Arnon Grunberg



On hope - Robert Jay Lifton being interviewed by Masha Gessen in The New Yorker (thanks to mu friend P):

‘In the first half century of his career, Robert Jay Lifton published five books based on long-term studies of seemingly vastly different topics. For his first book, “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism,” Lifton interviewed former inmates of Chinese reëducation camps. Trained as both a psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst, Lifton used the interviews to understand the psychological—rather than the political or ideological—structure of totalitarianism. His next topic was Hiroshima; his 1968 book “Death in Life,” based on extended associative interviews with survivors of the atomic bomb, earned Lifton the National Book Award. He then turned to the psychology of Vietnam War veterans and, soon after, Nazis. In both of the resulting books—“Home from the War” and “The Nazi Doctors”—Lifton strove to understand the capacity of ordinary people to commit atrocities. In his final interview-based book, “Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism,” which was published in 1999, Lifton examined the psychology and ideology of a cult.
Lifton is fascinated by the range and plasticity of the human mind, its ability to contort to the demands of totalitarian control, to find justification for the unimaginable—the Holocaust, war crimes, the atomic bomb—and yet recover, and reconjure hope.’


‘What is your work routine? Are you still seeing patients? I don’t. Very early on, I found that even having one patient, one has to be interested in that patient and available for that patient. It somehow interrupted my sense of being an intense researcher. So I stopped seeing patients quite a long time ago. I get up in the morning and have breakfast. Not necessarily all that early. I do a lot of good sleeping. Check my e-mails after breakfast. And then pretty much go to work at my desk at nine-thirty or ten. And stay there for a couple of hours or more. Have a late lunch. Nap, at some point. A little bit before lunch and then late in the day as well. I can close my eyes for five minutes and feel restored. I learned that trick from my father, from whom I learned many things. I’m likely to go back to my desk after lunch and to work with an assistant. My method is sort of laborious, but it works for me. I dictate the first few drafts. And then look at it on the computer and correct it, and finally turn it into written work.
I can’t drink anymore, unfortunately. I never drank much, but I used to love a Scotch before dinner or sometimes a vodka tonic. Now I drink mostly water or Pellegrino. We will have that kind of drink at maybe six o’clock and maybe listen to some news. These days, we get tired of the news. But a big part of my routine is to find an alternate universe. And that’s sports. I’m a lover of baseball. I’m still an avid fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers, even though they moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1957. You’d think that my protean self would let them go. Norman Mailer, who also is from Brooklyn, said, “They moved away. I say, ‘Fuck them.’ ” But there’s a deep sense of loyalty in me.’


‘You called the twentieth century “an extreme century.” What are your thoughts on the twenty-first? The twentieth century brought us Auschwitz and Hiroshima. The twenty-first, I guess, brought us Trump. And a whole newly intensified right wing. Some call it populism. But it’s right-wing fanaticism and violence. We still have the catastrophic threats. And they are now sustained threats. There have been some writers who speak of all that we achieved over the course of the twentieth century and the first decades of the twenty-first century. And that’s true. There are achievements in the way of having overcome slavery and torture—for the most part, by no means entirely, but seeing it as bad. Having created institutions that serve individuals. But our so-called better angels are in many ways defeated by right-wing fanaticism.
If you could still go out and conduct interviews, what would you want to study? I might want to study people who are combating fanaticism and their role in institutions. And I might also want to study people who are attracted to potential violence—not with the hope of winning them over but of further grasping their views. That was the kind of perspective from which I studied Nazi doctors. I’ve interviewed people both of a kind I was deeply sympathetic to and of a kind I was deeply antagonistic toward.
Is there anything I haven’t asked you about? I would say something on this idea of hope and possibility. My temperament is in the direction of hopefulness. Sometimes, when Nancy and I have discussions, she’s more pessimistic and I more hopeful with the same material at hand. I have a temperament toward hopefulness. But for me to sustain that hopefulness, I require evidence. And I seek that evidence in my work.’

Read the article here.

I tend to think that hope is overrated, and that people have forgotten or have not read or have not understood what Borowski had to say about hope.

Also, what’s the difference between hope and a certain amount of anesthesia. I mean is hope much more than the ability to forget your own mortality?

From Scotch before dinner to water before dinner, but the curiosity and the believe that mankind can be educated is seductive. It’s far away from what attracted me to literature, the aestheticization of true despair, I would call that hope, but I’m going to read his book about the nazi doctors.

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