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Posts Tagged ‘Gore Vidal’

Staff Picks: Cats, Cattiness, Correction

September 4, 2015 | by

From Best of Enemies.

I can’t say that I’m much of a fan of Charles Bukowski’s, but I’ve been marveling at our shared love of cats, via a forthcoming collection of short pieces—verse and bits of prose—about or involving his feline friends. It’s endearing to see a grizzled, vulgar street poet bent to the will of a small cat. He recognizes their complexity and frequently shows a candid concern for their opinions of him: “My cat shit in my archives / he climbed into my Golden State Sunkist / orange box / and he shit on my poems / my original poems / saved for the university archives. // that one-eared fat black critic / he signed me off.” But then, cats are the ultimate tough motherfuckers, as Bukowski calls one feline companion, and who better to appreciate the resilience of a stray than another stray: “and now sometimes I’m interviewed, they want to hear about / life and literature and I get drunk and hold up my cross-eyed / shot runover de-tailed cat before them and I say, ‘look, look / at this!’ ” —Nicole Rudick

For those of us who came to political awareness during Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, it’s difficult to imagine a time when television news organizations weren’t first and foremost platforms for punditry. But, of course, this wasn’t always the case—a point that lingers in the foreground of Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s brilliant new documentary, Best of Enemies. The film, at its heart, is a portrait of William Buckley, Jr., and Gore Vidal, who, in the words of one commentator, may just as easily have represented “matter and antimatter.” Each was the leading public intellectual for his respective political movement, and each despised the other—so much so that their face-offs, in a series of debates staged during the 1968 presidential conventions, reshaped the landscape of political television. Like any good documentary, Best of Enemies left me eager to devour more of the Buckley-Vidal ideological battle, much of which, thankfully, is readily available online—starting with complete archival footage of the debates themselves. —Stephen Andrew Hiltner
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The CIA Needed a Better Editor, and Other News

July 28, 2015 | by


This seemingly ordinary edition of Doctor Zhivago comes to you courtesy of the CIA. Photo via AbeBooks

  • Fact: a minor independent publishing house known as the Central Intelligence Agency published the first Russian-language edition of Doctor Zhivago in 1958. It was printed in an edition of 1,160 as part of an effort to undermine the USSR. Boris Pasternak “was irritated and disappointed, because the copy the CIA had published (and also presented to the Nobel Prize committee) was not complete in its editing and was full of errors … The CIA-Mouton editions were bound in nondescript, blue cloth covers, and the CIA surreptitiously distributed copies among Soviet visitors to Expo ’58, the Brussels World’s Fair. The rationale was that not only would the novel’s content cause outrage among Soviet citizens, but that also seeds of doubt would be planted when it came to light that the government had refused to allow publication of a novel by Russia’s most respected and celebrated writer.”
  • The public stage today cries out for figures like Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, examples of an extinct class of “celebrity intellectual.” Their 1968 debates qualified as a legitimate TV event, and the medium hasn’t seen anything like it in decades: “Vidal and Buckley were both patrician in manner, glamorous in aura, irregularly handsome, self-besottedly narcissistic, ornate in vocabulary, casually erudite, irrepressibly witty, highly telegenic, and by all accounts great fun to be around … Also, they warmly hated each other … The antipathy was personal at root, perhaps even psychosexual.”
  • Yeah, the Internet’s cool and fast-paced and totally au courant, but at the physical level it’s not terribly different from telegraphy. A map from 1877 shows the locations of copper telegraph cables around the world; it bears more than a passing resemblance to a map of the fiber-optic cables that connect the Internet. “Everybody thinks global technology is wireless … But it’s only wireless to the nearest base station or cell-phone tower. The rest of the way, it’s happening at the physical level. There’s wire and cables that link back to all these massive servers. The Internet is not a cloud … it’s under the ocean.”
  • Claudia Rankine’s poetry collection Citizen: An American Lyric doesn’t seem a natural candidate for adaptation to the stage. But Stephen Sachs has adapted it nonetheless, and it opens next month in Los Angeles: “My stage adaptation of Citizen is not a play … Like Claudia Rankine’s book, it’s a collage of colliding events, fragments, vignettes, and streams of consciousness that blend poetry, prose, movement, sound, music, and video images. An ensemble of six actors. Each is both a single citizen, and all citizens, interweaving. No conventional linear story, yet a powerful emotional arc. Fast-moving. Stylized … I hope the play makes our highly educated, professional, and privileged patrons uncomfortable in the best possible way. I hope it gets them thinking, gets them talking, opens their eyes, like the citizen in Claudia’s book who needs to put on her glasses to see what is really there.”
  • The Guggenheim’s Storylines series has writers—among them John Ashbery, Helen DeWitt, Ben Lerner, and Mary Ruefle—respond to works of art. Lerner, for instance, takes on Gabriel Orozco’s 2012 print Astroturf Collection: “The schematic arrangements (grids) of carefully sculpted ritual objects … points to what Anita Singh has called ‘the surrender of science,’ a declining belief in the adequacy of existing regimes of knowledge in the face of planetary upheaval.”

The City and the Pillar

September 4, 2014 | by


The vaguely familiar sock monkey.

There are lots of interesting things to see right now at the New-York Historical Society: a delightful exhibit on Ludwig Bemelmans’s New York, a look at the role of cotton in the Northern war effort, a moving show called “ ‘I Live. Send Help.’ 100 Years of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.” All of these are worth seeing. None of them is what I want to discuss right now.

Swinging through the gift shop post-visit, my eye fell upon a sock monkey–making kit. This is not in itself so noteworthy; the gift shop contains an enticing selection of educational toys for young nerds, including a “My First Tatting” kit, a loom, and a mobcap. What was interesting, rather, was the image of the finished sock monkey displayed on the label. He looked vaguely familiar.

It took me a long time to realize the resemblance. It came to me hours later, in fact, when I was in the basement laundry room of my apartment building, cleaning the lint trap of the dryer: Read More »

Easy Reading

October 3, 2013 | by

Gore Vidal at age 23 in 1948. | CARL VAN VECHTEN/ WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Gore Vidal at age twenty-three, in 1948. Photo by Carl Van Vechten/Wikimedia Commons.

“I can’t remember when I was not writing. I was taught to read by my grandmother. Central to her method was a tale of unnatural love called ‘The Duck and the Kangaroo.’ Then, because my grandfather, Senator Gore, was blind, I was required early on to read grown-up books to him, mostly constitutional law and, of course, the Congressional Record. The later continence of my style is a miracle, considering those years of piping the additional remarks of Mr. Borah of Idaho.” —Gore Vidal, the Art of Fiction No. 50



What We’re Loving: Psycho-Biddies, Illusions, MTV

July 19, 2013 | by


It’s hard to read in a heat wave, but the July issue of Asymptote is so absorbing I hardly notice my sweat drops hitting the keyboard. Even more impressive than the diversity of things translated—book reviews in Urdu, fiction in Bengali, poetry in Faroese—is their quality. I’ve especially enjoyed the excerpt from Operation Massacre, a novela negra by the great Argentinian writer Rodolfo Walsh, and the interview with David Mitchell about his translation of a memoir by Naoki Higashida, an autistic Japanese thirteen-year-old. Here is Mitchell on the misery of translation: “As a writer I can be bad, but I can’t be wrong. A translator can be good, but can never be right.” —Robyn Creswell

I usually behave at museums, but last weekend, at “Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective,” currently at the Met, the guards were just waiting for my friend and me to leave. A number of the amorphous, neon, strangely suggestive ceramics for which Price is particularly known appeared to have small windows carved out of their exteriors to reveal dark, hollow interiors (see, for example, Price’s Pastel). But upon closer examination, it became difficult to tell whether the windows truly exposed new space, or whether they were simply painted on—perfectly executed optical illusions. Clearly, the only option was to get even closer. This is not allowed. Repeat offenses were unavoidable, though; I wanted an answer! The sculptures gleamed so! I felt taunted. A definitive answer could not be determined before we were ultimately shooed away. A partner exhibition of Price’s work, at the Drawing Center, which I hope to see this weekend, consists only of works on paper; it will be easier to be better there. —Clare Fentress Read More »


The Worst Best Coloring Book Ever

January 29, 2013 | by

For the literary child—or inner child— in your life!


Norman Mailer


Joan Didion


Gore Vidal


Joyce Carol Oates


James Baldwin