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Saturday, 16 December 2006

An interview with Gore Vidal is published in The Sydney Morning Herald today. John Preston of The Telegraph talks with Vidal about a couple of things.

It's not a very interesting interview. Possibly Vidal, who is 81 this year, is past being interesting and has instead become orphic. The non-sequiturs start to kick in at a certain age, and I think Vidal has reached that stage.

He's remarkably funny, nevertheless. The interview coincides with the publication of a new book of memoirs, Point to Point Navigation.

As Vidal heads towards what he calls "the door marked Exit", so too does the species he represents: the famous writer. Nowadays, writers simply aren't famous any more - or, rather, "to speak of a famous writer is like speaking of a famous speedboat designer. The adjective is inappropriate to the noun."

The reasons for this are twofold, Vidal believes. "The French auteur theory of the 1950s had a lot to do with it. People who might have written books started trying to make movies instead. I remember all these terrible hacks in Hollywood coming up and telling me, 'I'm an auteur, you know.' And I would say, 'I always knew you were by the way you parted your hair.'

"Also, the GI Bill of Rights after the war meant that milllions of people who had never been educated before went to university. The trouble was they liked it so much they decided to stay there and become academics. And if you want to meet someone who really hates literature, then just talk to an academic."

'Auteurs'? 'GI Bill'? As if he's just too damn famous to make a cogent reply, Vidal sends off sparks of thought instead of answering the questions put to him.

In this case, instead of an edited article, I think it would have been better to have provided a transcript, so that we would know exactly who said what. I personally would like to have followed the flow of ideas more closely.

For example: who brought up the idea of the death of the author? Was it Preston or Vidal? It's actually an interesting question, whoever initiated it. Recently, when the dress that was worn by Audrey Hepburn in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's was sold at auction for over a million dollars, there was no mention of Truman Capote as the author of the novella used to make the film. None. Not on the TV and not in print. It's disgraceful.

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