Home / Robert Farley / Adios, Gore

Adios, Gore


This is probably necessary:

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  • firefall

    How excellent, & a good reminder of the thuggishness of the ‘sainted’ Buckley.

    • I ought to sock you in your goddamned face. And you’ll stay plastered.

    • Kurzleg

      Predictable that even the “intellectuals” on the right are predisposed to thuggishness.

  • “Crypto-Nazi”. That’s so great.

    Both Buckley and Vidal wrote about the encounter, and Vidal came out ahead in that rematch as well. How good a novelist was Vidal? Meh. On television though he was unbeatable.

    • lawguy

      When you describe Vidal’s novels as “Meh” just what does that mean?

      • Craigo

        Having only read his American historical novels – Lincoln was excellent, if historically suspect, while Burr and 1876 were very good but suffered from unnecessary focus on the fictional Charles Schuyler.

        Empire, Hollywood, and Washington DC revolve almost entirely around the Sanford clan. They’re the sort of high society melodramas that were done much better by Henry James.

        • LFC

          Vidal’s early novel ‘The City and the Pillar’ was, as Michael Dirda says in WaPo today, a pioneering work. Though somewhat dated in various ways, it’s still worth reading.

          • Craigo

            I’ve been meaning to read that, and Creation, for some time. Unsurprisingly, they’re difficult to find in most areas.

        • Anonymous

          suffered from unnecessary focus on the fictional Charles Schuyler.

          Schuyler provides a needed narrative center in both books and his being fictional allows Vidal some room for maneuver. He’s used more successfully in Burr than 1876, I’ll allow.

          Burr provided a much-needed kick in the pants in regard to popular views of the Founding Fathers and I think it’s fair to call it a classic historical novel. Julian is good. Myra Breckinridge holds up well (don’t confuse the book with the movie). Back in the day I also enjoyed some of his lesser efforts like Messiah and Two Sisters.

          I don’t think the essays are as far above the novels in quality as some have suggested, but many of them remain fine reading. His memoir, Palimpsest, is well worth a read. (He wrote a follow-up memoir and you can tell that he’s fading out a bit – less energy in the prose, repeated stories, etc.)RIP.

          • Craigo

            I think the difference between Burr and 1876 is that the former has a central figure to focus on, who happens to be absolutely fascinating.

            The closest 1876 has to that is Tilden, who is nowhere near as central to the narrative, and pretty boring to boot.

            • Ed

              There are two narratives in Burr — Burr telling his own story to Charlie and Charlie’s sections situating us in his and the elderly Burr’s present. It also allows Vidal to elide those portions of Burr’s life where his actions and motivations were still mysterious; the fictional Burr retains that mystery – he doesn’t tell Charlie everything.

      • I mean that they are polemics that depend on their historical background for their plot arcs, with no three dimensional characters. “Burr” may be the exception, but even there Vidal is striving as much to be shocking as he is going after anything else. “Myra Breckenridge” is a novel that few writers would be able to live down.

        Vidal is being compared to Capote and Mailer. Fair enough. They were all contemporaries, they were all familiar from TV and magazine profiles. If you were to ask someone familiar with the works of all three to recommend a place to start I suspect that “In Cold Blood” would be the consensus selection for Capote. Mailer might be represented by “The Naked and the Dead” or (my pick) “The Deer Park” or by “The Executioner’s Song”. What would be the recommendation for Vidal? Would it be “Burr”? Would it be “The City and the Pillar”? I don’t think it would be “Lincoln”– there are any number of Lincoln books worth recommending, and Vidal’s contribution to the field finishes well down the list.

        Even so, Vidal was provocative at a time when that was an extremely valuable thing, and he was fun, and witty, and unafraid, all of which are valuable traits at any time. Will anyone read any of his stuff 25 years from now? Does anyone now?

        • jeer9

          The Naked and The Dead remains an excellent war novel, especially one written by a 25 year old, even if the short character sketches of the platoon members are fairly one-dimensional and cliched. Armies of the Night is surprisingly funny and self-deprecating in a way that you wouldn’t expect if you saw Mailer pontificating on TV.

          Haven’t read any of Vidal’s fiction, though his essays and TV appearances during his prime, while entertaining, were so infused with aristocratic disdain and cynicism that I often wished he wasn’t on “our” side. I’ve forgotten his exact phrasing, but he wrote of that encounter with Buckley that there was great pleasure in seeing the cuckoo clock finally explode from WFB’s forehead. IIRC, Paul Newman, a friend of Vidal’s, charged into the green room afterwards and offered to take Buckley up on his manly challenge. Now I’d have paid some money to see that whipping.

        • bob mcmanus

          Will anyone read any of his stuff 25 years from now? Does anyone now?

          Julian has 74 customer reviews at Amazon. Creation 52, Burr 73. Yeah, kids are still reading him.

          A man of letters and public intellectual, one of America’s best of the century. Samuel Johnson, Henry Adams (read Democracy lately?), maybe Sartre (read his novels?).

          And just a damn good man.

          • Richard

            Except for the stuff about McVeigh in his later years which was horrid

            • rkd

              Also a rape apologist (about Polanski):
              I really don’t give a fuck. Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she’s been taken advantage of?

            • lawguy

              As far as the stuff about McKeivh, he assentially didn’t believe that McKeivh did it no matter what the guy said. At least that is what I got from the Vanity Fair article. He thought it was a goverment conspricy. Weird, but oh well.

          • Timb

            Is Julian any good. I find the historical character fascinating and I have wondered at the novel

            • bob mcmanus

              Julian is excellent. Perhaps his best novel, with the possible exception of Duluth

              It is of a style, a moderately dry philosophical and political novel. And while not history, it was carefully researched.

              Those who read it as an anti-Christian diatribe are somewhat missing the point and the relevance. It’s about apostasy.

              • Timb

                Liking Julian solely for rejecting Christianity would be a conservative point. I like him for the balls to against the morons and sycophants

            • bob mcmanus

              <i.Creation is a ton of fun, but really just his thematic answer to Mika Waltari. His political novels are well political.

              Messiah, Julian, and Kalki are, I think, as serious as Vidal got. Maybe Late Capitalist American hyper-rationalism as death-cult? Don’t know, there is a heartfelt metaphor round abouts those books.

              Thing is, there is a big part of Messiah that makes a lot of sense. Why not just die?

  • Joel Patterson

    Why, that video gives me the impression that the intellectual leader of the Conservative Movement was deeply prejudiced!

  • Joel Patterson

    Oh, wait… William F. Buckley did not make it to the front in WWII…

    Q: Am I wrong in thinking that Mr. Buckley served as an infantry company commander in World War II? If so, in what unit and in which theater of operations did he serve? —Hillard Gordon

    A: He served in the U.S. Army but did not make it overseas. He did, however, oversee a sexual hygiene operation on a base in Texas.

    • Cody

      Sounds to me like he was front and center in the war effort.

    • rea

      So, while he never saw a shot fired in anger, he saw a few shots injected . . .

  • Tosh

    I remember that confrontation. Seem to recall further on Buckley bragging about his military service and Vidal shutting him down as the “man who never saw a shot fired in anger”.
    Good times.

  • Joe

    And, remember, bad as WB was, he was more principled than many of the FOX brigade now.

    • Malaclypse

      Fuck the line that Buckley was merely “bad.”

      The central question that emerges—and it is not a parliamentary question or a question that is answered by merely consulting a catalog of the rights of American citizens, born Equal—is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes—the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.

      National Review believes that the South’s premises are correct. If the majority wills what is socially atavistic, then to thwart the majority may be, though undemocratic, enlightened. It is more important for any community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numerical majority. Sometimes it becomes impossible to assert the will of a minority, in which case it must give way; and the society will regress; sometimes the numerical minority cannot prevail except by violence: then it must determine whether the prevalence of its will is worth the terrible price of violence.

      • Joe

        I said “bad as WB was” … if you want that to be “fucking bad,” fine.

        The FOX brigade would have agreed with him on that or tattooing HIV positive people or whatever horrible example you want, and scream down the person they have on, who would probably be some weak representative anyway, not provide extended chances for debate. They also wouldn’t do things like promote the legalization of drugs.

      • Hogan

        The only way to make that more insufferable is to imagine it being read in Buckley’s voice.

    • mds

      Yeah, I used to agree with Joe on Buckley. Then I realized that dressing up reactionary, bigoted, morally- and intellectually-bankrupt horseshit in a civilized veneer isn’t actually an improvement over having the same ideas declared more flagrantly by obvious dumbshits. Buckley’s essay advocating the forcible tattooing of HIV-positive people on their buttocks wouldn’t be out of place on Fox News or the other wingnut outlets. Why grant respectability where it isn’t deserved?

      • Joe

        Civility and actual debate matters.

        “bad as WB was” is not much of an endorsement. People seem to think if you don’t’ think someone is the anti-Christ, you are going too easy on them.

        • jonnybutter

          If you can’t be civil but un-equivocating, then it’s not worth it to be civil. I might quibble with ‘crypto nazi’, but it’s not just an incivil insult: WFB was (at least) a reactionary and authoritarian, and if you soften it to something euphemistic, you are covering for him. Anyway, I don’t think Buckley was ashamed of his political views, nor of those of his buddies, like Bozell. They were authroitarian and perfectly open about it (they just didn’t call it that).

          Several of Vidal’s novels are quite good (already mentioned), and his literary criticism was pretty damned good too. Some of the essays on other subjects wear better than others, but there are dozens and dozens of good ones in there. People can pretend that he wasn’t much of a critic, but I don’t think that’s a judgement which will last.

          When we talk about his decline, we have to remember what a stone alcoholic he was (he is very matter of fact about it in Palimpsest) – that’s a progressive disease, and every alkie falls apart to some extent at the end, becomes a crank, etc. if they live long enough. Judging him predominantly by his last years is not fair, IMO.

          • jonnybutter, was he and alcoholic or did he just drink and enjoy it?

            • jonnybutter

              I think a fifth of hooch a day for years and years pickles your brain. You may think you are just having fun, but it must become a treadmill after a while.

          • every alkie falls apart to some extent at the end, becomes a crank, etc. if they live long enough.

            STOP JUDGING ME

            • jonnybutter


              also wanted to mention Buckley’s rudeness as proto FNC – if you yell loud enough you can cut off the other person. That means your argument is sound.

          • Ed

            He sounds pretty together in that Atlantic interview. The observations are sharp although he’d made many of them before, unsurprising given his years and that people tended to ask him the same kinds of questions. (I tend to take the Polanski remarks, bad as they are, in context – he’s saying that insiders back then knew the “real” story which is nothing like the current one, and I have no doubt that Vidal wasn’t the only one who thought that way.)

            I admired the guy but it’s true that was always a bit of the crank about him. Many decades ago he was getting rather exercised about the rise of Japan and seemingly convinced some new sort of Yellow Peril was at hand.

      • Uncle Kvetch

        Buckley’s essay advocating the forcible tattooing of HIV-positive people on their buttocks wouldn’t be out of place on Fox News or the other wingnut outlets. Why grant respectability where it isn’t deserved?

        Amen, harrumph, +1. Also, too: this.

        Civility and actual debate matters.

        Echoing a recent thread on this blog, I have no interest in civilly debating whether someone just might have a point when they treat me as a subhuman.

        Buckley knew how to apply a veneer of patrician intellectualism to bog-standard reactionary bigotry. How this makes him “better” (or even “not as bad as”) any of the braying cranks on FOX today is beyond me.

        • Malaclypse

          Buckley knew how to apply a veneer of patrician intellectualism to bog-standard reactionary bigotry. How this makes him “better” (or even “not as bad as”) any of the braying cranks on FOX today is beyond me.

          This. Malkin is at least honest in her batshit hatred and wingnuttery. Explaining in calm reasoned tones that Negros are just animals at best is not in any way “better than” the troglodytes over at Stormfront.

          • Holden Pattern

            In fact, it’s worse, because in doing so, he’s demonstrated that he has the ability to NOT promulgate this malicious claptrap.

  • Jonas

    It’s funny (actually- not funny, what’s the opposite of funny?) that Buckley’s argument was that you can’t criticize the war because there are troops in the field, which is still in use today, at least when it’s a liberal doing the criticizing. It makes me wonder how far back that goes.

    • Hogan

      World War I, anyway.

      • rea

        Peloponnesian War, anyway.

        • Jonas

          Thinking about it more, anyone who didn’t support the Pharoahs’ Nubian campaigns was probably accused of not supporting the troops.

      • Timb

        I like that, because certainly in the Civil War the main complaints were from conservatives. The Mexican-American war had quite a few critics on the Left, as did the Spanish-American war and, if i remember properly, Lincoln was criticized for criticizing the Mexican bullying,both during the War and later by Douglas. I hesitate to call “Left” for a host of reasons, but for his time I think ” liberal” would apply

  • lawguy

    I did read that Vidal admitted that he was wrong to say that Buckley was a follower of Hitler. He meant to say that Buckley was a crypto-fascist, but misspoke in the heat of the moment.

    • Davis

      Mort Sahn said that Buckley was actually objecting to the hyphenation.

  • Craigo

    I’d still take Buckley over anybody at the National Review today.


      That’s a pretty low bar, but I’m not sure it’s quite low enough. AFAIK, Jeffrey Hart still writes for the NR occasionally and he’s a little less odious than Buckley was.


        Whoops! It had been a while since I posted from this machine apparently. Bye-bye, trollic epithet!

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          There we go…
          (Preview please!)


          That was an internet tradition worth reliving.

  • hylen

    A superior essayist. Too bad he’s gone.

  • H. ploughjogger

    And even he kissed more boys than I ever will.

    I call myself the Gore Vidal of commenters because I read a lot. Er, Gore Vidal was what? I guess I better stop saying that.

  • Davis

    Memories are tricky, but I believe I saw that in real time. Notice the delight in Vidal’s eyes as Buckley loses his shit.

  • Kurzleg

    It’s pathetic, I admit, but I’ll always remember him for his performance in “Gattaca”. “Bob Roberts” too, though I haven’t seen that in ages. Played himself in both, in spirit if not in name.

  • I do remember reading an essay by Vidal in the mid 60s where he mentioned that the only two men who could live together in D.C. without being accused of being homosexuals were Clyde Tolson and J. Edger Hoover.

    My 20 year old mind went: “Oh, of course.” Some fun.

  • Malaclypse

    Bestest, most awesomest correction ever:

    Correction: August 1, 2012

    An earlier version misstated the term Mr. Vidal called William F. Buckley Jr. in a debate. It was crypto-Nazi, not crypto-fascist.

    • Hogan

      The editors do not regret the error.

  • Heron

    Wow, Buckley sure was a class act, wasn’t he? Oh, the golden days of yesteryear; when chickenhawks could still call their critics “faggots” and “nazis” on national television, then offendedly demand some decorum when they got back worse than they gave. Insufferable Brahmin; may Zeus grant that I someday live to piss on your grave.

    • Ζευς Επιδωτης

      Insufferable Brahmin; may Zeus grant that I someday live to piss on your grave.

      I grant thy wish, mortal. Use this boon well.

      • Heron

        Thank you Rain-Warden; Law-Giver! Thank you Father of Gods and Men! I will honor this boon appropriately with sacrifice of goat and bull, this Saturn’s Day next.

  • Anonymous

    Remember, he’s also responsible for Michelle Bachmann Road to Damasacus moment.

    • Malaclypse

      Keeping her off our side would rank among an ordinary man’s greatest of achievements.

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