Mark Twain on Interviews

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on July 10, 2010

To the point, and brilliantly put:

No one likes to be interviewed, and yet no one likes to say no; for interviewers are courteous and gentle-mannered, even when they come to destroy. I must not be understood to mean that they ever come consciously to destroy or are aware afterward that they have destroyed; no, I think their attitude is more that of the cyclone, which comes with the gracious purpose of cooling off a sweltering village, and is not aware, afterward, that it has done that village anything but a favor. The interviewer scatters you all over creation, but he does not conceive that you can look upon that as a disadvantage. People who blame a cyclone, do it because they do not reflect that compact masses are not a cyclone’s idea of symmetry. People who find fault with the interviewer, do it because they do not reflect that he is but a cyclone, after all, though disguised in the image of God, like the rest of us; that he is not conscious of harm even when he is dusting a continent with your remains, but only thinks he is making things pleasant for you; and that therefore the just way to judge him is by his intentions, not his works.

The Interview was not a happy invention. It is perhaps the poorest of all ways of getting at what is in a man. In the first place, the interviewer is the reverse of an inspiration, because you are afraid of him. You know by experience that there is no choice between these disasters. No matter which he puts in, you will see at a glance that it would have been better if he had put in the other: not that the other would have been better than this, but merely that it wouldn’t have been this; and any change must be, and would be, an improvement, though in reality you know very well it wouldn’t. I may not make myself clear: if that is so, then I have made myself clear–a thing which could not be done except by not making myself clear, since what I am trying to show is what you feel at such a time, not what you think–for you don’t think; it is not an intellectual operation; it is only a going around in a confused circle with your head off. You only wish in a dumb way that you hadn’t done it, though really you don’t know which it is you wish you hadn’t done, and moreover you don’t care: that is not the point; you simply wish you hadn’t done it, whichever it is; done what, is a matter of minor importance and hasn’t anything to do with the case. You get at what I mean? You have felt that way? Well, that is the way one feels over his interview in print.

I suppose it is passages like this one that make me anxious to read the Twain autobiography.

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