Getting a Fix on Nixon

Feiffer on Feiffer, Among Others

Jules Feiffer has moved through several media since he first began cartooning for the Village Voice in its earliest days. His cartoons themselves have moved through the media--they now appear in newspapers and magazines throughout the country [including The Crimson]. And he has moved back and forth from cartooning, to playwriting ["Little Murders"; "The White House Murder Case"], to screenplay ["Carnal Knowledge"]. He keeps on cartooning however, and he was in Boston several weeks ago, following around his new book "Feiffer on Nixon."

He is a wee man, with a cartoon face and cartoon mannerisms: He chews on a dark cigar while conversing, leans back and beams at it. His conversation is peppered with visual terms; he refers frequently to getting a "fix" or a "take" on a subject or a person.

Following are excerpts from an interview with him on many subjects.

Crimson: Are you always looking at people and events around you with the eyes of a cartoonist; turning people into characters and so on?

Feiffer: Always--some of the time. On some level I am, but it's hard to know. Since I began reading I've seen the contractions between the way people speak and the way they acted, beginning with parents and teachers. But I never formalized impressions until I began reading, like Dostoyevsky--"Notes from Underground"--and Chekhov. In them I see "say A, but inderstand BCDE." This is what draws me into the theater and film. It's a way of investigating these contradictions.


Crimson: You mean hypocrisy?

Feiffer: I'm not interested in exposing hypocrisy; but sincerity. Hypocrisy is knowingly deceiving but we have active interests in believing certain things.

Crimson: What do you think will happen if you circumscribe these contradictions accurately enough? Do you think there will be some explosion of self-discovery?

Feiffer: I'm taking these things from what I observe, and no, I don't know if there is any way to fix it. I guess the hope was that the audience would say "Oh, yes, I see. I'll change." But the illusion of the '60s was tell them they are racist and fighting an imperialist war and they'll stop. That proved to be very wrong.

The cartoons are meant to be funny--entertaining and opinionated--propaganda pieces pushing an attitude, hoping in the long run that it will be incorporated into a certain kind of fundamental change. Coordinating a fundamental change of life: the movement is from his take on life to my take.

Crimson: Well, do you see yourself like Daumier, chronicling a whole era?

Feiffer: Oh, God, I was hoping to get through this trip without having someone ask me that question. Well, I don't know any writer who doesn't have fantasies of at least accepting prizes. But if you have accepting prizes in your head, you can't get to the business at hand. The ambition behind work should get purer. In the beginning there is the drive to be recognized. But if you can resist the whole success business you can really realize what you want to do.

But like Mark Twain: he wanted to be some important business whiz and finally that drove him crazy. And Twain didn't even have people like Twain as precedents. It's easy to have a take on the whole success syndrome.

Crimson: Do you think your plays or your cartoons are more "successful"--that is, effective?

Feiffer: Peoples' reactions to my plays are maybe a little stronger. In 1970, for example, when the "White House Murder Case" was being produced, the audience loved it up until Nixon invaded Cambodia. The play is about a Watergate mentality. They're trying to devise a coverup of a coverup in Brazil. I originally wrote it to show the sterility of government and its coldness. But after Cambodia the satire became real. And they stopped coming. But it can be discomfiting and funny at the same time--you know, "This isn't funny" funny.

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