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Free-Associating

With Erica Jong (it ain't over till it's over)

Last March, I had the opportunity to meet and interview Erica Jong, the famous writer of such novels as Fear of Flying and Serenissima, at her office on 68th .Street in Manhattan. It was part of my senior thesis at Princeton—”Post-Jewish Fiction: Deconstruction of Identity in the New York Comic Narrative “—which I did under Elaine Showalter.

When I arrived at Jong’s office-suite in Manhattan, I was instantly taken aback by the fact that the woman who had written so exuberantly about the ” zipless fuck” was a dead ringer for my mother. With frosted hair, round glasses, dressed smartly, and standing at about five feet two, she was several inches shorter than me. I was very conscious of the fact that physically I was much bigger than the woman who was larger than life in my imagination. What follows are some out-takes from my interview:

ROBIN EPSTEIN: Do you consider yourself to be an observant Jew, and. if so, observant of what?

ERICA JONG: I consider myself to be passionately Jewish, but I’m not an observant Jew. An observant Jew is someone who goes to synagogue.

EPSTEIN: Are you raising your [16-year-old] daughter to be Jewish?

JONG: Um [pause], unfortunately not. I am raising my daughter…she’s proud to be Jewish. She was not bat mitzvahed, nor was I. And we don’t belong to a synagogue. And the reason we don’t is we haven’t yet found one that we feel comfortable at—but we’re searching. I have in mind if I don’t find one, to found one.

EPSTEIN: Can a mother have any influence on a daughter’s body image?

JONG: Some, but not enough. The culture, you know at a certain point teenagers are raised by the culture and you, I mean, what are you going to say if you have a kid who is zaftig and full-bosomed and plump, and you say, ‘Well, in Tintoretto’s day, you would have been the model of beauty.’ You know the kid is going to say, ‘You idiot, you dork,” so you know, maybe later they could appreciate that, but….

EPSTEIN: Do you talk to your daughter openly about sex?

JONG: My daughter won’t let me. She squirms when the subject is brought up. and says, ‘CHANGE THE SUBJECT!’ The inhibition about sexuality is said to come from parents—in fact it comes from children who don’t want to talk about sex with their parents.

EPSTEIN: You’ve been married to both Jewish and non-Jewish men. I’m curious in the context of your thoughts on interfaith relationships. what do you think of Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn?

JONG: That’s a long question. Actually, I have been married to three Jewish men and one non-Jewish man, and I have had relationships with many non-Jewish men, but Allen Jong was practically Jewish. He was a Chinese psychiatrist. He was a Freudian, so that practically makes him Jewish. But most of my husbands have been Jewish, so I guess I gravitate to the kind of.. and I would say because of the humor and the intimacy that I find with them which I think I need. You had another question, I’ve forgotten….

EPSTEIN: Woody Allen and Soon Yi Previn?

JONG: Oh, just a typical older man having his male menopause and fucking his stepdaughter.

EPSTEIN: You have been called a pornographer. and a “sex writer.’ Is there any accuracy to this?

JONG: It’s ridiculous. I don’t know what the definition of pornography is, and nobody else does either. Pornography is somebody else’s erotica that you don’t like. People are interested in their own sexuality, and they have always reflected it in their art. End of story. What I did, that was maybe different was that I wrote from a woman’s point of view. And I tried to slice open a woman’s head, and show what her fantasies were. So that’s a revolution of sorts, an enormous revolution, the revolution of our century going from the male point of view to the female.. and I would say the most frequent response is ‘Thank you. For making me feel I am not a freak.’

EPSTEIN: Do you have a favorite book of erotica?

JONG: I think The Story of O is pretty terrific. Very skillful. Interesting because it deals with surrender. I mean if you read it politically, you have to be upset, but I don’t read it politically. I would say it’s not prescriptive…I think that Catherine MacKinnon is as dangerous as Newt Gingrich and Jesse Helms—I mean. she’s the same: she sees every work as prescriptive. She’s a baleful influence on feminism.

EPSTEIN: What books were influential to you as a young woman, and would you recommend them to your daughter, and is she reading them?

JONG: Well, I loved The Catcher in the Rye. I read Dostoevsky. I loved Huckleberry Finn. I loved George Bernard Shaw’s plays. I loved Byron. Yeah. I ply my daughter, but she’s not a great reader.

EPSTEIN: Do you see her writing in the future?

JONG: You know I really wish Molly read more. Molly is working out her rebellion on me. but she’ll come back to it. She’s very smart.

EPSTEIN: Does she want to be a writer?

JONG: No. Absolutely not. No, she thinks writers have awful lives.

Robin Epstein is a newly minted {and still unemployed – help!) Graduate of Princeton University.