What do you think about the teaching of writing? In university programs?
Donleavy: Well, an author's occupation is using words, using tools that the world uses every day, and that is why authors make wonderful lawyers, for example, and are able to defend themselves. The use of words is so important-in a presidential speech for example, it influences an entire nation. So in fact, a student taking a writing course is doing one of the most important things he will do in his education. They don't have to go out and publish novels. The fact that they have learned to write and use words is the most important thing they will ever do. Everything in the world turns on words. All the world's corporations know this and are very interested in trying to obtain copyrights rather than patents - copyright protection lasts much longer. So IBM and these corporations will try to get writers to write up their patents, to make them creative patents so they can be copyrighted. Authors are throughout all society doing the most important manipulations through the use of words. And a writer can apply himself to all sorts of things, a vast array of businesses. People don't realise how dangerous writers are. Writers don't know it themselves. They are brilliant at law, naturals, they use words, and they can take those words and ruin you.
Q: The word ‘system' recurs incessantly in Cosmopolis. "I'm helpless in their system, I don't understand it' says a character in the novel. Confronted with the system, you always describe people who fight against it. What are your thoughts now about this idea of ‘the system' and its forms of contestation?
DD: Writers must oppose systems. It's important to write against power, corporations, the state, and the whole system of consumption and of debilitating entertainments. And I suppose that in Underworld the idea of ‘loss' became absolutely central, more pronounced than it was in my earlier work. It's not something I anticipated but all sorts of destruction peculiar to American culture found their way into this book, from the baseball game that opens the book, with spectators throwing newspapers, to the end of the book, which concludes with nuclear destruction. For a long time, almost ten years, I collected things, objects in dustbins. It was in the 1970s and I didn't know why I did it. As soon as I saw something abandoned, thrown away, I kept it. And one day I looked at everything I'd accumulated and threw it all out. Two years later I realised how stupid that act had been and I started work on Underworld. Be that as it may, I think writers, by nature, must oppose things, oppose whatever power tries to impose on us. You know, in America and in western Europe we live in very wealthy democracies, we can do virtually anything we want, I'm able to write whatever I want to write. But I can't be part of this culture of simulation, in the sense of the culture's absorbing of everything. In doing that it neutralises anything dangerous, anything that might threaten the consumer society. In Cosmopolis Kinski says, "What a culture does is absorb and neutralise its adversaries". If you're a writer who, one way or another, comes to be seen as dangerous, you'll wake up one morning and discover your face on a coffee mug or a t-shirt and you'll have been neutralised.