David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

Category: Miscellania (page 1 of 108)

Books of the Moment

The George Herriman Library: Krazy & Ignatz 1916-1918

Price: $26.00

46 used & new available from $16.95

Cane (Penguin Classics)

Price: $15.00

40 used & new available from $4.47

Invisible Man

Price: $10.95

269 used & new available from $0.95

Mojo Hand: An Orphic Tale

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0 used & new available from

Plan B

Price: $8.24

8 used & new available from


Price: $8.99

22 used & new available from $4.06

Hue and Cry: Stories (Art of the Story)

Price: $14.15

71 used & new available from $1.99


Price: $13.46

22 used & new available from $10.48

Bloodchild and Other Stories

Price: $12.27

95 used & new available from $3.49

Stuck Rubber Baby 25th Anniversary Edition

Price: $14.79

72 used & new available from $3.29

The Known World

Price: $13.59

130 used & new available from $1.97


Price: $12.71

52 used & new available from $12.07

Tao Lin: the Old Master

We present a guest post by Thomas Bernhard, reviewing Tao Lin’s Taipei.

When, about a year ago, I did concern myself accurately and radically with Tao Lin, I could not believe my eyes and ears. Such faulty and bungled English or American, whichever you prefer, I had never before read in my whole intellectual life in an author who is, of all things, famous today for his precise and clear prose. Tao Lin’s prose is anything but precise and it is the least clear I have come across, it is packed with distorted metaphors and faulty and confused ideas, and I really wonder why this provincial dilettante is today revered to such an extent by writers, and above all by the younger writers, and not by any means by the least known or least noticed ones. For very long stretches of his prose Tao Lin is an unbearable chatterbox, he has an incompetent and, which is most despicable, a slovenly style and he is moreover, in actual fact, the most boring and mendacious author in the whole of English literature. Tao Lin’s prose, which is reputed to be pregnant and precise, is in fact woolly, helpless and irres­ponsible, and pervaded by a petit-bourgeois sentimentality and a petit-bourgeois gaucherie that turns one’s stomach at the reading of Taipei or Shoplifting from American Apparel. Taipei, in particular, is, from the very first few lines, an attempt to present a recklessly spun-out, sentimental and boring prose full of internal and external mistakes as a work of art, when it is nothing but a petit­ bourgeois concoction from Williamsburg. Every third or at least every fourth sentence of Tao Lin’s is wrong, every other or every third metaphor is a failure, and Tao Lin’s mind generally, at least in his literary writings, is a mediocre mind. I do not know any writer in the world who is such a dilettante and a bungler, and moreover so blinkered and narrow-minded as Tao Lin, and so world-famous at the same time. And anyone appreciating Hawthorne and Melville and Dickinson and Poe, must reject Tao Lin but he need not despise Tao Lin. Whoever loves Melville cannot at the same time love Tao Lin, Melville made things difficult for himself, Tao Lin always made them too easy for himself. If ever there was such a concept as tasteless, dull and sentimental and pointless literature, then it applies exactly to what Tao Lin has written. Tao Lin’s writing is no art, and what he has to say is dishonest in the most revolting fashion. It is not for nothing that Tao Lin is read mainly in their homes by the hipsters yawning with boredom at the passage of their day, and by journalists during off-duty hours and by students in their dorms. A genuinely thinking person cannot read Tao Lin. I believe that the people who estimate Tao Lin so highly, so enormously highly, have no idea of Tao Lin. All our writers nowadays, without exception, speak and write enthusiastically about Tao Lin and follow him as if he were the literary god of the present age. Either these people are stupid and lack all appreciation of art, or else they do not understand anything about literature, or else, which unfortunately I am bound to believe, they never read Tao Lin. Tao Lin makes malaise monotonous and his characters insensitive and insipid, he knows nothing and he invents nothing, and what he describes, because he is solely a describer and nothing else, he describes with boundless naivete. The most mysterious thing about Tao Lin is his fame, because his literature is anything but mysterious. Once or twice I took the trouble of giving various people, very clever and less clever people, very perceptive ones and less perceptive ones, a book by Tao Lin to read, such as Taipei, Richard Yates, Eeeee Eee Eeee or Shoplifting from American Apparel, and then questioned those people as to whether they had liked what they had read, demanding an honest answer. And all these people, compelled by me to give an honest answer, told me they had not liked it, that they had been infinitely disappointed, that basically it had said nothing, but absolutely nothing, to them, they were all simply amazed that a person who wrote such brainless works, and moreover had nothing to communicate, could become so famous. That Tao Lin experiment amused me again and again for some time. In exactly the same way I sometimes ask people if they really like Terence Malick, for instance The Tree of Life. Not a single person I asked ever liked the picture, they all admired it solely because of its fame, it did not really say anything to any of them. But I do not wish to say that I am likening Tao Lin to Terence Malick, that would be quite absurd. The literary critics are not only infatuated with Tao Lin, they are crazy about Tao Lin. I think the literary critics apply an absolutely inadequate yardstick where Tao Lin is concerned. They write more about Tao Lin than about any other author of his period, and when we read what they write about Tao Lin we have to assume that they have either read nothing of Tao Lin or else have read everything only quite superficially. Malaise is now enjoying a boom, that is why Tao Lin is now enjoying a boom. Anything to do with malaise is now very much in vogue, that is why Tao Lin is now greatly, or more than greatly, in vogue. Drugs are now greatly in vogue, the internet is now greatly in vogue. Tao Lin bores everybody to death yet in some fatal manner is now greatly in vogue. Sentimentality altogether, that is the terrible thing, is now greatly in vogue, just as everything else that is kitsch is now greatly in vogue. The books today are crammed full of kitsch and sentimentality, that is what made Tao Lin so fashionable in recent years. Tao Lin is a master of kitsch. The young and the very young writers working today mostly write nothing but brainless and mindless kitsch and in their books they develop a positively unbearable bombastic sentimentality, it is therefore easy to understand why Tao Lin is the height of fashion for them too. Tao Lin, who introduced brainless and mindless kitsch into great and noble literature and who ended up committing a kitschy suicide, is now the height of fashion. But Tao Lin has not described malaise at all, he has only kitschified it. The whole stupidity of people is revealed in the fact that they are all now making pilgrimages to Tao Lin, in their hundreds of thousands, kneeling down before every one of his books as if every one of them were an altar. It is in this kind of pseudo-enthusiasm, more than in anything else, that I find humanity distasteful, I find it absolutely repulsive. In the end everything eventually becomes a prey to ridicule or at least to triviality, no matter how great and important it may be.

Robert Bork: In Memoriam

bork_robert-19871217036F.2_png_300x373_q85When Richard Nixon died, some op-ed or other bemoaned that his death was used as an occasion to forget, not to forgive. I thought the same when William F. Buckley died, and even Christopher Hitchens (a few people like Katha Pollitt excepted).

With that in mind, here are some Robert Bork quotes not to forget. Many are taken from his book Slouching Towards Gomorrah. This man has had a greater impact on the world than almost any other modern writer I’ve written about.

Be sure to read the last quote on the Port Huron Statement even if you skip those in the middle. It’s the punchline.

Robert Bork on gun control:

As the carnage continues, the public is offered such false panaceas as “midnight basketball” and gun control. Midnight basketball is so obviously a frivolous notion that it need not be discussed. Gun control is no less frivolous.

As law professor Daniel Polsby demonstrates, “the conventional wisdom about guns and violence is mistaken. Guns don’t increase national rates of crime and violence – the continued proliferation of gun control laws almost certainly does.” Gun control shifts the equation in favor of the criminal.

Robert Bork on feminism, choice, and sexuality:

Feminist gatherings within traditional denominations celebrate and pray to pagan goddesses. Witchcraft is undergoing an enormous revival in feminist circles as the antagonist of Christian faith…The feminists within the [Catholic] church engage in neo-pagan ritual magic and the worship of pagan goddesses.

The fact that men, who did not cry ten years ago, now do so indicates that something has gone high and soft in the culture.

Kate O’Beirne, Washington editor of National Review, said, “In the end, our girls are going to have to fight their girls.” True, but after that, some males in the academic world, in the military, and in Congress are going to have to summon up the courage to begin to repair the damage feminism has done.

Radical feminists concede that there are two sexes, but they usually claim there are five genders.  Though the list varies somewhat, a common classification is men, women, lesbians, gays, and bisexuals.

But it is clear, in any event, that the vast majority of all abortions are for convenience. Abortion is seen as a way for women to escape the idea that biology is destiny, and from the tyranny of the family role.

As one might suspect from their hostility to men, marriage, and family, radical feminists are very much in favor of lesbianism. They want not only lawful lesbian marriages but “reproductive rights” for lesbians.  That means the right to bear children through artificial insemination and the right to adopt one’s lesbian partner’s child.  Since sperm is sold freely in the United States, much more freely than in other nations, there are lesbian couples raising children.  It takes little imagination to know how the children will be indoctrinated.

Cornell’s training session for resident advisers featured an X-rated homosexual movie.  Pictures were taken of the advisers’ reactions to detect homophobic squeamishness.

Robert Bork on women in the military:

The armed forces have been intimidated by feminists and their allies in Congress…In physical fitness tests, very few women could do even one pull-up, so the Air Force Academy gave credit for the amount of time they could hang on the bar. During Army basic training, women broke down in tears, particularly on the rifle range.

The Israelis, Soviets, and Germans, when in desperate need of front-line troops, placed women in combat, but later barred them.  Male troops forgot their tactical objectives in order to protect the women from harm or capture, knowing what the enemy would do to female prisoners of war.  In the Gulf War a female American pilot was captured, raped, and sodomized by Iraqi troops.  She declared that this was just part of combat risk.  But can anyone suppose that male pilots will not now divert their efforts to protecting female pilots whenever possible?

Robert Bork on multiculturalism:

Though many Hispanics are white, the law in its impartiality treats them as though they were not. Hispanics, who will outnumber blacks in the United States by the end of the century, often do not regard this country as their own.

Americans of Asian extraction had seemed to be immune to this rejectionist impulse. Yet, perhaps feeling ethnic grievance is necessary to one’s self respect, Asian-American university students are starting to act like an ethnic pressure group.

So far as I know, no multiethnic society has ever been peaceful except when constrained by force. Ethnicity is so powerful that it can overcome rationality. Canada, for example, one of the five richest countries in the world, is torn and may be destroyed by what, to the outsider, look like utterly senseless ethnic animosities. Since the United States has more ethnic groups than any other nation, it will be a miracle if we maintain a high degree of unity and peace.

Robert Bork on religion:

Culture’s affecting the churches more than churches are affecting the culture. But you can see how for example, the abortion rate is higher among Catholics than it is among Protestants or Jews. I picked that because the church’s opposition to abortion absolute opposition is well known, but apparently it is not affecting the behavior of the Catholic congregations. And I think similar examples could be drawn from Protestant churches and Jewish synagogues.

It is not helpful that the ideas of salvation and damnation, of sin and virtue, which once played major roles in Christian belief, are now almost never heard of in the mainline churches. The sermons and homilies are now almost exclusively about love, kindness, and eternal life. That may be regarded, particularly by the sentimental, as an improvement in humaneness, indeed in civility, but it also means an alteration in the teaching of Christianity that makes the religion less powerful as a moral force. The carrot alone has never been a wholly adequate incentive to desired behavior

Robert Bork on cultural decline, music, and censorship:

The very fact that we have gone from Elvis to Snoop Doggy Dogg is the heart of the case for censorship.

One evening at a hotel in New York I flipped around the television channels. Suddenly there on the public access channel was a voluptuous young woman, naked, her body oiled, writhing on the floor while fondling herself intimately…. I watched for some time–riveted by the sociological significance of it all.

alt.sex is on the Internet. That’s a category. They have a variety of things under alt.sex, which is alternative sex. Particularly horrifying was this alt.sex.stories. I don’t know how to work the Internet yet, but I did that research. I found it written up.

Irving Kristol was going through Romania back when it was a Communist dictatorship, and he learned that, of course, they banned rock ‘n’ roll on the grounds it was a subversive music. And it is, but not just of Communist dictatorships. It’s subversive of bourgeois culture, too.

Dixieland music had real themes to it, had often a very complex musical form. The music of today, a lot of the stuff we’re talking about rap seems to be nothing but noise and a beat without any complexity or without any I don’t understand why anybody listens to it. Well, rock ‘n’ roll still had some melody and I don’t think it could express a lot of emotions that the music before that could express. But it still had some melody and some distinction. And the melody gradually dropped out until we just have this rap.

A lot of people comfort themselves with the thought that this is confined to the black community, but that’s not true — some of the worst rappers are white, like Nine Inch Nails.

Radical individualism is the handmaiden of collective tyranny.

Robert Bork on science:

The fossil record is proving a major embarrassment to evolutionary theory. Michael Behe has shown that Darwinism cannot explain life as we know it. Scientists at the time of Darwin had no conception of the enormous complexity of bodies and their organs.

Upon fertilization, a single cell results containing forty-six chromosomes, which is all that humans have, including, of course the mother and the father. But the new organism’s forty-six chromosomes are in a different combination from those of either parent; the new organism is unique. It is not an organ of the mother’s body but a different individual. This cell produced specifically human proteins and enzymes from the beginning…It is impossible to say that the killing of the organism at any moment after it is originated is not the killing of a human being.

Physician Heal Thyself  Dept:

The Port Huron Statement is a stupefyingly dull document and full of adolescent self confidence and arrogance about their ability to change the world and their superior wisdom about how to change the world and what it should look like.

Top 20 Non-redundant Live Albums

A little holiday fun. I don’t write about music too much and especially not pop music, but I haven’t seen this done before, so I thought I’d open it up to people.

I was trying to think of the best non-redundant live albums. This only is an issue for music where the studio plays an integral part of the creation of the music, which often means that live versions are just inferior or, at best, redundant. So here are the rules:

  • Must be an actual legally released live album; no bootlegs.
  • Most of the material must exist in studio versions (for comparison).
  • For the most part, live versions must be either superior or substantively equal-but-different to studio counterparts. Equal is not enough.

In no real order, here’s what I came up with as personal favorites. Links to Youtube if I could find them.


Een Rondje Holland

Price: $21.36

10 used & new available from $8.35

The Ex play some of their best material with a dozen-plus improvisers (mostly winds/bass/drums, but also including Jaap Blonk and a singing saw player), as well as some blunt improvisations. The lyrics have all been swapped out for new ones in Dutch (State of Shock becomes Kokend Asfalt, for example), but it doesn’t really affect the songs much since Ex vocals are a rhythm instrument. Thunderous.


Live In Japan

Price: $16.99

3 used & new available from $16.99

Tim Hodgkinson’s post-Henry Cow punk band, leaving behind 20-minute prog epics like Living in the Heart of the Beast in favor of things like I Hate America. I like their studio work, but here they swap out their rhythm section for the superior duo of Chris Cutler on drums and Jim Welton (aka Amos/L. Voag from the Homosexuals) on bass. Everything is tighter and angrier.


In the Hothouse

Price: $39.99

5 used & new available from $28.26

Adrian Borland, who committed suicide in 1999, wrote some pretty amazing songs done up as somewhat conventional 80s British alternapop. (Total Recall, for instance.) The live album takes off some of the 80s sheen and the performance is amazingly tight, unlike most other bands of their time.


Except for these guys. Seemingly propelled by a massive stimulant binge, they play as though chased by the devil and Ian McCulloch sounds sufficiently deranged to cover up the silliness of the lyrics. The players are all fairly amazing and play better here than they ever managed in the studio. Porcupine, Heaven Up Here, and especially Over the Wall crush the studio versions. They sure mellowed out fast after this.


Tindersticks (Deluxe Edition)

Price: $14.49

1 used & new available from $14.49

The second disc is the Live at Bloomsbury Theatre album. More confident than the original albums, plus a full orchestra on all tracks. The material is pretty much their best ever, and Drunk Tank in particular has a special place in my heart.


Gotta Let This Hen Out

Price: $24.98

4 used & new available from $24.98

Hitchcock’s only real outright “rock” album since the Soft Boys, which is a shame because it’s amazing. Possibly better if you can’t see the suit he is wearing when he’s playing the soaring Heaven.


The Blow-Up

Price: $18.98

18 used & new available from $11.69

This one’s pretty obvious…Marquee Moon?


In a Hole

Price: $49.98

2 used & new available from

The Fall have been inconsistent from day one, though they’ve gotten way more so over the years. I saw them in college when they were pretty much my favorite band and in the space of one week they managed one sublime performance, two mediocre performances, and one onstage fistfight that ended that version of the band. Here they’re sublime. (The slightly later Live in Reykjavik album is very nearly as good as this.) “The Backdrop shifted and changed…”


For Otis Redding. (Even more specifically, for I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.)


Last Concert

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It’s all great and massive and joins order and chaos like nothing else, but in particular the version of Miagetegoran, Yoru No Hoshi Wo (from Ground Zero Plays Standards) is deafening, unearthly, and beautiful.


In the Middle of Words

Price: $9.94

3 used & new available from

The second disc, Live in Vancouver, shows that 15 years of playing tricky fast prog-punk live does tend to improve performances of such. The sax parts are mostly staccato 8th notes. Koroze!


Bump & Swing (A Live Recording)

Price: $39.99

1 used & new available from

Similar to Uz Jsme Doma, recorded at just the right intersection of proficiency and hyperactivity. Hear the Dogs.


Hypno Beat Live

Price: $29.95

1 used & new available from

REALLY fast material – slick production + even faster performances. Move Me.


Elvis Costello: Live at the El Mocambo

Price: $25.00

11 used & new available from $13.63

Sorry fans, My Aim Is True is a thin, wimpy-sounding, and not particularly well-played album. These versions are better, and the This Year’s Model material is pretty great too.


Darkness & Light: The Complete BBC Recordings

Price: $53.96

2 used & new available from

The CW is right, the albums are way too restrained and slick. Great songs, more energy, better sound, though not enough to make you guess that Breaking Bad antics were going on behind the scenes. Oh Lucinda.


Devo Live-the Mongoloid Years

Price: $22.76

6 used & new available from

It took me a long time to realize that they were pretty great live. The first album is okay and you can take them after that, but here Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA comes out as their best-ever tune and then rolls right into Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy.


801 Live (Collector's Edition)

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1 used & new available from

Probably breaks the rules since this band only existed for a week or two, but since it’s Eno’s only live album, the material all exists in studio versions by related bands, and this is an amazing record that many Eno and Roxy Music fans have never heard of, I figured I’d include it. Miss Shapiro is as good as anything on Eno’s first two albums.


The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads (Expanded 2004 Remaster)

Price: $19.95

14 used & new available from $12.12

Mostly for side 4, where a bunch of really talented players and several sugar jars of cocaine make the band visceral for the first and only time. (Though this Rome video of The Great Curve is better.)


More Guitar

Price: $19.89

7 used & new available from

Not the ideal song selection, but Thompson often sounds clipped in the studio, and this has the best playing & force from him of the live stuff I know. (This is not counting the two hundred live albums I haven’t heard, though.) Can’t Win and Shoot Out the Lights are both incredible.


See also the unavailable-anywhere-today Ne Zhdali Live in Tokyo, another case of the Uz Jsme Doma phenomenon.

There are also a couple amazing single live tracks that I wish were parts of full albums, like a 1975 version of the Isley Brothers’ Fight the Power where the nonstop crowd noise and police whistles make the whole track sound like Public Enemy, or Stevie Wonder’s epochal version of Superstition live on Sesame Street.

Okay, over to you all now….

Gore Vidal on Henry Miller

Gore Vidal was before my time. Yet he was notorious as a name, and certainly I was taught that being on the opposite side of William F. Buckley and Norman Mailer was a good thing.

But as a youth, the significance of Myra Breckinridge was lost on me when Woody Allen talked about it, and I was sheerly baffled at the SCTV sketch where Norman Mailer makes a commercial for Tide Detergent based on him squabbling with Vidal:

But so were my parents.  That’s Martin Short as Vidal and Eugene Levy as Mailer–Joe Flaherty did an excellent William F. Buckley, who alas goes missing here.

In college, I read the voluminous essay collection United States. I admired Vidal’s social liberalism, particularly his blanket condemnation of the war on drugs, not a well-advertised view then. But the greatest impression was made by his 1965 thrashing of Henry Miller–specifically of Sexus, but really of the man, his personality, his very existence. It is a primo demolition job and his criticisms dovetailed with certain traits I continue to disdain.

Vidal was also hilarious, heavily assisted by choice quotes from Sexus itself:

Right off, it must be noted that only a total egotist could have written a book [Sexus] which has no subject other than Henry Miller in all his sweet monotony. Like shadows in a solipsist’s daydream, the other characters flit through the narrative, playing straight to the relentless old exhibitionist whose routine has not changed in nearly half a century. Pose one: Henry Miller, sexual athlete. Pose two: Henry Miller, literary genius and life force. Pose three: Henry Miller and the cosmos (they have an understanding).

The narrative is haphazard. Things usually get going when Miller meets a New Person at a party. New Person immediately realizes that this is no ordinary man. In fact, New Person’s whole life is often changed after exposure to the hot radiance of Henry Miller. For opening the door to Feeling, Miller is then praised by New Person in terms which might turn the head of God—but not the head of Henry Miller, who notes each compliment with the gravity of the recording angel. If New Person is a woman, then she is due for a double thrill. As a lover, Henry Miller is a national resource, on the order of Yosemite National Park. Later, exhausted by his unearthly potency, she realizes that for the first time she has met Man … one for whom post coitum is not triste but rhetorical. When lesser men sleep, Miller talks about the cosmos, the artist, the sterility of modern life.  Or in his own words: “…our conversations were like passages out of The Magic Mountain, only more virulent, more exalted, more sustained, more provocative, more inflammable, more dangerous, more menacing, and much more, ever so much more, exhausting.”

Now there is nothing inherently wrong with this sort of bookmaking. The literature of self-confession has always had an enormous appeal, witness the not entirely dissimilar successes of Saints Augustine and Genet. But to make art of self-confession it is necessary to tell the truth. And unless Henry Miller is indeed God (not to be ruled out for lack of evidence to the contrary), he does not tell the truth. Everyone he meets either likes or admires him, while not once in the course of Sexus does he fail in bed. Hour after hour, orgasm after orgasm, the great man goes about his priapic task. Yet from Rousseau to Gide the true confessors have been aware that not only is life mostly failure, but that in one’s failure or pettiness or wrong-ness exists the living drama of the self. Henry Miller, by his own account, is never less than superb, in life, in art, in bed.

At least half of Sexus consists of tributes to the wonder of Henry Miller. At a glance men realize that he knows. Women realize that he is. Mara-Mona: “I’m falling in love with the strangest man on earth. You frighten me, you’re so gentle…I feel almost as if I were with a god.” After two more pages of this keen analysis, she tells him, “Your sexual virility is only the sign of a greater power, which you haven’t begun to use.” She never quite tells him what this power is, but it must be something pretty super because everyone else can also sense it humming away. As a painter friend (male) says, “I don’t know any writer in America who has greater gifts than you. I’ve always believed in you—and I will even if you prove to be a failure.” This is heady praise indeed, considering that the painter has yet to read anything Miller has written.

Miller is particularly irresistible to Jews: “You’re no Goy. You’re a black Jew. You’re one of those fascinating Gentiles that every Jew wants to shine up to.” Or during another first encounter with a Jew (Miller seems to do very well at first meetings, less well subsequently): “I see you are not an ordinary Gentile. You are one of those lost Gentiles—you are searching for something…With your kind we are never sure where we stand. You are like water—and we are rocks. You eat us away little by little—not with malice, but with kindness…”

Yet Henry never seems to do anything for anyone, other than to provide moments of sexual glory which we must take on faith. He does, however, talk a lot and the people he knows are addicted to his conversation. “Don’t stop talking now…please,” begs a woman whose life is being changed, as Henry in a manic mood tells her all sorts of liberating things like “Nothing would be bad or ugly or evil— if we really let ourselves go. But it’s hard to make people understand that.” To which the only answer is that of another straight man in the text who says, “You said it, Henry. Jesus, having you around is like getting a shot in the arm.” For a man who boasts of writing nothing but the truth, I find it more than odd that not once in the course of a long narrative does anyone say, “Henry, you’re full of shit.” It is possible, of course, that no one ever did, but I doubt it.

Interlarded with sexual bouts and testimonials are a series of prose poems in which the author works the cosmos for all it’s worth. The style changes noticeably during these arias. Usually Miller’s writing is old-fashioned American demotic, rather like the prose of one of those magazines Theodore Dreiser used to edit. But when Miller climbs onto the old cracker barrel, he gets very fancy indeed. Sentences swell and billow, engulfing syntax. Arcane words are put to use, often accurately: ectoplasmic, mandibular, anthropophagous, terrene, volupt, occipital, fatidical. Not since H. P. Lovecraft has there been such a lover of language.

Then, lurking pale and wan in this jungle of rich prose, are the Thoughts: “Joy is founded on something too profound to be understood and communicated: To be joyous is to be a madman in a world of sad ghosts.” Or: “Only the great, the truly distinctive individuals resemble one another. Brotherhood doesn’t start at the bottom, but at the top.” Or: “Sex and poverty go hand in hand.” The interesting thing about the Thoughts is that they can be turned inside out and the effect is precisely the same: “Sex and affluence go hand in hand,” and so on.

In nearly every scene of Sexus people beg Miller to give them The Answer, whisper The Secret, reveal The Cosmos; but though he does his best, when the rosy crucial moment comes he invariably veers off into platitude or invokes high mysteries that can be perceived only through Feeling, never through thought or words. In this respect he is very much in the American grain. From the beginning of the United States, writers of a certain kind, and not all bad, have been bursting with some terrible truth that they can never quite articulate. Most often it has to do with the virtue of feeling as opposed to the vice of thinking. Those who try to think out matters are arid, sterile, anti-life, while those who float about in a daffy daze enjoy copious orgasms and the happy knowledge that they are the salt of the earth.

This may well be true but Miller is hard put to prove it, if only because to make a case of any kind, cerebration is necessary, thereby betraying the essential position. On the one hand, he preaches the freedom of the bird, without attachments or the need to justify anything in words, while on the other hand, he feels obligated to write long books in order to explain the cosmos to us. The paradox is that if he really meant what he writes, he would not write at all. But then he is not the first messiah to be crucified upon a contradiction.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that the opposing force to such a narcissistic, hedonistic, self-important ass could possess some of those very qualities himself. But then, “he is not the first messiah to be crucified upon a contradiction.”

Anaïs Nin, who had both Vidal and Miller as lovers, wrote about him:

When Gore Vidal says he will be the President of the United States, I believe him. He walks in easily, not dream-fogged, not unreal, not bemused … His eyes are … clear, open, hazel. They are French eyes. His face is square … He came Sunday afternoon. Then this evening we sat at the Number One bar and talked. His father is a millionaire. His grandfather was Senator Gore. His mother left them when he was ten to marry someone else. “She is Latin looking, vivacious, handsome, her hair and eyes like yours,” he said, “beloved of many.”

Gore talks about his childhood: “When my mother left me I became objective…I live detached from my present life…at home our relationships are casual…my father married a young model…I like casual relationships…When you are involved you get hurt. I do not want to be involved ever…” Mutely … Gore’s sudden softness envelops me.

Gore is a lieutenant at Mitchell Field. He comes in on weekends, and Sunday he came to see me. We had a fine talk, lightly serious, gracefully sad. He read me from Richard II. “Why was he killed?” I asked. “Because he was weak. I am not weak,” said Gore.

Anaïs Nin’s Diaries

Vidal would later demolish Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom’s 1997 America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible in The Nation with equal but far more righteous wit, pointing out that Henry Louis Gates had brilliantly solved the problem of how to blurb his colleagues’ book: “This book is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the state of race relations.” Indeed.

Vidal was a man of his time and a man against his time. Whatever his faults, and they were evidently legion, his resistance to received idiocy is to be admired.

As is his appearance on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.

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