of American platitudes. I found it hard to believe that—for instance, hehad footage of villages that we went through and burned. He could havesent a camera team to any one of them and found the survivors and interviewed those people. Nothing like that in the movie. It was obscenelyabout America for Americans. It had these historical platitudes like “Wemay have done terrible things, but we meant our best.” I think it’s something to be deeply ashamed of, and if I saw him, I’d tell him that, so Ihope this gets into print.
WALPOLE: Whom are you reading these days? Do you follow the newerwriters?
BALABAN: I’m not reading a lot of other people right now, and I knowpoets who say the same thing. If I read anything, it’s the classics again.Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars. The ancient world seems awfully instructive about the modern world. There are moments of lurching and confusion in the ancient world, where, say, Roman society wonders aboutpower and how the whole empire is going to fall apart. Decadence becomes an issue in the writing of commentators of the period, and the liesof personal conduct are exposed with glee. I find it hard to look at thenews anymore. Recently, I went back to a book I had started when I wasa youngster, The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler. It’s ponderousreading, but it’s worth it.
WALPOLE: Are you optimistic about our American enterprise?
If you’re going to translate a poem, you have to figure
out what made it successful in the original and what
is there in English that could make it successful in a
similar way. That’s a big challenge. To succeed at it,
you have to work with an awful lot of tricks and tech-
niques in poetry.