Wednesday, June 4, 2008

an excerpt from my interview with stanislav calhoun

S: Mr. Calhoun. Thanks for calling back.

C: Glad to be here.

S: So, the idea of this discussion is to run through your early public career, and hopefully come to some conclusions about your impact on the overall culture.

C: That's easy. I didn't have an impact.

S:...You got your start in FDR's administration, correct?

C: Well, I was a professor first. A public intellectual for awhile. Freelance. That was after I was fired from Princeton. But, yes, that's right. I was a…peripheral figure in the Brain Trust. No president before Roosevelt has reached out to academics in quite the same way,

S: He brought you in as he was rolling out the New Deal.

C: That's right. I was the head of an arm of the WPA. The whole point of the WPA was, essentially, to create jobs for people who'd lost everything during the depression; There was the famous program for laborers; one man digs a hole, the other fills it in...It even extended to writers. They had writers going around the country collecting slave narratives, writing travel books. It was a spectacular program.

S: And what was your function exactly?

C: I was in charge of creating a program for displaced philosophers.

S: Really? I've never heard of that. Was it difficult to find something to suit our nation's out of work philosophers?

C: Well, manual labor was out. Right from the start. They didn't have the temperament for collecting data or surveying...And meanwhile, these poor guys were wandering the country, offering musings on the nature of Beauty for soup coupons. It was tough. way...At least insofar as shaping public policy is concerned, is what I mean to say.

S: What did you come up with?

C: Actually, the suggestion that we ended up with was suggested by an undergraduate. I forget his name, but great work. Really.So the program we ended up with was this: One philosopher postulates an existential abyss, and the next philosopher jumps into it.

S:How'd it go?

C: Well, we pitched it to Roosevelt, and he loved it. But it was about that time that those fascists in the American Liberty League started throwing a hissy, so the program got cut before we could really launch it.

S: That's a shame.

C: Yes, but look at it this way: If the program didn't get cut, our coffee shops would be understaffed, and pizza joints all across the country would be going through a temp agency to get their drivers. So, you know. Things sort themselves out sometimes.

S: Mr. Calhoun, one final question before we close this interview. Do you call yourself an optimist?

C: Only when I can't find my glasses.

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