Ostap Karmondi: A popular modern Russian writer, Viktor Pelevin, has said that the main character of much of modern cinema and pop-literature—all of pop-culture—is a black briefcase full of money. We mostly follow its fate, and the fates of the other characters depend on it.
David Foster Wallace: [...] One consequence of what American scholars call a post-modern era is that everyone has seen so many performances, that American viewers and American readers, we simply assume now that everything is a performance and it’s strategic and it’s tactical. It’s a very sad situation and I think the chances are that nations go through periods of great idealism and great cynicism, and that America and Europe, at least Western Europe right now, are in periods of great cynicism.
DFW: For someone like me who grew up in the sixties at the height of the Cold War and whose consciousness was formed by, “we are the good guy and there’s one great looming dark enemy and that’s the Soviet Union,” the idea of waking up to the fact that in today’s world very possibly we are the villain, we are the dark force, to begin to see ourselves a little bit through the eyes of people in other countries—you can imagine how difficult that is for Americans to do.
OK: Let’s talk about good times and bad times. It’s a common belief that we have some moral progress, some social progress, some political progress. But looking at the twentieth century it seems that it was the cruelest century of them all. It’s unbelievable what people did to other people and what we still do to animals. We’ve actually built concentration camps for cows and chickens who live only to be killed and it structures their entire lives. Do you believe in social or moral progress? Or maybe you disagree with what I’ve just said and you don’t think that the picture is so dark?
DFW: It is certainly true that as technology has progressed and economic mechanisms have progressed, it is increasingly possible to perpetrate terrible, terrible cruelties on other human beings and on animals. You and I, I think, agree that one of the great unspoken horrors of modern capitalism is the phenomenon of what’s known as “factory farming.” Here in America, because it’s cheapest, animals are raised in such large numbers, in such close captivity, in such miserable conditions that if you assume that they have nervous system and are capable of suffering, it is the great horror of America right now. It’s not a view that most Americans are very interested in—most Americans believe that there’s a moral hierarchy and the needs of people come first.
Ostap Karmodi, The New York Review of Books. An interview with David Foster Wallace.