Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Amazing Mr. Vidal

I happened on this today, trolling through my files of interviews with writers, something I do when I'm feeling blue. For the entire mad decades 1994 (Contract on America) through to the present, Mr. Vidal was the only voice that resonated with my inner feelings about the country of my birth. Here's the tail end of a wonderful long interview with him in '09, the last part of which I include here, silently cheering his unfettered honesty as my heart swells with gratitude.  It's just so good.  I particularly feel grateful to him for his description of the Bush admin as a "wrecking crew", perfect and apt, though how the entire country seemed to sleep through that is startling. The entire interview can be viewed here.

What prepares someone to be a novelist, if that is the life they are interested in?
Gore Vidal: Reflectiveness about the world they are living in, trying to make sense of it.

A lot of novels, I suspect, come out of people who have been severely shocked at some point in their lives, and never quite knew how to live with the shock, so they want to reconstruct it by writing about it. It's just kind of obvious therapy. The art novel is something more special, and that comes out of a deep knowledge of the art, such as you get in Henry James, who really was our greatest novelist. He never thought of anything else but fiction itself, the perfect phrase, the perfect encounter, the perfect clash. The Golden Bowl is full of the most astonishing scenes. His imagination just was so driven in that book that it is like nothing else.
If an aspiring writer came to you for advice, what would you say to them?
Gore Vidal: If you need my advice, don't do it. You won't be happy doing it. It's not easy, but if you are a natural at it -- as you are bound to be if you keep at it -- then it's certainly not onerous, and it has all sorts of satisfactions along the way.
Looking back, do you have any regrets, things you wish you could do over again or would do differently?
Gore Vidal: I don't think so, no. Whatever I did was obviously what I should have done at the time, or so I thought.
As we head into the 21st century, what do you see as the biggest challenges that we have in America? What concerns you most?
Gore Vidal: Survival. I think there is a very good chance that we won't get through the 21st century due to all the usual reasons, you know, environment gone wrong, the end of fossil fuels, inability to replace them with ethanol or whatever. I think going broke. We have already lost the Constitution of the United States. That is gone, and that is not going to return ever. Maybe in the lifetime of somebody one year old, it might come back, but I will never see it. You will never see it. The young people watching this might never see it either.
Gore Vidal Interview Photo
Everything is smashed. We had a wrecker's crew got in office, and they set out to do everything that you ought not to do: first, to the economy; second, waging preemptive wars against non-enemies, people in no position to do us any harm even though they wanted to. At the time of the attack on Iraq, I said, "Why don't you hit Denmark? It makes much better ruins and it would be more satisfactory, because it's a beautiful place. Iraq is kind of a mess." Every move that you make that could be wrong has been made, but terminally made. You don't get Constitutions back all that easily. You don't get the Fourth Amendment back once you have people taking off their shoes at the airport and you go through all the luggage, and you listen to their conversations. And there's no objection to it. It's as if Americans had never experienced freedom of any kind. It's is if we were living in Paraguay all these years.
In one way, I think we have it coming to us. I am not in a kindly mood about my countrymen. On the other hand, I am in a kindly mood in the sense that they never voted for these people. They had no idea what they were voting for. Even 2004, when it was quite apparent about the war, and so on, they could have voted against that anyway, but we will never know because the voting machinery, Diebold, Triad, ESS, these all have been corrupted. We don't even know what the votes were in Ohio in 2004, and Florida in 2000. We will never know. Once a so-called democracy gives up its elections for the leader of the country, it is not a democracy. It isn't anything. It is a sort of Romanesque hull, full of corrupt people who tell lies. This is not good.
Why do you think this has happened in America? How do you think we have come to this?
Gore Vidal: Vanity!

It's the only explanation I could ever come up with about Vietnam. "How dare this inferior little people..." we thought, although basically their civilization is much older than ours. "How dare they defy us?" "How dare Panama? We are going to go down there and seize their leader and throw him into prison." Even though we have no legal rights over him at all. That was Noriega. Then we get a narrative together. "Oh, he is in charge of all the drugs on earth and he is a great admirer of Adolf Hitler, did you know that? He has got a copy of Mein Kampf!" "Oh no!" "Yes!" "God, he must be evil." "Yes, he is." All these evil people they find everywhere on earth. They could look in the mirror occasionally, if they wanted to see something really evil.
How would you like to be remembered? What do you want your legacy to be?
Gore Vidal: I don't know. Anyone who worries about being remembered ought not to be born.
Is there anything you have not had a chance to say that you would like to say?
Gore Vidal: If you have another two or three hours, I will start in at the basement, and we will work our way to the roof.
Thank you. That was fascinating.

Think I'll go grab a copy of Duluth and see what that's about.

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