VISIONS AND VOICES
By Jonathan Cott
Dolphin/Doubleday. 213 pp. $17.95
HERE ARE 10 interviews with some of the most original and creative figures of our time; but interviews that are as far removed from the superficialities of the television celebrity chat-show as it is possible to get. Jonathan Cott's range is amazing. He is not only a sympathetic interviewer who can identify with his subjects and get the best out of them, but a highly cultured individual, as much at ease discussing musical composition with Pierre Boulez, as he is exchanging thoughts on ballet with George Balanchine, on theater with Peter Brook, or on modern poetry with Carolyn Forche'.
As a psychiatrist influenced by Jung, I was particularly glad that Cott included Marie-Louise von Franz amongst his subjects. She is by far the most perceptive, sophisticated and original of Jung's pupils. Her work linking modern physics and psychology deserves wider recognition; and her book, C.G. Jung: His Myth in Our Time, is still the best available on the great psychologist.
Another favorite of mine is Oliver Sacks, the neurologist who specializes in doing more than anyone else for those for whom "nothing can be done": the chronically brain-damaged, who are among the most terribly disabled patients whom doctors encounter. How does he do it? He makes each case into a story, a personal narrative that reveals the suffering individual behind the twisted facade. Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat are literary masterpieces as well as displays of medical compassion of a quite unusual order.
The interview that the great choreographer Balanchine gave in 1982 was to be his last. Born in 1904, he died in a New York Hospital in 1983. His total single-mindedness is superbly conveyed. To be Balanchine at 78 was evidently marvelous. "You see, all I am is a dancer . . . I don't care about my past . . . To me, today is everything . . . You can ask a horse why he's a horse, but he just lives a horse's life . . . Horses don't talk, they just go! We want to win the race. And how? With energy, training, and dancing!"
Cott is particularly good at tapping the springs of creativity in others. Federico Fellini reveals that he regards the process of creativity as "a kind of sickness or illness. You're invaded by a germ, something that has to grow inside you and that makes you completely sick; and the therapy is to materialize the germ of the fantasy so that you become cured. And it's possible that what you've done can turn out to be therapeutic for other people."
WHEN COTT visited Peter Brook in 1985, the great theater director was working on making a drama from the ancient Indian epic, Mahabharata, which includes the Bhagavad Gita. Brook is enthralled by the contradictions in the work. The god Krishna knows what is going to happen, but nevertheless strives to bring about the opposite.
Brook's personal interpretation of the drama is fascinating. Even if one's fate is preordained, each person must struggle and struggle toward greater insight "until he reaches the point where there are no more choices left, and he is what he is." "To become oneself is the hardest task of all."
Many writers would be alarmed at the thought of interviewing Pierre Boulez, who is one of the most sophisticated and intelligent musicians alive today; but Cott is perfectly able to cope, and the two find common ground in discussing the connections between Schoenberg and Hindemith, which Cott raises in the first place, and which Boulez acknowledges as valid.
Most people looking back to childhood say that they recall it vividly, but Bob Dylan says: "My childhood is so far away . . . it's like I don't ever remember being a child . . . I'm sure of my dream self, I live in my dreams, I don't really live in the actual world." And for Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, "holy texts are also like Great Dreams." Kushner thinks that Great Dreams are a dimension of God; and I'm sure that Marie-Louise von Franz would agree with him. When Cott asks him why he became a rabbi, he replied that it seemed "a beautiful way to earn a living; to get paid for being with people during the most meaningful times of their lives and trying to help people make sense of them." Carolyn Forche' spent two years in El Salvador, and her poems bear witness to this harrowing experience. Moreover, she knows that the horrors of totalitarianism are within as well as without. "And it's also important to see within ourselves first every manifestation of atrocity."
What have these perceptive interviews in common? As Cott indicates in his introduction, they are all concerned with people who endeavor "to see things with their eyes wide open." He might have added that these are all people in whose lives the creative use of the imagination plays a central part. Anyone who is interested in the well-springs of creativity will find nuggets of gold in these interviews.
Anthony Storr is a British psychiatrist and author. His books include "The Dynamics of Creation" and the forthcoming "The School of Genius."