These biographies on Tennessee Williams proved particularly vulnerable to the blade of Vidal's wit because of his friendship with the playwright, whom he nicknamed "the Glorious Bird." Such intimacy with Williams allows Vidal to excuse himself from the task of reviewing and to take a more pleasant stroll down his own lane of memories-- traveling, writing, and "laughing at the squares" with the Glorious Bird.
With a career that already spanned some five decades by the time Sexually Speaking came out, Vidal had had ample time to assess the flaws and merits of some of the twentieth century's most gifted and influential writers. Likewise, many of them took a close enough measure of him to include some form of a portrait in both nonfiction and fiction. Take for example Jack Kerouac's portrayal of Vidal as a character named Arial Lavalina in the novel The Subterraneans. Conversely, presented in Sexually Speaking are some of the most revealing portraits one is likely to find of such gargantuan classic talents as Henry Miller, Kerouac, Somerset Maugham, Christopher Isherwood, and Norman Mailer . Truly: would anyone other than Vidal offer a story about the iconic Mailer lying flat drunk on his back, on the floor, while Allen Ginsburg rests his feet on Mailer's bare stomach and Paul Bowles records them all talking about the unconscious Mailer? Doubt it.
Sexual Politics in America
Vidal is at his most subversive, uncompromising, and cynical best (or should that be worst?) when tackling the dynamics of sexual politics in America. In an era when charges of government conspiracies and corruption made mostly for successful TV shows, Mr. Vidal wrote quite seriously of a ruling class intent on controlling its endlessly toiling masses with calculated concepts of sexual taboo-- "Although our notions about what constitutes correct sexual behavior are usually based on religious texts, those texts are invariably interpreted by the rulers in order to keep control over the ruled." That observation, as eerily relevant as it may seem in 2010, was actually made in his 1979 essay, "Sex is Politics," written for the ever-libertine Playboy magazine.
In the gospel according to Gore, the institution of marriage as it has existed in the United States, has largely been a kind of social factory operated to produce unsuspecting drones. As he views it via these pages, people encouraged to duplicate the classic model of a family complete with adult female, adult male, and gender-varied offspring are less likely to risk their livelihoods by challenging economic or political systems. Stumbling past any offense triggered by that atom-bomb of an idea, Vidal suggests a radical reconsideration of the tendency to automatically encourage relationships that produce offspring while discouraging those which do not. Why? Because such a model no longer supports the equation dynamics of supplies provided by nature in ratio to the demands made by humans. Moreover: "Thanks to increased automation and incontinent breeding, every industrial society now has more workers than it needs."
Running throughout these essays, as the title indicates, is an ongoing discussion of sexual values, legalities, and identity. It is, in fact, a conversation the author has conducted effectively, if not always persuasively, in the form of many novels, plays, movies, and interviews. Among those theses about which he has been most adamant is his contention that there is no such thing as a heterosexual or homosexual person: "The words are adjectives describing sexual acts, not people." And echoing the pioneering sex researcher Alfred A. Kinsey, he notes, "Most people are a mixture of impulses if not practices, and what anyone does with a willing partner is of no social or cosmic significance."
Vidal's fondness for irreverence and taste for literary shock therapy does not always make him an easy read. Yet, given his status as one of the most politically informed, socially conscientious, and artistically accomplished authors, Sexually Speaking makes an exceptionally entertaining read within the context of our contemporary sexual and political times.
Causes * Aberjhani Supports
I make contributions to a number of charities through my lenses on Squidoo but the following are a few that interest me the most: