Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Reading Gore Vidal

OK, I confess - I enjoy reading Gore Vidal - I find his historical writings reasonably Earthy, witty and both contemporary and other - exploring similarities and differences of historical times. I would - as an aside - consider the otehr nature of novels to be quite important, we should be confronted by the new and the different, novels should be read to challenge not confirm, to expand not narrow knowledge.

He is, also, a quintessentially American novellist, in as much as AMERICA! (Fuck yeah!) is his subject: personally placed and born among the ruling élite, vaguely related to Al Gore, etc.

The book I've just finished is his Julian - about Julian the Apostate the Emporer of the Roman Empire.

It's an intreguing book in many aspects. It is a book on ancient history, but that seems to resonate with certain contemporary (to 1964, and onwards, perhaps) American concerns. Julian is presented as a democratic Emporer - assiduous, invovled, passionate, less than formal. In fact, he strikes very much as an American president. This would resonate with the decline motif of the book - Vidal, IIRC, seems to see America in a state of fall from grace. Fallen from democracy - an Empire.

Vidal's Julian is set on restoring the old gods, various in form but unified in substance - set against the emerging organised and ruthless Christian church. This resonates, to me, with the homgenisation and increasing centralisation of America - perhaps.

It is the novel used for its proper purpose - personalising society and history. being invited into the personal life of the powerful, looking at how they cope with their situations and aspirations. Seemignly meticulously researched, there stuff to learn as well as learning to not take it for granted - his history is clearly Partisan, and then filtered through voices of partisan and unreliable narrators.


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