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Adios, Gore

[ 67 ] August 1, 2012 |

This is probably necessary:

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  1. firefall says:

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

  2. “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 says:

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

      • Craigo says:

        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 says:

          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.

        • Anonymous says:

          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 says:

            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 says:

              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 says:

          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 says:

          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.

  3. Joel Patterson says:

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

  4. Joel Patterson says:

    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.

  5. Tosh says:

    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.

  6. Joe says:

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

    • Malaclypse says:

      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 says:

        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 says:

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

    • mds says:

      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 says:

        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 says:

          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.

          • lawguy says:

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

            • jonnybutter says:

              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.

          • Hogan says:

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

            STOP JUDGING ME

            • jonnybutter says:

              ha

              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 says:

            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 says:

        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 says:

          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.

  7. Jonas says:

    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.

  8. lawguy says:

    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.

  9. Craigo says:

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

  10. hylen says:

    A superior essayist. Too bad he’s gone.

  11. H. ploughjogger says:

    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.

  12. Davis says:

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

  13. Kurzleg says:

    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.

  14. lawguy says:

    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.

  15. Malaclypse says:

    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.

  16. Heron says:

    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.

  17. Anonymous says:

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

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