Israel Shenker sent me his questions on June 10, 1971,
three weeks before coming to see me here in Montreux. My
written answers were accurately reproduced in The New York
Times Book Review,
January 9, 1972. Their presentation
would have been perfect had they not been interspersed with
unnecessary embellishment (chitchat about living writers, for

What do you do to prepare yourself for the ordeals of

Shave every morning before bath and breakfast so as to be
ready to fly far at short notice.

What are the literary virtues you seek to attain-- and

Mustering the best words, with every available lexical,
associative, and rhythmic assistance, to express as closely as
possible what one wants to express.

What are the literary sins for which you could be
answerable some day-- and bow would you defend yourself?

Of having spared in my books too many political fools and
intellectual frauds among my acquaintances. Of having been too
fastidious in choosing my targets.

What is your position in the world of letters?
Jolly good view from up here.

What problems are posed for you by the existence of

A linguistic problem: the singular act of mimetic
evolution to which we owe the fact that in Russian the word
ego means "his," "him."

What struggles these days for pride of place in your

Meadows. A meadow with Scarce Heath butterflies in North
Russia, another with Grinnell's Blue in Southern California.
That sort of thing.

What are your views about man's upward climb from

A truly remarkable performance. Pity, though, that some of
the slime still sticks to drugged brains.

What should we think about death?

"Leave me alone, says dreary Death" (bogus inscription on
empty tomb).

What kinds of power do you favor, and which do you

To play safe, I prefer to accept only one type of power:
the power of art over trash, the triumph of magic over the

What are the large issues that you can't get interested
in, and what are you most concerned with?

The larger the issue the less it interests me. Some of my
best concerns are microscopic patches of color.

What can (should?) we do about elusive truth?

One can (and should) engage a specially trained
proofreader to make sure that misprints and omissions do not
disfigure the elusive truth of an interview that a newspaper
takes the trouble to conduct with an author who is rather
particular about the precise reproduction of his phrase.