taken from assorted interviews published by The Paris Review
Have you ever felt any professional antagonism toward other artists?
No, I’ve never been like that at all. I refuse to play. I told you I don’t have much of an ego. I meant it. To take part in such games, you have to believe in the existence of your personality in a way that I don’t. And I couldn’t do it. I could pretend, but it wouldn’t get me very far.
Can a writer learn style?
No, I don’t think that style is consciously arrived at, any more than one arrives at the color of one’s eyes. After all, your style is you. At the end the personality of a writer has so much to do with the work. The personality has to be humanly there. Personality is a debased word, I know, but it’s what I mean. The writer’s individual humanity, his word or gesture toward the world, has to appear almost like a character that makes contact with the reader. If the personality is vague or confused or merely literary, ça ne va pas. Faulkner, McCullers — they project their personality at once.
You regard addiction as an illness but also a central human fact, a drama?
Both, absolutely. It’s as simple as the way in which anyone happens to become an alcoholic. They start drinking, that’s all. They like it, and they drink, and then they become alcoholic. I was exposed to heroin in New York — that is, I was going around with people who were using it; I took it; the effects were pleasant. I went on using it and became addicted. Remember that if it can be readily obtained, you will have any number of addicts. The idea that addiction is somehow a psychological illness is, I think, totally ridiculous. It’s as psychological as malaria. It’s a matter of exposure. People, generally speaking, will take any intoxicant or any drug that gives them a pleasant effect if it is available to them. In Iran, for instance, opium was sold in shops until quite recently, and they had three million addicts in a population of twenty million. There are also all forms of spiritual addiction. Anything that can be done chemically can be done in other ways, that is, if we have sufficient knowledge of the processes involved. Many policemen and narcotics agents are precisely addicted to power, to exercising a certain nasty kind of power over people who are helpless. The nasty sort of power: white junk, I call it — rightness; they’re right, right, right — and if they lost that power, they would suffer excruciating withdrawal symptoms. The picture we get of the whole Russian bureaucracy, people who are exclusively preoccupied with power and advantage, this must be an addiction. Suppose they lose it? Well, it’s been their whole life.