United States: Essays 1952-1992 by Gore Vidal

By Gore Vidal

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'The arc and span of Vidal's erudition and intelligence are prodigious ... For 40 years it's been Vidal's vocation to revive a witty and classically literate feel of reminiscence and historic continuity to a rustic he calls "Amnesia" self sufficient ON SUNDAY

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Where can the American satirist operate today? Not on television, seldom if ever in the movies, and on the stage only if he is willing to play the buffoon. But the novel remains; and it would be good to see those writers with a talent for satire (Randall Jarrell for one) strike boldly at the large targets, without that vitiating diffidence peculiar to the con- 30 State of the Art temporary American novelist. ), but we don't know or want to know any senators, bishops, atomic scientists; as for psychiatrists-well, we like ours: he is a Jungian.

But the romantic-puritan stereotype dies hard. The misbehavior of the artist thrills the romantic; his subsequent suffering and punishment satisfy the puritan. Yet today new situations exist, and the old archetypes, never true, seem less relevant than ever. To be outside the World is not necessarily a virtue. To be in the World does not necessarily mean a loss of craft, a fall from grace, a fatness of soul. William Faulkner's thirty years as a movie writer affected his novels not at all. He could do both.

But this state of siege is hardly permanent. For better or worse, the writers are very much in the real world, and the politicians know it. Simultaneously with their new-found celebrity, the writers have become the beneficiaries of a peculiar crisis in American publishing. Fifteen years ago the mass magazines lost much of their advertising revenue to television. To survive, they were forced to make radical changes. At the prodding of young editors, they began to raid the literary quarterlies. Overnight the work of writers like Bellow, Baldwin, and Paul Goodman replaced those cheerful fictions and bland commentaries that had made the popular magazines the despair of the intellectuals for half a century.

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