Gore Vidal Political Essays

Vidal’s lineage in American literature may be traced back to Henry James, the sophisticated American from the upper echelons of society who mingles with European sophisticates, and Mark Twain, the raw humorist and critic of American empire.Early Years Vidal was born in 1925 with high political and social connections.Now, three years later, we have Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal, Jay Parini’s admiring but unblinkingly honest portrait of the self-mythologizing, self-aggrandizing literary titan and TV celebrity.

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Norman Mailer once said, I think incorrectly, that Vidal lacked the wound as a novelist. And all he could do was grasp onto the fact that his grandfather—who was remote, blind, and old—was a senator. So Gore didn’t really have these aristocratic roots he liked to claim. Myra Breckenridge might be looked at by sociologists because it’s a post-sexual, transsexual novel. What do you think Gore would have thought of your book? Because one thing a narcissist doesn’t like is to look in a mirror that is in anyway genuinely reflective of what’s on the other side of it.He has also written well over a hundred essays, gathered in several volumes published between 19.Taken as a whole, this seemingly varied work has an uncanny unity, exhibiting a tone of easy familiarity with the world of politics and letters, an urbane wit, and a supreme self-confidence on the part of the writer.Parini’s mercifully concise 460-page biography of this writer, public intellectual, and champion name dropper is larded with anecdotes, put-downs, and epigrams by and about an astonishing parade of the rich, brilliant, and famous.As Parini says, “Gore knew everyone.” So we see Vidal hanging out with literary giants (André Gide, George Santayana, E. Forster, Graham Greene, Anthony Burgess, Tennessee Williams, Stephen Spender), movie giants (Greta Garbo, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Claire Bloom, Federico Fellini), and political giants (the Kennedys, Eleanor Roosevelt).Vidal’s hit play, The Best Man, was revived on Broadway as recently as 2012.But he was perhaps equally well-known for his television duels with Norman Mailer and William F. His most enduring work, though, will likely be his elegant, witty, and often prescient political essays collected in United States: Essays 1952-92.The following is an edited version of our conversation. You only have one opportunity like this to write a book about somebody you knew that well. And Gore had said to me, “Write whatever you want to write. And don’t worry about me, I’ll be dead.”One of the virtues of your book, I must say, is its manageable length.Jay Parini: I hope people realize that this book really strips away the mask. I think it’s imperative nowadays for biographers to write concisely.Yet Parini has produced a bracingly objective and serious literary biography that is also hugely entertaining.It is also something of a tragic story, and very much the biography Gore Vidal deserved. Fried: Did you feel any conflict between being a friend and being a biographer? I always thought that I was walking a bit of a tightrope.

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