Arthur Miller: Red, really, for the blood. I don’t think there’s any other time in history when so many were killed. Murdered by armies, by state forces, and so on. Look at the second world war. Look at Vietnam, Korea, Rwanda, the Balkans… We’re savages. Yet science has achieved incredible feats of imagination within shouting distance of the killing fields. The mind can’t absorb this; we’ve managed to put it aside. The movies get made and the rock music goes on, painters are painting pictures and I’m writing plays and everybody’s going around as though it’s OK.
I don’t think it’s OK. I really do think that there are plenty of motivations available to justify the destruction of this civilisation. MM: What are your feelings for this new centuryAM: I can’t get rid of the idea that it is within the range of possibility for someone in a small boat to bring an atomic bomb into New York harbour, figuring he’s going to go straight to heaven. To me, this is possible. About 50 years ago this could not be thought, except by a lunatic. Certainly a maniac like Saddam Hussein is perfectly capable of justifying this act.
You know, they’re messing around with Israel, which has atomic bombs. And the Israelis are not going to be destroyed before they destroy somebody else. We’re standing on the edge with India and Pakistan. In my plays I search for illumination, but I’ve lost any illusion of safety. I’m not paranoid, it’s perfectly real. You have a billionaire at the end of the Arabian desert pouring money into training people to do this. The point is that they have an ideological and religious justification for the whole thing.
So they’re as reasonable as we are. MM: Yasunari Kawabata, the Japanese writer, said that “the grave is a work of art”. AM: I know a couple in Connecticut who had bought a grave, a space, in a particular small cemetery up in the country, because they liked the view. And it was serious. They wanted the good view. My grandfather asked to be buried in one of the cemeteries in Brooklyn, jam-packed, very crowded, and he asked that he not be buried on the aisle, because he didn’t want people stepping over him to get to where they were going.
He would rather be off in a corner somewhere where nobody would be bothering him. What weird things we are. MM:What death would your salesman affect todayAM: First of all, Death of a Salesman is produced more now than it ever was, and people say it’s more reflective of reality now. In the old days the main character simply represented an extreme to which the majority was remotely connected: now it’s the majority. And, moreover, there’s an interesting thing here.
One of the proposals of Mr Bush is that money be removed, billions of dollars, from the pension funds, to be invested in the stock market at the behest of the owners of such funds. So Bush would make gamblers out of everyone who had not yet tuned into this – people who simply wanted to be reassured that they would not starve in their later years. They want to free up that money so that these people become investors, which is really a nice word for gambling. Now, in the last year the market has lost a substantial amount of its value.
So what would have happened to all these people and their pensions if the government had already done thisMM: We travel from evil to power: forces that deprive man of his dignity and work, impoverished through this dream, through the illusion of wealth, a form of evil in the investment of power. AM: I agree with that. It’s what they’re doing or trying to do, it’s not yet been done, but it could very well happen. They’re trying to make unreal what at least had a certain amount of reality. This spreads unreality into the masses from the smaller class of people who are gambling on the stock market.
MM: And social securityAM: The more detailed you get about this system, the more illusionary, and in many cases the more hallucinatory, it becomes. The big resistance to this new tax proposal – which would give even more benefits to the wealthiest 1% of the population – is coming from a small group of extremely rich people, like Bill Gates, probably the richest man in the world, who object to this proposal on the grounds that it would make them somewhat richer, but reduce the amount of charitable donations. That way it will create a class of heirs who, no doubt, will be idle and unworthy. MM: For the moment they feel secure in their wealth.
AM: They feel that this will cause a degeneration of the system from which they benefited so greatly, and that it will create a class of people who simply stand with a big basket and all the money falls in – who are not necessarily moved to invent or work or do anything else. The question you have to ask yourself is: whence comes this idea From a brand-new president. And I can only imagine that, since he is in the oil business, and the oil business is notoriously predatory – don’t go where the oil is, even if it’s in your bathroom – they figured that their man could extract more money from the tax department.
And to hell with everybody else. MM: Travelling backwards, we could say that art mummifies life. Through mummification, we receive a sense of reality. It’s extremely ironic. AM: Basically, that is what its function is now. It’s just to stop time. You stop time. That massive flow of images that floods every country, with no meaning, no definition – art stops it. Long enough for you to say, “Oh, that’s what the hell it is! ” It gives you a moment of recognition. But all you get is that moment.
If I can generalise from my small experience with younger people, they know something is missing. They’re quite conscious of it. They think – in relation, let’s say, to my work or the work of my generation – that this something once existed. They long for an emergency. An emergency that will give them values; in other words, things you have to do. Ideas you have to understand in order to survive. They don’t have any such ideas. Every idea is something they choose to have or not have. Everything they do is arbitrary. There’s no necessity in anything.
That’s a very common situation now, probably the most common situation, really forced upon us by an apparent culture which throws up an endless string of meaningless images. MM: We’ve reached a state where the communicable world is lost. AM: I don’t know what the reason is, but I do know what the effect is: that economic man is all there is. There isn’t a culture. And I’m wondering whether it was destroyed by the many wars of the last 100 years or so. A religion, for example, which offers itself as a means of dignifying humanity, and blesses, but does not condemn a Holocaust, finally evolves into vapour in the human mind.
Religion in this country is like a football game. People get together in large institutions and cheer the minister. The idea of changing one’s life by turning towards some set of values is very remote. The only value is that we’re all together. That’s the value. We’re all together. We’re all singing together and we’re all praying together. MM: We’re all together on a sinking ship. AM: Yes. The one thing about this country which you can be sure of is that it’s gonna change. That’s the only certainty I know.