Novelist Jerzy Kosinski, on what he called a "blind date" with the Harvard Law School Forum audience, told over 200 persons assembled in Langdell Hall last night the biggest problem in writing a novel is deciding what is typical and what is not.
The Polish-born Kosinski, a National Book Award winner in 1969 for his novel "Steps," said he was honoring the Forum audience with his third public appearance since burrowing into his apartment four months ago to work on his eighth novel, leaving only to "eat lunch in a restaurant and for Operation Sail."
Speaking anecdotally about his sense of the bizarre, and often interrupted during his 55-minute talk by laughter, Kosinski turned news clippings he had assembled into events filled with black humor.
"Who should introduce the President on the nation's 200th birthday?" Kosinski asked. "A scientist, a hero, a poet perhaps? No. Charlton Heston," he said.
His only political reference of the evening was to Jimmy Carter's recent revelations in "Playboy" magazine. Carter said in an interview he had committed adultery in his heart. "Why had Carter given his first recorded comments about sex to a magazine that philosophically and probably technically excluded women?" Kosinski asked.
"Typical? No. But if I wrote a novel about this people would say, 'You crazy foreigner!'" He added, "Things that start out as marginal soon become idiosyncratic" and thus worth writing about.
Kosinski, who came to the United States in 1957, said that one of the big problems about writing in America is that it is so big and open that there seem to be no limits to effectively guide the artist.
He said that the pursuit of fiction is the question of what is original. Kosinski said he had once written a blurb for one of his books that later turned up as a blurb for an unrelated movie. He called the offending parties to sue, but was told that the expense involved was not worth his time.
Later, Kosinski said, he attended a Hollywood cocktail party where he was accosted by a successful screenwriter who knew his work and was invited to the man's home. There the screenwriter showed him file boxes of scenes, all purloined from different books. Kosinski had met the man who had stolen his blurb.
"What do you do?" asked the novelist. "Do you kill the man? No. You look in his file."