Franzen: Obama 'Delightful,' America 'Almost a Rogue State'

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Novelist Jonathan Franzen, having recovered his glasses, paid a visit to the White House on Monday. ABC's Jake Tapper reports that Franzen called his meeting with President Obama "delightful." It's a marked contrast to the sentiments Franzen expresses in this interview with Sarfraz Manzoor for The Guardian, in which Franzen laments the enervated state of the American left and refers to the U.S. as "almost a rogue state."

MANZOOR: Some of the characters in Freedom speak quite positively about the European approach towards freedom and community, and the idea seems to be that people came to America for money, and for freedom. And it's almost like what you seem to be suggesting is that the States fetishizes freedom and forgets that actually, there are greater freedoms to be had by having bonds.

FRANZEN: Yes. I'm at pains not to endorse any particular interpretation of the book, but this is not grating on my ears, what you're saying. And the last decade, America has emerged, even in its own estimation, as a problem state. That is, there are many criticisms one could make, as early as, well, our treatment of the Indians. It goes way back. And our long relationship with slavery--there have been some problems with the country at many points. And then the Cold War, we were certainly culpable. But the degree to which we are almost a rogue state, and causing enormous trouble around the world in our attempt to preserve our freedom to drive SUVs and whatever, by--

MANZOOR: Operation Enduring Freedom.

FRANZEN: Operation Enduring Freedom, good. It does make one wonder, what is it in the national character that is making us such a problem state? And I think a kind of mixed-up, childish notion of freedom--and perhaps, really, truly, who left Europe to go over there? It was all the malcontents, it was all the people who were not comfortable getting along with others.

Also noteworthy is Franzen's wrenchingly uncomfortable laugh when Manzoor asks if he's "more comfortable in America now" than when he started writing Freedom. "No," says Franzen. "It was possible, while I was writing the book, to look forward to some possibility of significant change. And now, people left of the middle feel puzzled and sort of anguished, because--we don't have an object for our anger, but the right is still as angry as ever... It's this kind of discouragement and dull, throbbing anxiety."


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