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Firing Line with William F. Buckley Jr. - "What Does PEN Have to Offer?"

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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(Feb 25, 2011)
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Editorial Reviews

Taped on December 2, 1985. Messrs. Mailer and Vonnegut were actively involved in raising funds for the forthcoming New York conference of PEN--the international society of poets, essayists, editors, and novelists--and they spend here a surprisingly (given past antagonisms) good-natured hour discussing writers, oppressive societies, and the world at large. Mailer: "...writers of one country and writers of another country tend to have more natural communion than governments because we grow up and read foreign writers. If we have an affection for Russia it's because we read Russian novelists of the 19th century." Vonnegut: "[I want to] destroy the will of the United States Army to fight, and I would certainly like to do that with every army." Buckley: "Oh, it's antecedent to your wanting to emasculate our army that you would have previously succeeded in emasculating other people's armies, is that the idea?" Vonnegut: "Sure, anybody's army that I can put out of business." Buckley: "That sounds better." Mailer: "Mr. Vonnegut is famous for his sense of hyperbole." Summary by Firing Line staff.

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Product Details

  • Actors: Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut
  • Format: NTSC
  • Region: All Regions
  • Studio: Southern Educational Communications Association (SECA)
  • DVD Release Date: February 25, 2011
  • Run Time: 60 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B004OEIOOC
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #334,342 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

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Buckley and Mailer duke it out over Cold War politics, social justice, moral relativism and the ethics of free expression while Vonnegut, in a noble display of statesmanship, quietly attempts to keep the conversation focused on literature and the works of PEN (of which Mailer was president at the time and ostensibly the day's central topic of discussion) on the eve of that organization's assembling in New York (1985). As followers of the show would expect, the lesson one takes away is: be prepared for an intellectual beating when you cross WFB. It is refreshing, however, to note how amicably each man comports himself even when the discourse gets somewhat heated and personal. Not the best of 'Firing Line' match-ups, as Mailer's and Vonnegut's right-brain arguments tend to be an ill fit for Buckley's left, but still an engrossing watch.
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This features an entertaining debate between WFB Jr and Norman Mailer. It erupts during the discussion of the writer's organization PEN and how far they go in support of writers behind the iron curtain and whether or not they would supply benefits to authors who preach hate with their work.

Kurt Vonnegut appears with Mailer though he is on the sideline for much of the debate. At one point, Vonnegut tries to intervene to bring down the argument but Mailer tells him to not play the peacemaker. If you're looking for a healthy amount of Vonnegut in his own words, you will not find that here.

This is an enjoyable discussion regardless of where you are on the political spectrum.
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