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November 25, 2005 The normblog profile 114: Gerard Van der Leun

Gerard Van der Leun was born in Los Angeles in December 1945.

He studied at the University of California, Berkeley.

His career has been as a writer and editor of books and magazines. He has been the Senior Editor and Director of Trade Paperback Publishing for Houghton Mifflin, and has held numerous positions at Penthouse Magazine, from Publisher/Managing Director of the European and English Editions, to Senior Editor and Vice-President of Internet Operations.

Gerard’s articles have appeared in several magazines including Time, Omni and Penthouse. He has been a literary agent and book packager, and he is the author of Rules of the Net: Online Operating Instructions for Human Beings (Hyperion), and The Quotable Sherlock Holmes (Random).

He has also worked as publications director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and as the Drama and Literature Director for KPFA-FM (Pacifica). Gerard has one daughter, Justine, and two granddaughters. He has been online since 1988, and blogs at American Digest.

Why do you blog?
> For the immediacy, the flexibility and the feedback. For an essayist it’s also a fine way to put first drafts into the world – even though that’s not always the best move.

What has been your best blogging experience?
> Positive feedback from readers (writers love to hear they’re doing well), and negative feedback from worthy opponents.

What has been your worst blogging experience?
> Trolls sent in from sites whose authors are deranged.

What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger?
> Three entries daily for six months and then six for the next six months. Then see how you feel about it. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

What are your favourite blogs?
> The Belmont Club and The New Neo and MOTUS.

Who are your intellectual heroes?
> Currently top of my list for those that are living would have to be Victor Davis Hanson. Close behind would be Jefferson, Gibbon, Conrad, Hereclitus, Shakespeare, and the translators of the King James Bible.

What are you reading at the moment?
> The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz (masterful); Boswell’s Life of Johnson; and The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci by Jonathan Spence.

Who are your cultural heroes?
> Monet, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Bob Dylan.

What is the best novel you’ve ever read?
> Melville’s Moby Dick.

What is your favourite poem?
> For a long time it was Leaves of Grass (the 1855 edition only, thank you), but lately I seem to be swinging back to Eliot’s Four Quartets.

What is your favourite movie?
> Three way tie: The Godfather (I and II only), Carné’s Les Enfants du Paradis, and Citizen Kane.

What is your favourite song?
> Changes over time. Currently Neil Young’s ‘The Painter’ is even with Rufus Thomas’s ‘Give Me The Greenlight’ and Clint Black’s ‘Same Old Train’.

Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you’ve ever changed your mind?
> I’ve got an ever lengthening list. Suffice it to say that, while standing on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade on September 11 and watching the towers fall, I began a long and painful process of jettisoning almost everything I believed on the central issues of our era.
From a student radical/hippie/leftist of the Free Speech Movement/Vietnam Day Commitee era and a full-on Democratic Liberal in the decades after, I think I’ve evolved a politics that is neither right nor left but is, in its elemental nature, draconian. In the last four years, I’ve taken apart my beliefs with a sledgehammer. Now I’ve got to put the surviving parts back together with tweezers and other ‘shabby equipment, always deteriorating’.

What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate?
> Man is born into and lives with a state of hazard that can be ameliorated only through intellectual and spiritual freedom. The human condition is, as John Fowles evokes in The Aristos, like those on Géricault’s ‘The Raft of the Medusa’; Always in danger of being subsumed by works or by nature, yet always just within sight of rescue and redemption.

What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat?
> Enforced collectivism. Only through fire is fascism finished. Any element that arises from Marxism/Leninism/Maoism is deeply suspect. The debased socialism that forms the bulwark of today’s politically correct, proto-fascist and wet liberal establishment must be sent back to the dealers as a lemon. This is not to say that the opposite unfettered capitalist-libertarian ethos is either preferable or the replacement.

Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major and lasting influence on how you think about the world?
> Montaigne: The Complete Essays (trans. Screech). As someone working in the essay, I’m constantly reminded that everyone working in the essay is just compiling footnotes to Montaigne.

What is your favourite piece of political wisdom?
> ‘We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.’ – Lincoln, First Inaugural.

If you could choose anyone, from any walk of life, to be President, who would you choose?
> That would be me. Because then everything would be fixed in a fortnight, Utopia would arise and the Apocalypse be just a tale told to frighten schoolchildren after dark.

What would you do with the UN?
> Give them Guam, move them there, cut off funding, and topple the building into the East River as a fine new fish habitat.

Do you think the world (human civilization) has already passed its best point, or is that yet to come?
> The best is always yet to come and yet always delayed.

What would be your most important piece of advice about life?
> Take the cannoli.

What do you consider the most important personal quality?
> Unremitting intellectual honesty.

What personal fault do you most dislike?
> An obsessive concern with politics of any feather.

Do you have any prejudices you’re willing to acknowledge?
> I have grown to have a deep aversion to sunny-side liberals, comfortable leftists, rabid right-wingers, and other card-carrying members of the Buttinsky Party.

What is your favourite proverb?
> ‘That which is, is. That which is not, is not is.’

If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything you’d do differently?
> I’d have written more books and taken better care of my teeth.

What would you call your autobiography?
> First Draft.

Who is your favourite comedian or humorist?
> Mark Twain.

If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true, what would you wish for?
> That I could see more of my daughter than I do now.

How, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money?
> Apartment in Rome, house on the Big Sur coast, and the Dessault Falcon 7X for the commute. Then I’d be done.

What animal would you most like to be?
> The Eagle. Not for the rodent sushi, but for the point of view.