Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
A regular contributor to the Italian news magazine L’Europeo and a successful free-lance journalist, novelist, and essayist, Oriana Fallaci became famous primarily as one of the most original and controversial interviewers of her time. The essence of her style is captured in Interview with History (translated into English by John Shepley and published in the United States in 1976), her best-known work of journalism. It might be more accurate, however, to call the genre in which she works “contemporary history,” a term she herself uses in her introduction.
The fourteen interviews in this anthology first appeared in L’Europeo between 1969 and 1974, although most are concentrated around 1972-1973. The dominant news stories from that era are reflected in the interviews themselves: the Vietnam War, the Middle East crisis, the war between India and Pakistan, the military takeover in Greece. The first three interviews rise out of the Vietnam War: Henry Kissinger, shortly before Richard M. Nixon named him secretary of state and put him in charge of peace negotiations, South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu, and North Vietnamese general Vo Nguyen Giap. These interviews set the pattern that Fallaci followed, with some variation, in each of the others: The subject is often a man or woman who is involved in a violent political conflict and works for or against the forces of oppression. Frequently, the interviewee is a public figure from whom it is extremely difficult to obtain an interview, as with each of the first three subjects, and who subsequently tries to disavow his or her careless declarations. Fallaci recounts the story of each interview and its aftermath in brief introductory essays.
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Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Fallaci has always proudly worn the mantle of militant feminism. In Interview with History, this is shown in a number of ways. She presses her female subjects (Meir and Gandhi) to speak as women, as wives and mothers, in order to break through the façade of the head of state. By making Meir talk about how being a woman has made her try harder for what she achieved or about the condescending remarks made to her by political mentors such as David Ben-Gurion, Fallaci brings feminist issues to the forefront. In a similar fashion, she suggests that Gandhi’s admiration for Joan of Arc is a sign of her determination to succeed in a male-dominated world in spite of being a woman.
In both interviews, Fallaci clearly attempts to bring to light an issue that has dominated much twentieth century feminism: whether the goal of feminism is simply to put women on an equal social and political footing with men so that they can compete effectively, though in a world whose rules were written by and for men, or whether there is a specifically female alternative to the male worldview. Both Meir and Gandhi seem to come across as holding very conservative viewpoints on this issue. They both emphasize that there is no fundamental difference between men and women and that their effectiveness as heads of state is neither diminished nor enhanced by their gender. Gandhi states most emphatically at one point that she is not a feminist. Although Fallaci never explicitly states her own opinion on that particular topic in her questions or introductions, she implicitly suggests that...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Arico, Santo L. “Breaking the Ice: An In-depth Look at Oriana Fallaci’s Interview Techniques.” Journalism Quarterly 63 (August, 1986): 587-593. Most of the response, favorable or unfavorable, of the journalistic profession to Fallaci’s techniques has appeared in the popular press. Arico’s article is one of the few to present a more studied and careful critique of Fallaci from the perspective of a professional colleague.
Burke, Jeffrey. “Fallaci Records.” Harper’s 261 (November, 1980): 98-99. Primarily a review of the novel A Man, this article contains many references to Interview with History and provides some useful insights into Fallaci’s career up to that point.
Cott, Jonathan. Forever Young. New York: Random House, 1978. Among Cott’s interviews compiled in this anthology is one with Fallaci which first appeared in the June, 1976, issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Of all the interviews given by Fallaci, this is perhaps the most famous. In addition to turning the tables on Fallaci by having her answer questions instead of asking them, this interview is important in that it provided her with a forum to explain and justify some of the techniques for which she became famous.
Griffith, Thomas. “Interviews, Soft or Savage.” Time 117 (March 30, 1981): 47.
Griffith, Thomas. “Trial by Interview.” Time 115 (January 21, 1980): 71. In these two very brief articles, Griffith comments on Fallaci’s celebrity as an interviewer and the controversy that surrounds her. He gives a balanced account of the ethical and professional issues involved and expresses a degree of respect and admiration for Fallaci’s success, both in obtaining interviews from inaccessible people and in expressing her personal style. In “Trial by Interview” he also mentions several other journalists who have contributed to revolutionizing the genre of the interview.