BRIAN LAMB, HOST: David Denby, author of "Great Books," what's it all about?
Mr. DAVID DENBY, AUTHOR, "GREAT BOOKS:" Well, I went back to school. I was
pushing 50 and beginning to feel that I was getting a little stale; spent my
whole life--professional life in the media and getting a little depressed by
how secondhand my experience seemed. At the same time, my wife and I were
reading--'89, '90, back in there--the culture wars debate and feeling that it
was hollow and--and that the--both left and right were too far from the works
of the Western tradition themselves.
Here we were hearing from the left that the Western classics disempowered
everyone except white males; and from the right, a sense of these books as a
kind of arm--part of our armature and kind of nationalist, almost chauvinist,
like the Star Wars or something like that. And I thought, `Well, what does
this have to do with reading Montaigne, Shakespeare, Dante, Hegel, Kant--anyone
you want to mention--Virginia Woolf?'
And I was carrying on like this and my wife was getting increasingly bored with
my descanting every night like that in the living room. And, finally, she
said, `Look, you know, put up or shut up. Go back to school--go back to
Columbia. They have courses like this required of all students. You took
them, 1961. It was then 30 years ago. Go back, do it again.' That's how it
LAMB: What year did you do this?
Mr. DENBY: I did this '91-92--academic year '91-92. It took three and a half,
four years to write the book and get it out. So it's been awhile since I
actually read everything again.
LAMB: Where do you live now and where did you live then?
Mr. DENBY: Sam--same place on West End Avenue in Manhattan. We're about two
miles south of Columbia, down the west side, not very far away from--I haven't
gone very far in 35 years. So I'm a New Yorker. My regular gig is New York
magazine film critic, and I'm in the media up to my neck. I don't mean to say
that I--I'm somehow, you know, apart from this thing that we do. I am
certainly not and I--I love journalism. I love appearing on television. It's
all very pleasurable, but it wasn't enough. And I--I was pushing 50 and
beginning to feel, you know, `Where's the rest? Who am I? What do I know?
What have I inherited? What do I want to pass on to my children?'--those kind
LAMB: What's your wife do?
Mr. DENBY: My wife is a novelist, Cathleen Shine. She's published four novels
and she's working on a fifth one. And she's a great, great reader. And she
was a kind of provocation because she got--she reads right through an--an
author's work. She'll read two or three hours a night. I mean, when she got
into "Trollope," the marriage was almost over because you know how many volumes
of "Trollope" there are.
And I'm a kind of scattered reader, like a lot of journalists. I skim. I
mean, Dr. Johnson said that's the way to read, but I--I'm not so sure. I
think you should read straight through if you can. I skim. I read essays. I
read a lot of journalism. I read novels that have to be made into movies. And
I had lost my adolescent rapture, tha--that--that intimacy we have with books
when you're 14, 15, 16 and, you know, you sit there on your bed--if you're
drawn to books at all--and--and--for hour after hour and you look up and
there's--there's the--there's the afghan that Grandma knitted. Well, there's a
red thread, there's a green thread--all right, back to the book. Another hour.
I can't do that anymore. I bound out of my seat after 25 minutes. I mean, all
these little imps of distraction coming up from my unconscious, twirling
themselves around the text, interrupting--I don't have it. I don't have the
concentration anymore. And I--I mourned that and I wanted to regain it. And I
also thought, `If I read these--of--a selection of books like this, they're
very, very powerful works, many radical works in the sense of pulling at the
roots of things.' And I thought, `I will come into confrontation with myself in
some way that I need.' That was--thos--that was the impulse.
LAMB: Max and Tommy?
Mr. DENBY: Max and Tommy, my sons, 13 and--and nine; and also poised on the
edge of this culture. And I--I've--I've writ--since writ--finishing this book,
I've written a piece for the New Yorker about: What are we doing to our kids?
I mean, there's so much pop culture, not that I didn't watch a lot of
television. I did. But there's so much more of it, so many different ways of
selling products. Are we turning our kids into consumers, you know, before
they even get--have a chance to develop their souls? Are they consumers rather
than citizens? There are so many ways that they are sold, so many screens
surrounding them. Individually, none of these things seem to do any damage and
you could make a case that it's all rather stimulating and everything. And, of
course, I write about movies which is my regular trade. But it--it does upset
me quite a lot.
LAMB: When you originally went to Columbia...
Mr. DENBY: Yeah.
LAMB: What years were you there and what did you study?
Mr. DENBY: '61 to '65. I was an English major. They had a great English
department. Then I went to journalism school also at Columbia. So I--I did
that route. And this--it's interesting how different the students are. First
of all, they were all males in 1961 and mostly white. And now it's 50 percent
acro--across the gender line--50:50 and about 30 percent minorities.
I would say the classes are more interesting and more stimulating because of
the multiethnic mix. I think it's an improvement. I think they are not
readers, however, the way we were. We're not talking about IQ here; they're
very smart kids. But I don't have the sense of intellectual obsessions. In
the early '60s Columbia students, in particular--maybe all undergraduates in
schools like this--had a kind of--cranky obsessions. They were interested
in--I don't know--existentialism or Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler or
Martin Buber and Paul Tillich or something--or bebop jazz--I don't know. You
know, name your own. I don't get--unless I'm missing it, I don't get that
sense anymore that they have those intellectual obsessions that the--that we
had and that--and that they are habitual readers.
On the other hand, I think they're a lot nicer than we were. They--I don't--I
didn't pursue them into their dormitories and their fraternity houses and I
have no idea the--the way they talk there. But in class, I would say, because
it's multiethnic, they are very polite and very eager not to tread on
one's--each other's toes.
Now the problem with that is that a certain kind of blandness creeps into
conversations. Conversations stop short of any kind of cultural or
sociological generalization at all. They're--they hate the kind of trash talk
they hear on bad ra--AM radio. And that--that's the last way they want to
sound. So they go to the other extreme of blanding themselves out.
That--that's the ba--downside of it.
LAMB: How did you go about doing this?
Mr. DENBY: Well, I didn't--I didn't formally enroll or anything like that.
I--I went and saw the dean and I explained my project to her, and then she
said, `Fine, just ask permission whenever you enter a class.' Now these--there
are no lectures. There are two courses. One is a literature course that
starts with Homer and goes right up to Virginia Woolf--used to be Dostoyevsky,
in my day, then for awhile it was Joyce--the last Joyce.
Now Virginia Woolf--interesting shift in taste right there; fine with me. And
the other is a social theory course that begins with Plato's "Republic" and
goes through Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Hegel, Rousseau, Marx, Darwin, so on--right
up to the present. The--it's all taught in sections. That's the whole point.
No lectures. Make them think on their feet, play them off against one another.
Seminar time. Teach them what a discourse is, how to frame an argument, not
indoctrinate them in any particular idea at all--not at all. But just what
they are--you know, what--framing an argument might be. So I would go seek out
the teacher in advance and explain.
LAMB: You had a teacher that taught you 30 years before?
Mr. DENBY: I did, yes. I ran into him on the first day and I was sitting in
the literature humanities office, and he walked in and pretended to remember
me. And he may have remembered me--this is Edward Taylor, an extraordinary
man, and remembered--pretended to remember something I said on a paper 30 years
earlier. I--I don't know. And I said--I said, `Oh, you're teaching this?' He
said, `Come on.' That was that. Never left his room. I was there for nine
months. And this was the literature humanities course, which he teaches as if
the whole thing were a giant poem, as if he had the whole thing in this head.
He's been doing it for 30 years. I...
LAMB: Was he any different?
Mr. DENBY: Well, I didn't take this course from him. I had taken a course in
17th century poetry. Yet he tends to be very mysterious and say odd things and
put the students off balance and then draw them in slowly. No, he's just--just
And then another teacher was a young man named James Shapiro who was--had a
completely different style. He would do a kind of mock, naive routine. At the
beginning of each week, as we took up a new text in the literature course, he
would ask the students whether they liked it. `Do you like Homer?' I mean, do
you like--you know, I was sort of stunned by this the first few times he did
And then as their responses came out and so--and they would--were encouraged to
be very candid. And they would say occasionally callow or naive things. He
would then take those responses, turn them inside out, open them up, play the
students off against one another, embarrass them, tease them like that. And it
isn't easy. And I know it isn't easy what he does because he asked me to try
I kept raising my hand. I thought I was, you know--we're told in journalism
school, `Sit there with your Steno notebook and shut up,' right? `Don't make
yourself part of the story.' That was my original intention. I found it
impossible. I was too excited, brimming over. And so--not in Taylor's class,
but in Shapiro's class and in the social theory class, I was going, you know,
`Me. Ma--may I speak?'
So Shapiro, sensing my need or perhaps feeling a little bit crowded--I--said,
`Would you like to teach?' And I--I now know he was setting me up because he
has written an article describing what it was like having me in the classroom.
And I said, `Sure.' And it was Jane Austen, two weeks down the road, and I
thought, `Well, that should be relatively easy,' because we'd been reading epic
poems--Homer. And we'd been reading Sophocles and Euripides and we'd been
reading ph--philisophical dialogues--Plato and Montaigne--rather difficult
essays. And I thought, `Well'--and--and Shakespeare. `Well, now at last we'd
gotten to the--to the novel.' The one--the--you know, the form of the bourgeois
era, the thing that all students know. And this is before the Jane Austen
movies. There'd been three--right?--in the last year. And I thought--but,
still, I thought, `Jane Austen? Everybody loves Jane Austen.'
So Shapiro did his thing. He said, `Did you guys like it?' And it was very
apparent that the girls liked it; the men didn't. And then he turned the thing
over to me. And I--I was angry. I was furious at the men. I thought they had
to--you know, they had to love Jane Austen or else they'd never grow up. They
had to realize how important Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine of "Pride &
Prejudice," was because she's a kind of student.
And Jane Austen--it's--it's--it's a love story. It's basic rom--romantic
comedy plot that people have been stealing from for 200 years. But it is about
knowledge and perception: how do we read one another's characters, how do we
read letters, how do we read each other--how do we read ourselves?--"Pride &
Prejudice." And she's a kind of ideal student. And they're--they're, of
course, students too.
So I bullied them and I lectured them and Shapiro's getting sort of tense and
nervous and drumming his fingers and glaring at me. And after about 40
minutes, he called me into the hallway and he said, `You know what you were
doing?' I said, `I think I was oversteering the ship.' We agreed this was a
nice way to put it. And what he was too kind to say was that I was doing the
the mistake--making the mistake that all beginning teachers make: running to
the answer out of fear of losing control.
And he said, `Look, it's a seminar. That's the whole point. You can't just
give it to them. It's not--and then they'll just feed it back to you on the
exam. No, bring it out of them. They they'll possess it.' Pull it out of
them, then they'll possess it; be their's forever.' So that--it's not easy. It
LAMB: You had another teacher too?
Mr. DENBY: I had Ander Stephanson who was my nominal academic leftist, a Swede
from the socialist tradition but delightfully counter-cliche; wonderful teacher
and it turns out he utterly believes that every society has the right to
inculcate his leading values in its young students. And he would--spoke the
talk, the--the contemporary academic jargon, and yet was very gentle with his
students, nev--never indoctrinating anyone of--the notion that, you know,
radicals are taking over the university and turn--turning out copies, I think
is absurd. I don't--only a very bad teacher would do--would do something like
Of course, there were--it was clear what his values were and what his politics
were, but there was immense freedom of discourse and he was very respectful of,
say, the religious students and conservative students. All he wanted them to
understand was that--that their attitudes were not just given to them. They
weren't in--in nature; that they were something that had been constructed.
This is big left academic form--formulation: that the construction of social
attitudes--right?--by--by capitalism, by the market, by society, by a whole
series of other things. What they actually believed--and it was not his
interest to argue the matter, but he just wanted to frame an argument. And we
did--we had some powerful conversations there.
LAMB: Did you go to class all the time?
Mr. DENBY: I went to class...
LAMB: I mean...
Mr. DENBY: ...all the time.
LAMB: ...did you ever skip a class or cut a class?
Mr. DENBY: I don't think I skipped any classes. I didn't always stay up in
the reading, however. It was hard because I kept doing my job as film
LAMB: At the New York magazine.
Mr. DENBY: ...as--as film critic of New York magazine. And I have two
children and an interesting wife and a normally busy, middle-class, New York
life. No busier than anyone else's but busy enough.
LAMB: You say that you--I mean, I've read you in--in the book saying that you
were a member of the SDS out in Stanford?
Mr. DENBY: I was. In 1969, yes.
LAMB: Threw--threw tomatoes at Ronald Reagan?
Mr. DENBY: I threw a tomato at Ronald Reagan at Sacramen--in Sacramento
in--in--at some sort of--we went--we--Stanford SDSers went out to the valley
with--with our Cal--University of California brothers to protest a--to--a
slight intuition increase at this magnificent state university.
LAMB: Then I saw later that you called yourself, at one point, a
Mr. DENBY: Well, I have--no, I wou--would not call myself--I would say I--I'm
a Clinton liberal. But I--that whole chapter, which is--that--the affair of
the tomato, which is buried in the Rousseau chapter, is--is a very rueful look
back at my abortive non-career as a '60s counterculture radical. I mean, I
wa--I was a middle-class intellectual, or whatever I am, from the start and all
of that was opposed.
But a few of the conservative reviewers of the book have seized on that one
passage as if I were still throwing tomatoes at--at Ronald Reagan. And that's
not the case. No, that's a highly ironic look backwards.
LAMB: The moment I think in the book that--that got my attention more than any
other was your mother.
Mr. DENBY: Yeah.
LAMB: Have you heard that before? I mean, that is a st...
Mr. DENBY: Yeah. That chapter. Yeah.
LAMB: The--the--King Lear and your mother.
Mr. DENBY: Yeah.
LAMB: Why the comparison?
Mr. DENBY: Well, you certainly read these books differently when you're 47, 48
than when you're 18, 19. I mean, if--Lionel Trilling, a great Columbia teacher
and critic, used to say, `The book reads you.' Turn it around. It finds you
not terribly interesting at 18, perhaps it finds you more interesting at 35 and
more interesting yet at--at 50.
And when I read "King Lear" at 48 when w--this time around--my mother had died
just a couple of years prior to the beginning of this project, and she was this
great businesswoman in New York and very loving person. But she--she got real
tough after my--difficult for me after my father died and she quit her business
and became Learlike in her demand for more love than I could possibly give her
at any one moment.
And I didn't always handle that situation well. And I--so I had gone
through--this is--and this is part of what the play is about: that Lear begins
by demanding a--a--some kind of show trial of affection from his three
daughters. He's an old man not failing in any way. As far as we can see, he's
intellectually, certainly, all there, tre--tremendous drive and energy. But
he's tired. He's 80. He wants to give up the kingship. Then he poses this
terrible trial of affection among his three daughters, which doe--you know,
`Who loves me the most?' Not a question we should ever ask our children. And
two of them lie and betray him and the one who truly loves him, Cordelia, keeps
So as I was reading the play, I kept thinking about my mother and myself and
I--I--you know, and I thought, `Well, is this going to be vulgar to bring the
greatest play in the English language, by common consent, into relation with my
own troubles with my mother?' And I thought, `It's just--there's no law that
says you can't do this,' you know? It just depends how you do it. And
tha--and that's what that chapter's about, the--the yoking of those two and
going back and forth between my personal experience and the classroom and the
play itself and the way that Professor Taylor taught it.
Now I noticed the students had some trouble with that play because they
still--are still subject to their parents' power. They haven't gone through
yet that thing we all have to go through, where we have to be the ones to take
care, you know, and to make arrangements. And we don't want it necessarily,
but the power passes to us in some cases. And it's very difficult. No human
being is--is prepared, I think, for that transformation in relationship to your
LAMB: You describe in some detail how your mother died. Was that...
Mr. DENBY: Yeah.
LAMB: ...a tough thing to write about?
Mr. DENBY: Yes. And mu--my father, too. They both died in New York very
suddenly, and I discovered my mother's body when I came back from a trip. And
that was--it was hard. Yeah, the whole--the whole thing was hard. But reading
the play was so powerful, actually, it was a kind of catharsis for me,
personally. It is--I mean, it's also an astounding work of poetry. Let's not
make this thing out in--into just a therapeutic exercise. I think
it's--probably is Shakespeare's most powerful play.
The star--the family falls apart and the whole universe cracks. I mean,
there's a kind of bending and cracking of the whole st--the whole state and the
whole universe. The animals begin attacking the human masters, everything
turns upside down. It's quite remarkable. I--but it begins in this banal
thing, `Which of you loves me the most?' The demand for love fro--you know,
from an aging parent, so that was--that was one of the most powerful
experiences of the whole year.
Then there were others. And I don't mean to imply that the 30 years difference
between me and the students always lay to my advantage. It didn't,
necessarily. We--we got to--earlier in the year to the book of Job, a great
Biblical poem. And Job loses everything. Here's this
middle-class--mo--equivalent of a modern middle-class man. He's fabulously
wealthy, powerful guy with--with sheep and goats and--it all goes.
And I thought of myself, not that I'm wealthy, but I'm thought of--the drive to
succeed and to build your family as a kind of a fortress, which is very much a
kind of modern American thing--and how I was like him. And I was angry at the
students at first because they made mild--what seemed to me mildly pious
remarks about this story being just about spiritual testing and--they had no
sense of what Job had lost, and I did. And I was having awful fantasies of the
roof falling in on--on my family and that sort of thing.
And then in the second class I listened a little more closely and their remarks
got a lot stronger, and I was--I was embarrassed because I thought, `No,
I'm--I'm the one getting this thing wrong.' The last thing that this Biblical
poem should be is an--is an inducement to--to any kind of self-pity, which is
what I think I was feeling...
LAMB: You said that...
Mr. DENBY: ...at the moment.
LAMB: ...you were surprised at how much you liked Jesus.
Mr. DENBY: Yes. Jesus--not that I had not read the Gospels before; I had read
them three or four times. But--I don't know why, but it struck me--it struck
me this time in--in a different way. And I use the word witty, which may seem
blasphemous, but i--but it--not if you--if you mean by wit s--an extraordinary
intellectual comprehension and also the ability to reverse the situation
and--and pull the rug out from under his opponents rhetorically, morally,
spiritually, every other way.
And I sort of fell in love with--with Jesus and the Gospels. And I had to
clear away all the dreck, you know, and I s--think of all the movies I've seen
and--and all of the sort of sentimental representations of Jesus in our
culture, how incredibly tough he is, how incredibly strong he is and smart, as
well as the--you know, spiritually magnificent. So that was--that was a
LAMB: How--how--how religious are you?
Mr. DENBY: I'm not religious. I'm a secular reader. And--and I was
fascinated by the--by the religious students. I--I wound up admiring them much
more than I thought I was going to. The--a lot of them were very strong
and--first of all, the other students were fascinated by them because they
believed something, you know? So few of today's students do. They have a kind
of derisive attitude towards everything. I think they ha--I think there's
a--kind of ironic habits of mind built into growing up as a consumer, as I
said, and that everything is for use and then discarded and nothing really
For instance, a lot of them had trouble with Greek tragedies where people die
because of what they learn about themselves or they die for a principle or--or
the "Aeneid" or Queen Dido--her lover Aeneas leaves--leaves her--for a mighty
reason, to go off and found Rome, right? And after he dallies in Carthage for
awhile, the queen--she kills herself. Students couldn't understand that. They
had a lot of trouble with that: dying for a principle.
And I--I'm--I'm glad that they were forced to read these things because they
should know there's a grander life than contemporary American life; that there
has been. And so when--there were students who believed something, had a
literalist conception of the Bible. The other students were both respectful
and a little skeptical and would try to, you know, argue. And it was very
LAMB: You said that the names of the teachers are their real names but that the
names of the students aren't.
Mr. DENBY: That's right.
LAMB: Why did you chose not to put the...
Mr. DENBY: Well, I thought it was not fair to drag someone at a tender age,
18, a vulnerable point, into my spiritual adventure. They might be embarrassed
by something they said 10 years from now and it wasn't fair, I thought, to--to
actually name them.
LAMB: But I wrote down about 25 names as I went through this and I thought it
might be interesting just to go through the names that you used and just tell
us a little bit about these students if you could--can you remember them all?
Mr. DENBY: If I can remember.
LAMB: Well, it's...
Mr. DENBY: It's been awhile.
LAMB: Let's start with Noah Marts.
Mr. DENBY: Noah Marts is actually a good friend. And he's a graduate student
now back at Columbia and--he's in history.
LAMB: Not his name?
Mr. DENBY: No, that is not his name. Oh, I'll say his name because he's a
published writer. His name is Adam Shatz and he's--he's published articles and
he is a budding historian and writer, I would say. And he was one of my heroes
among the students because he was extraordinarily well-read. There was the
exception to the rule. From a small town in Massachusetts, had read his way
through the--his high school library by the time he was 16 or 17. I mean, you
know--and that is--is a rarity at any time but particularly now. Yeah.
LAMB: What about Manuel Alone?
Mr. DENBY: He is a blind musician of Puerto Rican descent. He lives in New
York. The Times has subsequently written a long piece about him and...
LAMB: Did they give his real name?
Mr. DENBY: They did, which I'm no--I will--I'll try to remember in a second.
And he--he studied by reading the books either in Braille or by having them
read into a scanner. Scanner would read--would then speak the--the words in a
kind of bland, stentorian tones. I did go visit him in his room and--and he
had theories about everything and drove the rest of the students crazy but--at
times, but he was remarkably articulate. And, in fact, Noah and Manuel were
the two students that--you've just named, pseudonymously, were often at odds
with one another.
Mr. DENBY: Drawing a blank on that.
Mr. DENBY: Oh, she...
LAMB: Red hair.
Mr. DENBY: Yes. She--she was a conservative student from a small coal town or
former coal town in Pennsylvania. And it was interesting--and took a very hard
line about everything. And it was interesting to watch her transformation.
She was a freshman through the year as--I think literature actually opened her
up and--not softened her, but gave her a more complex view of life as the year
LAMB: How did you--by the way, h--here's--Lee--Leora Cohen?
Mr. DENBY: She was a Jewish student who was--who was fighting some of the
LAMB: She orthodox?
Mr. DENBY: ..during the year--yes. It's fascinating toward that...
LAMB: How did you invent these names?
Mr. DENBY: I just found equivalents to the actual names.
LAMB: Rob Lilienthal?
Mr. DENBY: He is--has actually been very successful as a graduate student in
California and has named a little--a comet or something already. These people
are now 23. When I caught them they were either in--18 or 19. So--and I
obviously latched on to some bright ones because just among this little group
here--and I don't know what happened to the woman I called Sally. You've named
three or--three or four people who have distinguished themselves already at a
very--at a very early age. So, God, if anyone looked at me as an
undergraduate, sa--they would n--not have thought I would have amounted to
anything because I doubt...
LAMB: Did you...
Mr. DENBY: ...I said much.
LAMB: Did you ever sit in the classroom and say, `These--this--that kid is just
not bright at all' or do you have to be bright to get in this school in the
Mr. DENBY: You have to be pretty bright. Some are very quiet and turn out to
be great exam performers but just don't much feel like talking. And, yeah,
this is true in any class. There are going to be--I--as I said, I don't think
I talked very much. In any class, there's going to be about a third who don't
say much, and occasionally an instructor will try to pull them out. And if he
can't, there's no point in--you know, but what you don't want is voluble,
unimaginative students dominating a class. And I saw, you know, instructors
cut off students occasionally.
LAMB: This program will be eight years old in April, and you're the two--391st
Mr. DENBY: Wow.
LAMB: And we thought it might be interesting--as--as I was reading this thing,
I saw all the names of all the people that you read, I think.
Mr. DENBY: Oh, yes.
LAMB: We plugged in the computer and went back over all the transcripts, and
you know, they have word--word recognition on there, so we counted...
Mr. DENBY: Oh, my God. Yeah.
LAMB: ...we counted--you know, most of the books on here are political in some
way or another, but we counted the number of references to all the people that
you write about, and we're going to roll this on the screen right now.
Mr. DENBY: Right.
LAMB: If you look up on the screen, you'll see it. And you can see that number
one there is John Locke.
Mr. DENBY: Locke--74--how interesting. Well...
LAMB: We'll just go all the way through and come back...
Mr. DENBY: The basis of our civilization...
LAMB: ...we'll come back to Locke and then Marx, the Bible...
Mr. DENBY: The Bible; Plato, 28; Shakespeare, 24; Lenin, 21; Aristotle, Homer,
LAMB: These are mentions.
Mr. DENBY: ...Adam Smith, Virginia Woolf--yeah.
LAMB: Thucydides, Hegel...
Mr. DENBY: Oh, Thucydides, six. We got--we're heading down towards the bottom
here. Cicero--well, that's understandable. Voltaire, Calvin...
LAMB: And the--these names are mentioned...
Mr. DENBY: Oh, Nietzsche--now that's a surprise.
LAMB: Yeah, it's low.
Mr. DENBY: Hannah Arendt, Goethe, Hobbes, Montaigne--well, we'll get Montaigne
in there again.
LAMB: Let's go back to Locke--John Locke.
Mr. DENBY: Yeah.
LAMB: He's number one, far and away, more than anybody else.
Mr. DENBY: How interesting. Well, Locke, 17th century British philosopher,
wrote a treatise of government--second treatise of government, the one we read,
a small but incredibly densely woven pamphlet about the--the relationships of
property, what constitutes a society. He creates this philosophical fiction of
the state of nature--how do we get out of it--and so on. And a lot of it--a
lot of our notions of the--what holds us together, property and mutual respect
for one another's right to exist, and also our notion of rights that--very
important for Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers that, you know, Locke
provided a kind of de facto justification for revolution. It was at the time
of the glorious revolution in England that he wrote this.
LAMB: You say, actually, that he was--Locke was Thomas Jefferson's master.
Mr. DENBY: Yes. People have debated this. Some people feel that that's not
true. But I think that's the general consensual notion that Jefferson took a
lot in the Declaration of Independence from Locke. And you know, I would--I
would try to use these people as well as learn from them, but also try to
understand my own experience. And with Locke and Hobbes, who worried how we
get from a state of nature and--to a civilization and what could propel us
backwards, I thought about something that happened to me, which is being mugged
on the way to work.
It had happened 15 years earlier, something like that, 1981, and I was held up
by two young men at the top of the steps coming out of the subway at 42nd
Street and Park Avenue in New York. And I--I played that experience through
these texts because we seem to be at a time in this society when things are
f--not falling apart, but where we're at odds with each other and we wonder if
there--is there a generally agreed-upon notion of truth? Is there an--is there
an agreed-upon notion of what rationality is and what its uses are? And I d--I
kept doing that. I kep--I--I had forgotten all--that--that experience, and it
kept coming back.
LAMB: You--you--in that chapter, you--you put Hobbes and Locke in the same
chapter, but in all of these BOOKNOTES, we've only had Hobbes mentioned once.
Mr. DENBY: Well, Hobbes is so--sort of the primal conservative in the sense
that hi--he came--comes before Locke. And his notion was that if we're not
impressed by fear, that we will be at each other's throats; that man is by
nature acquisitive and greedy and--and aggressive and ambitious and will take
away his neighbor's property if he can possibly get away with it. And,
therefore, when we climb out of a state of nature, we make--this is--again this
philosophical fiction--we make a kind of agreement to give up our freedom in
return for which we get protection. And I don't think Hobbes cared terribly
whether Oliver Cromwell or Charles II or whoever was ru--running England, as
long as it was run as--as not--not a libertarian and believed in--in f--that
fear keeps us honest.
LAMB: Now you--you--James Madison came in second, but you only mentioned him on
Mr. DENBY: Well, because our--our section did not read the Federalist Papers,
but there were other sections that did. And I think, by the way, that since
these--the--the idea of these courses is what has come from Europe to the
United States and an influence to civilization that it would be an excellent
idea for all sections to read the Federalist Papers. I would also even
consider in the literature course, perhaps, in the last week doing a week on
Emerson and Whitman.
LAMB: The other...
Mr. DENBY: There are no American--not many American texts here.
LAMB: The third one was Marx in our list, and you...
Mr. DENBY: Yeah.
LAMB: Tell the story about the Kolikowski.
Mr. DENBY: Well, Lesa Kolikowski, a Polish historian of Marxism and a kind of
liberal in the f--in the '50s--that is, an anti-Stalinist in Poland--who wanted
Marxism with a human face, you know, and socialism with a human face, and was
defeated and left and went to Oxford and then to the University of California
and wrote--and has written a big three-volume history of Marxism, came to
Columbia just as we were reading Marx, within a few weeks. And it was--it was
after the f--the fall of the Berlin Wall and the ending of Soviet communism.
And he was incredibly derisive towards Marx, to my astonishment, and just
ridiculed him. And so it--it made me think, `Is there a reason to continue to
read this--these texts by Marx? Do they have the same relevance that they
would have 20 years ago?' And the conclusion I came to was just from the
selections that we read, the early, so-called `humanist' Marx bef--prior to the
communist manifesto around 1844, when he was very young, it's extremely worth
reading and has certain insights into the nature of living in this kind of a
civilization that we need to hear, we need to know.
LAMB: You said--you said that when he was speaking that some of the faculty got
up and walked out?
Mr. DENBY: Yeah, because it's--on any--at any major American university, there
are going to be a lot of people who sort of cut their teeth on Marx and who
con--still consider him absolutely essential, whether communism has fallen or
not, and they were offended, I think, by Kolikowski's blanket dismissal. And,
I--I mean, the--the prophetic side of Marx is all drivel, but the a--side
that's analyzing the nature of capitalism and early industrial capitalism is
still very much worth reading for students, and I think some of them liked it.
LAMB: You say...
Mr. DENBY: ...no one is going to be indoctrinated, believe me.
LAMB: Are there--and this is this is kind of a thread you write about...
Mr. DENBY: Sure.
LAMB: ...all through here about professors. Is there still across the country
in schools--is that the last place where they still believe in Marxism?
Mr. DENBY: I don't know how many of them believe in Marxism. It's just the
notion that this has been extraordinarily powerful and is still interesting,
and that it's--it's a text worth reading. There--there are--that--that it's
an--it's a tool of analysis, let's put it that way, without--that you can't do
LAMB: In the same chapter, you have John Stuart Mill.
Mr. DENBY: Absolutely. And Mill is--has sort of defined our values of free
speech and free--freedom of conduct, so long as it doesn't impinge on anyone
else's liberty, and is central to Anglo-American civilization. It's a little
bit depressing to read Mill--his great pamphlet on liberty. It's very
tough-minded and much more complex, I think, than he's given credit for. But
it's depressing because Vic--Vic--in Victorian England, the churches were very
powerful and there was a very strong sense of shame. And he just took for
granted that that's why he was able to say, `We should--there should not be any
break on conduct as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else.' He was able to say
that because of the power of shame. And--and when you read Mill, you think,
`God, all of that has vanished.'
LAMB: When did you have time to read?
Mr. DENBY: Well, it was rough. I had to--I would read late at night. I would
read while the kids were taking a bath. I would read on the subway, or try to,
which was ridiculous; you can't read Plato on the subway. I--I g--got a little
room at Columbia under the rooftop of Hamilton Hall. I would read before going
home for dinner. And I was constantly falling--falling behind, like any
student, and would catch up in--in big, you know, bursts. Yeah.
LAMB: More than once in here, you would say, `I don't understand a word of what
that guy just said.'
Mr. DENBY: Right. And I tried to be candid about the difficulties of this
because some of these books are very difficult. And the German philosophers,
Kant and Hegel, whom I had not read much of before, were very difficult and I
had to change my habits, really, to--in order to read Hegel. And I discovered
reading him aloud was actually very helpful because Hegel's "Introduction to
the Philosophy of History," the book that we read--this is 100 pages only and
it's known as easy Hegel. And I would say, `Easy for whom?' This is--these are
lecture notes, and they--he--the book was put together by--and many other
Hegelian texts were put together after he died by colleagues and students. And
they have a kind of incantatory, repetitive but--but incantatory eloquence that
is much more apparent, and even the meanings, I think, more apparent if you
read it aloud. So I would declaim that you cannot be embarrassed; you've got
to learn to read aloud. Of course, any poetry sounds better read a--read
Homer was never meant to be read on a page, of course. It was chanted.
Homer--it's not even clear that Homer wrote anything down. It's not
clear--entirely clear to us whether or not he had written language at his
disposal. It--he taught other people these enormous--if there was a historical
Homer--these enormous poems, and then they went--they were--they were chanted
rhapsodes of early--early rappers who entertain people for the three nights,
say, chanting the Iliad or the Odyssey.
Anyway, Hegel also sounded better aloud, and I began to understand him at last
by reading it--declaiming it against the late-night traffic on West End Avenue.
And that was a lot of fun. It was like climbing a mountain and ca--and then
falling back and falling back and then climbing up and falling back. It
was--it was difficult, but I felt every muscle straining. And when I finally
got to the point where I thought I understand--stood the--a good bit of the
"Introduction of the Philosophy of History," I f--I f--I was very, very happy.
That was one of my high points. I mean, I don't--I don't mean to make this
sound like some endurance test, this whole year. It was great. I was--I was
thrilled. I was--I felt like I was pressing up against the frame of my life
every day, and I think that's what I needed at that point.
LAMB: Who is new--and I--you say that...
Mr. DENBY: Yeah.
LAMB: ...there are some 130 authors overall, that they come in and out of this
Mr. DENBY: In the liter-in the literature course, at one time or another, in
different combinations, yeah. I think at any--in any year, there were 25
LAMB: I mean, of all the ones that you've read...
Mr. DENBY: Right.
LAMB: ...the new ones that got you excited that you hadn't thought about.
Mr. DENBY: Boccaccio. I'd never read Boccaccio. We only read Rabelais.
There was a--there was a pes...
LAMB: Who was Boccaccio?
Mr. DENBY: Boccaccio was a great humanist, comes after Dante in Florence,
and--and did everything. He wrote early kind of psychological novels, and he
was a scholar of Dante. And he also--during the--he wrote this extraordinary
collection of stories, "The Decameron," about young aristocratic men and women
who leave the city of Florence during the Black Plague and entertain themselves
up in the hills in a very decorous way: They tell dirty stories. Now
their--their conduct is impeccable--personal conduct. There--there's a frame
around the stories. And they're not being prigs; they're keeping certain
possibilities alive while this awful plague is going--is going on. Now not all
the stories are erotic, but many of them are.
And I had never read them before except, perhaps, in Playboy, I had
read--stealing the magazine from under the counselor's bed when I was maybe 13,
back then in the early f--middle '50s. And you know, after looking at Jayne
Mansfield maybe for an hour, I--I think I barely remember occasionally looking
at--at some Boccaccio in Playboy because they had these--something called
`Ribald Tales'--I don't know if you remember `Ribald Tales.' They would take
some classic erotic tale. And I went back and looked at Playboy, and I see
that the editing sort of killed the fluency of the style. So I have no idea
what I got out of it. I probably just went back to Jayne Mansfield.
But that was the only time I had read Boccaccio before, and--and it was how
great a storyteller he was, how complex these little stories are and how
frankly liberating they are in today's terms because Boccaccio had a secret
that he let--you--you sense immediately that--that women were interested in
sex. You weren't supposed to say this, perhaps, or they weren't supposed to
admit it. Women initiate many of the intrigues in--in these tales that lead to
And that was a surprise. And some of the young men in the class--in--in
different classes--I--I traveled around because I was curious how people would
respond--were a little bit huffy about--about Boccaccio, found--found--they--I
mean, I heard words like `debauchery' and--and things that you would not expect
a 19-year-old to complain of. And I think this--that--Boccaccio's been in
trouble, you know, mo--through most of the 600 years since he--he was--been
banned and proscribed and so on and on for adultery--for the--but I wonder if
it isn't--the sexual activity of women, if that isn't the real reason.
So I found this--in our dr--sudden dreary sexual climate of today, where
there's so much suspicion and anguish back and forth across the gender line,
I've found this--here's a guy--a re--a real old-fashioned hedonist who doesn't
think that sex is power; he thinks it's pleasure. That was--that was a--that
was an eye-opener.
LAMB: You wrote in the Machiavelli chapter, `In America, a grown man or woman
Mr. DENBY: Yeah.
LAMB: `...at home during the day is not a person to be taken seriously.'
Mr. DENBY: That's because I was chased from room to room, not intentionally,
but simply, you know, the--that normal activity of the household chased me from
the study to the bedroom to the--from the bedroom to the kitchen, from the
kitchen to the nanny's room, where I would sit on a bed with underwear sort of
hanging down on my shoulders and try to read St. Augustine.
So, yes, I no--I don't think it's hard to find a place to read in the city of
New York, an incredible modern metropolis. Unless you go out into the park,
you really can't find anywhere where there isn't music playing. Some of
the--the big corporate atriums--or do you say, `atria'? I don't know--but
those vast glass-enclosed spaces. You'll be sitting there, and it'll be nice
and then, you know, the--a sheen of Muzak will come through the plastic trees,
and there goes--or if you go into a coffee shop and, you know, take that really
strong-boiled coffee at the bottom of the pot, you know, then you're going to
read Locke at last, and then someone in the--you know, who runs the coffee shop
will turn on either ea--some easy listening station or a talk radio program.
It's just so hard to find anyplace to read in this culture.
LAMB: How did you go about writing a book that you thought a general population
would read about all these people?
Mr. DENBY: Well, I th--I've sort of said already I think the point was to make
it as accessible as possible. After all, I'm not a scholar; I'm not a literary
critic. I'm a movie reviewer. I can read a little bit; I can write a little
bit. And I thought I--I have some talents for exposition and I have some
feeling for pleasure. You can't be a movie critic if you don't in some way
believe in pleasure, even in shallow, immediate pleasures. You can't be a
movie critic without being a hypocrite, that is, if you don't believe in those
things because that's what movies are giving us.
It's not that they can't go deeper; they can, and some do. But I thought that
if I can connect the kind of excitement you get from a movie to the deeper
pleasures you get from literature, if there's some connection between the
immediacy and--and reflection, then I--I can attract--I can take someone by the
hand and pull them into the labyrinth of one of these texts. Now these, I have
to admit, are--are not--are rudimentary readings because there's no space, you
know, to really develop an elaborate interpretation. But what I--I was very
eager to capture the experience and the varieties of reading in this late 20th
century period when I--reading has become problematic in some ways.
LAMB: What's been the reaction?
Mr. DENBY: Well, there's--there's been a very wide reaction. There's some,
you know, incredibly flattering reviews from very nice people: Joyce Carol
Oates and Sir Frank Kermode. And--and the conservatives, on the other hand,
have--have been on my tail because even though the book is quite conservative
in its--in its belief in the canon and the necessity of reading these books,
I--I don't always approve of the ways people like William Bennett, Lynn Cheney
and Roger Kimball and so on--other people--talk about literature, which strikes
me as philistine.
And I think that--I think--I think it should be said that the conservatives
pointing out that something was wrong in the way the liter--the--the
universities were--were--were preserving or failing to preserve the lit--the
literature and ph--and philosophy of the past--when they said that in 1980 and
'81, they--they did a service. There's no doubt about it. But I don't--I
think now it's enough culture war. There are too many people who are not
interested in culture. They're interested in culture war. And if you don't
agree with them on every point--and this is where I got clobbered--then you're
And I--I--I find that stuff unilluminating. I try to listen to both sides; I
try to be as even-handed as possible. I interviewed left-wing teachers and
gave them a long platform. I try to give the conservative case. I make what I
think is the conservative case in some ways for reading literature. So I--I'm
very bored by partisanship in--in--in culture. I don't think
And then there's been another attack by Helen Vendler of Harvard on the grounds
that this is simply not the way to--to talk about literature. And--and
she--and she's applying that--a kind of standards that would be appropriate for
a graduate seminar in poetry, say, to what I'm doing, which is to--it's just to
discover how freshmen who have never read seriously before are reading. So I
think she's apply--misapplying a kind of very narrow and orthodox university
way of studying literature, to what I'm do--talking about, which is a whole
spectrum of reading. I'm not approving of everything that's said or
every--every--every way that these books are taught here. I'm re--a reporter,
and I am reporting on the life in front of me.
LAMB: How many of these books do you think you'll sell?
Mr. DENBY: Well, I don't know. There are about 70,000 in print at this point,
and I'm told it's selling steadily. And it's not a best-seller, but it's
selling steadily all over the country. And there have been four foreign sales.
So it's--I mean, it--it has touched a nerve, I think. It's been widely written
LAMB: When you travel, what are the...
Mr. DENBY: Yeah.
LAMB: ...what do you often hear from people when they've read it and they...
Mr. DENBY: `How do we do this?' they say. Well, there's two kinds of things.
That's one thing: `How do we do it?' And, in other words, `We can't go back to
Columbia; we don't have the time,' or any--any school. And of course, there
are a few universities that have--all over that have wonderful programs
that--where you can read classics like this. But suppose you can't do that.
And the answer is you form a group. There are already thousands of reading
groups in the country, mainly women, who are keeping fiction alive. Men think
when they get together, they have to talk about politics or sex or--or sports,
you know. This stuff is a lot more powerful than what they're talking about.
But the way to do it--mixed company would be best, a group of like-minded
friends; that is, curious people who--who want to know what's in this stuff,
who either never read them or haven't read--read them in 30 years. And then
someone has to play teacher because you can't read a 15,693-line poem, the
Iliad, without some expectation of class discussion, I think, at the end of it.
I don't think you would--many of us would. I don't think I would have.
So there has--there has to be that group, and someone has to--to work up some
background. `All right, we're doing Nietzsche next week, the "Genealogy of
Morals"--it's an amazing book, not difficult to understand line by line, but
very difficult emotionally to deal with because it does nothing less than
challenge the whole basis of Judeo-Christian civilization. And some things
went wrong thousands of years ago when we left the pagan and
barbarian--barbarian ethos. We've been infected by pity. This is very, very
difficult to deal with.
Someone has to work up some background. Who is Nietzsche? Where does his book
stand in his canon? What were the other books related to? It's not hard. I
mean, you know, it's fun, actually. You can just use the introduction,
perhaps, to the translated volume, do a little work and then just get the
conversation rolling, just to get people to talk to one another, and then it
will take off because you already find each other interesting and you're
probably already having conversations, not in a group but one--one--on a
one-on-one basis. That's how you do it.
LAMB: How many "Great Books" courses are there around the country?
Mr. DENBY: I don't know. I decided not to--to file a report of
this--this--you know, the status of Western classics. Let other people do
that. I just wanted to report on this one experience. Certainly, this stuff
has receded a great deal from--I mean, Columbia and Chicago are still doing it,
and there are other places where it's an elective. Stanford has its version,
which caused a big brouhaha a few years ago because it in--mixed in Eastern
texts as well as all the Western texts. And those that oppose it feel it's now
a smorgasbord which doesn't--doesn't stand for much of anything.
So there are varieties of courses. But certainly they are not as popular as
they were 30, 40 years ago. And I think most of the arguments against them are
hooey--the notion that--for instance, that you're going to lose your identity
if you're an African-American or Asian-American by reading a collection--a
selection of Western classics. It doesn't work that way. People aren't
assaulted in their identity by reading a great work of art. I mean, art
doesn't oppress people. Art is what we need more of in this culture. If
anything, it strengthens your identity.
And I spoke to a number of--quite a lot of African-American students and went
to meetings in which s--in which sometimes protest against these courses was
registered. And, well, you can't generalize, but some would say, `Look, you'd
have to ba made of stone not to be turned around, really, really knocked over
by one or two of these books in each semester in each course.' And when those
who--those who opposed them and said that it was part of a white oppressive
Eurocentric tradition, when you got to the reasons that--of--for their problems
with the West, and it turns out what--they were complaining about wa--was the
failure in s--in justice, racism and slavery, failures of--of equal rights and
Well, those notions are Western notions, that each of us has a soul, either
spiritual or secular, and a self-worth developing and saving; that we should
believe in representative democracy and representation. Those are all Western
notions. In other words, they criticize the courses in terms that they got
from the courses or--or from the culture itself.
LAMB: Are they required courses, by the way?
Mr. DENBY: They are required. So I thought, `Well, that's fine. The books
have done their work then.' In other words, they're going to take the stuff,
mix it with their own identity, remake it, reuse it, use it any way they want,
but it's not going to wipe them out. I mean, that--that's just melodrama. I
don't think it works that way.
LAMB: How did you go about actually--you know, the notes and all that in the
class? And did the--did all the students there know you were doing this?
Mr. DENBY: Oh, yeah. No, I would introduce myself and make a little speech.
And they would look at me oddly because there was Daddy, and then who was this
other person, you know? Sort of rogue uncle, or who was he? But after a while
they accepted me.
LAMB: Did you take notes?
Mr. DENBY: I took very, very careful notes, as much as I--I tried bringing in
a tape recorder a few times and it--it's not for me. I'm--I--my training is to
take notes because you edit as you go and then you--then you--you wind up
throwing out most of it because there's no way, you know, of--of using
everything that happens in an hour and 50 minute class.
These accounts of classroom discussions are highly edited and I've cr--you
know, created a kind of narrative. When I do go into the class, I kind of make
a drama, bring out students and clashes between different students and
different points of view and my own point of view and the teacher's point of
view. And that is a drama--dramatic structure that I slightly imposed. I
mean, I didn't make up anything, but I may have rearranged the order slightly
LAMB: How'd you...
Mr. DENBY: Go ahead.
LAMB: How'd you write? I mean, over the--you say it took four years to write
Mr. DENBY: I--I tried to feed as much of the notes into the computer as it
happened, as I had time for, but wasn't able to because I was writing movie
reviews all--you know, week after week. So I then waited till the year was
over and sat down and wrote a very long chapter on Homer, which wound up in the
New Yorker, which was a great help having s--having people respond to the work
and getting some response--feedback right at the beginning of the project
as--and it just took another three years to write and rewrite. It's quite
And I left out a lot of people, and I feel very bad about it. I didn't do any
of the scientific text. I didn't--I didn't do Descartes' discourse on method
which is so--so important. And I didn't--I ducked Galileo and Darwin who I
love--whom I love, and I--I feel badly I didn't do Freud because it was a can
of worms I decided not to open. So I ducked a few things and a few times I
just didn't really respond. I don't think Goethe’s Faust, part one, really works
in translation--any translation that I've read. To me, it sounded--seemed
bombastic and crass and W.H. Auden had said that Goethe was a master of every
form of German poetry from the highest to barracks, barroom, so I believe him.
But it just didn't work for me.
And--and there were other cases where I reported failures of--and when we read
Dante's "Inferno," not having any Italian, reading in translation, we, I think,
were reduced in one of the classes to a rather doctrinal reading of the poem
rather than a poetic reading. And there was a very striking moment when the
teacher asked an Italian student just to read the first can--the beginning of
the first cantor of "The Inferno." And she read and she didn't read with any
great emphasis, but it was so beautiful I thought, `Oh, God, this is corny.
This is like something in a movie. It can't be happening.' But I think we all
felt kind of grief at that moment because we knew that, you know, we were not
able to link sound and meaning. And we were missing--we were missing so much
LAMB: Any of the students or the teachers...
Mr. DENBY: Yeah.
LAMB: ...that y--read this book t--and feed it back to you what they thought?
Mr. DENBY: Well, Columbia's reaction's been generally pleasant. A few of the
younger teachers have been a little bit upset because they don't like to have
their picture taken. And, in fact, I'd say many of us, you know, can be
self-conscious in a situation like that. If you--you know, you're very--it's a
tender time for them. They did agree and I don't think they're--they regret
it, but their--aspects of the picture that may, perhaps, make them a little bit
uncomfortable. I'm sure, you know, every reporter, also, has had this
experience when, you know, you write down exactly what someone says and put it
in the paper and they say, `I never said that.' You've got it in your notes, or
you've got it on the tape recorder. People are sometimes upset by what they
sound like when they think, `Oh, how will colleague X respond to that? How
will colleague Y respond to that?' But I hope it's useful for teachers
that--different ways of teaching these books.
I hope there's--one thing--you said what had people said to me when I went
around the country. High school teachers came to readings often and said
things like, `I can't get them to read. They will read John Grisham and they
will read Terry McMillian'--very popular black author--`but that's it. What do
I do?' And--and I--I w--I would say, `Well, if that's all they'll read, let
them read that. But then try to work back. In other words, if it's--if it's
Grisham and they're interested in--in detection and the law and so on, try to
work back to Poe and well--and from there maybe to Dickens' "Bleak House."
That's a big jump from John Grisham, but at least you can salvage a level of
interest and work back. And if it's Terry McMillian, go back to Zora Neale
Hurston, great black writer, or if they're interested in romance, go back to
Colette and from there to Flaubert. So that's another thing many people said.
LAMB: One of the teachers told you not to come back?
Mr. DENBY: Yes. A young, woman teacher--I blew that one. I--I--I asked one
question in the class and she called me and said, `Look, this is not going to
work. Students don't like it.' Apparently the students had complained
afterwards and I bit my lip in fury because, of course, she was right. And it
was a certainly tactical error to say anything on the first day. But I sort
of--I was bubbling over, kind of ebullience. I couldn't--I should have
controlled myself, but I couldn't. Others didn't mind, so she w--yeah, she
threw me out.
LAMB: Next book?
Mr. DENBY: I don't know. Someone suggested I write a book about Asian
classics, which I think would be impossible because it would not be an act of
repossession. But I would--I would like to read Asian classics, let's put it
that way and see if I can learn something about another culture now.
LAMB: This is the book. It's called "Great Books" by David Denby, who writes
film critic--criticism for New York magazine and is a contributing editor to
The New Yorker. Thank you.
Mr. DENBY: Thank you very much. It was great fun.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1996. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.