradicts your sudden abnegation of your career aims, and the fact that I sent a draft of these questions to you, in toto, with no chance to adjust to your answers and their claims, it’s a bit disingenuous, to say the least, for you to still be trying to act as if I am dissing you for mentioning what your own entry on a well-known webpage contradicts, ok? And, for the record, a great writer like Eiseley could have gotten away with the attitude you’re displaying; but, as you state: you’re not Eiseley! Regardless, how can scientists do a better job of educating the masses? Sometimes, layfolk tend to feel that, on a given subject, scientists often come across as lion keepers, safely ensconced at a zoo, rather than lion hunters, or lions themselves. There’s not a great vitality that comes across to the masses, whereas religion seems more passionate, even if science comes across more honestly, not feigning to know everything, like religion. Do you see a disconnect between science and the masses? Do you diagnose it my way? And what is your cure? Do we simply need to bring back updated book series (in print or online) like the old How, Why, And Wonder Books of the 1960s and 1970s, and install them online?

EH: I am of course much closer to a religious writer than a science writer, like any Emersonian.

DS: Ok. What of sheer ‘celebrity’ in the sciences- such as Steven Pinker’s noted curly mop of hair, or Steven Hawking’s ALS? Is this evidence of the dumbing down of science, or does it represent an ‘in’ that scientists should exploit to further logic, the scientific method, and basic sanity in society?

EH: Nuff said?

DS: Lemme guess, as a recluse, you’re just not used to interacting with others, are you? Another writer I hope to interview for DSI is evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who coined the term ‘meme.’ Yet, what I find ironic is that, if you read his definition and usage of the word, it is clearly a metaphor. Yet, in virtually every published non-Dawkins mention of the term that I’ve ever read, its metaphoric sense is lost, and the meme is treated as if a material thing. The meme’s meme, in other words, has been dumbed down to a memetic dead end. This is surely not a good augury for the cultural understanding of the sciences. Any thoughts?

EH: Please.

DS: Please what? You agreed to an interview, yet, despite non-generic queries, and those specifically crafted with your career in mind, you seem insistent on dissing potential new readers. And you do realize that one word answers tend to be the hallmark of pseudo-intellectualism? Anyway, let me turn to some queries about writing as a business, before I dig into some of your specific writings. Let us leave the more aesthetic aspects of writing prose and poetry behind, and turn to the politics, internal and external, of writing. To start, let me make this claim, and see if you agree: the failure of ‘published’ literature today lies more with the failings of publishers, editors, and critics to do their jobs well, more so than the bad and generic writers who are published. My point is that bad writers have always been with us, but the cronyism, favoritism, and grants giving NEA cash cow has led to a system of writers and editors (especially in fiction) who dare not say negative things about another writer’s work lest find their own publication chances minimized, if not extirpated. Do you agree, and if so, what observations can you add? I ask this because you have published some fiction, but that was years ago. Is nonfiction a less politicized area of the publishing business?

EH: I don’t know becau se (sic) I don’t really agree with your basic premise.

DS: Could you expand? After all, you could help some readers with your past experience, no? Have you ever been involved in the Creative Writing programs at any of the places you’ve taught? And, is not the MFA writing workshop archipelago merely a vast networking tool for the bad writers who are gulled out of their money?

EH: It can be a bit of that, but in general I found the four programs I participated in valuable, honorable, worthwhile for everybody concerned.

DS: Yet, it’s still a bit of that, despite its honor? That would seem a contradiction. I’ve always felt that the abundance of bad writing today, in any field or genre, has less to do with the bad writers and more to do with the bad agents, editors, and publishers. Agree? Then there are the critics. Who have been some of your worst critics, what were there claims, and how did or do you respond to them? And, are most of the criticisms mere stylistic complaints, political shots, or simple personal animus?

EH: This question presupposes a life experience different from mine. In the past half-century I’ve known magnificent critics like Kazin and Cowley and fine ones like Updike and Sheed. The bad writing, like the bad politics in this country, is what the public has asked for.

DS: So, you have never encountered a bad critic nor been riled by a bad review or criticism? One form of criticism I think is bad and illogical is the ‘criticism of intent.’ This is where a work of art is ripped because it is not what the critic hoped it would be. In short, the criticism deals not with what is presented, but with the supposed lack of what the critic feels should have been presented. Do you agree? I argue the criticism of intent kills real art, for intent in art is utterly meaningless- only accomplishment matters. Yet, it is far and away dominant. Is this the influence of Political Correctness, Postmodernism, both, or other forces? And what remedy can you foresee, other than the natural swing of the pendulum back to critical sanity? And, to what degree do you think this ridiculous demoticism, based in politics not aesthetics, has hurt the quality of art?

EH: This question I tend to agree with. (Somebody warned me that your intention in these interviews is mainly to interview yourself.) The computer and Internet have done untol (sic) damage to reading and criticism, I think, but this problem predates that; you’d see it in the Thirties; in the neglect of Melville and Thoreau, et al.

DS: Now you are getting a bit bizarre, to say the least. I asked a specific question about types of criticism, and because I use the personal pronoun I you see this as a reason to justify paranoia, and also your attitude? Again, you are not doing much to reach out to new readers. As I explained in my query letters for these interviews:

Since the online world is so Lowest Common Denominator, my interviews have tried to add depth to the process, and make themselves less about just pimping a product. It is along the lines of the classic Playboy interviews, or what William F Buckley did on Firing Line. He, David Susskind, Dick Cavett, Charlie Rose, or Phil Donahue, are more along the lines the interviews I run, rather than the puffery of today. While I don't mind focusing on a latest work, an interview needs to illuminate more than it pimps. While all of these interviewers have been criticized for their aggressive styles, all of them elicited memorable moments, debates, and questions that left their audiences better for the process than lesser interviewers who practice puffery.

  Here is an object lesson about interviews. Interviews are best when they are conversations, not fellatio sessions nor mere advertisements. They probe, and are not meant to stand in awe of the subject, but reveal connections between the interviewee and the readership, by being conducted at an eye-to-eye level. To probe, the interviewer must draw on what is best and most connected to the subject both inward and outward. One does not ask queries that anyone else would, or what would be the point? Finally, interviews are for the readers’ benefit, not the interviewee nor their ego. So, if you want abject fawning and/or a BJ, ring up Bill Moyers. I’ve given you well written and incisive questions, yet you feel some odd need to preen and act puerile, or descend into passive/aggressive flippancy. That’s most disingenuous, and reveals you as a pretty hollow and empty fellow (as well as an ingrate) to readers I was hoping you’d impress; to say the least. Please just stick to the questions. I’ll express a theme or idea, ask the query, and then you answer yea or nay, and expound. Ok? Question, answer. See? Now, what of the movement toward art as therapy? Does this abnegate the art and craft of art? Also, since real artists are naturally more empathetic and sensitive toward the world, this allows those mentally ill or unbalanced, whose problems may include heightened sensitivity, to delude themselves they are artists- and when they cannot match their sensitivity with talent, this claim that ‘everyone is creative,’ or that ‘everyone is an artist,’ does far more damage in the long run than the fallacious claims that the mentally unbalanced are ‘artists’ does to their egos in the short term. No? It’s akin to calling retarded people ‘special,’ as if a mere word will relieve their ills. My wife argues that such a claim is akin to claiming ‘everyone is athletic,’ simply by virtue of exercising one’s lungs during respiration. What are your thoughts?

EH: I agree with your premise but find it less harmful than you do. More Harmful (sic) is the idea that blogs make everybody equally perspicacious.

DS: Re: Postmodernism. It is just another in a seemingly endless laundry list of silly -isms and schools of art that any real artist must dash, for the greatest art and artists are those most individuated. One does not mistake Whitman’s poetry for Milton’s, nor does one mistake a Hemingway paragraph for Proust’s. Real artists rebel against stricture; only hacks find comfort in their confines. Any thoughts?

EH: I agree.

DS: In a related vein, I posit, ‘Only bad artists claim all art is subjective.’ Logically, if all is subjective, then there’s no reason doing a damned thing in this life. Yet, just as a single drop of blood would de-purify, say, the Pacific Ocean- were it wholly purely water, so does one objective fact objectify a subjective universe, for anything then can be related or parallaxed to or against it. In writing, as example, clichés are greatly numerically repeated images or groups of words that are placed together in greatly numerically repeated situations. Thus, there is nothing subjective about a manifest cliché like ‘bleeding heart.’ Only if a writer somehow subverts that, out of the context of emotional sorrow, and perhaps uses that phrase in a poem or story about someone literally stabbed or shot in the heart, might that term be annealed or wholly subverted. Do you agree or not? And, how does this account for the dominant claim in most writing today, that agents and publishers toss off in rejection slips, that it’s a ‘subjective business?’

EH: Your self-interview loses me here. Read Montaigne to clear your head.

DS: A real lightweight reply. And now you are being disingenuous and flip again. How did you maintain this state during all the hours it took to type this- twenty words per hour, by your claim? And I’d rather read Wilde. On a related score, another noxious claim is that ‘all art is political.’ Aside from its logical absurdity; one can substitute the words ‘about poodles’ for ‘political,’ and the statement is just as true, or absurd. If one does not deal with poodles in one’s story, poem, or painting, then one is actually making a statement about the condition of poodles in the cosmos by ignoring their plight. No? Of course, this is silly, yet it dominates the art that the ‘system’ buoys up today. Anything can be defined in relation to another thing in a simplistic manner. So what? Is shitting a political act? These may seem absurd to young readers of this interview, but literally, I have heard such nonsense espoused in Marxist, Feminist, PoMo, Christian, and other methodologies on art. Similarly, the ‘all art is truth’ claim is likewise BS, for ‘art’ has the same root as ‘artifice.’ It can never be truth. Comments?

EH: Will young readers desire your self-intervie (sic)

DS: Disingenuity- I warned you. And given your utter disdain for new readers, I think I could type the word FART across the page and engage them more. No? Now stop it, Teddy (as you identified yourself on my telephone’s answering machine), and maybe consider this a chance to serve those with less experience than you. A few years back I co-hosted an Internet radio show called Omniversica. On one show we spoke with a poet named Fred Glaysher, who- in arguing with my co-host Art Durkee, claimed that, in art, change does not come until some giant- or great artist, comes along, and buries the rest of the wannabes. It’s akin to Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions. Do you agree?

EH: Great artists like Kafka and Faulkner and Dostoyevsky help.

DS: Need I bring an alarm clock to keep you awake during this? To digress for a moment, and in light of the mention of Kuhn; what do you think has been the biggest scientific ‘truth’ that has been disproved in your lifetime, and what has been the biggest scientific ‘heresy’ that has become a ‘truth’?

EH: That eggs were bad for you? That music and exercise are good.

DS: Ok, Teddy, you’ve now sunk below philosopher Daniel Dennett as the interviewee in this series with the worst sense of humor. You see, I started these interviews because so many interviews, online and in print, are atrocious. They are merely vehicles designed to sell a book or other product- film, CD, etc. One of the things we’ve tried to do with these interviews is avoid the canned sort of responses that most interviews- print or videotaped, indulge in, yet most people find comfort in hearing the expected. Why are the readers and the interviews so banal? Where have all the great interviewers like a Phil Donahue, Dick Cavett, David Susskind, or Bill Buckley gone?

EH: I don’t know where they went, but bestsellers usually recount what people already believe or know or retell familiar tales.

DS: I coined a neologism- deliterate. It’s a term I came up with in opposition to illiterate. By deliterate I mean the willful choice to not read great nor compelling writing. To avoid the classics in favor of reading blogs. To write in emailese rather than proper grammar. Basically, I claim that deliteracy is far more a problem than illiteracy is. Do you agree? And aside from deliteracy and illiteracy, there is also a lack of true understanding of science. When I interviewed paleontologist Jack Horner, he blamed the laziness of scientists and professors. Do you agree with his posit, and with mine?

EH: I agree with your position, not his, and I like your term.

DS: The deliteracy I mention seems to be a common thing these days, where people deny all responsibility for their actions. Many artists seem to even deny their own creativity, pawning it off on God, or some other force or demiurge. I call this the Divine Inspiration Fallacy. There is no Muse. For better or worse, it’s all me, or you, or any artist. Comments on its existence, origins, verity? 

EH: I don’t meet artists who deny their own creativity. Nor do I. Dumbing down the readership, indeed, increasing everybody’s illusions of creativity.

DS: Let me segue into creativity and intellect. I believe that artists are fundamentally different, intellectually, than non-artists, and that the truly great artists are even more greatly different from the average artists than the average artist is from the non-artist. Let me quote from an essay I did on Harold Bloom: ‘….the human mind has 3 types of intellect. #1 is the Functionary- all of us have it- it is the basic intelligence that IQ tests purport to measure, & it operates on a fairly simple add & subtract basis. #2 is the Creationary- only about 1% of the population has it in any measurable quantity- artists, discoverers, leaders & scientists have this. It is the ability to see beyond the Functionary, & also to see more deeply- especially where pattern recognition is concerned. And also to be able to lead observers with their art. Think of it as Functionary2 . #3 is the Visionary- perhaps only 1% of the Creationary have this in measurable amounts- or 1 in 10,000 people. These are the GREAT artists, etc. It is the ability to see farther than the Creationary, not only see patterns but to make good predictive & productive use of them, to help with creative leaps of illogic (Keats’ Negative Capability), & also not just lead an observer, but impose will on an observer with their art. Think of it as Creationary2 , or Functionary3.’ In the sciences, this dynamic I also find applicable. When I interviewed Steven Pinker, he seemed to feel IQ was good at predicting success in life- at least socially, academically, and career-wise. But my 3 Intellects posit is something I don’t think he fully got the point of. That is that creativity is wholly ‘outside’ the axis of IQ. In other words, there could be someone with an IQ of 180, and a Functionary Mind, vs. someone with a 120 IQ, and while the 180 may be better suited for test taking, the 120 IQ, with a Creationary or Visionary Mind, will be able to understand concepts at a deeper level. IQ measures narrow problem solving, but is utterly useless in regards to creativity. To use an analogy: think of vision tests. In a real world sense, this is akin to the Functionary being able to see on the 20/20 scale, while the Creationary might be able to see on the first scale- yet only at 20/50, but also be able to see in other light- X-rays or infrared, etc. Then, with the Visionary, not only are the two sorts of sight available, but also the ability to see around corners, through steel, etc. In a scientific sense, the Functionary might be represented by your typical person working in the sciences, the Creationary by someone along the lines of a Madame Curie, or Nicolaus Copernicus, who can discover great ideas, but which are logical extensions of prior paradigms. The Visionary, however, might be able to make even greater leaps- such as Hutton reaching far beyond Bishop Ussher, EHrwin’s and Wallace’s ability to transcend Lamarckism, Newton’s development of a new mathematics- calculus, etc. What are your thoughts on this, since you span the arts and sciences? And, if you are copacetic with such a system, where on the scale would you place yourself?

EH: Real self-ijterview (sic)!

DS: Again with the disingenuity, Teddy? Really, I’m not interested in your need to rebel and spout nonsense- that’s so Third Grade. Instead, I’m putting forth a real explication of creativity’s varieties and you are not even interested, despite trying to claim the mantle of an intellectual. And I thought Daniel Dennett lacked intellectual probing! Ok, let me ask if you believe in the poet John Keats’ ideas of Negative Capability- the ability that great minds, especially artists, have to make creative leaps of seeming illogic that later turn out to not be as illogical as thought?

EH: I do. Jeffers’ visions ninety years ago that humanity would self-destruct.

DS: How about things such as the book, The Bell Curve, Howard Gardner’s Seven Intelligences: language, math and logic, musical, spatial, bodily & kinaesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. I mention this, because as I prepared these questions, this idea of natal intelligence differences between races was stirred up again by Nobel Laureate Dr. James Watson, who said he was, ‘inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa’ because ‘all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours- whereas all the testing says not really.’ Comments on these ideas?

EH: In my travels, which presumably have been different from his, I don’t find myself superior. We are not a chosen people.

DS: Sometimes young wannabe writers email me and ask me why do I write, and I usually say that in ten thousand years, on some starship ten thousand light years away, I want some sentient being, human or not, who may be lonely on some interstellar freighter, to seek to alleviate his tedium by searching the Encyclopedia Galactica, to stumble across my work- read a poem or story or essay, and say to himself, ‘Ah, that ancient earthling- he knew!’ What it was I knew is no matter, but I want that power to awaken. To me, there’s no other reason to write, save to bring pieces of your life and knowledge to others, so they can benefit intellectually or emotionally. Can there be a deeper or more profound concept of immortality? After all, when we speak of Shakespeare, we do not usually refer to the guy stiff under Avon, but to the ideas and feelings his art ushers forth. Is this why you write, for an audience yet to be, as well as those that exist?

EH: Sure, in a more modest sense, but you’re self-interviewing again.

DS: Well, no I’m not, but you’re sure being disingenuous and flip again. Why?  It seems your claim of modesty is belied by your constant desire to be considered a novelist (having been born in the era of the Great American Novelist as superstar), even though your fiction is out of print and your essays are your claim to fame. Is there some issue or insecurity that you have that you cannot engage in an eye-to-eye level exchange of ideas, and need to feel that the only proper query to you need be a supplication? Please try to be mature and serious. You are 75 years old, after all. Dr. Jonas Salk once said something to the effect that our greatest duty is to be good ancestors for future generations, and this is especially true in the arts, because art is communication, and if we want future people to understand their human past, we need to produce as good and great art as we can. Artists should always create looking upwards, towards that future, and smarter generations, rather than looking downwards at the current morass, for those artists that have done so in the past are no longer recalled. Do you agree?


EH: To a degree; but I think I’m a straw man or straight man here, on stage as a foil for your stunting. Why don’t you just write these things and see if they’re publishable. That’s what I’ve done with my ideas.

DS: Teddy, your condescending nonsense is getting a bit absurd. First off, unlike you, born with a silver spoon, and who got published 50 years ago, when it was infinitely easier, and there was a thousandfold less static in the public domain, I have put these things into the public arena, and succeeded wildly. Thus the website’s popularity; seen here. You seem to be severely out of touch. If you were to add up all the people who ever bought or read a book or essay of yours in the last five decades plus, then multiply by a hundred, you’d get as many readers as I’ve garnered in about 1/8 the time frame. Again, you seem so insecure to be confronted by a person with genuine ideas, and not one groveling to kiss your ass, that you resort to these childish asides. Indeed, it is you who are ‘stunting,’ for I am the one who is giving you an opportunity. After all, I have the audience, you do not. If you look up your works on, as of my typing this, not a one of your books cracks the Top 200,000 in popularity, and most don’t crack the top half million. And most of your books end up on remaindered shelves- like the one I bought (Tigers And Ice) which prompted this interview, or being pulped for lack of sales (thus most are out of print and few are readily available to be read). In short, unlike bestselling writers, like Steven Pinker or Desmond Morris, who bring me a wider audience, with writers like you or Phillip Lopate- another privileged old white man so out of touch with reality that he actually thought I should pay him for giving him a wider audience (when the reverse would be more appropriate), I’m doing you a huge favor; so get a grip on your ego, and just answer the questions. Ok? God, you’re just playing into the PC Multiculturalists’ worst stereotypes about the Old White Boys Network’s hubris. However, back to some sanity: I state that philosophy is ideas, but art is ideas in motion- and writing is wholly abstract art, unlike visual or aural arts, so it’s the greater pursuit, yet art has no correlation with truth- another recent noxious nostrum. Science and journalism are the provinces of truth, not art. Do you agree with these ideas?

EH: No.  

DS: No expounding? Yet you just claimed you were a man of ‘ideas.’ Not exactly getting the youngsters panting to read your every word, now. Why is it that science books, when reviewed, are almost always reviewed solely for their social or political relevance and their rightness or wrongness on a given issue, rather than their crafted skill with words?  I pointed this out when I interviewed Steven Pinker and reviewed his latest book, The Stuff Of Thought, as I focused not only on the book’s ideas, but its style, for good or ill. Earlier, I mentioned how Loren Eiseley’s poetic prose transcended the temporal limits of his time’s current knowledge, but that does not invalidate his truly great writing. Similarly, while your prose is not as ultra-poetic as his, nor is it as stuffed with anecdotes and statistics as Stephen Jay Gould’s, it is more specific, and the reader feels almost as if a wise old friend is relaying things to them whilst strolling in the woods. Not that your writing is Waldenesque, but there certainly is a quality that allows you to simply lay out ideas, walk a reader through them, and tie them up in a seemingly simple fashion, but one which, at the beginning of the essay, most readers could not discern coming. So, again, why is style deemed almost irrelevant in science writing?

EH: I don’t do science writing, but I am a stylist and aspire to be more Orwell than Eiseley, Abbey than Gould.

DS: You’re stunting again, Teddy. Need I again point out your Wikipedia page argues against your claim? And why would you aspire to be Orwell and Abbey rather than Eiseley and Gould, since the former writers are demonstrably lesser than the latter? Let me begin winding up this interview with a plenum of diverse little questions. I think that smell is the most underrated sense, for so many ideas and memories for my poems, tales, or essays are instigated by a smell. Do you similarly find it a spur? What smells do you most associate with past memories? And, if smell is not, for you, the most memory-inducing sense, which of the others is?

EH: I suppose you’re a Proustian and I’m a Thoreauvian, but again your purpose is a self-interview.

DS: By asking ‘you’ a question? And I highly doubt old Henry David would act as childishly as you have in this interview. Your whole tone of condescension has worn thin, as you try to bludgeon me and the readers because of your insecurities. And, admit it, you’ve never even read a word of Proust. Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, who heads The Hayden Planetarium, caused a stir some years back, when he singlehandedly demoted Pluto from planethood. Then the International Astronomical Union redefined it as a dwarf planet. I see the demotion of Pluto as an example of ad hoc reasoning at its worst, and also specious semiotics. If a dwarf tree is still a tree, and a dwarf kangaroo is still a kangaroo, and- of course, human dwarves are still humans, then logically a dwarf planet has to still be….(drum roll, cymbal crash) a planet! No? Any thoughts on this sort of thing as an example of bad science? Are there similar things that you have encountered in your years in the sciences which you have railed against?

EH: I am not in the sciences; nor really being interviewed.

DS: What number stunt is this, Teddy? Ok, again: your Wikipedia page argues against you. And, what really is going on here? After all, I know you’ve never answered questions as focused and directed as this in print, and given your stuttering, manifestly never being recorded, so, was there something going on in your personal life that led to this sour display? It’s gotten older than you. Let me turn to your essays, now. But before I delve deeply into them- a brief digression; I note that you have written a handful of fictive books, but they were all written years ago. Did the muse for fiction simply abandon you? And were the books novels or short fiction? Also, do you think your nonfiction writing superior to your fiction? If so, why, and is this the major reason for dropping the fictive world?

EH: Have you been too lazy to look up my four published novels, two or three in print; and pretty good; and/the (sic) recent long Yale Review story? My new novel is not out yet but exists. But sure, I’m a natural essayist.

DS: Uh, no, I have looked up your oeuvre, again, on your Wikipedia page, and, as demonstrated, seem to be more attuned to its contents than you. And the purpose of an interview is not a hagiography, Teddy, but a chance to allow you to explain yourself against criticism, or in support of it. Do you not even understand the basics of the form? And, again, you have not even attempted a good faith answer. Get a grip. Back to the essays and nature writing. The book which sparked my desire to contact and interview you was stumbling across, and reading, a copy of your 2000 book, Tigers & Ice, in a bookstore. As mentioned earlier, I’d read some of your books a few decades back, mostly library copies, and while I knew and recalled your name and work, I had forgotten what a damned good essayist you were, despite whatever personal problems you are now exhibiting. But I want to use this specific book as a jumping off point for my next set of queries. There are some specific points about your personal life that are mentioned throughout the essays in Tigers & Ice, chiefly your stuttering and a bout of blindness you suffered. Let’s speak of the blindness first. When and how did it occur, how long were you blind, and how did you regain your sight?

EH: Through operations, after three years. If you’d troubled to read my memoir you’d know that. Why would you interview me without reading my 2001 memoir? Because I’m a straw man (sic)?

DS: Here’s a clue, Teddy. The world does not revolve around you. I’ve not the time nor money to get and read every book of every writer. I came across that anecdote in the above mentioned book- which prompted me to want to help you get a larger audience (the classic good deed that you seem intent on not leaving unpunished), and, so that your fans (as I’m sure few new readers will care to crack open your work after reading this) could have an idea, have allowed you the opportunity to put things in your own words. Again, an interview is not for self-promotion alone, but to help others get an ‘in’ to the subject. And, does it not occur to you that you might actually get new readers for your memoir if you were to discuss interesting aspects of your existence that may spur a desire in them to do so, rather than expecting the world to know or care about every fart you take? As for straw men, I get the distinct feeling that I am at the end of a rage you are nursing against someone else, and I frankly don’t appreciate your taking out whatever personal or professional frustrations you have on me, and more importantly, my readers, who have come to expect quality interviews with writers who actually value a learned and interested readership. Anyway, in researching this interview, you are quoted, from an essay called In The Country Of The Blind, as saying that ‘My sense of divinity was visual.’ In the book I mention, in Behold Now Behemoth, you write of regaining your sight, and being disappointed at how the faces of friends and relatives had changed. You wrote, ‘I was truly, sadly startled, though, in the midst of my exuberance, to notice how many of my friends’ faces had changed during my blind years. They looked battered, bruised, disheartened, bereft of illusion, apprehensive, or knocked awry by the very campaigns and thickets of life that I was giddy with delight to have regained.’ I thought it was a very astute, and well wrought, observation since most people do not notice the slow change of others’ looks over years because we see these people we hold dear daily, weekly, or at least monthly. These are the sorts of ‘moments’ that few other published writers- essayists or not, ever notice, much less write about. Were you more disappointed in their miens or, ultimately, yours?

EH: Why mine? (Nor did I love them less.)

DS: Stunting, straw manning, and dodging questions. I should have kept a tally at the start of this interview, so I could know which asinine trick you’ve done the most of. This leads into the next personal thing you mention throughout Tigers & Ice; your stutter. I’ve read that when you were blind your stutter almost disappeared completely. First, did you always stutter, and what do you think led to it, and its dominance in your speaking voice? Also, why do you think it went away when blind? Were you literally less self-conscious since you could not gauge others’ reactions to what you said, and how clearly and efficiently?

EH: I can’t imagine why you would embark on this project without bothering to read the books where all this is laid our (sic), like Compass and Turtles. Are you a massive egotist?

DS: Ok, so stunting is in the lead. First, you’re utterly irrational if you expect the whole world to know or care who you are; especially the diminishing reading public under the age of 40, to whom your name is meaningless. Thus why I wanted to interview you, to help you, not myself, in getting a wider audience for a quality writer, despite whatever personal issues you cannot control. And this forum is not the proper place for you to work out those issues. Geez, I wonder what childhood trauma or bully I’m getting your shit for? I’m sorry you felt a need to take out your frustrations on me, but you need a severe reality check, my man, for, guess what?, you’re not the center of the universe. Being published is not deification. But, in answer to your query- no, but clearly you are, or you are seriously delusional, or a narcissist. The point of an interview is not to recapitulate what you wrote, but to distill and condense major points ad allow the subject to add to them- such as the information my query contains. In reading that question, you have a partial explanation of why I ask it, and an opportunity to help younger folk who are struggling with that problem, to let them know how you have coped with it. But, as you are 75, and still are dealing with a problem that most conquer in their early adulthood, at latest, perhaps it is not surprising to see such a sad display of your lack of self-confidence and self-awareness on display. I’ve often told others that virtues in one area (like art) do not mean that the person, themselves, is overall worthy or virtuous. But did you have to prove it so definitively? And, if you did not want to answer queries, and only wanted to promote a book, is it fair for you to expect me or potential readers to know all about you ahead of time? That’s silly. On a personal side note, in contacting you for this interview, I had to speak to you via old fashioned telephone, and snail mail the written questions to you, as you have no computer nor email. When we spoke on the telephone, live, and man to man, you stuttered, and at times quite badly. Yet, the one time when you left a message on my answering machine there was not a trace of stuttering. Again, I wonder if the fact of speaking to a cold, dispassionate, machine, utterly incapable of forming an opinion about you or your speech patterns, stripped any nervousness away, and made leaving the message ‘easy,’ whereas speaking to another human being, and a total stranger, was somehow ‘dangerous,’ because I might opine and judge you, perhaps negatively?

EH: Not necessarily. The affliction is more complicated than you ‘opine.’ But I explain so elsewhere.

DS: Well, 1) it’s not that complicated, for it’s largely borne of insecurity (as you’ve demonstrated), and 2) you are again shafting potential readers with one of the worst forms of egotism that occurs in interviews: the self-quote, or the reference to a prior work one hopes the reader will buy because the interviewee is too lazy or conceited to deign to a prospective audience. Thanks for dissing my readers again, Teddy. I’ve also read that your stutter was one of the reasons why you turned to essayry from fiction, claiming,the painful fact that I stuttered so badly that writing essays was my best chance to talk.’ I have to say that this does not make sense to me. How does stuttering affect the choice between fiction and nonfiction? I can understand giving up public speaking, due to stuttering, but giving up fiction? I can understand nonfiction giving voice to yourself, Edward Hoagland, vs. a character, Joe Blow; but in reality Joe Blow would just be another aspect of Edward Hoagland, no?

EH: No.

DS: Another stunt. Are you losing focus, or did you just wake up? I’ll ask another question, although most readers will have long grown bored with your petulance. In the Introduction to Tigers & Ice you write about the arts and the sciences, you delineate how the knowledge of science is, basically, always destined to be revised, whereas the knowledge of art is not. This goes back to my prior query about creativity. I’ve always felt that science uses creativity in service to discovery, whereas art uses discovery in service to creativity. Do you agree, and what are some examples you have known of that process in both directions?

EH: I do.


DS: Another point you make in that Introduction is your upset when people use the ‘canary in the coal mine’ analogy re: other animals’ extinctions, and their consequences on humans. You say that you care about what’s happening to frogs for their own sake, not just ours. I agree wholeheartedly, and loathe the human hubris that because we have the ‘highest’ intellect and social organization that we, therefore, are the only or primary, things on the planet. I once grieved for a pet I lost, and a friend of mine could not understand my grief, stating that it was just a cat. Yet, the vast majority of human beings, who lack real, deep creativity- and I’m talking about the creativity that brings awareness, depth and change, not the superfluous creativity of tying one’s shoelaces in an extreme knot, offer little more than the typical cat or dog, and usually their psychological weaknesses aggrieve with far more tsoris. Why do you feel human beings allow their emotional selfishness to almost always override their intellectual capacity?


EH: They’re needy. So are you: ergo the self-interview.


DS: You really need to seek professional help. As Hank Hill would say, ‘That boy ain’t right.’ In the essay Behold Now Behemoth you write of a period you were a Pentecostalist, then a Transcendentalist, but now are not religious. Are you an atheist, agnostic, or simply irreligious? Atheists come in Weak and Strong versions. Weak (or small a atheists) are generally agnostics under a different guise, and tend to be carefree re: religious queries. They tend to admit that they are finite beings and an infinite thing (a deity) would necessarily be beyond their ken, even if they’ve seen no evidence. Then there are the Strong (capital A Atheists), who seem to be every bit as inflexible and dogmatic as Fundamentalist religiots of any religion, claiming not only do they not believe in a deity, but that there can be and is no deity- period. So, if an atheist, what type are you?


EH: I never said I was an atheist or a Pentecostal (sic). I enjoyed being hugged by the latter in my few visits, but remain a Transcendentalist.


DS: Again, I seem to have a better grip on your oeuvre than you do. Natheless, the book’s titular essay, Tigers And Ice, is an excellent musing on the aging process. I’m 43, yet when I realize that my grade school days were three or more decades past, I’m flabbergasted that it was that long ago. It simply does not ‘feel’ that long ago. Earlier in this interview, I asked of memory actually starting to improve with real old age, but let me now ask, since you also have written of the feeling of seeing your friends’ faces when your blindness ended; are you ever startled to look at your face in the mirror, and see a face more akin to your dad’s or grandfather’s than your own? Do you sometimes feel the exhilarating compression of time’s ebb and flow like a squeezebox?


EH: I never look in the mirror, and my memory does not improve.


DS: Perhaps if you looked in the mirror, Teddy, you may find a reason to improve, no? In Heaven And Nature you write about suicide, the pros and cons, the ethics and cultural baggage it carries, and then reveal that you had ‘a bad dip into suicidal speculation.’ What prompted this? How did you move past it, and has it ever recurred?


EH: I moved past it be (sic) writing the essay.


DS: Another blown opportunity to enlighten readers. Great. You end that essay claiming that man’s dour and darker sides are evolutionary adaptations that served him well. This reminded me of Pascal Boyer’s book Religion Explained, but the basic posit he makes re: the origin of religion is that it is fear based. The example he uses is that the Neolith who feared every sound in the jungle, would avoid the Saber-toothed tiger waiting behind a bush that stirred, whereas a fearless rationalist would not be swayed. While 99 times out of 100 the rationalist would suffer no ill consequences, that 1 time in a 100 where he became cat food, whereas the fearful proto-religiot did not, eventually had a selective effect in weeding out rationalism in favor of supernatural beliefs. Any thoughts as to how religion may have ‘evolved’ out of the real world desires of the human mind? And does this tie in to your own ideas re: man’s darker side being evolutionarily beneficial?


EH: I agree with your paraphrase of what I have not read in (sic) him.

DS: But, would you agree with the transcription of what you have not written in this interview? Think hard, now, Teddy- don’t embarrass yourself again. In another essay,
Running Mates, you speak of a famed suicide who was your friend, John Berryman, the poet who wrote, most famously, The Dream Songs. Was he a professor of yours, for he was almost two decades your senior? If not, how did you meet him, and what effect did he have on your writing?


EH: He was one of my teachers and introduced me to Bellow, as my memoir again describes.


DS: Why didn’t you include the title, ISBN, and price of the book, since that seems to be your only motivation, here? That essay ends with the claim that most people want to see their friends succeed, and elsewhere in that book you seem to take the position that the good things people do outnumber the bad. I don’t really buy that. I’m reminded of Gore Vidal’s famed quote, ‘Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.’ Also, I’ve always subscribed to the notion that perhaps 1% of the things most people do are demonstrably ‘good,’ 9% demonstrably bad, but the overwhelming majority, 90% or so is utterly indifferent. Granted, there is no empirical evidence for this, but every day, in personal relationships, at work, walking in a mall, I see people gossiping about each other, setting up obstacles for others to overcome, acting in blatantly self-aggrandizing and selfish ways. It may not be outright ‘evil,’ the way a cop taking a bribe is, but it is certainly bad, and ‘corrupt,’ in the small way that a cop who writes out a phony traffic ticket to make his desk sergeant’s quota is. And I think the philosophes who claim that the good acts in life outnumber the bad are simply ignorant of the indifferent, as well as not fully cognizant of the ‘real’ little evils in the world. It’s easy to decry the Hitlers, Stalins, and serial killers, but these folk always get away with things because of the enablers, whose actions go largely unnoticed and uncounted. Have I convinced you? Or do you have a riposte?


EH: You like Vidal more than I do. No, you have not convinced me of anything but I agree that we the people are the enablers of George Bush as well as Adolf.


DS: Actually, there is no like nor dislike of Vidal implied, merely a quote to opine on; or did you, again, merely skim a question to justify your silly attitude? And, another tired comparison of Bush to Hitler? I mean, c’mon. You have probably turned off a whole generation of potential readers to your works by this point, but you just had to dip into that Loony Leftist canard? In the book, as a whole, you describe myriad adventures, including a trip to Antarctica. Are you regularly sent on paid assignments by your publisher, or magazines, or do you make enough money to fund your own globetrotting? If the latter, please give me the secret to your financial success.


EH: I am financed to witness the world by editors and their employees.


DS: Tigers & Ice ends recalling your youthful employment at a zoo. What are your thoughts on modern zoos? Are they vital in stemming specific extinction, or are they somehow ‘cruel,’ as many animal activists claim? And did this job spur your nature writing, or vice versa?


EH: I was never employed in a zoo. Do you know nothing about me? Are you that lazy? But yes, the circus and writing as passions bolstered each other.


DS: As pointed out more than once before, I apparently know quite a bit more than you seem to recall, unless the essay Wild Things was wrong- page 148? And earlier, you even stated ‘in 1951 when I joined Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Circus as a cagehand.’ You do realize that circuses often have traveling zoos? So, two for two or oh for two?’ As far as laziness- one need only read the depth and breadth of the questions to realize I did research you and your work quite well, rather than ask the same old trivial queries most interviewers do. Apparently you prefer trite questions you could type canned answers to, and have no appreciation that I had appreciated your work. That’s your loss, Teddy, not mine. And that’s not laziness, a trait that aptly describes your pithy and pathetically witless answers. Nonetheless, this is almost over. What do you still want to accomplish before you die? What do the next few years hold in store for you?


EH: I am publishing two books this year, it seems, and have two more to shop around, plus more.

DS: I would usually end an interview by stating, ‘Thanks for doing this interview, Edward Hoagland, and let me allow you a closing statement, on whatever you like;’ however, since you’ve shown no good faith nor class, and tried to veer the interview off into places it should not have gone for whatever bizarre ulterior motives, and put as much effort into this interview as you do a fart, I think I’ll pass (but not gas, I’ll leave that to you).

EH: (no reply)

[This interview was conducted via U.S. Postal Mail, and published with Mr. Hoagland's written and verbal permission. The questions' text’s font was boldened and enlarged from size 12 to 18 so that Mr. Hoagland could better read its contents. Not a single word of Mr. Hoagland’s replies has been altered, thus the occasional (sic) notations. The photo was taken from Mr. Hoagland’s Wikipedia page at his urging and with his written permission. The text of this interview is copyrighted. Questions are © Dan Schneider; answers are © Edward Hoagland.] 

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