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Thomas Mallon on Impeachment, and Philip Pullman on His Dark Materials

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The New Yorker Radio Hour supported by the Vision Zero Initiative in New York City one in three pedestrian deaths or serious injuries involved turning vehicle vision zero encourages drivers verse to turn slowly and Always Watch for pedestrians cyclists the New Yorker Radio hour supported by anchor. If you've ever wanted to start your own podcast. All you need is thinker. Anchor is a free tool from spotify that lets you create your own podcast and get it hurt everywhere. Start Your podcast with anchor today by going to anchor dot FM SLASH NY radio hour that's anchor dot FM SLASH NY radio hour from one World Trade Center in Manhattan this is the New Yorker Radio hour a CO hoping action at WNYC Studios and the New Yorker Welcome to the New Yorker Radio Hour. I'm David Ramnik as Adam. Schiff the chairman of House Intelligence Committee Committee opened impeachment proceedings last week. He very deliberately invoke the specter of Watergate. These actions will force Congress to consider as it did with President Thank Nixon whether trump -struction of the constitutional congress constitute additional grounds for impeachment. And you can see why shift would want to remind us of those Nixon years. His Nixon had won his second term in a landslide. But over the course of many hearings and much information that was coming to light a very different narrative took hold. Nixon came to be seen as a crook. A man who had put his own interests ahead of the countries and finally he lost the support of senators even in his own party. I don't understand how that president applause or doesn't apply to the trump hearings. We called on Thomas Mallon. Tom's books include Watergate. A novel and historical fiction fiction about Ronald Reagan and George W Bush. Tom Mallon spoke with the New Yorkers. Dorothy wakened in so. I thought you could help us. See this drama through are your eyes. which is there are those of novelist so Watergate in so many ways really was tailor made for novelist what what in specific appealed appealed to you? As you began that work I used to call Watergate claustrophobic epic because you had all of this frantic action in Washington Washington but it was all happening within the space of a few square miles. It played out over more than two years. And you had a cast of incredibly colorful characters complicated characters everybody from these figures of Unexpected nobility ability like Sam Ervin At the Watergate hearings the extraordinary tortured psyche of Nixon Really a tragic figure in my estimation somebody with great political gifts Great really governing gifts. Who's done in by This terrible sense of a defeat and unfairness that he carried around the comic characters from Martha Mitchell to Tony. Lhasa wicks. who was the bag man for some of the money? Any who tells Richard Nixon's white-shoe lawyer Herbert Combat. At one point something not kosher here Mr Comback and all of these quotes all of these phrases that entered the language reminded of some of the some of those phrases lamenting about. We'll let this person twists slowly slowly slowly in the wind Stonewall really enters the political lexicon at that point I'm not a crook. Nixon and my particular favorite which is the limited modified hang out Which is at what that was a general lichtman phrase and this was about how we could? Oh you know B. Halfway honest about the cover up we could admit some things but holdback but a great deal of the Memora- dullness of Watergate the reason it's so memorable is the way I think. The story unfolded and how the public received it. And I think that in many respects just as the characters are extremely different from the ones involved in the trump drama. The conveyance of the story was different. You grow up in a rock ribbed Republican family and you watch the Watergate scandal as a college student. Do you remember your immediate reaction in June one thousand nine hundred seventy two when you learned about the break in at the Watergate Hotel. I don't and I think in a way that's telling because I think very few people would remember it For months it was referred to in the news as the Watergate caper. That was the way it was. It was kind of this very entertaining little off. Shoot of the seventy two. You campaign and Watergate doesn't really explode until early nineteen seventy three. By which time. Nixon had an enormous victory over George McGovern a friend Carrying forty nine states. This candidate who had never felt terribly loved or popular. He had been the vice president for for an extremely popular president. Dwight Eisenhower if you listened to tapes of Nixon receiving congratulations from people on the phone on on election night. Nine hundred seventy to one of the things that most fascinated me from the point of view of a novelist was you can hear that. He's depressed and he's depressed by victory. He did not know how to cope with victory. He had grown so used to combat that he really couldn't Deal with the fact that this was it. He kept up his high approval ratings until early. Seventy three then. They started to fall. What caused that? Well I think the Watergate revelations came very gradually and people began to know that something was really wrong and the other other thing is that the scandal spread things kept turning up the Watergate. Investigations turned up the things that the White House plumbers had done as far back one thousand nine hundred ninety one what John Mitchell. The Attorney General himself privately referred to as the White House horrors and it kept unfolding and people knew that that was going to be more and more and there was this tremendous build up waiting for the testimony of John Dean. You're fully aware gain of the gravity of the charges made under oath against the highest official of our land the president of the United States Damn and being. So where do you still hold on your statement. Yes I do Jim Questions. I I might add this Mr Dash. I realize it's almost an impossible task. If it's one man against the other that I'm up against and it's not a very situation but I can only speak what I know me two facts and that's what I'm providing committee and those hearings were watched by five percent of American households. What is so we know about Dean and there? There was this great character in senator. Sam Irvin who was the chair of the Watergate Committee. Yes I mean. He quoted the Bible. He quoted Shakespeare. His eyebrows went up and down. He had this these enormous bushy eyebrows and they were almost like a second set of hands and he would get very excited. He was Extremely Astute about what was going on and he was very good judge of character and he had these snap ish exchanges sometimes slow. You're paying about Roger Stink German. What calls understand the There really was a kind of cinematic quality to the Urban Harris but one of the things that was essential about urban aside from the fact that he was just fantastic sort of personality just as trump would say radio to central casting. A of an interesting southern senator. He did not come from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party it came from the conservative southern outhern segregationist wing and it was enormously effective to have somebody who was not one of Nixon's typical tormentors. It gave the hearings a certain kind of credibility whereas I think a lot of the public when they look at Adam shift they just see a kind of you know Nancy Pelosi Style California when you liberal and well you know these people are always out to get trump. They were out to get him from day one and of course you have to remember that Irving hearings were a full year before for the Judiciary Committee hearings Impeachment was really not in the air until later and so this is something else chef has going against him he. He has an incredibly compressed timeframe hair given the coming elections in in the fall of two thousand eight hundred twenty And they have to kind of race through this as quickly as possible. Aw Yes The timeline was really quite elongated and that in itself I think aloud things to sink in with the public and to build up up my friend and mentor Mary. McCarthy wrote a little book about The Watergate hearings called the mask of St and Mary wrote the High Points of Watergate. Or the hearings of the Watergate Committee Summer Nineteen seventy-three and the hearings of the House. Judiciary Committee summer. Nineteen seventy four. They made up a gripping serial Israel story that by some freakish chance with seasonal and like a nature myth turned on the phenomenon of rebirth on the flowering of national institutions. That seemed to have died down. But now we're coming back every summer not only in the capital but on TV as a delighted public to again. The characters in that drama in installments were mostly unfamiliar except for the villain whom we had been watching on the box for twenty years but we came to know them like members of the family or old soap opera pals do do these days the days of twitter and Fox News and everything else. Is it possible that we could even if we had all of the great characters that the how far would tune in to these hearings the way they did. Then my answer would be no because what you're really lacking above all. Aw in this aside from the colorful players the bit players the heavies. What you're lacking is the protagonist? Nixon was endlessly fascinating writing. Tragic gifted conflicted mean-spirited generous There was something to grab hold of their. I can't imagine writing a novel with trump as a point of view character just to be rattling around in that great weightless weightless gaseous psyche of his It just doesn't hold reader and as a result. I think it's unlikely in way to hold the public. The public will say we never had any illusions about trump will always knew he was a bad guy. We always knew he was thuggish. That's why we voted for him. We liked victim. That's what his base would say. So you always look for point of view characters and if you were writing the story of the trump impeachment who would that be. Oh I think I would go right to the people who have not kept us from getting to where we are right now. I would go right inside the heads of Lindsey Graham and Ben Sasse and Mitt Romney the Republicans who know better because They cannot be feeling good about themselves and you can Qatar written Oliver Space. And that's absolute CATNIP to a novelist a guilty conscience is the absolute best springboards for fiction that exist Watergate almost has a kind of rhetorical subtlety to it and undramatic. Subtlety to it that this doesn't have this is just a comic book in some ways. So do you think Democrats made the right decision under the wrong decision to focus solely on Ukraine. I mean there's so much information in the report that is sort of trying to guide them toward Lord Possible Obstruction of justice on any number of fronts. It's a hard coal With with Nixon as I said there was a lot of stuff it was a variety steve stuff but they did try to load up the impeachment articles with things like the bombing of Cambodia. And that kind of thing left. Republicans cold so. I think there's a good case to be made for narrowing things to you the most egregious and the most understandable but I don't think it's going to be enough and I do think after after that Consider how this is going to play out. I mean my friend Brenda wine. Apples reason book about the Johnson Impeach. That's Andrew Andre Johnson. Yup back in the eighteen sixties talks about how When Johnson was acquitted by the Senate by one vote by a single vote he basically spun it as a great vindication and to some extent history bought into that imagine given everything we know but trump is show me bloviating liar imagine if he's acquitted in the Senate how he is going to present? Is that that how he's going to talk about it. You know you can just hear him. Now it's the greatest political victory ever seen in the United States. You know it's not GonNa be a a matter of escaping justice. It's going to be this kind of gladiatorial triumph. Thank you so much Tom. Thank you you can find. Thomas Mallon's writing for us at New Yorker Dot Com. He's the author of many books. Most most recently landfall. DOROTHY WORKINGTON is executive editor at the magazine and she hosts our podcast politics and more every week. Stick around because Philip Polman the author of his dark materials joins us in a moment. This is the New Yorker Radio Hour This is the New Yorker Radio Hour. I'm David Ramnik for eight years. Game of thrones was is a critical darling and a huge ratings bonanza for HBO and by the time it ended in May it was the most talked about Sean Television or certainly seemed that way not even six months later. HBO has just launched a new show based on a series of beloved fantasy novels. But this one it's got a lot less nudity and not quite as much beheading show is called his dark materials and it's based on a trilogy of books. Young adult novels by the writer. Philip pullman the world it over in the privilege of scholastic sanctuary among the many fans of those books is the New Yorkers Katy Waldman his materials was first published in the mid nineties And that leads to an easy comparison with J. K.. Rowling Harry Potter books. But Philip pullman concerns are very different from hers. His dark materials is sat in a world parallel to ours and actually occasionally blends into our own world. It stars ars a sprightly spunky heroine named Lyra she has mysterious and unknowable parents. the universe is a patchwork of different fantastical Toco locations and settings. There's kind of a northern sublime worlds that is populated by armored bears. They're are witches. There's steam punk team of scientists It's really wonderful so while. Hbo Is Releasing Series based on his dark materials. Phillip Pullman has just put out a new book set an Lara's World Gerald and that's called the secret Commonwealth so this is the second book of his second trilogy. So if you're counting that's five bucks sat in this universe what's of now Katy Waldman spoke recently with Philip pullman. who was at home in Oxford so to start off the? HBO BBC adaptation of his dark materials. Just started airing You're an executive producer on that show and back in two thousand seven There was a film adaptation of the same book of the Golden Compass. The first spoke of his dark materials. I wonder whether you think that there are any aspects of your work that TV is a medium is particularly well-suited to capture. Well well I think the human drama is GonNa come out well partly because the quality of the actors who are going to have to present it TV A little better in class up. I think than the big movie screen does harm. So the human drama that That works pretty. Well while I'm happy with the story will be told fully in this form whereas it couldn't have been told fully on the stage on the movie screen They're actually will be listeners though. Who are not familiar with The universe of the dark materials and so just to back up a little bit at Sutton a parallel harlow universe to ours. The biggest difference is that everyone soul is manifested. An animal that they can talk with everyone else can see And those animals are called Demons Simmons by on the pronunciation. That's right. Yeah yes in Liars. Will Larry is the main protagonist. She's a girl of about eleven or twelve in liars will everybody has a demon. which is the? I'm part of an aspect of their own self When she's in the form of an animal and it's outside them so that they can they demon can talk to them can look around corners when they wait in the shadows that sort of thing and the relationship between between the human and the demon is is a very and it can't be broken unless by exceptional fossil cruelty or something like that is the whole story that the author of the whole story is really I suppose in one simple sentence about the change from innocence to experience all the change from childhood to growing up and the the demon symbolizes because children's demons can change shape all the time according to what they are feeling the mood it is or are excited they are or whatever whereas in adolescence the power to change gradually fades away and they find one fixed form which they the rest of the human companions life I it was a very it was a very good idea probably the best idea yeah a person's demand there opposite gender right Well most of them are. They seem to be A few exceptions. But they're also things I haven't yet discovered about deems teams. I often get asked for example. Often get us. How demons a bone and by officers will? I haven't had to describe a scene in which that happens. Get better yet demon. Gynecology Mr Jimmy Can you imagine a world of sort of gender fluidity where Demons Change According onto their partners tender. Yeah I can imagine but I haven't had to. Maybe maybe that'll happen in the third book. Maybe you give me an idea on which the whole story will turn so low. Lyra is what in the states. We would call a middle school age age students and I think you taught that age group before you became a professional novelist right. Yeah I taught for twelve years and it was children of that age children between nine thirteen eleven twelve thirteen year olds is a very interesting age because They are just on the cusp of becoming Enter the adolescence and all sorts of things opening out for them. And it's wonderful to see that happening to young children. My my my grandchildren are going through that stage at the moment and again it's very exciting to see your father was a pilot cracked on and he right. Yeah you grew up thinking that he had died in battle. Yeah when I was about seven years old in nineteen fifty not thrill four the British fighting an insurgency as they called it in Kenya The Mamo insurgency and the roots of that lay deepen colonialist history. And it's it's a thing which we certainly now in Britain cannot look back with pride but my father was a pilot and he was involved in The that whole distasteful business. Suddenly his plane crashed and he died. I was very young at the time I said I was six or seven and I was either led to believe came to believe or misunderstood but I ah I thought he'd been shot down in battles e And so to me. He was a great hero. And I it was wasn't until much much later that I realised what he'd really been doing which was effectively dropping bombs on people who had spears. We'll let that complicated the whole thing. And then then I discovered other things about his life and about His relations with my mother which I didn't know about and it was. I am caused me to revise my ideas about a lot of things. Yeah would you characterize that as an innocence lost innocent so I suppose it wasn't a sense because yeah my eyes were opened this the reason I ask It just seems that Lyra. It has a similar experience in the bucks where she starts out in trance by her father and also her mother even though they've kept their distance from her and then over the course of the story she discovers various aspects of them that are less savory she decides to strike her own path. That's right yeah the this is a classic trope. If that's the word I won't in literature. Children read because first thing you have to do. If you're writing a story is to get the parents out of the way They can be the adventure in the story of the parents saying that. Come on Dad's bedtime so you have to. You have to get rid of the parents pretty quickly And that's what happens in this one and of course is in treasure island as in all sorts of classic children's books. Yeah I'd love to actually turn to the secret Commonwealth Commonwealth's first of all what drove you to continue the story. I mean you you actually place the first volume of the book of dust In the passed up before the events of his dark materials but the second one is after. What drew you back to? The World said enough. At least I haven't discovered enough in his materials about dust dust through the capital d.. This mysterious substance essence. Whatever it it is? That seems to pervade the universe which in in the story in our universities cold dark matter dot matters. There is a phrase that fits very well with the line I took from paradise lost how he gave me his dark materials dark matter. Is this invisible Intangible something that's holds the universe from together from flying apart it's grabbing. Its mass is such such that gravity count doesn't let us escape from it but we don't know what it is when I was writing his materials. Oh twenty five years ago more They hadn't yet scientists hadn't yet discovered what it was. I kept my fingers crossed that they would finish the book. Fortunately they still haven't and so the universe is still a very mysterious place. Yeah and there's also kind of maturation of the themes of the earlier trilogy So Lyra and her demon Japan actually part ways and Pan appears to be searching for Lila's lost imagination. Is that right that's right She's twenty. She's as a an undergraduate. She's a she's a reader and she's read Some books which have influenced a great deal but a book by two prominent intellectuals time in her world one of them is a fish rationalist who denies the existence of anything remotely irrational and the other is a kind of post modernist to believes that. There's nothing there's such thing as truth anyway. It's all or whatever we care to believe. And these people are seriously undermined her security their intellectual security and pan things because they've stolen her imagination and he goes. It was up to look for it. I have so many questions about this The first is the idea that the demons are merely psychological productive projections of what what is happening internally. It does bear certain resemblance to cultural analysis that has been generated around your own work. Can I wonder if this is you to engage those arguments within the world up the bucket. Self I spend. Yeah I suppose these two the different philosophies they represent strands of thought that occur in the world the moment With which I profoundly disagree though the first one. The Guy German code gottfried. Brenda is this face. rationalist believes that the only kind of evidence is worth having his scientific evidence. Nothing else is of any use the imagination the world of art poetry and such with a fist contempt. I presented injured. List is being a very Persuasive argument which is Infra celebrity young people who Lara's world including her. Yeah at the end of the the First trilogy you describe Lyra as a wonderful liar with a poor imagination. Do you see a sort of tension there. Yeah now I. I just don't know why I said that at the time I'm beginning to see it now. Her imagination is all in pan. Of course he's all in demon and it's this lack of connection sets the story. I think in the Secret Commonwealth. I mean it's luckily that The conceit of the demon. I'm and allows you to posit sort of a vision of cell phone as a dialogue between different parts of this off you know that there's always multiplicity to true. I mean to be to be more accurate. I suppose I should have about her ten thousand demons for each human being because because we didn't consider just two parts but I'm to quite enough to manage story. Yeah I'd love to go back for a second to WHO LYRA and pens so to speak Conscious uncoupling goodness era whereas goodness paltrow panels. Whatever husband's name was really funny going on? Where were you consciously sort of framing a metaphor for our adult struggles goals to use our imaginations? Oh Yeah But mainly can send to see what had caused it and what was going to happen as a result and how they were going to Find each other again. I'm you you you. You don't realize all the metaphorical implications of what your what your rising motel tailing story. It's sometimes best if you don't spill some for readers to pick up for themselves and sometimes they have a better explanation than new and of course if they come up with an exclamation but Is Creditable I'm happy to claim responsibility for The we do. We didn't always know what we're doing. Until you story the A novelist Philip pullman. He spoke with the New Yorkers. Katy Waldman the adaptation of his dark materials has just come out on. HBO and Pullman New Book is called the Secret Commonwealth Commonwealth. That's The New Yorker Radio Hour for this week and I hope you will join us next time. We've got an extraordinary story. It's about a young woman who into the darkest reaches of the White Supremacist Movement and came back out again. That story from the New Yorkers Andrew Ramps at the New Yorker Radio Hour is a CO production of WNYC studios and the New Yorker our theme music it was composed and performed by Merrill Garbis tune yards with additional music by Alexis Grata. 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