An Excerpt from “Nocturnal Turnings, or How Siamese Twins Have Sex”
MAY 14, 2017
by Truman Capote
Truman Capote was a frequent contributor to Interview magazine, founded in 1969 by Andy Warhol and John Wilcock. In this piece, published in Interview in 1979, Capote interviews himself—discussing childhood memories, personal demons, and the art of conversation.
TC: Let’s turn on the lights and get out the pens and paper. Start that magazine article. No use lying here gabbing with an oaf like you. May as well try to make a nickel.
TC: You mean that Self-Interview article where you’re supposed to interview yourself? Ask your own questions and answer them?
TC: Uh huh. But why don’t you just lie there quiet while I do this? I need a rest from your evil frivolity.
TC: Okay, scumbag.
TC: Well, here goes.
Q: What frightens you?
A: Real toads in imaginary gardens.
Q: No, but in real life—
A: I’m talking about real life.
Q: Let me put it another way. What, of your own experiences, have been the most frightening?
A: Betrayals. Abandonments. …
Q: What are some of the things you can do?
A: I can ice-skate. I can ski. I can read upside down. I can ride a skateboard. I can hit a tossed can with a .38 revolver. I have driven a Maserati (at dawn, on a flat, lonely Texas road) at 170 mph. I can make a soufflé Furstenberg (quite a stunt: it’s a cheese-and-spinach concoction that involves sinking six poached eggs in the batter before cooking; the trick is to have the egg yolks remain soft and runny when the soufflé is served). I can tap-dance. I can type sixty words a minute.
Q: And what are some of the things you can’t do?
A: I can’t recite the alphabet, at least not correctly or all the way through (not even under hypnosis; it’s an impediment that has fascinated several psychotherapists). I am a mathematical imbecile—I can add, more or less, but I can’t subtract, and I failed first-year algebra three times, even with the help of a private tutor. I can read without glasses, but I can’t drive without them. I can’t speak Italian, even though I lived in Italy a total of nine years. I can’t make a prepared speech—it has to be spontaneous, “on the wing.” …
Q: Some time ago you made your debut as a film actor (in Murder by Death). And?
A: I’m not an actor; I have no desire to be one. I did it as a lark; I thought it would be amusing, and it was fun, more or less, but it was also hard work: up at six and never out of the studio before seven or eight. For the most part, the critics gave me a bouquet of garlic. But I expected that; everyone did—it was what you might call an obligatory reaction. Actually, I was adequate.
Q: How do you handle the “recognition factor”?
A: …Ordinarily, I don’t mind giving autographs. But there is one thing that gets my goat: without exception, every grown man who has ever asked me for an autograph in a restaurant or on an airplane has always been careful to say that he wanted it for his wife or his daughter or his girl friend, but never, never just for himself.
I have a friend with whom I often take long walks on city streets. Frequently, some fellow stroller will pass us, hesitate, produce a sort of is-it-or-isn’t it frown, then stop me and ask, “Are you Truman Capote?” And I’ll say, “Yes, I’m Truman Capote.” Whereupon my friend will scowl and shake me and shout, “For Christ’s sake, George—when are you going to stop this? Some day you’re going to get into serious trouble!”
Q: Do you consider conversation an art?
A: A dying one, yes. Most of the renowned conversationalists—Samuel Johnson, Oscar Wilde, Whistler, Jean Cocteau, Lady Astor, Lady Cunard, Alice Roosevelt Longworth— are monologists, not conversationalists. A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That’s why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet. Of the list just provided, the only two I’ve known personally are Cocteau and Mrs. Longworth. (As for her, I take it back—she is not a solo performer; she lets you share the air.)
Among the best conversationalists I’ve talked with are Gore Vidal (if you’re not the victim of his couth, sometimes uncouth, wit), Cecil Beaton (who, not surprisingly, expresses himself almost entirely in visual images—some very beautiful and some sublimely wicked). The late Danish genius, the Baroness Blixen, who wrote under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen, was, despite her withered though distinguished appearance, a true seductress, a conversational seductress. Ah, how fascinating she was, sitting by the fire in her beautiful house in a Danish seaside village, chainsmoking black cigarettes with silver tips, cooling her lively tongue with draughts of champagne, and luring one from this topic to that—her years as a farmer in Africa (be certain to read, if you haven’t already, her autobiographical Out of Africa, one of this century’s finest books), life under the Nazis in occupied Denmark (“They adored me. We argued, but they didn’t care what I said; they didn’t care what any woman said—it was a completely masculine society. Besides, they had no idea I was hiding Jews in my cellar, along with winter apples and cases of champagne”).
Just skimming off the top of my head, other conversationalists I’d rate highly are Christopher Isherwood (no one surpasses him for total but lightly expressed candor) and the felinelike Colette. Marilyn Monroe was very amusing when she felt sufficiently relaxed and had had enough to drink. The same might be said of the lamented screen-scenarist Harry Kurnitz, an exceedingly homely gentleman who conquered men, women, and children of all classes with his verbal flights. Diana Vreeland, the eccentric Abbess of High Fashion and one-time, longtime editor of Vogue, is a charmer of a talker, a snake charmer. …
Q: Do you have many sexual fantasies?
A: When I do have a sexual fantasy, usually I try to transfer it to reality—sometimes successfully. However, I do often find myself drifting into erotic daydreams that remain just that: daydreams.
I remember once having a conversation on this subject with the late E. M. Forster, to my mind the finest English novelist of this century. He said that as a schoolboy sexual thoughts dominated his mind. He said: “I felt as I grew older this fever would lessen, even leave me. But that was not the case; it raged on through my twenties, and I thought: Well, surely by the time I’m forty, I will receive some release from this torment, this constant search for the perfect love object. But it was not to be; all through my forties, lust was always lurking inside my head. And then I was fifty, and then I was sixty, and nothing changed: sexual images continued to spin around my brain like figures on a carrousel. Now here I am in my seventies, and I’m still a prisoner of my sexual imagination. I’m stuck with it, just at an age when I can no longer do anything about it.”
Q: Have you ever considered suicide?
A: Certainly. And so has everyone else, except possibly the village idiot. Soon after the suicide of the esteemed Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, whom I knew well, a biography about him was published, and to my dismay, the author quotes him as saying: “Oh yes, I think of suicide a great deal. And I know a number of people I’m certain will kill themselves. Truman Capote, for instance.” I couldn’t imagine what had brought him to this conclusion. My visits with Mishima had always been jolly, very cordial. But Mishima was a sensitive, extremely intuitive man, not someone to be taken lightly. But in this matter, I think his intuition failed him; I would never have the courage to do what he did (he had a friend decapitate him with a sword). Anyways, as I’ve said somewhere before, most people who take their own lives do so because they really want to kill someone else—a philandering husband, an unfaithful lover, a treacherous friend—but they haven’t the guts to do it, so they kill themselves instead. Not me; anyone who had worked me into that kind of a position would find himself looking down the barrel of a shotgun.
Q: Do you believe in God, or at any rate, some higher power?
A: I believe in an afterlife. That is to say, I’m sympathetic to the notion of reincarnation.
Q: In your own afterlife, how would you like to be reincarnated?
A: As a bird—preferably a buzzard. A buzzard doesn’t have to bother about his appearance or ability to beguile and please; he doesn’t have to put on airs. Nobody’s going to like him anyway; he is ugly, unwanted, unwelcome everywhere. There’s a lot to be said for the sort of freedom that allows. On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind being a sea turtle. They can roam the land, and they know the secrets of the ocean’s depths. Also, they’re long-lived, and their hooded eyes accumulate much wisdom.
Q: If you could be granted one wish, what would it be?
A: To wake up one morning and feel that I was at last a grown-up person, emptied of resentment, vengeful thoughts, and other wasteful, childish emotions. To find myself, in other words, an adult.
TC: Are you still awake?
TC: Somewhat bored, but still awake. How can I sleep when you’re not asleep?
TC: And what do you think of what I’ve written here? So far?
TC: Wellll… since you ask. …
TC: Bitch, bitch, bitch. Moan and bitch. That’s all you ever do. Never a kind word.
TC: Oh, I didn’t mean there’s anything very wrong. Just a few things here and there. Trifles. I mean, perhaps you’re not as honest as you pretend to be.
TC: I don’t pretend to be honest. I am honest.
TC: Sorry. I didn’t mean to fart. It wasn’t a comment, just an accident.
TC: It was a diversionary tactic. You call me dishonest, … and now you’re trying to weasel out of it. Speak up. What have I written here that’s dishonest?
TC: Nothing. Trifles. Like that business about the movie. Did it for a lark, eh? You did it for the moola—and to satisfy that clown side of you that’s so exasperating. Get rid of that guy. He’s a jerk.
TC: Oh, I don’t know. He’s unpredictable, but I’ve got a soft spot for him. He’s part of me— same as you. And what are some of these other trifles?
TC: The next thing—well, it’s not a trifle. It’s how you answered the question: Do you believe in God? And you skipped right by it. Said something about an afterlife, reincarnation, coming back as a buzzard. I’ve got news for you, buddy, you won’t have to wait for reincarnation to be treated like a buzzard; plenty of folks are doing it already. Multitudes. But that’s not what’s so phony about your answer. It’s the fact that you don’t come right out and say that you do believe in God. I’ve heard you, cool as a cucumber, confess things that would make a baboon blush blue, and yet you won’t admit that you believe in God. What is it? Are you afraid of being called a Reborn Christian, a Jesus Freak?
TC: It’s not that simple. I did believe in God. And then I didn’t. Remember when we were very little and used to go way out in the woods with our dog Queenie and old Cousin Sook? We hunted for wildflowers, wild asparagus. We caught butterflies and let them loose. We caught perch and threw them back in the creek. Sometimes we found giant toadstools, and Sook told us that was where the elves lived, under the beautiful toadstools. She told us the Lord had arranged for them to live there just as He had arranged for everything we saw. The good and the bad. The ants and the mosquitoes and the rattlesnakes, every leaf, the sun in the sky, the old moon and the new moon, rainy days. And we believed her.
But then things happened to spoil that faith. First it was church and itching all over listening to some ignorant redneck preacher shoot his mouth off; then it was all those boarding schools and going to chapel every damn morning. And the Bible itself—nobody with any sense could believe what it asked you to believe. Where were the toadstools? Where were the moons? And at last life, plain living, took away the memories of whatever faith still lingered. I’m not the worst person that’s crossed my path, not by a considerable distance, but I’ve committed some serious sins, deliberate cruelty among them; and it didn’t bother me one whit, I never gave it a thought. Until I had to. When the rain started to fall, it was a hard black rain, and it just kept on falling. So I started to think about God again. … And that’s when I began to believe in God again, and understand that Sook was right: that everything was His design, the old moon and the new moon, the hard rain falling, and if only I would ask Him to help me, He would.
TC: And has He?
TC: Yes. More and more. But I’m not a saint yet. I’m an alcoholic. I’m a drug addict. I’m homosexual. I’m a genius. Of course, I could be all four of these dubious things and still be a saint. …
TC: Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Now let’s knock it off and try for some shut-eye.
TC: But first let’s say a prayer. Let’s say our old prayer. The one we used to say when we were real little and slept in the same bed with Sook and Queenie, with the quilts piled on top of us because the house was so big and cold.
TC: Our old prayer? Okay.
TC and TC: Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.
TC: I love you.
TC: I love you, too.
TC: You’d better. Because when you get right down to it, all we’ve got is each other. Alone. To the grave. And that’s the tragedy, isn’t it?
TC: You forget. We have God, too.
TC: Yes. We have God.
TC and TC: Zzzzzzzzzzz
Truman Capote was born in 1924 in New Orleans. Known for works including Other Voices, Other Rooms, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and In Cold Blood, his writing also appeared in publications including Vogue, Esquire, and The New Yorker. He was a member of the American Institute of Arts and Letters. He died in 1984.
A non-fiction invention from the words of Truman Capote and Andy Warhol – Tickets from $25
A non-fiction invention from the words of Truman Capote and Andy Warhol – Tickets from $25