On Gore Vidal’s BookForum (Dec 06 /Jan 07) interview

I was prompted to read the BookForum interview with Gore Vidal by someone's reaction to the remarks about the death of an American readership under the rubric "in memoriam literati". It seems to me in reading the interview the whole question and answer exchange was conducted under the sign of irony.

I wonder if reading the words aloud circumvents the workings of what Vidal references as a “culture deaf to irony”.

The one passage in the interview that is novel for me and the one I find most challenging is the alignment of classical education, multiculturalism and a nuanced world view (the latter being a precondition for the appreciation of irony). Note that the question references Vidal as a “writer” not as a “famous novelist” [Vidal prior to this point in the interviews has to say the least problematized the category of "famous novelist" if not made it disappear from the discursive instance of the interview].

BF: Is there one book that you believe best evokes who you are as a writer?

GV: The one that I wish everybody would read is Creation. I spent years on that book, and anyone who reads it from beginning to end will learn about the Buddha, about Confucius, about Zoroaster, about Mahavira and the Jains. It’s very popular in countries which offer, more or less, classical educations. In the US, practically nobody knows about it because it’s not about family life, it’s not about marriage and divorce. Those seem to be the only subjects that American writers touch.

Ouch! Is that a call to read differently what already exists and not just an observation on the topics chosen by American writers? Yup. Vidal leaves open the door for correction of his "seem to be" observation. And that passage about readers, likewise: "I don’t think the novel is dead. I think the readers are dead." Readers are dead. But the reader lives.

The greatly celebrated American individualism is alive and well in the republic of letters. The reader, the individual in open generous response in front of the writer’s offerings, be they novel, story, essay or interview, is the incarnated in the memory of the great figure that concludes the interview: Montaigne.

"Names refuse to come when bidden."

Not naming is the essence of irony.


And so for day 47