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Several days ago, on July 31st, 2012, the great writer and American man of Letters, Gore Vidal died at age 86 and some nine odd months. My first encounter with Vidal, with the name, came in the Stephen King's curiously dull and uninspired guide On Writing (really only redeemed by it's biographical elements), which I read in 8th Grade, and where King happened to reference the name, and I later asked my grandfather about this Gore Vidal person (because at the time the idea of being both a writer and politician appealed to me as well, and that was the nature of King's reference, something to do with writer's often having other fields of interest), and he gave me another vague answer and the matter drifted out of mind for some years.

Now I cannot precisely recall the next time I came across Vidal, but I believe it was around the time William F. Buckley died and got his whitewashed hagiography from the media, which was only too happy to portray him as a responsible, intelligent high-minded grandfather of the modern conservative movement, while ignoring his pro-segregation history, his claims that we should nuke Red China, his anti-Semitic and racist rants of the late 50s and 60s. Vidal was unafraid though, to thoroughly piss on Buckley's grave, violating all normal manner of decorum and writing a response mainly directed at the media in his essay "Gore Vidal Speaks Seriously Ill of the Dead" where he went so far as to say: "RIP WFB—in hell" and elsewhere, in an interview with the NYT, said, "I thought hell is bound to be a livelier place, as he joins forever those whom he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatred."

Vidal's incisive brilliance, his forceful and natural ability to spin prose and carry along his readers for that ride, sucked me in. Here was a person that wrote as if he was absolutely correct and could not be wrong, and his was so good at it, that the reader danced along to the piping of his words. I studied Vidal some more, and bought his book Julian, a well-executed novel based on the life and short reign of one of the more obscure Roman Emperors, Julian the Apostate. As a fiction writer I found Vidal gripping, and talented at developing a plot, and he had a knack for leaving out details and sections of the story that left it incomplete, allowing the reader's imagination to more thoroughly engage with the work on its own terms.

Some time after, I wrote a very long and meandering piece that lambasted the Right in America for having, essentially, no true intellectuals. No accomplished and intelligent people who made compelling, rational, cool-headed arguments for the political philosophy of our extremist conservative party. Instead, I noted how Republicans trot out figures like William F. Buckley, Ann Coulter, and Jonah Goldberg as exemplars of their world view. A great deal of my essay I devoted to Vidal, comparing him to Buckley, and discussing other prominent leftists of the last fifty years.

And now, for a much more somber reason, I am writing of Gore Vidal again.

Gore Vidal always claimed that America did indeed have a ruling, aristocratic class. And that more, he was born into the periphery of its ranks, as a little anecdote from Mark Lawson's obituary in The Guardian displays:

A few years ago, when I mentioned a passage in his memoirs that admits to being unable to express any open distress after the death of Howard Austen, his supportive partner for almost 50 years, he drawled: "Have you seen that film with Helen Mirren? The Queen? Our class are brought up not to show emotion."
Vidal was born Eugene Louis Vidal (Gore was a name he created himself, as it sounded more literary) October 3, 1925, in West Point, the son of a Flight Instructor and Socialite-Actress, the grandson of Thomas Gore, a populist Democratic Senator from Oklahoma nicknamed "the Blind Cowboy". At thirteen, Vidal's parents divorced. His father would later date Amelia Earhart while his mother married the stepfather of Jacqueline Onassis, the future First Lady, and he himself went on to attend the renown private school, Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. It was there that Vidal would have perhaps the only true and complete love affair of his life, with Jimmy Trimble III, who was later killed in the Battle of Iwo Jima, which perhaps formed the cold and acerbic, sexually prolific, Vidal the world came to know over the course of the 20th Century. Vidal, showing his rebellion to his family's expectations, skipped attending an Ivy League University once he graduated from high school, and instead joined the Navy.

By 21, Vidal, then a young World War II vet from a prestigious family, had published his first book, Williwaw (a meteorological term for a strong wind blowing off from a mountainous coast), a standard-fare piece about the war that was well-received. Shortly afterwards, In a Yellow Wood was published, in 1947, and he himself later wrote it off as a horrible novel. It was at age 23 that Vidal made the decision that changed his life (and likely ended his political ambitions), and that was to come out of the closet with The City and the Pillar, a book with scandalously open depictions of homosexuality (that may seem tame and subtle today), and what's more, depicted it as open natural behavior; to paraphrase Vidal's statements on the matter, Jim Willard [the protagonist] begins gay and ends the novel gay, and homosexuality is portrayed as both masculine and normal, both depictions shattering common stereotypes.

The City and the Pillar takes its title from Genesis 19:26 "But his wife looked back from behind him and she became a pillar of salt" and the novel itself contains a similarly cautious warning. Willard spends the entire novel looking back to a single culmination of homoerotic feelings with a friend, and in the end his romantic delusions and obsessions keep him from moving forward and emotionally cripple him by the end. It is a dark work of fiction, but one driven by excellent prose (truly, I must write a separate essay on the matter), and this horrible world of icy manipulative people, all driven by shallow lusts and incapable of genuine emotional love, the protagonist included, and this gives a very real snapshot into Vidal's psyche and helps in understanding his apparent bitterness.

And for all my admiration I did disagree with Vidal almost as often as I agreed with him, and often (unique in my personal experience) I could both passionately accede and passionately dissent from him, depending on the issue. However, Vidal's flaws and biases and faults were always transparent and easily identifiable, and his characteristic arrogance has to be understood through a prism of self-deprecating sarcasm. Yes, Gore Vidal was a horrible name-dropper, but he wasn't lying about being friends with the Kennedy's or Eleanor Roosevelt or Alice Roosevelt (Teddy's daughter), and what honest person would say he wouldn't brag about it if he were so well-connected? Even the terrible elements of his political philosophy have easily identifiable sources; his animosity towards Franklin Roosevelt who supported the successful primary challenge to Thomas Gore in 1936, or his rather inconsistent views on World War II, with the Japanese theater at least (his first lover, again, died on Iwo Jima). Nevertheless Vidal had views that downright angered me with regards to McVeigh, and his propensity for high-brow conspiracy theories bother me and prevent me from respecting his political philosophy as a whole (though the freepers, as the term goes I believe, on The Free Republic online comments need to distinguish Vidal's anti-imperialist nature and anti-Americanism; Vidal was very much a populist, America-firster), but even Vidal's most abrasive writings had kernels of truth, astute observations, and, at the very least, interesting and thoughtful reasoning that were often helpful in my own considerations of what I believed; extracting disagreements from Vidal was an excellent task in self-awareness.

His perceived arrogance and snobbery is one part a genuine reflection of the social environment he grew up in, and the other part a form of detachment that allowed him to unleash his coolest and most withering criticism on everything he observed. Unlike many genuinely and intolerably pretentious writers and intellectuals, like Truman Capote and Norman Mailer, Vidal always had a subtle charm and wit; with Vidal there was always the wink and nod, the self-deprecating tongue-in-cheek response, the self-awareness that true egoists lack.

                                                       ---

Gore Vidal accomplished many things. He revived literary historical fiction, with acclaimed works like Washington, D.C., Burr and Lincoln, and stubbornly demanded to address taboo topics like homosexuality and transgenderism in The City and the Pillar and my personal favorite of his novels, Myra Breckinridge and offend sacred cows with merciless irreverence and sarcasm such as Live From Golgotha: The Gospel According to Gore Vidal. His play The Best Man sees regular revivals on Broadway, and he always claimed to have had the main role in salvaging the script to the classic film Ben Hur. But in the end his most natural form was the essay. It was there that he prolifically filled entire quotation books with his trademark barbs like "It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail." and, "The four most beautiful words in our common language: I told you so."

Vidal's essays are as varied as the man himself; the tome United States: Essays 1952–1992, which won a National Book Award in 1993, is  heavy enough to use as a murder weapon. And while he often wrote about politics (even calling Reagan a "triumph of the embalmer's art."), ample attention has already been paid to those works, that are as a whole problematic and a tad bit inconsistent (another triumph of leftist ideology, I think, that leftist intellectuals don't have the one-size fits all, "irritable mental gesture" that American conservatives pass off as an ideology), and so what I have to talk about pertains to his literary essays and criticism.

In my personal experience, these were Vidal's most scandalous, scathing, prescient essays, his most truthful and honest; the works that imparted on me the most profound influence. It strikes me as only too bad that so much attention given to Vidal invariably had to do with his politics or outsized personality, when he had so much to say about Academia and the cultural and literary establishments in America; he ravaged it, and handed ruthless criticism even on writers like Solzhenitsyn, writing in "The Top-Ten Best-Sellers": "To give the noble engineer his due he is good at describing how things work, and it is plain that nature destined him to write manuals of artillery or instructions on how to take apart a threshing machine."

The most daring (and influential on me) was his elegant and overwhelming essay "American Plastic: The Matter of Fiction", where he ridiculed Barthelme, insulted Barth, dismissed Barthes and made an apathetic criticism of Pynchon. It is particularly bold to, these days, find an immensely intelligent man and important critic saying these sorts of things about Pynchon. "It is curious to read a work that excites the imagination but disturbs the aesthetic sense." "Pynchon's prose rattles on and on, broken by occasional lengthy songs every bit as bad, lyrically, as those of Bob Dylan." Or finally, his conclusion:

Eventually, the text exhausts patience and energy. In fact, I suspect that the energy expended in reading Gravity's Rainbow is, for anyone, rather greater than that expended by Pynchon in the actual writing. This is entropy with a vengeance. The writer's text is ablaze with the heat/energy that his readers have lost to him. Yet the result of this exchange is neither a readerly nor a writerly text but an uneasy combination of both. Energy and intelligence are not in balance, and the writer fails in his ambition to be a god of creation. Yet his ambition and his failure are very much in the cranky, solipsistic American vein, and though I doubt if anyone will ever want to read all of this book, it will certainly be taught for a very long (delta) time[...]
American Fiction has turned to postmodern plastic, according to Vidal in this essay (and this builds off earlier essays on fiction), and the problem is the university. Ending the same essay quoted above is this powerful and sweeping statement:
"Academics tell me that I am wrong. They assure me that if it were not for them, the young would never read the Public-novels of even the recent past (Faulkner, Fitzgerald). It this were true, then I would prefer for these works decently to die rather than to become teaching-tools, artifacts stinking of formaldehyde in a classroom (original annotated text with six essays by the author and eight critical articles examining the parameters of the author's vision). [...] The occasional student who might have an interest in reading will not survive a course in English, unless of course he himself intends to become an academic bureaucrat."
Such sentiments resonated with me quite strongly; as a university student I still have an aversion to the academic culture, even as I enjoy it and it at times is the most natural fitting environment for me. Vidal plainly calls it boring and petty, too isolated, too narrow-minded, and posits that a major problem with literature is how much it is increasingly based out of creative writing programs and academic literary criticism. His pessimism in declaring the end of the novel before the forces of film and television, is a bridge too far for me, but most probably right in terms of social importance and influence, and that was truly Gore Vidal's greatest talent; expressing an unpleasant observation honestly and without reservation. That facet coupled with his wit and incisive analysis and the envy-inducing erudition and forcefulness of his prose, make Vidal's essays imminently re-readable and ever fun to engage with.

To end, I'd like to share a few videos of Vidal to display his style, his classic levity, and the natural ability he had to entertain and engage people.

History's Glare I

History's Glare II

Buchanan/Braden:

In addition, Vidal's response to the William F. Buckley obituaries:

http://www.truthdig.com/...

The Esquire essay that got him sued:

https://geneticmail.com/...

P.S. While Dkos does have reader guages, these aren't entirely accurate. I always appreciate users who vote in my poll as that gives a more accurate count of readership. Which is always nice to know for something you worked hard on; sucks to feel like you are talking to a wall.

Originally posted to ArkDem14 on Thu Aug 02, 2012 at 06:05 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight and Readers and Book Lovers.

Poll

What of Vidal's work have you read?

14%13 votes
16%15 votes
60%54 votes
7%7 votes
0%0 votes

| 89 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (34+ / 0-)

    "Once, many, many years ago I thought I was wrong. Of course it turned out I had been right all along. But I was wrong to have thought I was wrong." -John Foster Dulles. My Political Compass Score: -4.00, -3.69, Proud member of DKE

    by ArkDem14 on Thu Aug 02, 2012 at 06:05:04 PM PDT

  •  Excellent diary about an amazing man. (6+ / 0-)

    Somebody please refresh my aging memory about Vidal's famous TV debate with ?William F. Buckley?

    •  Truthfully, Vidal's Esquire essay (8+ / 0-)

      does a better job of building it up than I ever could. But essentially, the two were asked to provide commentary for the national conventions. The police started randomly beating up peaceful protestors violently, and Buckley was on air praising them, attacking the protestors saying they were instigating the Viet Cong to kill American troops, and that they were like those that opposed WWII in America, called the like pro-nazi protestors. Vidal told Buckley to shut up a moment and said the only crypto-nazi he saw was him.

      In response, on television, Buckley said:

      "Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I'll sock you in the goddamn face and you'll stay plastered."
      But again, please read the Esquire essay on the matter because it is a profoundly entertaining and compelling deconstruction of the myth of Buckley as some sort of cool and unflappable lion of debate and discussion for the conservative ideology in America.

      "Once, many, many years ago I thought I was wrong. Of course it turned out I had been right all along. But I was wrong to have thought I was wrong." -John Foster Dulles. My Political Compass Score: -4.00, -3.69, Proud member of DKE

      by ArkDem14 on Thu Aug 02, 2012 at 08:35:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks much. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ArkDem14, Youffraita, UniC, Dartagnan

        I always admired Buckley's style, generally. The right-wingers have degenerated so far.

        But I always admired Gore Vidal's sharp eye and tongue much more.  I'll really miss him.

        "The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters." Helen Keller (1911) (quoted by Meteor Blades on 8/2/12)

        by Timaeus on Thu Aug 02, 2012 at 09:23:30 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Here is the video of the exchange (5+ / 0-)

        Truly a classic confrontation for the ages.   The fact that both combatants have a bit of a smile on their faces is also noteworthy.

        •  Great video! (0+ / 0-)

          And one click away is all kinds of wonder, like the 9 minute clip of Woody Allen debating with William F. Buckley in 1968.

          Great stuff.

          Damn. Buckley could be an asshole, but he was never a fascist, like most of the current GOP.

          "The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters." Helen Keller (1911) (quoted by Meteor Blades on 8/2/12)

          by Timaeus on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 04:37:28 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  He was quite quick to insinuate (0+ / 0-)

            other people were fascists or communist sympathizers.

            "Once, many, many years ago I thought I was wrong. Of course it turned out I had been right all along. But I was wrong to have thought I was wrong." -John Foster Dulles. My Political Compass Score: -4.00, -3.69, Proud member of DKE

            by ArkDem14 on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 05:14:20 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Heh, of course I'd take issue with his (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ArkDem14, pixxer, IreGyre, rhubarb

    reading of Pynchon, though I think history so far has proven him right about the three B's - Barthelme, Barth, and Barthes - who are all but embalmed nowadays... but Pynchon still inspires ambitious teenagers to get post-horn tattoos, because his appeal is much broader and more visceral than that of university literature.  And his work is very much not in the solipsistic vein, unlike the more popular trend in the American novel - Mailer, Updike, Roth, et al.

    That being said, Vidal is a great wit and a great writer, even if (as in the Buckley essay) his enthusiasm for a deep cut sometimes gets in the way of the stability of his arguments.  He wielded one of the last great poison-pens, and unlike the two-dimensional cultural critics we have today, Vidal was sharp and funny enough to make the reader nod in appreciation instead of close the book in disgust.  What a great writer, and though not a great a man, I doubt he'd have wanted to be considered one anyway.

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Thu Aug 02, 2012 at 08:44:05 PM PDT

    •  I take issue with that; I think Vidal was a great (11+ / 0-)

      man.

      This quote really strikes me every time I read it:

      “I’m exactly as I appear. There is no warm, lovable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.”
      Both those videos are really striking.

      "Magic. The world needs more of it."

      "You never really get tired of trying to be useful because you never really succeed. We must learn modesty."

      Vidal always strikes me as a very sad person, arrogant in a humble, sardonic manner that is all too rare. His honesty is what I think makes him great and why as history goes on, he will be an especially important source of insight into the 20th Century.

      Even if Vidal was petty, his sense of justice was multifaceted and complex, and not always pleasant, as with McVeigh and 9/11, but important to remind us that there is more than one manner of judgment (and Vidal's was exceedingly honest). He accomplished many great things in his life and will be remembered for them, particularly as perhaps the finest master of the essay form in America's history thus far.

      As for Pynchon, well, wait till my next post. I finally have a pretty good summation and argument for my disliking Pynchon (similar to how I dislike John Cage). I'm going to post it sometime soon.

      "Once, many, many years ago I thought I was wrong. Of course it turned out I had been right all along. But I was wrong to have thought I was wrong." -John Foster Dulles. My Political Compass Score: -4.00, -3.69, Proud member of DKE

      by ArkDem14 on Thu Aug 02, 2012 at 09:09:35 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Just as long as you can balance out (0+ / 0-)

        dislike and appreciation, I'm game for a good discussion!  As I tell my students, we're welcome to like or dislike whatever, but it doesn't absolve us from appreciating why something is important, and Pynchon's importance isn't built on crusty old academia.  He really is the living titan of American literature.  Individual tastes may vary.

        Ditto Cage, who I don't much care for either.

        Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

        by pico on Thu Aug 02, 2012 at 09:48:44 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I think there is some pretty good balance (0+ / 0-)

          I fall really heavily into this category:

          "It is curious to read a work that excites the imagination but disturbs the aesthetic sense."

          "Once, many, many years ago I thought I was wrong. Of course it turned out I had been right all along. But I was wrong to have thought I was wrong." -John Foster Dulles. My Political Compass Score: -4.00, -3.69, Proud member of DKE

          by ArkDem14 on Thu Aug 02, 2012 at 10:46:34 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Shoot me a message when you post it (0+ / 0-)

            so I can tussle with you.  There's Pynchon I don't like (The Crying of Lot 49 is not very good, which even he agrees with), but I consider both Gravity's Rainbow and Mason & Dixon impeccable, so I look forward to seeing what you have to say.

            Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

            by pico on Thu Aug 02, 2012 at 11:30:36 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Funny though that "Crying" (0+ / 0-)

              is one of his most popular works.

              "Once, many, many years ago I thought I was wrong. Of course it turned out I had been right all along. But I was wrong to have thought I was wrong." -John Foster Dulles. My Political Compass Score: -4.00, -3.69, Proud member of DKE

              by ArkDem14 on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 12:06:10 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I felt vindicated when I read (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                ArkDem14

                his own dismissive comments about the novella.  I quoted this a few years ago during a similar discussion:

                As is clear from the up-and-down shape of my learning curve, however, it was too much to expect that I'd keep on for long in this positive or professional a direction.  The next story I wrote was "The Crying of Lot 49," which was marketed as a "novel," and in which I seem to have forgotten most of what I thought I'd learned up till then.
                I agree with that.  If Crying had been my first Pynchon, there may not have been a second.

                Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

                by pico on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 12:12:00 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Gravity's Rainbow. (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  pico

                  Maybe I was too young...maybe.

                  It failed the sentence test, repeatedly.

                  You know the sentence test: open a book to any page -- is it readable?

                  I won't deny that I am strictly middlebrow.

                  But I loved Gore Vidal and loathed Pynchon.  Just like I prefer Yeats over Eliot.

                  To make the argument that the media has a left- or right-wing, or a liberal or a conservative bias, is like asking if the problem with Al-Qaeda is do they use too much oil in their hummus. Al Franken

                  by Youffraita on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 12:31:05 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Gawd, there's a section in GR (3+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Youffraita, ArkDem14, ybruti

                    that just... even thinking about it leaves me breathless.  I've posted it on this site a few times - actually it's one of three or four places in the novel that knock the wind out of me - but that one section is so gorgeous, and so heartbreaking, it hurts.

                    For what it's worth I didn't find the prose in GR to be that big a problem - it was the narrative structure, the feeling of "What the hell is going on?" (hello, Kenosha Kid!) that left me totally disoriented at the beginning.  Mason & Dixon is a much tougher read at the sentence level, but he earns it, word by word.  

                    It helped that I'd gotten through Joyce (and others) beforehand.

                    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

                    by pico on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 01:04:14 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Well, I adore (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      pico

                      Molly Bloom's soliloquy -- but somehow I don't think that's what we're talking about here.  (^.^)

                      To make the argument that the media has a left- or right-wing, or a liberal or a conservative bias, is like asking if the problem with Al-Qaeda is do they use too much oil in their hummus. Al Franken

                      by Youffraita on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 01:08:59 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                    •  His archaic playing around with capitalization (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      pico

                      in Mason and Dixon honestly annoyed me. I tend to dislike cheap tricks.

                      In any case, I actually had this to say (in what I will post in full later) about Pynchon's writing (even if it was a tad too graceful on my part):

                      Firstly, however, there is a grave misunderstanding that was born at some point—and that is that I do not believe that, in this case, Thomas Pynchon is a great writer. This is an entirely false supposition; to the contrary, I think Pynchon is a brilliant writer. I could open up his work Gravity’s Rainbow and find numerous passages of stunning grace and clarity, of Faulknerian complexity and poetry.
                      However, I am also highly finnicky. I had to stop reading slaughterhouse 49 because I found Vonnegut's manner so insufferable; the way he absolutely refused to take his character and subject matter serious in the form of the novel was a stark, and constant affront to my aesthetics. And I know there are other arguments to be made about what Vonnegut was doing, irreverence as a form of therapy, comic-tragedy, etc, but that wasn't the feeling I got from the novel at all.

                      "Once, many, many years ago I thought I was wrong. Of course it turned out I had been right all along. But I was wrong to have thought I was wrong." -John Foster Dulles. My Political Compass Score: -4.00, -3.69, Proud member of DKE

                      by ArkDem14 on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 01:39:47 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Oh, wow. (0+ / 0-)
                        the way [Vonnegut] absolutely refused to take his character and subject matter serious
                        Definitely give it a chance.  He has a lot in common with Céline, where the laughter never takes off because you can see the clear pit of bottomless despair underneath it.  The last chapter is like a punch to the gut, where Vonnegut is no longer able to sustain even the semblance of comedy... but instead of allowing despair to win, he finds a kind of peace in acceptance and focus on those moments in his life that, for lack of a better word, were "nice".  Really, really powerful stuff.

                        Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

                        by pico on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 09:12:30 AM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  I gave it one chance... (0+ / 0-)

                          I read half the book and finally couldn't take it anymore. I'll try again in the future.

                          "Once, many, many years ago I thought I was wrong. Of course it turned out I had been right all along. But I was wrong to have thought I was wrong." -John Foster Dulles. My Political Compass Score: -4.00, -3.69, Proud member of DKE

                          by ArkDem14 on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 05:15:31 PM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

                    •  I'm reading Mason & Dixon now (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      pico

                      and sometimes enjoy a sentence so much I say to myself  "I'm sorry I finished reading that."

                      The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. -- Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944

                      by ybruti on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 06:10:51 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                  •  Well, I adore both Yeats (0+ / 0-)

                    and Eliot. In different ways.

                    I hated The Crying of Lot 49. I thought V was interesting but just poorly written; it seemed to be imitating so much other late 1950s fiction in tone and voice and the copious silliness, irreverence for its characters, dumb pop culture references, and ample drugs.

                    "Once, many, many years ago I thought I was wrong. Of course it turned out I had been right all along. But I was wrong to have thought I was wrong." -John Foster Dulles. My Political Compass Score: -4.00, -3.69, Proud member of DKE

                    by ArkDem14 on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 01:34:05 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                  •  GR is both challenging and frustrating for several (0+ / 0-)

                    reasons, but contains some of the finest English prose of the modern era.  Try again, and use the study guides to help with all the obscure allusions.  Narrative complexity and allusive density are not everyone's cup of tea, but the sheer beauty of parts of the novel should not be missed.

                    Where are we, now that we need us most?

                    by Frank Knarf on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 07:16:54 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Study Guides are what Vidal says are wrong (0+ / 0-)

                      with literature.

                      "Once, many, many years ago I thought I was wrong. Of course it turned out I had been right all along. But I was wrong to have thought I was wrong." -John Foster Dulles. My Political Compass Score: -4.00, -3.69, Proud member of DKE

                      by ArkDem14 on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 11:13:58 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  That is essentially to claim that literature (0+ / 0-)

                        should be crafted so as to be easily accessible to most readers, or that only the erudite should read literature.  I suppose there might be a case for either claim, but I am happy to have guidance when reading certain material.  If you can fully appreciate the great literature of all eras and regions without help, then more power to you.

                        Literary criticism of any school is outside my scope, but I think I understand that Pynchon wanted the layered allusions and disturbed narrative to do something to the reader who is willing to persevere, to excavate.  This is obviously not the approach everyone brings to reading novels, but I found the experience quite rewarding.

                        I like a good beach read as much as anyone, btw.

                        Where are we, now that we need us most?

                        by Frank Knarf on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 11:47:13 AM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  Well I don't think Vidal had (2+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          greeseyparrot, WB Reeves

                          a problem with getting help or having to study to appreciate a book. He didn't like the idea of dead dissected texts that were more critical study than actual appreciation of a story; just so much pointless academic bureaucracy as he called it. At the end of the day every text should be able to stand on it's own, without being propped up by external sources. These can highlight it, provide new angles, etc, but they can't be the point of the text itself, or of studying it at least, is what Vidal is saying there.

                          "Once, many, many years ago I thought I was wrong. Of course it turned out I had been right all along. But I was wrong to have thought I was wrong." -John Foster Dulles. My Political Compass Score: -4.00, -3.69, Proud member of DKE

                          by ArkDem14 on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 01:15:38 PM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

  •  Neither, but clearly I must change that. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ArkDem14

    Thanks for an excellent diary.

    "Maybe this is how empires die - their citizens just don't deserve to be world leaders anymore." -Kossack Puddytat, In a Comment 18 Sept 2011

    by pixxer on Thu Aug 02, 2012 at 09:31:33 PM PDT

    •  Julian is a very light and engaging (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pixxer, Asinus Asinum Fricat, Bobeau

      fiction read, that still manages to profoundly engage with a historical character while keeping a remarkable distance. His Selected Essays are also quite good.

      "Once, many, many years ago I thought I was wrong. Of course it turned out I had been right all along. But I was wrong to have thought I was wrong." -John Foster Dulles. My Political Compass Score: -4.00, -3.69, Proud member of DKE

      by ArkDem14 on Thu Aug 02, 2012 at 09:42:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Libanius (0+ / 0-)

        the narrator, is a wonderful character. Always thought of him as nearly Vidal himself.

        we see, basically, the same character in Creation, Cyrus Spitama. His continuing mirth over the death of Aeschylus still makes me chuckle.

        •  Nah, I thought of Priscus's (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Bobeau, WB Reeves

          harsh and vigorous discussions of Julian's flaws and psyche as an outside element of the biographical text itself, as being Vidal's insertion into the novel. Priscus, with his lack of delusions and cynicism seemed more like Vidal than Libanius. But the voice of those two characters is amazing, and their back and forth is one of the great pleasures of the novel.

          "Once, many, many years ago I thought I was wrong. Of course it turned out I had been right all along. But I was wrong to have thought I was wrong." -John Foster Dulles. My Political Compass Score: -4.00, -3.69, Proud member of DKE

          by ArkDem14 on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 01:18:37 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I read Myra Breckinridge first. (3+ / 0-)

    Later, I read The City and the Pillar.  In between, iirc, I read Myron, which wasn't as good as the other two.

    I was always bookish -- I have been bookish since at least the age of four.

    So I kept picking up Pynchon, whose pb novels were in every book section I went to (even the supermarket!--again, iirc...it was a very long time ago) and I would pick up the novel, go wtf? and replace it.

    This resonates, iow:

    In fact, I suspect that the energy expended in reading Gravity's Rainbow is, for anyone, rather greater than that expended by Pynchon in the actual writing.

    To make the argument that the media has a left- or right-wing, or a liberal or a conservative bias, is like asking if the problem with Al-Qaeda is do they use too much oil in their hummus. Al Franken

    by Youffraita on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 12:22:32 AM PDT

    •  I first read GR in my 20s, and did again a few (0+ / 0-)

      years ago, with the benefit of a few decades of acquired context.  I still think it is one of the finest novels in English.  Try it paired with "The Tin Drum".

      I am shocked by Vidal's assessment since he seems like precisely the type to appreciate the work.  I wonder if his rumored jealousy concerning the literary hierarchy in those days influenced his public opinion?

      Where are we, now that we need us most?

      by Frank Knarf on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 07:28:10 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It has nothing at all in common (0+ / 0-)

        with Grass's insightful style and ability to tell a story.

        Vidal tended to dislike postmodern writers in general. And he could trace back the movement to it's French Noveau Roman types and was always exceptionally critical of the movement's philosophical aims.

        "Once, many, many years ago I thought I was wrong. Of course it turned out I had been right all along. But I was wrong to have thought I was wrong." -John Foster Dulles. My Political Compass Score: -4.00, -3.69, Proud member of DKE

        by ArkDem14 on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 11:15:33 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well, I tend to have somewhat traditional taste in (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ArkDem14

          art, music and literature.  While a novel like GR certainly could be classified as POMO in some respects, it stands apart from much of the unfortunate dreck that has been published.

          Have you ever read the great skewering of academic posturing by Frederick Crews, "Postmodern Pooh"?

          Of course Grass uses more traditional techniques, but both novels are about something(s) worth exploring, and I don't think Pynchon's experimenting ought to obscure the great strengths of the novel's ideas and psychological pose,  and its often stunningly beautiful prose.

          Where are we, now that we need us most?

          by Frank Knarf on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 11:33:37 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  My eventual goal is to read (0+ / 0-)

            The Tin Drum in its entirety in German. I'm not there yet unfortunately. All my German friends, who are literary types though, tell me it's not Grass's best work even if it is his most important work.

            "Once, many, many years ago I thought I was wrong. Of course it turned out I had been right all along. But I was wrong to have thought I was wrong." -John Foster Dulles. My Political Compass Score: -4.00, -3.69, Proud member of DKE

            by ArkDem14 on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 01:19:43 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  I was given "Messiah" at an early age, as the year (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OregonOak, UniC, ybruti, ArkDem14, northerntier

    of writing it was my birth year, and became hooked on his work in general. Voltaire would not have minded being compared to Vidal.

    He was, by repute, the most accomplished conversationalist of his time and his literary feuds are legendary. When Norman Mailer punched him in the CBS Green Room he remarked, "I at last encountered Norman's tiny fist. As usual, words failed him."

  •  Gore Vidal; The Last Founding Father (6+ / 0-)

    In his anti-Monarchial, anti-Authoritarian, anti-Religious and Pro-Humanist views, Eugene Gore Vidal should be remembered as the living link to the Founders of the US Constitution.
    He lives now through his writing, and we are all indebted to him for his presence. The Buckleys, Buchanans and Cheneys were all obliged to keep their heads down in anticipation of a shot across the bow from Gore Vidal, and he was feared by them more than any military power.

    A great man, a genius and the keeper of the flame of freedom, and like the Founding Fathers, complete with flaws. I miss Gore Vidal today, and thank you for the video clips. It is not often any more that intellectuals can laugh deeply as a barbed understatement which pins the moral pinheads to the insect board so succinctly. Vidal had that genius.

    Figures don't lie, but liars do figure-Mark Twain

    by OregonOak on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 05:36:49 AM PDT

  •  I read Creation... I think... that is about it... (0+ / 0-)

    I read quotes and interview excerpts more often... vignettes of him pontificating about other pontificators and generally being right...

    Pogo & Murphy's Law, every time. Also "Trust but verify" - St. Ronnie (hah...)

    by IreGyre on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 06:18:44 AM PDT

  •  Can anyone shed some additional light on Vidal's (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ArkDem14, rhubarb

    assertions about FDR and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor?  Or on his statement about Truman receiving cash for supporting Israeli statehood?  I am seeing references to this and to his later trutherism in a number of unflattering obits.

    Where are we, now that we need us most?

    by Frank Knarf on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 07:21:18 AM PDT

  •  Burr & Bill (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ArkDem14, greeseyparrot

    The historical novel "Burr" is my own favorite of Vidal's fiction. It's been years since I last reread it, but I do remember that it contains a finely drawn charicature/cameo of a closeted wealthy intellectual with many of Buckley's characteristics, who hisses and honks and secretly cruises, and appears to be guilty of murdering a prostitute with an ax. "All characters are based on historical figures" says the afterward, except for that one, "who clearly can be based upon nobody at all."

    Vidal prided himself on avoiding the academic track, instead earning his living writing for a market of free consumers in TV, film, and-- I would contend-- genre fiction. Started with a war book, went on to gay-interest and historicals, though he didn't combine them much as Mary Renault, whom he admired.  

    Vidal wrote fondly of his boyhood reading of the Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars books. Unlike Vonnegut, Vidal was too snobbish and genuinely alien ever to be adopted by science fiction/fantasy fans, but I'm sure he read the stuff, and he certainly produced works that seem just as much influenced by it as were Pynchon, Borges, William Burroughs, and Margaret Atwood-- Duluth, Myra Beckenridge, and Visit to a Small Planet all qualify as kinds of sci-fi.

    Vidal's take on the "scholar-squirrels" and the academicization and consequent increasing unpopularity of contemporary serious writing has always made a lot of sense to me. I think that's why various forms of genre fiction rose amid critical disrespect and overtook "contemporary literature" in readership and interest. People bought those books because they interesting and fun to read. Now that science fiction (for example) is routinely taught in college it's not nearly as much fun.

    Film is taught in college, too, and a similar die-back seems in process. In the olden days, apparently normal smart adults at parties routinely talked excitedly about books. By the time of my own entry into such parties 45 years ago such talk was always of "films." Now I guess it's TV. What's next? Games? Certainly something you receive online.

  •  What a tribute your title is! And a great diary. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    northerntier, ArkDem14
    •  Thanks (0+ / 0-)

      "Once, many, many years ago I thought I was wrong. Of course it turned out I had been right all along. But I was wrong to have thought I was wrong." -John Foster Dulles. My Political Compass Score: -4.00, -3.69, Proud member of DKE

      by ArkDem14 on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 01:20:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  A late but interesting obit (0+ / 0-)

    "Once, many, many years ago I thought I was wrong. Of course it turned out I had been right all along. But I was wrong to have thought I was wrong." -John Foster Dulles. My Political Compass Score: -4.00, -3.69, Proud member of DKE

    by ArkDem14 on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 03:28:58 PM PDT

  •  This is a great diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ArkDem14

    and a great tribute. Thank you!

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