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Vidal: ‘I Am the Enemy to So Many’

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Posted on Aug 1, 2012
AP

Gore Vidal in 1977.

Throughout his adult life and probably his youth, Gore Vidal enjoyed the sort of playful self-adulation that is often mistaken for arrogance when committed by members of the American upper class.

Disgust at what appears to be excessive love for one’s self cannot be entirely denied. The smugness is real, even if it is exaggerated, and tends to make the person who commits it more despicable in the eyes of their enemies.

These remarks are relevant because the death of an important and opinionated figure such as Gore Vidal—an intellectual force already consigned to the far margins of consciousness for most of the American public—will provoke harsh criticism from those who opposed him in politics, society and morality.

Below, in an interview with The Paris Review in 1974, Vidal, then an active novelist, muses about the negative responses he received from the press during his early adult life.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly. Follow him on Twitter: @areedkelly.

The Paris Review:

INTERVIEWER

Why will you always get a bad press?

VIDAL

That’s more for you to determine than for me. I have my theories, no doubt wrong. I suspect that the range of my activity is unbearable to people who write about books. Lenny Bernstein is not reviewed in The New York Times by an unsuccessful composer or by a student at Julliard. He might be better off if he were, but he isn’t. Writers are the only people who are reviewed by people of their own kind. And their own kind can often be reasonably generous—if you stay in your category. I don’t. I do many different things rather better than most people do one thing. And envy is the central fact of American life. Then, of course, I am the enemy to so many. I have attacked both Nixon and the Kennedys—as well as the American empire. I’ve also made the case that American literature has been second-rate from the beginning. This caused distress in book-chat land. They knew I was wrong, but since they don’t read foreign or old books, they were forced to write things like “Vidal thinks Victor Hugo is better than Faulkner.” Well, Hugo is better than Faulkner, but to the residents of book-chat land Hugo is just a man with a funny name who wrote Les Misérables, a movie on the late show. Finally, I am proud to say that I am most disliked because for twenty-six years I have been in open rebellion against the heterosexual dictatorship in the United States. Fortunately, I have lived long enough to see the dictatorship start to collapse. I now hope to live long enough to see a sexual democracy in America. I deserve at least a statue in Dupont Circle—along with Dr. Kinsey.

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