Interviewing iconic author and political activist Gore Vidal, as likely a candidate as this country has for royalty, is like pulling teeth from a toothless man.
At age 80, after writing The City and the Pillar, the first mainstream queer literary novel, and multiple political runs (including a second-place finish in the 1982 California Democratic Senate primary), Vidal prefers to focus on "what is happening"—rejecting hypothetical questions or any public self-reflection.
Vidal, who shared a stepfather with Jackie Kennedy, was born in the political arena as the grandson of a senator. And despite recent knee-replacement surgery and the death of his partner of 55 years, Howard Auster, Vidal's political activism still burns with scorn and hatred for the Bush administration.
His latest work is Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia. A memoir illuminating the second half of his life, Point to Point Navigation, comes out in November. WW sparred by phone with Vidal, who will appear at Wordstock this weekend.
WW: How discouraging is it to see how fast this administration's ineptitude disappears from the public mind?
Gore Vidal: Well, it doesn't enter the public mind if the media's not going to follow up. The media, working right along with corporate America, is very happy with the tax cuts, and the Halliburtons are doing terribly well.
You don't see truth in any news sources?
I suppose if you look at every possible paper in the country, yes. You can read The Nation, but it doesn't come out every day.
Will there be any surprises in your memoir?
I think so, yes.
Given your life in public, how can there be surprises?
My life hasn't been that public. I don't write about me. I write about other people; I write about the country.
Then how can you call it a memoir?
Memoir means a memory, how I remember it, what happened. I'm only interested in the act of memory and what I do remember—the people I've known, things that have taken place. What else is history but memory?
But isn't history written by the winners?
I would say it's written by the losers.
How can you say that, but also say the media is friendly with Halliburton?
Well...they appear to be. They do not question, let's say, Halliburton's overruns. Occasionally, they're mentioned, but nobody follows up.
But if they're in cahoots with Halliburton, isn't history being written by the winners?
I don't know who's won what. I think the whole country has lost.
Do you try to account for how your money and fame might skew your version of history?
I try to be accurate, OK?
It appears that you prefer not to speak about your private life.
That's not my subject.
For many people writing a memoir, it would be.
Perhaps I'm a little different.
Have you ever been interested in reading articles on yourself?
Many years ago. Other people's view of me is their problem, not mine.
Can't it be illuminating to see what others think of you?
You generally have a pretty good idea, because of the positions you take. If you are going against what they believe in, you will be criticized.
What are you reading now?
Take a look at Truthdig, on the web [www.truthdig.com]. There's a guy called [Morris] Berman, who's extremely good on "America's Dark Ages," as he calls it, which is the present period.
What do you suggest people read?
I don't go around prescribing to people.
Yes, you do. You once said—
No, I don't. I try to get people to read what I think is interesting, which will be useful to them. I try to get them to stay away from the sort of lies and propaganda that they are fed through the media. That's why I do the little pamphlets. It's a job.
You've been writing shorter works lately, but nothing larger or more substantial in quite some time—
It's more urgent, what I'm doing now. See, we lost the republic. I think someone should note that.
How has life been after your partner died?
I'll tell you one bad habit Americans have gotten into—this constant talking about themselves. You see it everywhere. Politicians tell you on the radio, "I'm a pretty religious kind of guy." It's not self-revelation, it's just obfuscation. They don't deal in facts, they deal in sort of fantasies and try to sell them as reality. [It's] the only country where you'll hear two middle-aged people sitting down, starting to weep as they talk about their mothers and grandmothers, all long dead, because they can't talk about anything else, they have nothing else in common, so each talks about himself.
I've lived in many countries, and this place is obsessed—it's always "me, me, me."
What do you wish it was obsessed with?
Well, I've heard you referred to as a "fame-chaser," at least when you were younger.
That seems far-fetched.
But it's possible.
What do you know?
That you never shied from fame—you've always led a very public life.
When you deal in public matters, you're going to be public, aren't you?
If you're lucky, yes—that means that you at least have a chance of being heard.
Well, you just answered the question.
Vidal appears at Wordstock at 4 pm Sunday, April 23, on the Borders stage at the Oregon Convention Center, 777 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. For info, go to www.wordstockfestival.com.
Vidal returned recently to California's Hollywood Hills from his Italian villa that appeared in The Life Aquatic, a comedy starring Bill Murray as a deep-sea explorer in crisis.