Newly Published: Mark Twain on Interviews

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Our own magazine published an interview with Mark Twain a ways back, and we stand behind it.* The guy was dead at the time, and had been for nearly a hundred years. He couldn't really object, could he?

Now PBS has put forth a previously unpublished essay by Twain Concerning the Interview (in which the Interview is not our interview, but indeed any interview), and let's just say old Mr. Clemens did not much appreciate the format. Here's part of what he had to say:

The Interview was not a happy invention. It is perhaps the poorest of all ways of getting at what is in a man. In the first place, the interviewer is the reverse of an inspiration, because you are afraid of him. You know by experience that there is no choice between these disasters. No matter which he puts in, you will see at a glance that it would have been better if he had put in the other: not that the other would have been better than this, but merely that it wouldn't have been this; and any change must be, and would be, an improvement, though in reality you know very well it wouldn't. I may not make myself clear: if that is so, then I have made myself clear--a thing which could not be done except by not making myself clear, since what I am trying to show is what you feel at such a time, not what you think--for you don't think; it is not an intellectual operation; it is only a going around in a confused circle with your head off. You only wish in a dumb way that you hadn't done it, though really you don't know which it is you wish you hadn't done, and moreover you don't care: that is not the point; you simply wish you hadn't done it, whichever it is; done what, is a matter of minor importance and hasn't anything to do with the case. You get at what I mean? You have felt that way? Well, that is the way one feels over his interview in print.

Well, I bet he wishes that he hadn't gone and died and let us interview him posthumously. It was a dumb thing, really. Not the dying, though that was dumb if you think about it, but the non-granting (due to deadness) of the interview, or the dying as well as the interview, but that is not the point. He simply wishes he hadn't done it.

Read the rest (you have to scroll down a bit to get to the plain text) for a rip-roaring Twain treatment of the interview. My favorite line is the opener: "No one likes to be interviewed, and yet no one likes to say no; for interviewers are courteous and gentle-mannered, even when they come to destroy." Well put, sir, but it didn't stop our own Michael Stusser.

(You can read more Dead Guy Interviews, although not Twain's, in Michael Stusser's book.)

* = This blog post may not reflect the editorial intentions of mental_floss magazine or its editors. But it probably does. Because really, dude's dead.

(Via Daring Fireball; image from Wikimedia Commons showing Twain is Tesla's lab.)

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July 9, 2010 - 8:48am
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