Gore Vidal interviewed by Christine Smith, and Smith’s misc. Vidal reviews/commentary
In Memory of Gore Vidal–
Gore Vidal has been my mentor since I was a young girl. I began reading Gore Vidal’s essays and novels when I was about age 13, and it is he who I credit with opening my mind to the realization that the government lies, that I must question everything, and that much of what I had been and was being taught (and accepted by most in society) was government indoctrination. I continued to read and listen to him for many years, and was fortunate to have interviewed him in 2005. He was rare – a truth teller – a beautiful individual – and a writer of poignant essays like no other. I learned much from him from most importantly correctly regarding the U.S. government as an empire, to the essential wisdom that one must live life on their own terms without regard to what anyone else thinks. I will forever be grateful to Gore Vidal. — Christine Smith, August 1, 2012
My 2005 interview of Gore Vidal, and my Nov. 27, 2006 review of his memoir Point to Point Navigation (Gore Vidal’s publisher sent me his book, Point to Point Navigation, to review) is below:…
To define is to limit, and thus it is with those who over the years have tried to categorize Gore Vidal. Thus, as someone who has read most of Vidal’s works (with a personal library of Vidal’s work spanning from 1946 to present), I invite you to read the man’s works. His writings will give you much to ponder, question and explore.
Be it through his non-fiction or fiction, Vidal’s work informs educates, and elucidates our society, its government, and history. He is truly our nation’s biographer.
I first began reading Vidal’s essays when I was a teenager, then went on to read his novels and non-fiction books. I appreciate both his fiction and non fiction, as well as the films based on his screenplays and books. (Vidal has also appeared in several films.) I particularly appreciated his participation in the Independent Institute’s “Understanding America’s Terrorist Crisis:What Should Be done?” (available on videotape).
I also recommend the film, “Vidal in Venice,” a fascinating tour of Venice-past and present-with Vidal as your guide…sharing his knowledge (and superb wit) in a most well-made documentary. Vidal wrote it, and the camera follows him as he guides the viewer through Venice, and through his own exploration into the ‘Vidal’ name of Venice’s rich past. For those interested in the remarkable history of Venice, and those seeking to learn history of empire, this is an excellent film.
I also want to point out the beauty of his essays…each collection of his essays provides you with so much information, observation, and truth. From his thoughts and associations on so many writers and high achievers in many fields, I have learned so much. I am also touched by Vidal’s appreciation for other’s art (as well as his rejection of those who rely upon the lie). At any time, I can sit down and re-read any number of his essays, be they upon Mark Twain, WW II, book reviews, or any number of the wide subjects he has covered for so many years, and I come away each time again learning and again filled with appreciation of the artistry of word Vidal expresses. And, I also recommend for those who have read Vidal’s work, that you obtain his memoir Palimpsest…his experiences, observations and subsequent conclusions most interesting.
His intellectual eloquence, knowledge, as well as his wit, dry humor, and sarcasm, makes his work mentally and emotionally satisfying.
The following article was published worldwide in over 200 political, entertainment and news publications; also distributed by several global newswire syndication wires:
“I do what I think needs doing.” – Dec. 21, 2005 Interview With Gore Vidal
by Christine Smith
Copyright 2005, Christine Smith.
“I have no priorities. I simply go on,” Gore Vidal told me in a Dec. 21, 2005 interview, “I do what I think needs doing.”
His “doing” has resulted in a remarkable prolific career as a novelist, essayist, playwright, historian, and bold defender of the American Constitution and our republic. From this man, whom I have read and admired for many years, I sought an interview which would, to some degree, delve into personal thoughts, as well as touch on political matters. As he told me at the end when I asked for three nouns and three adjectives describing himself, “As you must guess by now I am not my subject. I write and think about others.”
Yet Vidal graciously answered my questions, including the one I most wanted to ask: his definition of “love” and of “wisdom.” It is with appreciation and deep respect for my favorite author I share his opinions and thoughts:
A preferred writing environment? “I don’t think place has much to do with what I write. I need space for several thousand books of reference or history.”
His remarkable ability to so effectively communicate depth of human emotion/personality/experiences as appears even in his earliest novels? “Instead of going to college I enlisted in the army during World War Two. That was educational.”
Courage and boldness his life has evinced? “I think I have a good ear for the false note and feel obliged to draw attention to it. It also helps never having wanted to be popular.”
Religion/monotheism? “Bertrand Russell as a child questioned the notion of a God-Creator. The argument he was given was proto-creationism: nothing can be created out of nothing except by an all-powerful God. So, asked Master Russell: who created God out of nothing?…”
Any beliefs he became disillusioned with? “Since I’m not much of a believer I’m seldom disappointed by or disillusioned at what others do or don’t do.”
Avocations such as chess, music, film: “I play chess badly but often. When we lived in Rome there was a golden age at the Rome Opera House, and so we got to hear the first revivals of Donizetti and Rossini, a golden age indeed,” and inquiring about what has elicited tears when viewing film, “Generally one wept with Bette Davis who starred in the first movie I wrote for MGM.”
Vidal’s opinion on the outlook for 2008 election (re: voting irregularities, What Went Wrong in Ohio: The Conyers Report on the 2004 Presidential Election, etc.)? “Our political system is now thoroughly corrupt. Since the educational system for most people is inadequate they begin their lives as citizens with no knowledge of our republic and its history while the media is in the hands of a very few people who have much to hide from us. Conyer’s book on Ohio was never mentioned in the New York Times, Washington Post, etcetera. We are not meant to know that our elections are often rigged and that many of the candidates are bought. There was serious talk in the Bush administration about not holding the 2004 election for fear of a terrorist attack. In 2008 they will do anything to hold on to power.”
What could concerned Americans opposing the Bush administration do to have a chance of affecting the deplorable path our country is on currently? “What to do? The international monetary fund has said that we are ‘careening toward insolvency.’ Economic disaster might at least slow down the police state that looms up ahead.”
How can Americans be so gullible, apathetic, ignorant when the information is out there– via Internet–but many ignore it? “The problem with the internet is that, yes, everything seems to be out there but how much is reliable? Americans don’t know how to find out what is going on in the world when the media is largely propaganda for the regime and the lies told us are unremitting.”
US-Cuban relations? “We should have normalized relations with Cuba after the missile crisis.” It is Vidal’s opinion that, “Instead, the Kennedy brothers persuaded mobsters to kill Castro, unaware that the mobsters intended to kill JFK first and did. Read Ultimate Sacrifice by Waldron and Hartmann.”
An American prison should be? “Not what it is today, a vengeful system of torture and worse in which over two million people are trapped, making us number one at something, finally.”
His rejection of capital punishment? “The death penalty does not deter as is well known. Why should we all be marked like Cain with the barbarism of a few of our death-loving citizens?”
America could/should be? “A majority of citizens should be able to read which they cannot do now. They should be able to do simple sums, too. And history should be the backbone of the public school system.”
I wondered if he would offer any advice based on his life experiences to others who seek truth and understanding? To which he replied, “It is pointless to give advice and sometimes dangerous to take it.”
Was there anything I had not asked that he would like to share with my readers? “You’ve asked good questions,” he answered. With that, my interview with the man who has been my mentor for many years through his books and his passion for truth, concluded.
As to the question I most hoped for an answer from my interview, since it would be meaningful due to my high regard for Gore Vidal: what is Vidal’s definitions of the words wisdom and love? His reply, as I speculated it would be, is a definition the world has unfortunately yet to grasp: “Both Wisdom and Love can be defined by the same word: ‘acceptance.’” Indeed.
Gore Vidal’s publisher sent me his book, Point to Point Navigation, to review:
The “Fruit of Eden” – A review of Gore Vidal’s new memoir
by Christine Smith, Nov. 27, 2006
A review of Point to Point Navigation: Gore Vidal – A Memoir 1964 to 2006, Doubleday.
Point to Point Navigation is best described as a stream of consciousness. Reflections, observations, and reminisces, not in any chronological order necessarily, but as one thought leads to another Vidal recollects interesting as well as poignant memories from throughout his life. Filled with Vidal’s wit and observations, one comes away from the book with a sense of what it must be like to sit down with this renowned author simply for a talk together.
Aptly titled, “Point to Point Navigation” refers to the dangerous navigation Vidal had to use during World War Two when as first mate on an army freight-supply ship they had to maneuver without compass (inoperable due to weather) but rather by memorized landmarks and without radar, a process which the writing of this memoir made him feel as if he “were again dealing with those capes and rocks in the Bering Sea,” for the memoir presents a nonlinear reflection of a life whose course and recollection thereof has twist and turns but which remained on course.
Vidal is one of America’s finest biographers: author of twenty-five novels including his fascinating informative Narratives of Empire series, six plays, many screenplays, and more than two hundred essays. He is an esteemed political commentator who has expertly utilized rationality and erudite humor regarding topics such as sex, religion, politics, literature, and history of empire.
I have loved the man’s works since I was a teenager, from his essays and earliest novels to his more recent pamphlets regarding American imperialism, his words have educated, enlightened, and given me much to ponder. When I consider Vidal, I think of knowledge combined with unrestrained candor, and this is what makes Vidal a pleasure to read.
Though subtitled “A Memoir 1964-2006″ the book reaches far back into Vidal’s earliest childhood years with touching stories of his fascination with cinema (including a charming anecdote of seeing his first movie in 1929), as well as his family and early exposure to politics and politicians. All this is presented with a wry humor and beautiful style we’ve come to expect from him, such as this indicative gem, “Contrary to legend, I was born of mortal woman, and if Zeus sired me, there is no record on file in the Cadet Hospital at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point…”
Point to Point Navigation seems shorter than Vidal’s first memoir, Palimpsest, and also seems to contain shorter chapters, and in the latter chapters it digresses into quotes/excerpts/and Vidal’s commentary upon other’s books: that of Dennis Altman’s Gore Vidal’s America, Marcie Frank’s How To Be An Intellectual In The Age of TV: The Lessons of Gore Vidal, and Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann’s Ultimate Sacrifice.
As a reader of most of his works, I appreciated his occasional comments on the writing of such greats as Myra Breckinridge, Washington D.C., and occasional references throughout the book on his life during the writing of other works.
But in the primary quest to learn more of Vidal’s experiences, the reader is generously rewarded, with this reader at times nearly brought to tears, with other passages making me laugh a loud at his signature wit and sarcasm. Far more than entertaining, Point to Point Navigation delves into what this reader would consider painfully personal experiences, as well as Vidal’s recounting of tidbits from the huge array of well known personalities he has known including among others Jack and Jacqueline Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Saul Bellow, Orson Welles, Greta Garbo, Federico Fellini, Elia Kazan, and Francis Ford Coppola.
My personal favorites of Vidal’s memories of those he has known are of Tennessee Williams, Johnny Carson, Rudolph Nureyev, Paul Bowles and Amelia Earhart. Recollections of his father, Gene Vidal, were poignant. Of his mother, Vidal is extraordinary in his objective perception and awareness of her even from his youngest years (a most difficult task for most children even as adults).
For a man who is, as he has oft repeated, not his own subject, Vidal superbly permits the reader to observe the seasons of his life, heart and mind: taking us on a journey from the spring, summer, autumn and now into the winter of his life, even venturing into dreams of Edgewater, Howard Auster, and his father.
Both throughout the writing of the memoir and the years covered, a number of Vidal’s friends and acquaintances of his age-range, die…with the notification or recollection thereof resulting in yet more memories and thoughts.
Vidal begins with prose reminiscent of his Screening History, with several stories regarding his youth including memories of the army’s dispersion of the First World War veterans at a Boners’ camp in 1932 at Anacostia Flats of which Vidal always remembered, causing him to be alert to all films regarding the French and Russian revolutions; his fascination with twins or “doubleness,” including commentary upon the film The Prince and the Pauper”; and memories of his favorite theaters and the films he viewed and which stayed with him sometimes for a lifelong effect. Later he ventures into his decision and details of his two campaigns for public office (1960 & 1982).
Willing to share even the most personal experience of the loss of his partner of fifty-three years, Howard Auster, Point to Point Navigation was particularly beautiful because of Vidal’s joyful memories of Auster (told in a perfect “past present” tense to use one of Vidal’s terms), his sharing of their time during Auster’s illness, Vidal’s references following Auster’s death of the plans for trips or celebrations which will never be realized, as well as Vidal’s poignant reflections on death and grief.
Vidal’s willingness to share such deep personal experiences and observations of his beautiful friendship with Howard Auster, communicates the experiences of joy and of grief. I was particularly touched by Vidal’s references of the “we” (he and Auster) now having become the singular “I, ” except, of course, in Vidal’s memories where the “we” remains as if in the seeming present…making such recollections of their years and travels together all the more poignant and conveying to the reader the joy of such deep friendship.
Vidal has indeed been the “Fruit of Eden” for many (a phrase Tennessee Williams noted in a letter to Vidal). May he never deviate from his thus far ever so accurate point to point navigation. Despite what may transpire in these dire days of “the last empire,” may he stand firm, without compromise, behind the strong message he has consistently spoken and written for years.
In summary, ‘Point to Point Navigation,’ as with ‘Palimpsest,’ brought to my mind and heart Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, Adagio, a composition reminiscent to me for years of Vidal’s life from childhood to the man now in his eighties. A life of solitude amidst the many around him…a life of reflection amidst worldly distraction…a life of truth in a world of lies. A life well-lived, and through which we may all gain more wisdom, intellectual insight, and knowledge with Point to Point Navigation being one more piece in a lifetime of literary work I highly recommend.