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Title: Oral History Interview with Robert Coles, October 24, 1974. Interview B-0002. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Coles, Robert, interviewee
Interview conducted by Hall, Jacquelyn
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Kristin Shaffer
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2008
Size of electronic edition: 128 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2008.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2008-00-00, Wanda Gunther and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2008-01-03, Kristin Shaffer finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Robert Coles, October 24, 1974. Interview B-0002. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series B. Individual Biographies. Southern Oral History Program Collection (B-0002)
Author: Jacquelyn Hall
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Robert Coles, October 24, 1974. Interview B-0002. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series B. Individual Biographies. Southern Oral History Program Collection (B-0002)
Author: Robert Coles
Description: 157 Mb
Description: 36 p.
Note: Interview conducted on October 24, 1974, by Jacquelyn Hall; recorded in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Joe Jaros.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series B. Individual Biographies, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with Robert Coles, October 24, 1974.
Interview B-0002. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Coles, Robert, interviewee


Interview Participants

    ROBERT COLES, interviewee
    D'ANN CAMPBELL, interviewer
    JACK ROPER, interviewer
    BEVERLY JONES, interviewer
    CLASS MEMBER, interviewer
    JOHN KASSON, interviewer
    JOEL WILLIAMSON, interviewer
    TOM RANDOLPH, interviewer
    DERRICK WILLIAMS, interviewer
    JACQUELYN HALL, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
ROBERT COLES:
…. tapped as a method, were somewhat tongue in cheek, not that I'm trying to be facetious or condescending, but I never thought of any of this work as tied up method, I just looked upon myself as someone who was interested in meeting some people and in someway getting to know their lives. Now, the people that I look up to were not Sigmund Freud or … I mean, I don't look up to him, but people that I look up to in the course of this work are people like James Agee and Orwell, maybe with a touch of Flannery O'Conner, although she was certainly not a field worker, she would think better of herself than that, and Simone Weil, if any of you know some of her efforts as a "sinner" on this planet. So, I'm not very strong on methodology as it is called, and I wouldn't even mind if they tore this whole building up, to tell you the truth and put it …. [Laughter] … it's such an ugly building, to be blunt. It's kind of the whole rotten thing about the social sciences. I would be in favor of the return of the social essay. The old social essay, literate, the best that one can within the God-given limits that we all have to bear as our cross, and by that, I mean the tradition of a novelist like Charles Dickens in the nineteenth century, the essays of those writers who have been concerned with

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others. Now, I come from the town of Concord, which is out of Boston, maybe some oral history could be done these days of what is going on in Boston, by some southern observers who might go North and do their fieldwork. And if they were to do that, I would hope that they would not neglect the town of Concord, which is where I live, which is, where you know, where they have generated such a glorious tradition of literary excellence. And if you would look at Hawthorne, Emerson and Thoreau, the last of those three such a hero to college youth in the past decade, you would see the exquisite development of the rural, rustic, bucolic tradition. These were the abolitionists of the most refined and high, "upstage" is the word that one hears people using in the old days … "upstage." I just had a long talk with Mrs. William Carlos Williams, and she said that her husband never liked "upstage" people. "Upstage people" are … well, you know in Chapel Hill what "upstage" people are. It's a very "upstage" town … but she … now, the "upstage" people in Concord were waving their finger at the South all the time and meanwhile there were textile mills, the ancestors of your mills. Those Yankees, you know, whenever they run into trouble, they move elsewhere. And first they waved their finger at the South for a hundred years, meanwhile getting the railroad rates fixed in their favor, and then when that failed to work and the railroad rates were readjusted and unions came, they moved their factories to … what do you call it, the Piedmont? And here we are, or they are, or all of us are. And in any event, notably absent in the Concord literary Mafia's tradition is an examination of the textile mills in Lawrence and Lowell, which are towns within thirty miles of Concord. No novelist in the Dickensian tradition, even like Dostoevsky might have done, was venturing up to Lawrence and Lowell to look at those mills. They were either looking at Lake Walden, which is fine for us who are students, or they were waving their finger at the South, the "bad South." It's always nice to

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have bad people far away. It reminds me of what can happen, like one can be in favor of ending police brutality in Paraguay, but not give the time of day to a guy that's handing one a towel in the athletic building, who's a man that one could describe as being, say, an Irish or Italian working man that is just giving you a towel, you don't say, "Thank you" to him, because your mind is obsessed with police brutality in Paraguay or with the readings of Chairman Mao or how bad it is in the South, to which we have to go and bring our energies so that we can say "them," ….
"Them" is a title of a novel by Joyce Carol Oates …another novelist who does not come from Concord and who has paid attention to migrant farm workers and others in a most exemplary way. Now, what would her methodology be? What is the methodology of an Orwell? I don't know. They have eyes, ears, look, listen, think, write down, come to terms with, understand, write up, write about, go into, try to set forth, listen to, speak about … I mean, we can go on and on until get disgusted and leave. But I think in truth, that it seems to me there is a tradition for this that would antedate the existence of a machine that has batteries in it. Now, if science has come to the point that its being is a function of a machine and its absence is related to the human head, which incidentally devises these machines, then we are in a sorry state … which we certainly are, I can tell you, in the social sciences. And it has been source of confusion and dismay to me that when I talk about my tape recorder in interviews, I am immediately granted attentive ears and focuse eyes and a great deal of respect. If I talk about people whom I have met and am saying something about, then the question comes up, "Well, what is this? Is this impressionistic?" … by the way, the ultimate condemnation … "or is literary observation or mere journalism?" These characters with their

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protocols and their interview forms, going around asking people to check things off. They talk about "mere" journalism. Well, I suppose that we could get journalism of the "let us now praise famous men" caliber, then we would certainly be able to do away with this building, which would be, I repeat for about the tenth time, one of the more helpful moments, I would suspect, in the history of your town. I would put in a strong plea for the capacity of the human mind, heart and soul to respond to others and to make sense of that and I would hope that we not become captives of tape recorders and all of that stuff. And I would hope that we have the courage of ourselves so that we don't feel necessarily objective, whatever that means, objectivity being a form of subjectivity I hope that you all realize all this neutral stuff that psychiatrists and other pain in the neck phenomena of American life has fostered on us as a secular religion, neutrality, objectivity, impartiality, value free, this and that, numbers, forms, questionnaires. Let's have a study and have the courage to tell those people waving around these questionnaires to go and do something with it. That is a form of liberation, I assure you, that has not yet emerged on the American political scene, but there is always hope, believe me, even regardless of times. Any questions on this cantankerous, snotty presentation?
D'ANN CAMPBELL:
I couldn't agree with you more, but in our classwork, trying to handle this curious instrument called a tape recorder, and there are just some things when I was reading your book that I was curious about. Number one, did you find the migrant sharecroppers or mountaineers reacted any differently as a group to the tape recorder? Did you find that since this Watergate business has come up that you are getting a different reaction now than you have in the past, and do you think that since you sort of started this whole thing in 1964, and more people are quoting their interviewees

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directly, that you might stick in more quotes instead of editing it? You know, at the time, you said that we wouldn't understand their jargon and it would distract the reader, but since more and more people are trying to put in quotes, is this something that you would utilize in your work on the Chicanos or your other future work?
ROBERT COLES:
Well, I feel that I ought to tell you that I started using the tape recorder because I thought that if I didn't use it, it wouldn't be scientific, it would be based on what I felt I ought to do to be able to continue to do this work. But I was never a great enthusiast of the tape recorder per se. I have tape recorded, I know it, because there are certain people whom I've grown to know and like and I thought it would be nice to be able to listen to them sometimes. I don't think that I have ever learned anything from the use of a tape recorder that I haven't learned much earlier from just being with the people. I do not lug a tape recorder around as part of my work, I should tell you. I do believe very strongly in the Bible and particularly the serpents and doves admonition that Christ gave us, so I'm not beyond guile and this … I am certainly willing to talk about tape recorded interviews knowing that many of the interviews are not tape recorded, in order to persuade anyone that I might be worried about that I am scientist. But I am getting increasingly fed up with that and I am glad to be in a position to feel strong enough to be fed up with it. You can read in between those lines whatever you wish. I hope you'll take a very jaundiced view of my insincerity. But I don't think there has been any difference, because I haven't really used the tape recorder as a constant part of my life. What I have done is gotten to know these people. And what they are therefore impressed with is me, a pain in the neck doctor who they can't quite figure out and who, believe me, at times

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can't quite figure himself out, notwithstanding all the apparent coherence of those books, which I do not mean to decry per se, but simply indicate that behind the book is confusion and turmoil as well as brilliant insights. And one is entitled to that. I suppose that you don't want to undercut yourself to the point that no one reads your book, which has to do with style. I'm not going to publicly acknowledge that I'm a damned fool. I don't really think that I am a damned fool, as a matter of fact, but I do think it is absurd to invest in people that write these books a kind of brilliant, knowing, day-to-day-confident-this-and-that-formulated-thought-out thing which distinguishes them from the craziness of the writer.
Now, Faulkner, how did he get it all on paper without a tape recorder? And believe me, with word for word accuracy. Word for word. He is something that kept what came in and it came out through the hand holding a pen, or maybe the typewriter, another gadget. Word for word, if he had had a tape recorder, it doesn't make any difference if there is a tape recorder or there isn't a tape recorder. A retentive memory with a … maybe Piaget could tell us something about Faulkner's cognitive development. Well, that is a curse, to be interested in someone's cognitive development. I'd much rather be Faulkner pouring out the words, but you know not everyone is gifted that way. Now, look, I'm not going to say that I haven't carried a tape recorder and put things down, but never, never as a primary source of being with some people. And I again urge upon you, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Down and Out in London and Paris, The Road to [unknown], these are pre-tape recorder documents in the history of western civilization. always of course, improving itself. And someone, that Agee, even with bourbon in his mind, or maybe because of bourbon in his mind and head, was able to go there into that little county located between Birmingham and Montgomery and he picked it all up. It's all there, what goes on between

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the people. Now, you say, "I want the literal word." O.K., no one is saying that you shouldn't have that, but I would think that the last thing that any of us would want to do in going to visit people is to behave in a crude an uncivilized way. I am urging civility in my pompous, smug way. And I mean civility, not … you see, the whole damn profession of psychiatry has been based on unmasking and tearing down civility, tearing down those day to day adjustments that we all have to have with one another in the interests of these group therapy-sensitivity training things where people strip themselves in order to lose all these so-called inhibitions so then a kind of truth will come out. Well, what truth? The banal truth that we are all a bunch of murderers and cut-throats, rapists and God knows what? What we find out from that and therefore what distinguishes us, it seems to me, ought to be somee willingness to behave ones self and therefore when one goes up a mountain hollow or goes into a migrant camp or goes to visit some people in a log cabin, I think they are entitled not to be suddenly confronted with this machine and someone pressing that Sony thing and "Wait a minute, testing, testing …" "Would you mind saying something? I'll say something." For what? Now, if one falls in love with someone and hears a lovely voice and hears some words and spends a number of months with a person and says to the person out of friendship and camaraderie, "Look, I would like to have something. Would you just mind, would you put up with me, having put up with me all this time, put up with me in one more way …" Is this being tape recorded? … "with one more way." Then, o.k., but to drag this thing around in the name of some mixture of Freud and Oscar Lewis and I don't know who else, and the New History and the latest psychology as, you know, part of these ugly windows and this terrible building, then I think, nonsense, really.
D'ANN CAMPBELL:
Well, when I was going over, I did an interview, and then I would listen ….

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ROBERT COLES:
You talked with someone.
D'ANN CAMPBELL:
Yes, I talked with someone and the recorder was on. And I just wrote down a lot of the things. And when I got back, by just re-listening, some of the things he said, I just sort of got in the entire mood again. There were two or three things that I forgot that we had even mentioned.
ROBERT COLES:
O.K., well, you're right.
D'ANN CAMPBELL:
I just wondered if you use it like that?
ROBERT COLES:
Well, you're right, this is something. But I guess … here's my feeling on that. I grant you that. There's no doubt about that. There's no question about that, but first of all, I spent a number of months, even years with these people, and my feeling is this … and I used to feel this when I was a resident in psychiatry, I would go in to see these supervisors and eventually I would learn to lie to them, because it was such a pain in the neck and they would want all these things, but anyway, you go into the area, and they are always trying to get you to recover, you know, more, more and get it out, and "you're blocking it." I think that people are entitled to have you not know something until the moment comes for you to know it. You see, and then when that moment comes, you won't forget it. And maybe if you know it before then, then that's not what you … I don't think that it will be in the form of the way you want to know it and they want to tell it to you. Now, this sounds a little mystical, I hope it does, because I believe that what we need is a little foggyness in this world. You know, John Sing aside, let's not focus in too clearly in all of this, let's have a little fog. All these precisions, you know, that's artificial too. Life is not precise. Life, as Flannery O'Connor said, is a matter of mysteries and manners. It is a matter of ambiguity, confusion, contradiction, inconsistency and any effort

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to make life consistent is a fraud. It is not consistent and it never will be. Consistency is not a virtue, it is an impossibility in this world. This is an ambiguous and confused life, all mental processes … to use the word … are confusing and should be and I think that one is entitled to be with a person and not to notice things until they make you notice them. Or until you notice them. And therefore you and they are coming to something through one another. And if you take it, if you run it this way, I would call it, if you would pardon a little sexual symbolism, or some kind of symbolism, gynecological symbolism, it is "abortive." It is abortive because it is a … there is a pace and rhythm to way that people get on. I think that Henry James would tell us that, even if he is a conservative politically. He might know a few things that, if you will pardon the expression, Kurt Vonnegut doesn't know. And how about a little slow, mystifying, ambiguous, circular things, and then finally, some recognition? And I think that we come to that with one another. There is no mystery in this. We all know how we footsie around with one another until we get to know one another a little better and then we begin to understand something and then it becomes clearer and clearer. O.K., we are scientists, we are observers, we do need to know. And I know that I'm being very …going overboard in being a bit cranky and a bit difficult, but if anything, I really feel … I don't think that it's just a matter of being fortuitous and pulling your legs, I think that if any thing, we need a stress in that now.
Because the direction is going into something else. This field is going to become as instutionalized as all those dull, pain in the neck historians that we all can't stand, we're sitting there going over the diaries of the nobles of the fifteenth century and their mistrisses, called ladies-in-waiting or whatever. I mean, there is the same tendency. All institutionalized developments have this sinful

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side to them. Jeremiah 8 or 9 talks about the brutishness of knowledge. And we are capable of that with that machine and with what we will do with it and we will start getting as arrogant as the next guy. First of all, we will mark those we are rebelling against, where they are a pain in the neck. I know some of them, you all do, and I agree with you, some of you who may have that feeling. Then it will go into something else and we will start getting into techniques, just the way you got this guy in Vienna who was kind of a little nut saying, you know, God, and he came up with all these ideas. He in one moment, called it "a mythological theory of instincts." That's what Freud said about the twenty-four volumns, the basic writings. And the next thing you know, there's this international Messianic movement with organizations and accreditations and it goes on and on. Well, that is the way it will flesh. And that is what happens as things get into something else. Well, O.K., you can say, "We've got to do that. We've got to correct against madmen and anarchists and kooks and everything else. We've got to get discipline, rigor." And after all, this is a university, God save us, we know that, and there has to be a program PhD. in this and LSMFT and everything else, and get all this going … well, of course, but that isn't, if you will excuse the expression, what has that got to do with human existence? It has to do with an ark of human existence. I don't think that a migrant should be held responsible for all that. I think that if you want to go and talk with some migrants moving up here from their way to Lake Okeechobee to the great state of Maine, and picking some tobacco leaves in the eastern part of North Carolina near Wilmington, you are entitled to go there and spend a few weeks without a machine and they began to understand a few things about yourself and and maybe feel very awkward and nervous and maybe even acknowledge some anger

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toward those people. No one acknowledges anger toward migrant farm workers who is a card carrying liberal. No one has said that they are a pain in the neck and they drive me out of my mind and they won't say anything and furthermore, at times they are even arrogant with me, in their own way. And hospitable and crude. Crudity cannot be acknowledged among migrant farm workers. Only among working class whites, like Archie Bunker. You have a question?
JACK ROPER:
Yes sir. I think I see a deeper confusion than you do, because I would like to dispense with a lot of the institutional repression that you are talking about, but it strikes me that there is something in human beings, apart from machinery and institutions like state universities, which is repressive too, because, you know, you go in and you see these people and you make, I assume, a very sincere effort to talk with them and know something about them and give them something of yourself and have an experience which should be better for both of you, and then you write a book, which is an institution, and the book is written to make other people aware of these people that we ignore. But, I am assuming that you are hoping that we will get some institutions cranking up to go see about them. Or is your goal more or less just … you don't want us just to know that there is a plight out there, you want us to do something about the plight.
ROBERT COLES:
Right.
JACK ROPER:
Well, this is a philosophical problem for me, because I see nothing but chaos, misery and tragedy in the world and my own ways of coping with that are repressive, you know, I put those on somebody else. So, where do you or I get off trying to tell somebody else what to do about his problems?
ROBERT COLES:
Well, I would suggest, if I may be presumptious, that you don't

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only see chaos and misery, that you also see nice things, and you know some nice people and there are times when you feel that you are not exactly the worst person in the world, and anyone who is sitting here going through what you are going through and describing it, clearly is not a murderer or a thief, in a way, I mean, you know, you have a conscience and you worry about the world and you worry about this. So, that also has to be pointed out. Now, as far as what I do, I do this in order to make … yes, to write books, I do it not only to make other people hopefully understand a little, to help them to understand, I also do it in order to advance my person … I do have some need, if you want to call it need, I want to write. I've always wanted to do that. If a psychoanalyst gets great pleasure in going into my mother and father and all that as basis for it, so be it. I can only pray for their souls, but that would be one part of it. And the other part of it is I do it to feather my cap for a writer to get books … I mean, as a personal … and you can go into all those words, egoism, narcissism, you know, and it goes on and on, which is certainly part of this. Drive, need, all those words. I would hope that there is a political dimension to this, it isn't only a matter of understanding, it is a matter of political and social change. One is interested in seeing these things lead to a social revolution, maybe even. God forbid, even the end of the existing system. So, there's that ….
JACK ROPER:
I would be interested in a social revoltuion, too, but I just don't want to see another person get hurt because of some idea that I have allegiance to. I'm just sick of doing that.
ROBERT COLES:
Well, you're right and many of us who worry about the difficulties are not the kinds of people that lead the Long Marches or maybe even start the American Revolution. We're not the ones that go dumping tea or … to make this a respectable conversation … we are not the ones that go dumping tea

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in the Boston harbor. We are the ones who write pamphlets at best. Or books. As far as the Nixon tape thing, there are many people in this country who aren't interested in the Nixon tape thing. They don't read Anthony Lewis in the New York Times I assure you. They are not particularly interested in what the New Yorker or the New York Review of Books, the New Republic or whatever has to say about the Watergate business. In fact, they haven't got the slightest interest in Watergate at all. Most of the people that I have worked with would fall in that category. What they are interested in is the fact that it is very hard to buy food now, because it is getting higher and higher and the dam bills are getting worse and worse, and many of them are having to worry if they are going to lose their jobs and many of them have never had very many jobs. And they are not going through what we are going through, namely, you know, reading the transcripts and this Daniel Ellsberg, who to them, I assure you, is a non-descript, isn't known at all. And they are not thinking about, "Well, gee, I read this guy in So-and-So Journal, and oh, my, I really think that he has got it right on."
D'ANN CAMPBELL:
What I mean was maybe a fear even more. Hearing that somebody had been taped, and you know, this ….
ROBERT COLES:
No fear that I have seen, yet, really. No fear. Fear of, not particularly me initially, although … fear of where the hell this is all going to end. I mean, with their own lives. You know, when you are facing the very real fears that these people are living with in Appalachia and among the sharecroppers in Mississippi, among tenant farmers, among migrants, among urban working class people, worrying about, you know, "Will I get there in time? Will I be docked ten minutes? Five episodes of this and I lose my job even by the union contract." With those kinds of fears, you know, one doesn't have to worry about this kooky doctor and his machine. I mean, he's on whatever trip he's on,

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but believe me, there are other things to be worried about.
And Nixon is Nixon. We all know about him, we all know what he is. Working class people of this country, even if they did betray the Democratic party for good reasons, some of them felt in '72 at least … going into these endless discussion of who they voted for and why the act of voting, if one does it, is an act and then is followed, you know, by something else. I read the voting poll and it's at 7:30 at night, by the way, I'm not showing up at 2:30 in the afternoon, like they are in Chapel Hill, but you know, 7:30 at night … or Concord or Cambridge, let's put this Ship of Fools together … but anyway, you know, the question is what am I going to do? I've got to go home, I'm exhausted, you know … will I eat before or after, I've got to go to bed and the next morning at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning, up … get up in the morning without a tape recorder and watch the traffic in the cities. At 6:30. Watch those cars, the pre-suburban traffic. We are so obsessed with Watergate and Haldeman and Sirica and that is a class privilege of ours. That part of our lives. The members of the so-called upper middle-class intellectual community ….
BEVERLY JONES:
I was wondering whether any interviewees refused to talk to you because of your color, if your color had been an obstacle in trying to get information?
ROBERT COLES:
I would answer that this way. I think my color has been an obstacle and a help, depending on the people, but not by race necessarily. And here I would be on … I'm sorry to put it this way, but this is the only way that I could do it. There are some black people that can talk to me better than they would have to a black person, there are some black people that didn't talk to me as well as they would a black person. There are some white people

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who talked to me because I was a Yankee, in ways that they wouldn't have, and then you can take all the variables … I think that there are some white people who would have talked to a black psychiatrist different than they would have to a white psychiatrist, you know, the variables are endless. I do not feel, at the risk of simply sounding absolutely arrogant, which I think that I've already proven anyway in the last half an hour. I don't feel that being white cut me off from much, from enough of the human experience that ultimately went on between me and the people I met, to the point that it is worth as much of the rhetorical attention that I think it's given. Now, obviously, I have a vested interest in saying that and therefore may be defensive and may also be blind and unknowing, and maybe rationalizing whatever it is that went on between me and the people. I felt that in many of the black homes that I got to be part of for awhile to a different degree, things went on that I found interesting, illuminating, frustrating, annoying, the whole range of human experience, and if it had been different for another person because he was colored, I have to put that in a larger context too. Then, each of us, regardless of color, elicits from other people things based on who we are apart from color, as well as, of course, including that color. Because as we all know, color is only one dimension of what we are as human beings. Some of us behave X way, some of us behave Y way, some of us have this quality in us, some of us have that quality in us and these things register with different people depending on who they are and therefore the interactions … one will have to fall back on that horrible word … are various and enormous and almost limitless, thank God. And anything else that I can tell you, that corrals them and puts them under catagories, A, B, C … whether the catagory be racial,

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psychological types or whatever, I think runs the risk … I think that it actually runs more the risk, but at the minimum, runs the risk of what all catagorizations run. Namely, not doing justice to the variousness of what we are all about. Now, now question, in New Orleans, they were all black children that we first started working with, going to visit, bothering. One can use all these words … intimidating, flattering … I mean, you know, there's a whole gamut of things that went on. They were different. The talk, the presence or absence of any child, the conversations, the amount of emotions, the voices, all of those things were different. But they were different, to some extent there was a racial dimension, but also there was a dimension of different kinds of people and hitting it off differently. We all know that we have friends and we know that there are some people that we get along with and some people that we don't and there are certain kinds of people that we tend to hit it off with better than other kinds of people, and indeed, there are certain kinds of people that we never hit it off with. And that's an element in this too. I don't mean to deny that for a Yankee, white, middle-class, arrogant, presumptious shrink, you know, that that doesn't bring into a black, working-class, or maybe if you would, an extremely poor and vulnerable home, you know, something going on there. But I will let you in on a secret that my wife, who is not a trained social scientist, in fact, was a school teacher, teaching English in the ninth grade and had no experience other that … is that thing still going or … well, I don't give a damn … [Laughter] … she, in one black family in New Orleans, we would come in there and we would say, "Hello" and then they would sit and look at television and ignore us, which vaguely offended me and also I thought was a challenge to my technique. In mean, there must be some way, as you know, of communicating with them. So, I had to become inventive

Page 17
and I had to bring up this and bring up something and they would answer monosyllabically, and finally, my wife said, "Why don't you just shut up and watch television with them?" [Laughter] So, we watched television and then went to a bar and drank afterwards, to deal with our frustrations. And then we drank with them, they invited us once and after a number of weeks, they invited us to come and have supper and we all got more than a little loaded. I didn't write this up in the methods chapter … [Laughter] … because I know how sober social scientists are supposed to be. So, we got a little drunk, and that was methodologically helpful.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Dr. Coles, a couple of things about your book that I really, every time I've read them, they disturbed me and I tried to understand them. A few things, one is that it is very obvious all the way through the book that you are arguing … I mean, you use these apologetic quotation marks whenever you use the jargon, but you keep using the language. Your profession also seems, which amazes me, to be very impressed with your work.
ROBERT COLES:
Really, you think so?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes, I think so.
ROBERT COLES:
Psychiatry?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Maybe not. [Laughter]
ROBERT COLES:
Well, it's nice to hear that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Maybe from another, from a different profession it looks more successful than within yours.
ROBERT COLES:
Right.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But you don't seem to get very, you don't seem to be attacked for not being scientific and being impressionistic.
ROBERT COLES:
Oh, I've had a touch of that. I've had people refer to this as

Page 18
journalism. They feel that it is an insult. I see that, and I've heard that it is impressionistic, which I also consider a compliment, but you are right, I haven't been seriously destroyed by any of this, but I haven't had any intentions, I don't know what … I'll tell you my feelings about psychiatry, I think that it's an interesting phenomenon out of the twentieth century and I'm all for anyone talking with anyone where it will work and help, and there are some very fine people who call themselves psychiatrists, who in turn talk to other people who call themselves patients, there would be quotes around all these words, as you know, I mean, in books … and I think that's fine. My feeling about … I learned a lot in ways, there is a kind of a quarrel with a lot of the junk, not only in psychiatry, but in all the social sciences, the jargon, the abstractions, the arrogance that we are all capable of, maybe my worries about this are worries based on my own arrogance and maybe not maybe, but actually ….
JACQUELYN HALL:
Your commitment to that profession is ….
ROBERT COLES:
Well, my commitment is not to psychiatry, my commitment is to ….
JACQUELYN HALL:
But to the extent that you are willing to keep arguing, to keep trying ….
ROBERT COLES:
Yes, that's a form of commitment, yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You don't just step outside of it altogether and write for a different audience.
ROBERT COLES:
No, and there is no doubt that when I write about the children, I am … and their drawing and all, that I am a child psychiatrist. I mean, there is that element in my life and it is part of my being. But then I worry about this, that people will give this work respect not because the work itself is respected, but because I am a child psychiatrist, whereas if James Agee went

Page 19
and did this, they would say, "Oh, isn't that interesting, well, he was a kind of a very, very interesting guy." And then there is that kind of ultimate mixture of insult and compliment, they say, "Oh, isn't he intuitive?" Well, more psychiatrist should be that intuitive. But there is that commitment, yes. There is [unknown] but after all, these are not pretty subjects and maybe an occupational hazard is involved in it, there's anger. But I'm not apologizing for anger. I certainly don't feel that I need to go into analysis again to get the anger worked out, nor do I need to go through group session to discuss it so that it will disappear, I think that we ought to "treasure these problems" that we have. We ought to treasure some anger, some nastiness, a little bit of bile occassionally, a little bit of cynicism, along with whatever affection and feelings that we have. I can only beseech … how many of you have read … since this is oral history … how many of you have read Let Us Now Praise Famous Men? So, there is an element of that, good.
CLASS MEMBER:
We are all southerners.
ROBERT COLES:
All southerners. You know, the South has been brutalized highly by Yankee abolitionists and by … one of the nice things that I find about the South in the early 60's was that it was a little bit behind the times. It wasn't quite as taken up with psychiatry and social science as some of the northern places, but of course, that's all been abandoned now. Witness this building. My brother taught English here for awhile, and they didn't have this building, I don't think, then. But of course, he's a Victorian scholar, hoplessly out of tune. A few of those Dickens novels coming out of American social science would be a rather great acheivement, not to mention Zola and ….
CLASS MEMBER:
Balzac?
ROBERT COLES:
Balzac, yeah.

Page 20
JOHN KASSON:
One thing that I, in reading Children of Crisis and talking about it with students of history, what I have noticed is, how much the context of history is, that if you are going to understand these people, that they didn't see themselves in terms of any macro-history or any ideological forces, and also that they reflect upon themselves, relations to their parents, their grandparents, their children, or even the children they may have ….
ROBERT COLES:
That's right.
JOHN KASSON:
Even the hypothetical children. Do you find that this is true .. I find that enormously interesting, fascinating, and as a historian, very distrubing, because it meant for me, in a sense, that within a sort of history that I study, there is, in fact, this myriads of little histories going on all the time which can be related to these larger generalizations only a very … perhaps only peripherally, tangentially. Perhaps you can only say, "Well, that's your child psychiatrist coming out, but I think more that that, and I wondered if you found that true in your other work?
ROBERT COLES:
Well, I'll tell you what I'm doing now. I'm working on my last two lines of this set, megalomanical research projects … but the fourth volumn will be on Chicanos, Indians and Eskimos, and the last volumn, I haven't got a name for it and if you could figure out a name, I would really appreciate it, it's about the kind of middle-upper-middle class people that I have met all through this work. The plantation owners, the lawyers, in the suburbs ….
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
ROBERT COLES:
…. literary unconsciousness with shrinky … all this other stuff. So, and although I have been involved in a number of political things, I don't think that my mind is especially political … and maybe it's not

Page 21
historical in the way that you would think of it. And therefore, I probably just don't remark on things and don't even get things that I would get if I had different interests. I cannot and don't want to get out of myself as a child psychiatrist … I mean, I am generally interested in children. I not only like them, but frankly, think I'm more like … I went to the store in a shopping center to get some presents for my children and now, I like these toys. Apart from buying them for my children, I am intrigued by them and like to play with them and do all that. And I love drawing with the children. It's not a question only of getting them to show me something, I sit down on the floor and sit and draw with them. I draw and they draw and I show them what I've done and they show me what they have done and we go through this little thing and then we play with games and I, you know, enjoy that. So, there isn't time for me to get into some of the things that I would get into if I weren't spending all my time with the children. That's part of it. Doing this "futzing around", as somebody called it. Now, since I'm also an "intellectual", trying to make sense of this, I draw conclusions and make observations, generalizations, formulations, write-ups, analyses, commentary, all that stuff. But you can't avoid, with upper-middle-class children, even if you are a perverse character like me, you can't avoid noticing those sense of what you are talking about. Because they really do have a sense of destiny, in point of who's that guy? [Laughter] They do have a sense of destiny, that's a class thing. I guess. And they tell me, you know, when an eight year old boy tells you that he is going to be a lawyer and free the blacks, I say to myself, "If I were black, I'd run." [Laughter] But anyway, you know, you're here. Now, eight year old children who are migrants or Appalachian kids, up the hollow, do not talk like that.

Page 22
JOHN KASSON:
Perhaps you are going to change with older affluent children, to where … I remember in the first volumn of I think Joe Washington ….?
ROBERT COLES:
Yes.
JOHN KASSON:
I think that he talks about ….
ROBERT COLES:
His real name, by the way, is Lawrence Jefferson. That will show you the way I do these things. [Laughter]
JOHN KASSON:
He talked about ….
ROBERT COLES:
Not very subtle, is it?
JOHN KASSON:
He, as a matter of fact, doesn't have children, but he talks about being able to support his children and he is suppressing a sense of destiny, but that sense of destiny is still going to come into contact ….
ROBERT COLES:
Right.
JOHN KASSON:
I wouldn't think that you would find that sort of reflection among say, especially white upper-middle-class kids now eighteen, in a similar situation. Partly because with ZPG he might have decided that he's not going to have children. Is that true, or do you find all sorts of different senses of the family ….
ROBERT COLES:
Oh, there is definitely that. In fact, if I come back here twice in the spring, and maybe you can invite me again, I write actually in my room in the Carolina Inn, the yellow pages. I write all this down on legal pads, but I'm now weaving in, it's a boy who is eleven years old, who I'm giving the name … he's from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, a Chicano family, and he is eleven years old. And I'm weaving in his relationship with a foreman of this large company, by the way, owned by Bentson … you've heard of him. He thinks he wants to be president. Wait until we start exposing him, that SOB, it just grows in the Rio Grande Valley, a miserable, wretch of a character if

Page 23
there ever was one, they own all these huge farms, that Bentson family. Anyway, don't vote for Bentson. [Laughter] He's not as bad as your Jesse Helms, no one can be as bad as your Jesse Helms … [Laughter] … but he's in the running.
CLASS MEMBER:
What about Strom Thurmond?
ROBERT COLES:
Strom Thurmond, I don't think, is as bad as Jesse Helms. No one is as bad as Jesse Helms since Theodore Bilbow left the United States Senate, but …
JOHN KASSON:
The man that was a foreman?
ROBERT COLES:
Yes, he goes around with this foreman in the truck. And the foreman talks to him as a friend. And the foreman tells him all about his wife and his kids. Then, there is the daughter of the grower. She is a year older than he is. She has what we would call fantasies, but she is interested in freeing all the poor "Mexicans", as she calls them. And she tells the foreman and the boy, who sit around, they talk … "I want to get a magic wand some day and I'm going to free everyone in the Rio Grande Valley." The boy goggles at this. The boy has a much older cousin who was driven out of the Rio Grande Valley for political activity and is now up in Chicago. And the contrast of the foreman's child, the grower's child and the Chicano fieldhand's child, is just along what you are talking about … the upper-class child has a notion of power, privilege, of the relationship to history, of what can be done. The foreman's child is troubled by the imperatives of his father. "Stay in school," when the child wants to get out. "Do this " … and that's the rebelliousness, we all know that, and then there is the boy, the child of the field-hand, and what are his preoccupations? Well, should he become like his cousin? No, because his father wouldn't like it. A lot of conversation about the terrible

Page 24
things that the teachers say about Mexicans, elicited by me, of course, because I'm interested in that kind of thing. But, a lot of talk, really, about his father and his mother, and I describe … I weave in my own descriptions of him and summaries of his behavior that in the third person, with various quotes from him. Now, I think that there is a new … I'm developing something different that I'm trying to do and I should be … you might be interesting in helping, maybe, to see if the thing will work or not. I speak in the third person, and I work it so that I never mention myself in this narrative description. It's all impersonal, so that I remove myself and talk … but I also talk about the foreman the way the boy does. He never mentions the foreman's name, he always talks about "the foreman." But the foreman has no name. Mr. Long, who is the grower, has the name, "Mr. Long." And what I'm trying to do is to evoke the way that this Chicano child sees these people, through his eyes, but also bring in some contrast with the other people from different classes. Now, a lot of people probably say, "Well, why should you remove yourself?" But I feel that … I will be myself in the first chapter, which is a description of the scene, so to speak, the second chapter, I describe method. If I had real courage, I would put quotes on the word, but of course, I'm not going to do that. And then, moving into that, the nearest thing that there was, now if any of you saw that profile in the New Yorker on the old… called the anciana, that's the style, to … it's different from the other volumns. Where I am always talking about, "I saw this and I saw that … " and I just decided to get rid of myself. Not because I want to be anonymous. Really, anyone who writes this much is not concerned with anonymity, but because I think it brings the reader closer to what I would conceptualize, if I may, the mind of the child and the way that mind gets along

Page 25
with others, which is more important than the way the mind gets along with me. I'm so sick of the me, and that's all they do, anytime that anybody writes up my work, well, they always want to get into me, because, of course, that's what they are all interested in, is the upper-middle-class person who writes this up. Well, when they do these stories, you say, "Please, talk about the people. Never mind me." "Oh, no, no. Where was your father born, where did you go to school and what did you do when you were twelve and a half."
JOEL WILLIAMSON:
You're trying to be civil.
ROBERT COLES:
What?
JOEL WILLIAMSON:
You're trying to be civil.
ROBERT COLES:
Civil, in a way, that's right. Thank you.
JOEL WILLIAMSON:
I read you from the beginning and I'm going to be adequately confused now, for a bit. When I first began to read you, I thought this was Coles, Coles himself. And I rather resented that, as myself as a historian, I very much felt [unknown]. And at first, I tried to get to know these people and my first book ended in 1877. My wife always says that I died in 1877. And I said, "How do you explain these three kids?" [Laughter] But, even then, even as I was writing about this period in 1877, I felt extremely frustrated about the representation, about the tools in the representation. I felt frustrated, for instance, because if you speak, and especially in terms of if you write, you have to have signals to get at the words, and you have to use one word at a time and [unknown] at times, there are not even words [unknown] so, what I found was that I tried to, the closer I got to the reality as I understood it, the more incomprehensible I became, the more audience I left. But then I found that if you are going to [unknown], if you are going to say anything, you've got to artificialize, you've got to be [unknown]. In effect, the smoother you get, the more people read you, the more untruths you tell. And I suppose I dislike you for doing what

Page 26
I've done, so, this is Coles and so-and-so. This Yankee is, he comes down, he talks with the black kids and he violates them, he pushes in on them and I said, "Why does he want to do that?" And I see where you don't like that, I see where you are saying that words kill and [unknown]. It's the affliction of our profession that you have to deal with words and that you have to kill in that way. And I was discouraged right now, even more that you seem to take your writing with gusto and I was going to ask you before if you ever resent any of the volums [unknown] maybe hate to do it, because if you say it like that, even if it's true, do you have the option of being anything else? It's like Faulkner, I think, [unknown] says that once you say it, it might be true and you can't say it's the other. So, it just struck me that [unknown] that you are not dealing with individuals, but dealing with a whole [unknown] and wanting to get yourself out of it, that's really amazing. Why do you think you are doing that? I think that going to third person is revolutationary for you, internally, it's revolutionary for you, it would seem to me.
ROBERT COLES:
Well, I think I'm struggling, I think that you have said it very well. I think, I thought to myself, "I know can do …" In fact, I once, in the sinful megalomania that writers have, said to my wife, "You know, I could write ten volumns. I have developed this into such a style" and then I felt that I've got to stop this. And I had to do something to break this, I could not do more of this. And I realize that in New Mexico, and the people that gave me that feeling were the older people I met, the seventy-five and eighty year old people who had a quality about them that put me to shame and made me feel that the only thing I could try to do is somehow respond to them. Now, you asked about … of course, I'm obviously a writer and fascile, and do other,

Page 27
you know, whether that be sin, compulsion, whichever way one wants to look at it. I do not approach the work with gusto, I get headaches at the thought of doing it. But I feel that I have to do it and if I don't do it, then I will be in some way, "this is wrong and bad and it must be done." But it is not with gusto and at times, I … I think that the reason I can write other things like book reviews and others, is because that gets me away from this. But I keep on doing it because it is a mandate to my responsibility, and then you get into, if I may bring into the whole extensialist tradition that Walker Percy would understand, I think, much better than I can ever put into words, but this is my fate, I mean, this is part of the everydayness of my particular life. With all its dishonesty and fraud and struggle, it's what [unknown] and others have taught, trying to get oneself in a time and being. That I have to do this, it's my … you know, with all the dishonesty and yet, the effort, the struggle and whatever, this is what I have worked myself into and it's my way. Now, I'll tell you what … when this is over, there are people that mean a lot to me and I suppose that I will always be writing about people, but they won't be the people, these, the people that I've been talking with. They will be more in the tradition of the university. And they are people like Agee, who I keep on mentioning, and Walker Percy and Simone Weil and Flannery O'Connor and Ben Arnolds. I hope that all of you read Diary of a Country Priest, because you know, you talk about the poor … there's anovelist who does more justice to the life of the poor and their image, this 75§, God knows, these days, a dollar paperback, than all these damn social sciences put together. The Diary of a Country Priest. Read it as part of your field work, preparation. But those people, those particular people that I mentioned, I would like to somehow write something about their lives as I see them. I don't know what all

Page 28
this is about and, you're right, the letter killeth. Now, the letter killeth, in procedures, methodologies, etc., yet, the other side of that, in all the ambiguity is that we must go on trying. That's another mandate. And silence also can be sinful and arrogant and destructive, too. So, we are caught on these tightropes and I'm not "resolved" … that cool, sippery word that social scientists and psychiatrists use, you know, "resolved." "Resolve your conflicts," "resolve this." Nonsense. Nothing is ever resolved. But one walks this tightrope and hopes that one can somehow in the end have lived to some effect.
JOEL WILLIAMSON:
Just one more question. Do you think that to get to where you are now, you had to go through the earlier thing, that you have to go through the early part ….
ROBERT COLES:
That's of course, the best question. And it's awfully hard to answer, because here you are in the classroom and there are people that are different from you by virtue of their age and if I answer this one way, it can come out condescending or patronizing. If I answer it in another way, it can come out as a new kind of program. Skip process xy, because Coles said that z is the new short circuit methodology and I don't know how to answer that except to answer it personally. I know that I had my life, and I came out of a certain kind of background and you know, it was inevitable, given my life, that I would go through certain things. I would hate to prescribe to someone else. Some people, you know, grace abounded, and some people might not, and other people, if I may sound arrogant, might be whirling around. We know from Dante, a social observer of sorts with a grand scale of interests and a contemporary anthropological and social visionary, there are circles within circles and so, I don't know. I can tell you, though, that it is inconceivable to me, given my life, frankly at times inconceivable that I ended up doing this at all, given my life. I know that it is still inconceivable to my parents.

Page 29
So, now that sounds also a little snotty, too. But you know, I think that a genuine … now, you might ask how, the question is how you get interested in this and how … now, there's the psychodynamical explanation, you know. It's always forthcoming these days, which tells us both everything and nothing. And then there's just accident, fate, chance, sometimes, you know, in the more nervous existential shudder moments, I will say, "What would have happened if I hadn't been riding my bike on that Sunday morning in Biloxi, and what if I had chosen not to go to church that morning?" But then, of course, I worry about that with my wife. If I hadn't exchanged emergency ward duty with a friend of mine, I wouldn't have met someone who in turn, who … through that person I met my wife. Therefore, I wouldn't be married to her and I wouldn't have the children that I do and that's what we have to face in this lousy earth. That's what it is to be a human being. Anyone that can come up in the face of that, with some lousy stinking explanation of life based on this or that, that this is due to that, anyone that can dare insult us with those uncertainties, deserves, you know, a prayer from us, along with a few for ourselves. But that's ….
TOM RANDOLPH:
May I ask a series of questions?
ROBERT COLES:
[Laughter] Got it.
TOM RANDOLPH:
First, who are you trying to reach in these books? Are you trying to reach the upper-middle-class, the intellectuals, the Archie Bunker types or the readers who [unknown]
ROBERT COLES:
Well, let me ask you a question, who do you think Faulkner was trying to reach? This may sound very arrogant, but who do you think a novelist like Faulkner was trying to reach when he writes his novels?
TOM RANDOLPH:
Well, I don't know a man like Faulkner, but I felt that you

Page 30
were tyring to reach, whereas Faulkner may not have been trying to reach anybody in particular, you have more of a purpose. I think that maybe you would have written it in novel from ….
ROBERT COLES:
Well, I would have written it in novel form if I had the gifts of the novelist, which I don't have, and I tell you, I envy novelists. Because I would exchange … you may find this hard and ultimately sacrilegeous, but I will say it anyway, if I could write one novel like Walker Percy or Faulkner writes, I assure you I would not have done any of this work. That's a pretty sad confession, but it has to do with my own vanity and my own particular something. Yes, I'm trying to reach the … first of all, who is it that buys books that cost twelve and a half dollars? Not the migrant sharecroppers or mountaineers who populate the book. Not the Archie Bunkers, I can't stand that lousy stinking rotten program. It's gross, brutal and insulting. Archie Bunker, that Archie Bunker program belongs in educational television with all the other lousy programs, with Julia Child and Upstairs Downstairs and Zoom, which makes everyone of us feel as if we are mentally retarded, and just all the other crappy nonsense with those announcers who sound as if they were trained at Oxford for five years to patronize the American taxpayers who are paying for it. But Archie Bunker, I think, has better things … I'm not being only facetious, I guess I'm reaching out through people like you, who buy those books. And me, who buy those books. I'm a writer. I write books, they are sold by [unknown] Brown, twelve and a half dollars. You try to get them to bring it down to ten, and they look at you as if you are naivee, a simpleton, and then you know, and on and on and on. Now, Still Hungry in America, which was a book that came out, was directly the product of a political campaign, an effort on the part of Robert Kennedy and others to deal with the problem of hunger in the rural areas of this country, so that

Page 31
you can call it a tract, a polemical tract. So, it would vary. I don't know. I did a book on Dorothy Day and the Catholic working woman, because I love her and love what she stands for. And I didn't do it in order that the book would reach … I guess that I didn't think of anyone. Those books that were a little more self-consciously attached to social and political problems, but I think that party of the reason I'm doing this is because I want to write and I won't to write these books, and part of it is because I'm doing a research project and I have a foundation grant from the illustrious Ford Foundation and they are paying for me not only to do the work, but I can assure you, to write the books, and believe me, if I didn't write the books, they wouldn't … the work to them means nothing. Which is an interesting thing I hope that we all consider. I could go and talk to all those families and in fact, spend twice the amount of time with them and be the greatest healer since I don't know who came around, and they wouldn't care, the Ford Foundation, they would only care because the books come out. And the articles. And the say, "Oh, I think that's wonderful work," but what they mean is, that you are writing these books and you have become someone that has an input into American life, that's what they would say. Of course, justifiable, concerned foundations get someone like you to exteriorize his experience for public enlightenment and whatever. But you know who reads these, you and I and all the others.
TOM RANDOLPH:
So, the influence of public policy is of minor concern?
ROBERT COLES:
Yes.
TOM RANDOLPH:
Well, have you thought about trying to reach more people, I had heard that
ROBERT COLES:
Yes. I have … I rather envy photographers, they don't have to use words, you see. And they just … it's a picture. So, yes, I have worked with photographers on a number of occassions. A number of people have

Page 32
said to me, "How about doing documentaries?" Well, I can't do a documentary, I'm not into that, as they say these days, but I have nothing documentaries. I have nothing against anything that will reach people. I would love to see us all reached in ways, but certainly not only by the likes of me. Frankly, I would think that if the whole nation could be reached, if I could choose the kind of person that I would like to reach, the whole nation, from Gerald R. Ford, not to mention his predecessor, to the people I work with, I would give precedence to the sensibility, the spirit, of whether it be Dr. Williams, [unknown] or Walker Percy, whatever. I urge upon you, by the way, for some more collateral reading for this cause … do any of you know the triology that Williams wrote, called White Mule, The Buildup, In the Money? It's a triology of novels that he did about an immigrant family in America. It is just astonishing. It's a brilliant, brilliant triology of novels. And you read that and you'll see what he knows of what you might call "Archie Bunker people," or immigrant families, that I somehow haven't seen justice done to by all those who are writing about what are now called "ethnics", and all these other words that come and go across this screen of American social science. They pop across and fade in and then another one succeeds then, "ethnics," "working class", all these terms. Yes, any extension of this, that would lead to the demise of the Republican party, yes.
DERRICK WILLIAMS:
But your work has a different, a slightly different dimension than say Williams's would, because you are a child psychiatrist. You talk about reaching out to people, communicating to who you are trying to reach in your books, you talk about your kind of fate-responsibility that you feel yourself to write and so on, the question that remains in my mind is that it is obvious that you have communicated with these people who are the subjects of these books, you know. And what as a child psychiatrist,

Page 33
you are talking about writing the things up, and Dr. Williamson is talking about the violation of truth in putting it into words, the violation, perhaps, of the trust of these people, by exposing them to the whole nation or whatever, but what do you bring these people that you talk to, the subjects, the basis of all of us talking?
ROBERT COLES:
What do I bring to all those people?
DERRICK WILLIAMS:
Right.
ROBERT COLES:
Another collection of Williams's, which is more to the point of what you are bringing up, is Life Along the Passaic River, in which he describes his own relationship as a doctor of these patients and in the format of the short story, with a kind of candor that you won't hear from social scientists. He works in beautifully his own anger and annoyance and resentments and lusts that we are traditionally trained not to talk about. We have to have it analyzed out of ourselves before we even approach it. What a fraud that is, it's never analyzed out of anyone. But we do learn to be coverse and maybe sly. There is a difference, and maybe there is no difference, but anyway, to answer what you are talking about with what do I bring to them … well, I would imagine that the answer would come forth, I hope, if I may be presumptious enough, this has been written about by … do any of you know Gabriel Marcel? Well, Marcel has written about this, Kierkegaard has written about this, this comes across constantly in the three novels of Walker Percy, how do we get along with others? And this, I know that existentialism has become a kind of fad, which has both come and gone, but this has to do with being, and presumably, in some of these homes, I began and proceeded to be and ended up being a royal pain. In other homes, some things happened, in other homes, some other things happened. And this is various and diverse and it's hard to catagorize as these variations in human life that we all are. So, in some of these homes there were these

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moments, in other homes, there were some other moments. And that is something, now, if you want me to give, to get more officious about it, I can say this, "Look, in certain cases," I brought a child …" this, we'll all be happy with, and boy, does this make us feel great … I brought a child, in Roxbury, a black ghetto section of Boston, to the Children's Hospital, who needed medical help. Great! "He not only was taking something out of him in these interviews, he was performing an active service." I participated in the hearings and etc. that ultimately led to the food stamp program. I was involved in that. Great! The proceeds from Still Hungry in America went to the Southern Regional Council for distribution among the needy. Great! We can all understand that. There is a family here that I got in touch with an agency there and this came out … O.K., I'm not denying that. I don't want to say that I don't do that. But I am not going to go on the defensive, to the point that I feel that this is the only thing that, you know, I can fall back on for the justification of this work and that anything else is "exploited." I do not apologize for those moments that we had, some of us, in the course of this work. By "some of us", I mean me and my wife and even occassionally my oldest boy who went with me to Alaska to talk to the Eskimo people and what happened there. And I don't mean only the good moments, the bad moments too. It isn't necessarily hurtful and exploitative when a strange. kooky guy comes on the scene and talks and maybe a little news is exchanged, you know, something. That doesn't have to be looked upon as political oppression or manipulations for the point of view of aggrandisement in a professional career. I'm not saying that that isn't something that should be taken into consideration too, but why do we have to strip these meetings, these encounters, these moments of the fact that they have to do with human beings on the planet, for a moment, a brief moment of eternity, that we are

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in addition to social scientists and social observers and all these things and this … we are after all, men, women, people, citizens, a lot of things. But you see, I think … we get into these … everything in the university has to be given a structure and maybe everything in life does, and obviously, it ill behooves anyone who gives a structure of a book to his experience, to denounce that to the point that he sounds like he doesn't do this, but everyone else does. Obviously, everything that I … I hope that you understand that this is not, the strenuous load of this crankiness is directed not at you, but it is a self-directed thing. It has to do with my own arraignment of myself and an examination of myself, and I don't mean for counter-transferency by the way, but for, you know, I mean the kind of arraignment that one would call upon Kierkegaard of as a model, rather than the latest psychoanalytic supervisor, of which there are plenty in civilized towns like this. I guess that I'm being signaled to depart on to the next moment. I'm sorry that … having said all of this, I of course, immediately proceed to assuage my own sense of misgivings and incompleteness and failure by saying, although I'm sorry if I've been somewhat provocative, but I think I know, I want us all, at this moment, one would say, using Erikson's model of thinking about things, you know …at this moment, in this history of the work that we are doing, one needs, first of all, the courage to fight the powers and principalities, which I presume that you all have, or you wouldn't be here. Secondly, the willingness to undercut oneself without destroying your ongoing, by you know, getting a little sense of humor into this. There is room, you know, in all this work for a little bit of humor, a little bit of willingness to relate oneself to some larger sphere of things, namely, you know, a lot of other kinds of people. Writers and thinkers, essayists, just plain people are interested in talking to people. My father is

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just an ordinary human being, but I remember as a boy that he used to tell me about when he would go down to London from Yorkshire, he was interested in talking to people. Well, he wasn't doing it because he was a social scientist or anything, but he … I have to tell you one more thing, even if we are going to be late over there to that thing at Duke … we went to South Africa, my father, my son and I went to South Africa at the end of August to give this lecture on the apartheid. They bring in outsiders to say things that South Africans cannot say. We stopped off in Rio de Janeiro and on the beach, my son and I went for a long walk and we came back and my father was talking to four young people of a whole range of racial backgrounds, by sight, who … he struck up a conversation with. He wasn't doing any fieldwork and he had no taperecorder, but they were smoking a lot and he told them that they shouldn't smoke so much. And that led to a whole series of things and then he went and bought the some ice cream to tell them that it was much better to have some of this ice cream than to smoke all those cigarettes, "it is going to hurt your lungs." Part of this he was doing with some Spanish, he knew spoke Portuguese, and broken English and whatever. So then we came back, and with this mind that I have, which is just like all of our minds here, I said, "Oh, this is interesting. He's talking to these people, I must get … " [Laughter] So, I started questions, you know, other kinds of questions and then they didn't seem as interested, they were beginning to get ready to leave. So my father resumed by talking to them about the cigarettes and then of course realized what I was. I was hungry and greedy. We were going to leave the next day and I thought, "Ah ha, I'll just snatch something and get it." Meanwhile, my father, who has no methodological training and you might consider politically to be rather conservative, not as liberal and generous and kind as I am, had got something going. Him and them. That's because I haven't worked it out, I have problems with my father … thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW