From “The Review of Contemporary Fiction,” Summer 1998, Vol. 18.2
Milorad means beloved in his language. Milorad Pavic is unknown to many of you. He is a Serbian writer, nominated several times for the Nobel Prize for Literature. According to Paris Match, “he is undoubtedly the first writer of the twenty-first century.” Pavic is the writer who managed to construct a novel that anyone can read in the same way he or she observes a statue. He lives in Belgrade. We spent three days with him, just talking. The following is the result of our conversations.
Belgrade. It is getting dark. There isn’t much traffic on the streets. Asking her way around, Gaga finds a flower shop that is still open and buys some flowers. The cab leaves us at Brace Baruh Street, number 2. The building is old and its main door is ajar. We enter. On the right side are some mailboxes for the residents. They are all the same size, except the last one, which is surprisingly huge, almost as big as all the rest of the boxes together. For the first time I saw the name Milorad Pavic written on that huge mailbox. According to the Sunday Times, Milorad Pavic is a writer who, together with Borges, Nabokov, Singer, Calvino, and Eco, composes the literary treasure of our half of the century.
The first floor, an old wooden white door. We ring the bell and find ourselves in front of the double of Lech Waßesa! “Lech Waßesa’s face is a bit more swollen,” notices Gaga. “His eyes are less intense,” I add, completing her thought. Pavic, dressed in a dark blue suit and wearing a tie, leads us to the high-ceilinged living room. There are some white armchairs in the room. On the walls there are some drawings by his son Ivan, who lives and paints in Paris. Pavic, the writer “who thinks the way we dream,” offers us a drink and persuades us to taste some of his excellent cookies. He introduces us to Mrs. Pavic. We shake hands and Pavic talks to himself, while we look at the editions of his books, translated into every language except Chinese and Norwegian. “It was very difficult to get a positive review in my country, that’s why I married a critic!” We all laugh, and he writes a dedication on a copy of his book Dictionary of the Khazars: “To the Golden Girl! Milorad Pavic.” He gives the book to his compatriot and also his student at the university, Gaga Rosic, who wonderfully translates his books into Greek. We leave for the opening of a new cinema in the center of Belgrade.
He drives like a child. The car in his hands seems like a toy. He drives against the traffic on all the one-way streets and shows us the house where he spent his childhood, a two-storied house with a garden and trees in its backyard. He always parks his car far away from his destination. This makes me curious. It seems as if he is in his own world all the time. Wearing his gabardine, he walks in small steps toward the center of the city. “This is the National Theater,” he says to me as we pass the streetlights. In the big square, opposite the National Theater, many people recognize him. Pavic keeps on walking, pretending not to notice anything. He has probably noticed everything, but until he finds himself lying on his back on his bed, he cannot prove it.
He is always writing, lying on his back on his bed. He keeps notes in a small notebook and writes in it every time an idea comes to his mind. “It is nearly always so—fifty/fifty,” he says. “Every time you catch some beauty from the vast world around you, another piece of beauty sinks untouchable in the blue waters of the Danube.” My first meeting with Pavic ends with a handshake outside the Metropol Hotel. During this first meeting, I continuously observed him and we exchanged very few words. Our next meeting was scheduled for the next day at ten o’clock, at his apartment.
THANASSIS LALLAS: I was carefully observing you yesterday. Your reactions were like those of a child. You did not give me the impression that you are the most important Serbian writer at present.
MILORAD PAVIC´: The truth is that this is the way I feel. I try to see the world as if I see it for the first time. I try to forget all the books I’ve written in order to keep on living and writing.
TL: Do the books that you’ve written prevent you from continuing to write?
MP: If you do not forget the books you’ve already written, you cannot write new ones, because every new book is like returning to the beginning.
TL: The beginning and the end must be the biggest trouble to a novelist.
MP: I have tried my best to eliminate or to destroy the beginning and the end of my novels. The Inner Side of the Wind, for example, has two beginnings. You start reading this book from the side you want. In Dictionary of the Khazars you can start with whatever story you want. But writing it, you have to keep in mind that every entry has to be read before and after every other entry in the book. I managed to avoid, at least until now, the old way of reading, which means reading from the classical beginning to the classical end.
TL: Do we suppress the classical notion of the beginning and the end when there is more than one beginning and more than one ending?
MP: Even if we do not suppress them, we liberate them, and we liberate ourselves along with them.
TL: Do you believe there is one ending for each beginning?
MP: No, this is not true.
TL: Yet we say that whatever begins with birth, ends with death.
MP: Exactly. But since in my life I cannot avoid this one-way street, I try at least to avoid it in my novels, to the extent that I can.
TL: Is fantasy the weapon that one uses to fight against the “facts” of life?
MP: There are no definite borders between the real and the imaginary world. A free man suppresses the borders between those two worlds. As a writer I have this feeling quite often. I actually believe that the most important ability that a writer can possess is the ability to reach a certain point where reality and fantasy reflect as one the same world. Then things develop normally. They develop the way they should.
TL: I was watching you drive yesterday. I’ve noticed a habit of yours; you drove against the traffic on all the one-way streets. Are you not afraid? In the sense that when somebody drives against the traffic, he exposes himself to great danger?
MP: I’ve been wondering for a long time: “How do you know that what you are writing is good or will turn out to be good and be accepted?” For a long time I used to believe that when what you love the most is written, it turns out to be the best. Today I know that this is not true.
TL: According to you, what is the truth in order for someone to reach the best?
MP: I believe that the best will appear as soon as your fear is maximized. The closer we get to something that we are afraid of, the closer we approach the best. Fear leads us to excess, real excess. This is where one can find the truth. Such a challenge is very valuable in order to find the truth.
TL: So you are actually saying that fear leads us to creativity.
MP: Exactly. Just fear. Fear is leading us. Fear leads us correctly. In literature, of course.
TL: Is there any fear dominating you?
MP: I’ve been dominated by all sorts of fears, by all kinds of fears. I carried them with me through my whole life like a cross. Fear is actually a writer’s most devoted friend. I still feel fear as intensely as when I was a child. My fear will never become old. As a child, I was so much afraid of loneliness. I was afraid of the empty house in the middle of the night. I was afraid of the backyard of the house where I grew up—I showed you that house yesterday. I was afraid of it, especially when the lights were turned out.
TL: Actually, all of your fears seem to be concentrated inside or around the house.
MP: Maybe that explains why I try to construct my novels the way I would build a house. Maybe because this fear of the empty house—one that I am trying to get over—exists permanently. The Inner Side of the Wind has two entrances and one inner yard. The Dictionary of the Khazars is also a huge house, which shocks people because of its many entrances and exits. There are doors everywhere. Your entrance into or exit from the house depends on your desire.
TL: What did your father do for a living?
MP: It may sound quite strange, but he constructed houses. Real houses. I did not like it. I would have preferred that he was a sculptor or a painter. He spent his free time on sculpture and painting.
TL: Why didn’t he become a sculptor?
MP: It was the time between two world wars: the most appropriate time for someone to make too much profit! At least you could profit more constructing houses than by working as a sculptor or a painter. But he was never successful in building. He was best as a sculptor.
TL: How is it possible for someone who constructs buildings all day to come back home and make sculptures?
MP: My father was capable of doing thousands of things at the same time. Maybe he was more afraid than I was.
TL: And your mother? What did she do?
MP: She taught philosophy. She could speak smoothly. She told many different stories about members of our family, especially about the older ones.
TL: Can you recognize in yourself any similarities to your father or mother? In other words, what did you inherit from them?
MP: Nothing actually. It is just that sometimes, when I look at myself in the mirror I get the feeling that I see my father instead of me.
TL: So you do look like your father.
MP: That is what I am telling you. I’ve inherited nothing from him. We just look alike.
TL: Are there any people who have influenced your life?
MP: My ancestors.
TL: What do you mean?
MP: I am talking about my father’s family. In the last two hundred years many members of my family were writers. It was in the eighteenth century when the first Pavic published a poetry collection. He was a monk in Buda. He knew Latin and published books in Latin and in his native language as well. And then, in every other generation you can find at least one Pavic who was a writer.
TL: What did you want to be before you decided to be a writer?
MP: I always wanted to be a writer. I still remember myself saying that I wanted to be one. I believe it was my natural environment that pushed me in this direction, because I grew up surrounded by writers.
TL: Do you remember the first writer you admired? Did you happen to say to yourself, “I’m going to be like him?
MP: Yes. My uncle Nikola Pavic. He was a poet. But I did not learn about the first writers by reading. I learned by listening to other people talking. Actually, I relied upon two things: on the Serbian oral tradition (popular songs and proverbs) and on the church orations and cultural tradition of Byzantium. In both cases the oral element was important.
TL: How important was this oral tradition to your writing style?
MP: I believe that a phrase must first of all sound nice. When it sounds nice, it is automatically a good sentence. When somebody thinks about literature the way I do, it means that he has in mind not his reader but his listener. So a new problem is formed—you must not let your listener fall asleep.
TL: Are there any writers who make you fall asleep?
MP: Many of them. I avoid reading their books. I truly believe that Homer has the right to fall asleep, but he does not have the right to make his listeners fall asleep.
TL: When does a piece of writing become boring for a reader?
MP: When it does not demand that the reader use his own fantasy. According to me, a piece of writing does not refer just to the mind of the reader. That means that it cannot be just a process of the mind for the writer.
TL: What else does somebody need except the “mind”?
MP: Love! In other words you must be in love with what you are writing. You also must not obstruct the eternal energy if your writing has a chance to become its path. If you let this energy flow through your book, it is certain that the writing will find its own way to the reader.
TL: Did you ever catch yourself being tired of beauty?
MP: Yes, I used the phrase tired of beauty once. I’m surprised you posed such a question. As long as one can be tired of love, one can be tired of beauty as well.
TL: The standard of beauty in art is perhaps the beauty of nature?
MP: No work of art is enough to describe the beauty of nature. But the beauty of art is a part of the beauty in nature.
TL: What is the meaning of art for you?
MP: A bird with long legs, standing in the gutter. It must move continuously in order not to sink. If art stops moving, even for a moment, it will drown.
TL: When you are writing, do you think about the reader?
MP: While writing, you never have the time to think about the reader. You do have a certain obligation, though, toward your future reader and toward yourself “not to lie.” While writing I try not to forget the words of the great novelist Ivo Andric. “The main intention while writing,” he used to say, “must be to make the reader cry, not you, the author!”
TL: Have you found out what makes somebody special in whatever he might be doing?
MP: Persistence to start with. Though in my case luck helped too. For a while I was not able to publish my writing in my own country. There were political reasons for it. So I could have stopped writing, despite my desire and love for it. Finally, I was lucky. I did not do that. I did not stop. I was dealing with literature as a teacher. I was writing about literature to avoid becoming bitter. And finally I started publishing fiction, although very late in my life. If this had not happened, today I might have been a violin virtuoso.
TL: Why the violin especially?
MP: I finished my studies in violin but I did not do anything more than that.
TL: When did you start publishing?
MP: Unfortunately, I had to wait until 1967, when the appropriate conditions were established that allowed me to publish my first book in my country. I was thirty-eight years old then. So I never had a literary start. I was in that moment what I am today. But luck is something that will not follow you as the tail follows a cow. Actually I have the worst position among all living authors. I am the best known writer of the most hated nation in the world.
TL: What could you say concerning the Serbian nation?
MP: That it is a nation without any international financial support, without any international religious support. Their isolationism is like that of the U.S. and Russia, but it has to be paid for much more. It is a nation deprived of memory. They never forgive, but forget immediately. They are good warriors, but the worst diplomats. They win wars, and lose battles. They suffer from reductionism; they always count who is a patriot and who is not. The accent is on the word not. They always have their enemies in mind and they do not care a lot for their friends. They had a state beginning in the tenth century (as well as a literature), but they can hardly keep it and easily lose it. They are talented. From this nation came Tesla, Pupin, Mileva Einstein, Ivo Andric, Charles Simic, Danilo Ki, Makaveyev, Vasko Popa, Vlada Divac, and Duan Kova‰evic, an excellent playwright and co-author of Kusturica’s last film, etc.
TL: Do you actually think that a great writer is born or made?
MP: As a writer, I was born two hundred years ago. In the biggest libraries of Europe one can find books written by my ancestors, as you know. It was my ancestors who supported me each time I began writing something. I even wrote some poems for them using the old language so that they could understand me.
TL: What do you think their opinion would be, if they could read your books?
MP: I think they would be very confused.
TL: When somebody reads your novels, he or she feels that they are the creation of a mathematician’s structured mind.
MP: The film “Byzantium Blue,” based on my short story “The Wedgewood Tea Set,” talks about mathematics. It claims that the mathematics that we use now is unique. During the sixth and seventh centuries the Byzantine world had a different conception of numbers. Through my story, I bring out the Byzantine conception of numbers. What we usually call mathematics is based mainly on three elements: the number 1, the full stop, and the moment of the present. Now in the Byzantine world they ask: How is it possible to have as a basis for mathematics three elements that cannot be measured? So, if you follow Byzantine mathematics in your comparison, you can conclude my writings are the creation of a mathematician’s structured mind.
TL: What does a writer do, in general? Does he or she bring order to the chaos of the world?
MP: I am not sure whether you can name as a work of art something that brings order into the chaos that surrounds you. I never wanted to bring order into something that I considered the work of God. In fact, I want to express this chaos through my books. Nothing else. For me that is enough.
TL: Do you think that by expressing this chaos you bring God to the surface?
MP: Not hiding this chaos is one way to approach God.
TL: I thought that we reach God by dreaming.
MP: Dreams are also a huge chaos. You are thinking correctly. Besides, “God exists at the bottom of each dream,” as I say in one of my books. Now I have the impression that if we reach the bottom of our dream, we can see our death there. And awaking, forget what we have seen.
TL: Can you define God?
MP: When Dictionary of the Khazars was published, a fellow professor at a university in Israel asked me the same question: “In your book you talk about a Christian devil, a Jewish devil, and a Muslim one. Where is God in your book?” “The Book is God,” I answered him. Not of course my book, but the one with a capital B, and I really do not know anything more to tell you about it!
TL: Where does God exist?
MP: I think He exists inside us. Every day God teaches us something.
TL: When the devil himself interferes, does he transform God into different religions?
MP: Yes. That is why there are three devils in my book.
TL: Isn’t it an injustice that some people have the talent to create and some not?
MP: That is happiness, that somebody is able to create something that another cannot. Look out of the window a little bit. Everything is different. That is beauty. Each one of us has different abilities. I am incapable of doing something else. I do not know how to build houses as my father did, for example.
TL: You are, however, one of those exceptional people who are able to mark their time with their actions.
MP: That is not something that I own. That is something that I have inherited. The power, which existed for a long time, has become more concentrated as the years go by. I am just a sort of instrument where the energy and power of a family reaches its most intense expression. Until now.
TL: Have you ever thought about what is actually the destination of your existence?
MP: To rescue as many pieces of beauty as possible. Tons of beauty sink every day in the Danube. Nobody notices. The one who notices it must do something to rescue it. To rescue as much beauty as he can. That is actually the role of an artist. He is the lifeguard of beauty.
TL: Have you ever thought of giving up writing a novel before you finished it?
MP: For each writer there are two moments of crisis while writing a novel. The first moment comes very soon. It is the moment when the writer has all things concerning his novel in his head. But not the novel itself on paper. In that moment you are faster than the novel is. It is inert and you have to push it ahead. And most of all, you must not let it get behind you. The second moment comes during the zenith of writing. It is the moment when you have to have absolute control of it, but in this particular moment the novel is ahead because it already has its own flow and speed. It is the moment where the novel overcomes the writer. It is faster than he and has more energy. It is actually the most difficult moment because it finds you very tired by your effort to approach this zenith. Yet you must put all your efforts together in order to retain balance and keep control of the novel. You cannot allow a premature child to be born. If you can overcome those two moments, the result will be good. You will have written a healthy novel, and you will be sick for the next two years. After the Dictionary of the Khazars, I was terribly sick for two whole years.
TL: Can you imagine life without dreaming?
MP: I imagine you are talking about the destruction of life. For me, to dream means to live.
TL: Is dreaming necessary in life?
MP: Is life necessary in dreaming? Through dreaming man can get in touch again with his first kindness. Through his dreams, man can experience again the kindness he once lost.
TL: Have you ever thought, “why do we exist?”
MP: The answer to this question is hidden in my novel The Inner Side of the Wind: Time is the creation of Satan; Eternity is the creation of God. At the point where Time and Eternity intersect is life. The moment of the present is the moment when Time stops to be blessed by Eternity. In the universe there are maybe zones where Time never meets Eternity; that is why this very moment is missing. Life does not exist there. Life exists just in the moments of the present.
TL: Do you actually believe that a great piece of writing is written by a great soul or by a great mind?
MP: I personally believe that great writings are the result of the soul’s many trips to the mind, as well as the mind’s trips to the soul. That’s how a writing can actually breathe.
TL: Is it necessary to be a talented reader, as you said, in order to understand a talented writer’s work?
MP: If a writer’s piece of work is read by an untalented reader, it is not going to be understood. But, fortunately, we have now in the world more talented readers than talented reviewers. And more talented readers than talented authors, as well. Only the untalented readers have special characteristics. The best and most talented reader in our century was Borges. Anybody can attend a university. But it is not possible to learn in school how to compose the The Magic Flute. Nobody can teach a reader how to read between the lines and through the words.
TL: Can you give a definition of what talent is?
MP: It is just an intellectual or spiritual vitamin. The world suffers from vitamin deficiency on the spiritual level as well. What actually matters is whether the vitamin that one writer has is the one that the world needs at this time. So if it happens that you offer the appropriate vitamin at the right place and the right time, the world will turn out to be a huge uterus and will absorb you. Talent is just a vitamin. Or sperm. It is possible to offer your kind of vitamin at the wrong time. That’s what we consider “lost talents.” For a writer to reach fame’s sky, that is, to be read, he must go through what I call the seven celestial customs. He has to be accepted by publishers, by readers, and by reviewers. The moment a writer dies, he goes through the next celestial custom. The world is almost fed with the vitamins that the deceased writer offers. The world feels it does not need him anymore. There might be another time when the world will again need the same vitamins. And that is what we call resurrection. A posthumous rebirth, the comeback of an author.
TL: What is the next celestial custom?
MP: The moment the writer’s language dies, since languages die as well. The writer’s language needs to be adopted by another language. Will it make it? Today, nobody can read Horatio in the language in which he wrote. Nothing lives for ever. Eternity is God’s present.
TL: Why do people deny God the right to sin?
MP: Because that is their only way to comprehend their differences from God. Another question would be why people expect another person to sin. Maybe because that is their only way to explain war. Their only way.
TL: If I could give you the chance to meet another writer by the end of our meeting, which one would you prefer to meet?
MP: That is a very good question. I once happened to meet somebody that I had always wanted to meet. I always wanted to meet D. M. Thomas, the author of the novel The White Hotel. I met him in Canada. He looked just as nice as his book.
TL: If Borges were here, what would you like to find out about him? What would you ask him?
MP: Nothing. I would prefer to listen to him.
Our third meeting with Pavic takes place in a marvelous restaurant. Our dinner begins with a toast.
MP: I am really glad to have here with me today’s descendants of Homer.
TL: What does Homer mean to you?
MP: I am always trying to act as an ancient epic poet. To act the way Homer did. Not as Homer at the moment when the Iliad and the Odyssey were written. The person who wrote down those two masterpieces defined their beginning and their ending, while the epic poets in Greece, as in Serbia (Homer included), were singing a different song every time. They started from a certain point that they chose and they ended when something new was starting. Cheers! For me it is the oldest lesson that I know in the history of literature. Of course, it is difficult to apply this lesson in practice. Actually this job can turn out to be even more difficult, if you must be both the epic poet, fashioning your rhapsodies in the oral way, and, at the same time, the one who writes down these rhapsodies in order to fix them in the shape of the book.
TL: Do you appeal to a public of listeners or readers?
MP: I appeal to listeners always. To me the best literature is oral. I’ve told you already in our last meeting. My teachers were the oral literature of the Balkans and the Byzantine church orators, Chrysostomos, for instance. In France they felt it greatly, one journalist named me the New Chrysostomos. To listen to a well-tempered sentence is like walking through beautiful rooms and halls.
TL: Name a lovely sound to me.
MP: The sound of the violin in music by Mozart or Bach. For me great literature competes in sound with a musical synthesis of Mozart.
TL: Did you study music for a long time?
MP: I was ready to start a career as a violin soloist, when I finally decided to become a writer. I knew by heart the violin concerto by Max Bruch.
TL: After trying various tastes, finally we find the one we like the most.
MP: Our environment, which has already decided for us about some of the tastes in the past, pushes us. We all believe for a moment that what we like, others like too. We think our children will like the same things we do. My father, for example, always believed that I would like to become a good designer.
TL: A great Greek writer, Stratis Tsirkas, said to me once, “I need to find the end of my story, then everything comes along.”
MP: I do not see it this way. I want to let the reader free to enter anywhere he chooses and get out as he pleases.
TL: While you are writing a novel, do you always continue from where you stopped the day before?
MP: No. I never write like this. There are many different levels. Slowly they all fit within a framework. It is very difficult for someone to understand my writing relying only on the mental element. A novel has its own life. [He takes a small, green notebook out of his pocket. He has written something by hand on its cover.] This is my new novel, Last Love in Constantinople. This is how my new novel starts. In this little notebook I write whatever I think concerning the new novel and everything that is worth keeping. Dictionary of the Khazars was a notebook of a thousand pages as well.
TL: Can you copy a phrase of this little notebook onto a blank piece of paper?
MP: Why not? Here you are! Now you’ve got a sentence of my future book. To understand how somebody writes a novel, you must feel the breath of the book. Every single book breathes. A novel is born exactly as a baby is; it is a child, or a human being. This small green notebook is nothing else but the embryo of a future novel.
TL: How do you understand that is breathing?
MP: If you do not want to bore the reader, you have to address mutually different levels of his mind: his intellect, intuition, emotion, imagination, his introvert and extrovert intentions. If you, as a writer, act like that, your book will breathe like a human being or alternatively will put its heavenly letters and human letters in the foreground.
TL: Could a great writer disappear if he is read by untalented readers?
MP: Of course. You have an example in front of you! For a very long time I was among the least read writers in Yugoslavia. This was changed only by the new generation of readers.
TL: And in what way does this new generation differ?
MP: The new generation is capable of listening to my writings. And loving them, because estimation is not important. Jasmina, my wife (she is very young), belongs to this generation. It is strange. Young people consider me as a writer of their generation! The most precise comments on my writings were made by the generation born in the sixties.
TL: Do you mind that I ask questions all the time?
MP: On the contrary. Actually life is interesting because there are questions.
TL: Are there answers for all the questions?
MP: In the world there are more answers than questions.
TL: Does the development of television, of pictures, coincide with the decadence of books?
MP: In my opinion the book is going through a period of decadence and crisis, but the novel is not. If there is something in crisis, it is the way of reading. That is why I try to push the reader to be more active. I found the solution in the other forms of art. I truly believe there are seven muses. All of them together form a strong art! When a muse finds herself in a difficult position, she asks for a solution from the others. The relationship between them is very important. That’s why I searched for the solution among the other arts.
TL: And did you find it?
MP: I do not know. Throughout my research I discovered that some of the seven muses are evolving and others are not. For the moment. Later they change places.
TL: Which ones are the evolving arts at this moment?
MP: The evolving arts at this moment are the ones that allow users to approach them from any one of their different sides. I like to call them reversible arts.
TL: Name a reversible art for me.
MP: Architecture, sculpture.
TL: And a nonreversible art?
MP: Music, literature. I always believed that I would be able to transform literature, which is a nonreversible art, into a reversible one.
TL: All this is brilliant, but it seems to me like a trick.
MP: Tricks are the beginning and the end of the classical novel as well. In the oldest world literature, in oral literature, there is always a new start and always another ending to the narration. Or there is one and the same beginning for different stories. In life you never find such things as the beginning and the end of any story. But in literature it can’t be a trick if the death or life of the hero depends on the way of reading. All these activate the reader. From a passive reader-listener, you transform him to an active one. It requires the reader’s participation in the novels. In one such novel the hero, a lady, falls in love with the reader. So the question is: What will the reader do? That’s the question. Will he respond to her love?
TL: Have you ever been a communist?
MP: I was once asked by a French journalist whether I am a communist, and I replied, “I am the last Byzantine.” He did not publish this answer. He probably concluded it is worse to be a Byzantine than a communist.
TL: Name an insult to life for me.
MP: To destroy everything that you’ve found.
TL: Is this your reaction to what is happening to your country today?
MP: The only thing left for me to do is to build even during the war. Like my hero from The Inner Side of the Wind, who is building while all others around him in the war are destroying everything.
TL: Yet the past is full of wars, and I am afraid that the future will be too. How do you explain that?
MP: There is an old myth that we read often in many books. According to this myth, a human being is a man from the waist up and an animal from the waist down!
TL: Is there any hope?
MP: I do not know if what I will say is the answer, but the fact is that never in history have such a great number of books been read as now. My publishers say I have some five million readers. Many writers have more than I have, of course, but even this number is bigger than the number of soldiers in any army in the world. This means something. Perhaps, these readers, not only mine of course, are an assurance that love will overcome savagery in this world where there is always more beauty than love, always more good novels than we will have time to read in peace and love. Let us for an instant count readers, not voters.
TL: And now the final question: during all these days I observed that only women are around you. Rarely does somebody see a man. Why? Is this a choice or an accident?
MP: Their choice. For me, a woman is a “quality” that needs the male “quantity” to become a piece of art. “He was half of something. A strong, beautiful, talented half of something that was perhaps, even stronger, greater and more beautiful than he. He was, then, the magical half of something magnificent and unfathomable. She was a complete whole. A small, disoriented, not very strong or harmonious whole, but a whole all the same” (The Inner Side of the Wind).