Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you
--Bob Dylan

Tangled Up in Blues
Blood on the Tracks

Gore Vidal led a gaudy life. Watching the documentary, "Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia" is great fun. But it is more. Vidal was wonderfully inventive and daring. I was, regrettably, mostly oblivious to him during his heyday in the 1960's--there were too many other voices, too much noise in America. Now, I wish I had paid more attention.

But all is not lost, this documentary helps enormously.

He says things which I thought were original within my own mind, but which, apparently, he had already thought and said and I may have simply absorbed them from the revolutionary air. 

"We should stop going around babbling about how we're the greatest democracy on earth, when we're not even a democracy. We are a sort of militarized republic."

How many times have I said words to that effect, and thought myself very clever and original?  But now, Gore Vidal said it all before. 
Or maybe, great minds think alike. But, whatever the case, it is not exactly that his words written in my soul, like burning coals, but there are a number of remarks which do resonate.

Here's a sampling.

On Our National Capacity for Obtuseness:

"The United states was founded by the brightest people in the country--and we haven't seen them since."

"Big oil, big steel, big agriculture avoid the open marketplace. Big corporations fix prices among themselves and thus drive out of business the small entrepreneur. Also, in their conglomerate form, the huge corporations have begun to challenge the very legitimacy of the state."

On Justice:
"The genius of our ruling class is that it has kept a majority of the people from ever questioning the inequity of a system where most people drudge along."

"Well, the Constitution has not yet been pregnant."

On Leaders: 
"For reasons that I leave to a higher psychiatry, Jr. wanted a war in Iraq. ...Jr. is really pretty vague, you know. He just wanted to go 'Bang! Bang! Bang!' We gotta stand tall, ya know? We can't cut and run...' We've had bad presidents in the past, but we've never had a G--D--d fool."

"You know, I've been around the ruling class all my life, and I've been quite aware of their total contempt for the people of the country."

He is tough on Kennedy, who, he says, was one of the most intelligent people he ever met but a "disastrous"  President.  "He spoke intelligently on every important subject of his time. Brilliantly. Then nothing would happen."  
(Personally, I'm not sure I agree with Vidal on this one.  Kennedy, far as I can see,  was hemmed in by the shifting political and social tectonic plates of American history. But what do I know?)

On the sexual revolution:
"Never pass up a chance to have sex or to appear on television."

"I can understand companionship. I can understand bought sex in the afternoon, but I cannot understand the love affair."

"As one gets older, litigation replaces sex."

"Certainly I am devoted to promiscuity and always have been. I believe the more you do the better it is for you. I am a great health nut. I don't like the word "love." It's like "patriotism." It's like a flag. It's the last refuge of scoundrels. When people start talking about what warm deep emotions they have and they are loving people, I watch out. Somebody is going to steal something."

On human nature:
"A narcissist is someone better looking than you are."

"Envy is the central fact of American life."

His debates with the officious William F. Buckley, Jr. are alone worth the price of admission.

I liked Burr and Lincoln . Never got into his stuff on sex and society, like Myra Breckenridge. But, as a person to watch, to listen to, he is in a class with Truman Capote and David Sedaris. 

Watching him is a peculiar experience:  You know he is coming from a place you cannot come from--the gay, libertine who rejects the notion this nation is or ever was a center of virtue, a force for good. But he nibbles away--you know he's correct about some things, why not about others?  He points out we have never been nor really wanted to be a democracy--when the Constitution was signed, out of 3 million Americans only 700,000 got the vote--white propertied men. And patriotism--well that's just an excuse for empire. He never heard a soldier or sailor say anything which smacked of patriotism the two years he spent on board his ship in the Pacific during the war. War, soldiering is not about patriotism, wasn't then, isn't now. And once you begin to see what is behind the mask, whether it's a pedophile priest or a hypocritical politician, you begin to think, well maybe some of the other outrageous things he says are not so outrageous. 

It's a worthwhile two hours, watching Vidal.

1 comment:

  1. Mad Dog,
    Will try and watch it, it does sound good. Love his take on the "W"..surely couldn't have said it better.. and his line about the brightness of our founding fathers and our not having seen that brightness since is priceless..His window into the ruling class is an interesting perspective, considering he came from that social strata...not so sure about his take on personal relationships though, seems a bit cynical and cold...but I think you're right-it does sound worth watching...