Sunday, February 04, 2007

Pondering two American essayists: Vidal & Buckley

"[T]here is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise". -- Gore Vidal

The quote is from Gore Vidal, though intellectuals from Plato onward have shared this attitude, especially when dealing with political subjects. Vidal would have classicists as kings, while Plato would have philosophers. (Naturally, I'd prefer the latter, thank you.)

This Vidal character strikes me as someone whom I would despise when within eight feet of him, but whom I actually appreciate when he's located a few states away. Here's another quote:
"[T]here is only one party in the United States, the Property Party . . . and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt — until recently... and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties."[1; Vidal]

I know the French tend to make celebrities out of their cultural commentators. If America were to do so -- and I'm mostly glad we don't -- Vidal would probably be ours.

Every good intellectual has a nemesis, and I was surprised to learn that Vidal's was none other than William F. Buckley, another of my favorite American commentators. On my view, Buckley's two choice quotes are these:
"The purpose of an open mind is to close it, on particular subjects. If you never do — you've simply abdicated the responsibility to think." [And:] "Government can't do anything for you except in proportion as it can do something to you."[1; Buckley]

The latter is reminiscent of the late Gerald Ford's view: " "A government big enough to give you everything you need is also big enough to take it all away."

Once, a long time ago, in an America far, far away, Yoda briefly tangled with a Sith. Wikipedia gives a nice summary of what happened:
"In 1968, ABC News hired Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr. as political analysts of the Republican and Democratic presidential conventions, predicting that television viewers would enjoy seeing two men of letters — famous for their acerbic wit and sarcasm — engage in on-air battle; as it turned out, verbal and nearly physical combat were joined. After days of mutual bickering that devolved to childish, ad hominem attacks, Vidal called Buckley a 'pro-crypto Nazi', to which the visibly livid Buckley replied: 'Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto Nazi, or I'll sock you in the goddamn face and you'll stay plastered.'" [1; Vidal]

So much for the measured response of two rational scholars towards one another. Afterwards, they apparently both acquired the hobby of suing each other for libel over the next few years as they wrestled to become king commentator of the American essayist galaxy. They were both born the same year, so perhaps their sole victory conditions lie in seeing who can outlive the other.


[photo] Composite
Vidal: "Palästina: Zerrissenes ,Heiliges Land’" Zeiten Schrift (Accessed 2/3/07)
Buckley: "William F. Buckley II on today's Republican Party" Politics Archives

[1] All quotes from Wikipedia articles on "Gore Vidal" and "William F. Buckley, Jr." (Accessed 2/3/2007)


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At 2:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A certain novelist you admire (I know because there are only about three in existence), Norman Mailer, has also famously feuded with Vidal. "Why?" you ask; well, for your entertainment a brief history of Mailer and Vidal’s feud:

Reviewing Mailer's 1971 "Prisoner of Sex,"
Vidal compared the process of reading the book to "three hours of menstrual flow." He went on to assert that Mailer's sensibilities were strikingly similar Charles Manson.
For the slight, Mailer arranged for the two to appear on the Dick Cavett Show together. After drinking for several hours, Mailer appeared in the dressing room for makeup only to find Vidal sitting in the cosmetician’s chair. Mailer abruptly head-butted Vidal, knocking him to the floor; Vidal played it as cool as he could, and did not mention the incident on the air. However, Mailer, still drunk, said on live television that Vidal “ruined Kerouac by sleeping with him.”

Six years later, at a swanky party hosted by Newsweek magazine, Vidal torqued Mailer off again. In the ensuing melee, Mailer threw his drink in Vidal’s face and then decked him, sending Vidal to the ground. Though stunned and dazed, Vidal is reported to have said, “Words fail Norman Mailer yet again.”



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