February
13th 2009
Vidal versus Mailer/Mailer versus the world smackdown, 1971

Posted under: American history, art, book reviews, Gender, GLBTQ

(Via The Daily Beast)

I’ve always loved Gore Vidal–yes, I know, he’s a terrible snob, and then there are all of those essays of his that refer condescendingly to “Assisstant Professors.” But, what a brave person–his “Pink Triangle and Yellow Star” essay is one of the most prescient pieces of political analysis I’ve ever read, and his memoir, Palimpsest, was alternately heartbreaking, hillarious, and filled with delicious gossip of the stars of politics, the arts, and literature in mid-century America. He has outlasted his worst enemies now, hasn’t he? (Norman Mailer, William F. Buckley, Midge Decter–oh, sorry, my bad: Decter’s just career dead.) By the way, that third guest in the Cavett video is Janet Flanner, former Paris correspondent for The New Yorker.

Gee, I wonder why Vidal never succeeded in politics

13 Comments »

13 Responses to “Vidal versus Mailer/Mailer versus the world smackdown, 1971”

  1. Buster on 13 Feb 2009 at 5:42 pm #

    Vidal is such a delicious guilty pleasure. Let’s not forget the fiction–Myra Breckenridge and A Thirsty Evil are sexy, witty fun for the ages.

    And I’ve always thought his write-up of the New Novel and “cutting edge” 1960s fiction to be exemplary literary criticism and spot-on judgment (thumbs-down to Barth, thumbs-up to Paley).

    That he isn’t more widely regarded as a living great is unfortunate.

  2. Historiann on 13 Feb 2009 at 5:50 pm #

    Strangely, or perhaps not, I’ve never been a huge fan of Vidal’s fiction. (Myra Breckenridge is a trippy 60s relic, though, that does hold up in many ways.) I can’t stand his historical fiction, especially the biographical stuff, but I really love his non-fiction and review essays. There’s no one smarter with a longer lived historical memory than Vidal. And if you haven’t read Palimpsest, it’s worth it if only for the snarky meanness towards Truman Capote and Lee Radziwill…

    Oh, Capote–make that another enemy Vidal has outlived…

  3. Buster on 13 Feb 2009 at 6:03 pm #

    Agreed on the historical fiction. A Thirsty Evil, however, makes one wish that Vidal spent more time on dirty little short stories and less time on Abe Lincoln and Aaron Burr.

    Have read bits of Palimpsest at the bookshop or in friends’ apartments, but never gave it the cover-to-cover treatment. Will correct this eventually.

  4. Satsuma on 13 Feb 2009 at 8:07 pm #

    I too love Gore Vidal’s wit and essays. His historical fiction never much interested me. And that wonderful clip of him duking it out with the hated Norman Mailer was great!! What a gem.

    I also loved it that we had the gay and lesbian intellectual teamed up with Dick Cavette against the wife stabbing anti-feminist Mailer! Oh no I’m not biased.

    What’s interesting is that even after all this time, I still feel so passionate about those people. They were special intellectuals who are unequaled today!!

    “Palimpsest” is a great book. Vidal really has great Kennedy myth puncturing observations too in that book.

  5. Satsuma on 13 Feb 2009 at 8:09 pm #

    Janet Flanner was heaven to see in person. I’d never seen this clip, but loved her instantly!! What a special connection to the lesbian left bank past, thank you so much for putting it on this blog Historiann. You should get a Legion of Honor knighthood for that :-)

  6. Indyanna on 14 Feb 2009 at 11:07 am #

    I thought we were going to see the ensuing rumble. That part must be copyrighted or embargoed. Cavett sure made a lot of money/per word on that particular episode. As with Leno and Letterman today, they were always looking for the “next Jack Paar” in those days, and I don’t think Cavett was the one. I used to see a much more aged ’80s Mailer shuffling along Willow Street in Brooklyn Heights, going to wherever he lived with his Sunday N.Y. Times. Flanner was the class of that particular act, I think we could conclude.

  7. Joe the Plumber on 14 Feb 2009 at 11:21 am #

    Historiann -

    I am sad to report a typographical error, “hillarious”, in today’s otherwise correct missive.

    Also, although I most widely known as a plumber, I wanted to let you know that I am now a political philosopher, as evidenced by my latest pamphlet, “Fighting for the American Dream.”

    As a fellow Buckeye, would you be so kind as to work this spirited, Edmund Burkesque defense of the Empire into your reading group rota? Thanks!

  8. koshem bos on 14 Feb 2009 at 2:15 pm #

    Vidal is a mediocre writer, a hater of many, snob, pompous and otherwise a forgettable figure. Haters, in particular, shouldn’t be elevated to a human level.

  9. Geoff on 14 Feb 2009 at 8:46 pm #

    The Onion once ran a parody title of a recent Mailer tome, “The Time of My Times by Me Featuring Me.” Still makes me smile.

  10. Satsuma on 15 Feb 2009 at 2:12 pm #

    It would be really interesting to have an equal number of women and men academics evaluate what they consider to be great books. I have never met a woman who ever liked Mailer, for example. If you look at the New York Times book review and other similar reviews nationwide, the imbalance of male authored books and female authored books is striking.

    Within feminism, there is a huge cultural divide with a completely different set of authors.

    If women controlled all the book reviews worldwide, how would literature be different? I’m betting the “great book” list would be amazingly different.

  11. John S. on 23 Feb 2009 at 8:41 pm #

    This review of Elaine Showalter’s new book on Salon.com seems *very* appropriate to this discussion, esp. Satsuma’s most recent point: http://www.salon.com/books/review/2009/02/24/elaine_showalter/

  12. Gore Vidal: 75% cynical visionary + 25% conspiracy nut =100% entertaining! : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 01 Oct 2009 at 1:35 pm #

    [...] self-loathing.)  Also:  I love that writerly competition in Vidal’s dismissal of White!  Writers of Vidal’s generation were pugnaciously competitive–now, writers are always blurbing each other’s books and fawning over each [...]

  13. The Radical Is Reminded Of A Time When Intellectuals Were Witty And Television Talk Shows Were Smart - Tenured Radical - The Chronicle of Higher Education on 21 Jun 2011 at 2:41 pm #

    [...] This is brought to you courtesy of the intrepid, vacationing and always witty, Historiann. [...]