JIM LEHRER: Roger, what do you think was the most important thing that happened in 1995?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I think the most important thing that happened last year was the truce or three truces in three areas that we'd come to associate only with war, destruction, and mayhem in Northern Ireland, in the Middle East, and in Bosnia. And if you have three areas where there is peace or the promise of peace, where there was nothing but war before, that has to be the most important event.
JIM LEHRER: In all three of those cases the conventional wisdom was that those people hated each other so deeply and had done so for so long that they would be the last to come around.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: It's true. Most of the worst wars we've got are civil wars in one way or another, and in fact, I think--I have been to two of those three places and the only place I was really afraid was Northern Ireland. It didn't have anything to do with fear for myself, but it was that you could feel the hate in the air between the Catholics and Protestants in Belfast. It was palpable. And to think that they had been able to reach some sort of--something that approaches peace is really miraculous.
JIM LEHRER: The same, of course, in Bosnia, the jury is still out, but all the, the reports are that all that hatred has suddenly kind of just gone away, at least temporarily. Who knows what may-- when it may come back.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: It would be wonderful if all the conventional wisdom were turned on its head and everything we've come to associate with the worst of tribalism turned out to be something decent and respectable.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Roger, what was '95 like for literature and the other arts?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I don't think it was much in terms of artistic production, but one of the artistic events of the year that's interested me, at any rate, is the emergence suddenly of Jane Austin as a modern--
JIM LEHRER: Oh, yeah, yeah.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: --a modern hero. And I was trying to figure it out. Somebody said it's because she brought good manners back to the world. I'm not quite sure that was true, 'cause she was fairly, she was fairly satirical in her novels, as you know, but the one thing that I thought might be true is that her Sense and Sensibility, the title of a novel which is now a great movie, is something that really fits well with Americans and may have always fit well with Americans. She was born in the 18th century 200 years ago, wrote in the 19th century, and had a nice balance of thought between the kind of stable, orderly, organized institutional 18th century mind, and the passionate and adventurous, romantic 19th century mind. And if you look at all the people in her novels, they behave kind of crazily and often very badly, but there's always an order of society that's around them. And maybe her popularity in our country particularly these days has to do with someone who, on the one hand, prizes passion, on the other hand knows the value of order.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. And maybe everybody--you mean, maybe we are ready for a little bit of order, as well as passion. We got our passion. Now it's time for order.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: You have it exactly right. I think we've had our fill of passion. I think we'd like to calm down a bit.
JIM LEHRER: What about heroes? I'm always interested at the end of a year. It's interesting in and of itself. We talk in terms of years, No. 1, but were any new heroes created that have any permanence to them, do you think?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Well, permanence is hard to--in fact, it's very hard to know who are the heroes of any year and age, as you know, because sometimes the hero is a researcher in a lab, studying cures for cancer, who goes home to his or her apartment every night and makes one infinitesimal discovery, which may mean more than all the more dramatic or apparently cataclysmic events. One question that's always interested me is: Which is more important during World War II, World War II or the discovery of penicillin, in terms of lives affected, you'd really have to--you'd have to work your way through it. The two, two heroic activities did occur. I don't know how permanent they are. In one case, I hope it is not permanent. You'll see why. One is Richard Holbrooke's activity in Bosnia. I think any person who has worked so hard and long and really independently for a long time before he had a great institution, this country behind him, deserves a lot of credit for trying to manipulate, work, wield a peace, so certainly heroic act. I don't know in terms of the permanence. And the other is Christopher Reeve, who had that terrible accident, as you know, that horseback accident from which he is now almost entirely paralyzed. But his heroism seems to me to be in both courage and great cheer that he gives to other people, not just people with spinal chord injuries but people with diseases who seem to be in a hopeless situation, who are not as prominent, who are not celebrities. So that seems to me-- these seemed to me to be acts of heroism. Their permanence will be up to the future, I guess.
JIM LEHRER: We--not just we Americans, we human beings, do live with our celebrities, don't we? I mean, you wrote a marvelous essay in the course of this last year about Mickey Mantle. Mickey Mantle died, and when you think of heroes, now, of course, it's not in a league with--it's an entirely different matter than the scientist or even Christopher Reeves or Richard Holbrooke, but Mickey Mantle stands for something too, doesn't he?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: He does. It's really hard to figure out, because not only did we know his faults, he knew his fault.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: And you remember one of the things that was very touching about the end of his life was his strain to exculpate himself, to apologize, to his family, to the world, and so forth. But what I don't think he fully appreciated was how much we loved him simply for being. Americans can do that. You know, when we find a character like Mantle or like Ginger Rogers, for example, who also died this year, just, there's no way to explain it. They just look wonderful, and they are naturals in the sense of Bernard Malamud's wonderful novel, The Natural. What they do we can't do, and so we just sit back and offer them love.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. And I offer you love and good wishes for the new year, Roger.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: And to you, my friend.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you.