I haven't had to attend a funeral for several years, but I am aware of the fact that people do die, and some are very notable deaths. I feel a loss when cultural icons pass on, and one of the more remarkable voices of our time, Gore Vidal, died just a few days ago. In Vidal's case I do mean "voice" because my first exposure was not to his books, but rather his late night appearances on the TONIGHT SHOW (Johnny Carson) in the 1970s. For a kid attending a Catholic junior highschool in a decaying Tory enclave - Saint John, N.B., staying up late to watch Carson was a desperate attempt to absorb some sophistication. At election time Vidal would share the guest couch with a bimbo plugging a movie and a stand-up comedian, merely to get in a few good zingers at the expense of the current Republican candidate. Even though I knew Vidal was also mocking my budding political values, I enjoyed every witty word. I often wondered if Vidal knew he was poking fun at the Canadian hinterland as much as to middle-America. Times change, people change, politics change - but I still admire Vidal's work.
I don't claim to have read many of his books. The man was so prolific that he wrote more in a lifetime than the average Canadian reads in a lifetime. Late in life he became a conspiracy theorist although he called himself a "conspiracy analyst". One of lesser known books is a collection of essays entitled PERPETUAL WAR FOR PERPETUAL PEACE. I don't have it but I've heard him speak on the issues and I certainly agree with his thesis that much of America's problem is that it antagonizes the World, and it doesn't know how to stop. I also agree that America's commitment to a state of perpetual war, ("Defending Democracy" is the euphemism), has become an ideological constant very much akin to what the Communists call "permanent revolution" and which is fictionalized in Orwell's Nineteen-Eightyfour. Vidal was an "isolationist Democrat" - a very rare creature indeed.
PERPETUAL WAR FOR PERPETUAL PEACE - if you want to check out what's covered in this book, the search page is at AMAZON.CA - HERE
Obama - this is a man you all know and may even love. He also wrote a book. Have you read it? As an antidote to carefully constructed autobiography might I recommend something a bit more honest? Try CONFRONT AND CONCEAL - Obama's Secret Wars And Surprising Use of American Power. You can use the "Look Inside" feature at AMAZON.CA - HERE.
Returning to todays subject... my favorite Gore Vidal novel has nothing to do with American culture. It is JULIAN, published in 1964, which I found time to read in 2003. Though dazzled by the story and the power of the prose, I felt I owed it to myself to compare fiction to conventional biography. A week later I bought a copy of JULIAN the APOSTATE, by Giuseppe Ricciotti and also petitioned Uncle Google. For too long I had carried in my head a simple construct of the reasons for the Fall of Rome - a decadent society with an economy dependant on slave labour and fielding mercenary armies to protect its porous frontiers. I now understand the insidious role of organized Christianity which laboured to destroy Rome from within, and then build the first Christian Empire atop and astride the ruins of what was Rome. JULIAN was raised a Christian but later rejected its doctrines and devoted the remainder of his life to an attempt to restore the pagan gods to their rightful place at the centre of national culture.
I can't help wondering about parallels in history. If we are truly, as some critics suggest, witnessing the "Fall of the American Empire," then it stands to reason that we may also be witnessing the fall of the American God. I grew up in a Canada where America's traditional values were freely mocked by opinion leaders - high school teachers, politicians, media celebrities and the like. It took only one drawling reference to "Godless Communists" or "My Lord and Savior" to make a roomful of urban Canadians roll their eyes and groan in disdain. Be patient Canada... American Christianity is a shadow of what it was. Be also prepared for the Shock of the New. We are perhaps only a decade or two away from a legal requirement for NPR to broadcast the Islamic Muezzim's Call to Prayer, I hope I am still around, just to witness Canadians who dare roll their eyes.
Vidal believed that the American government reaction to 9/11 did far more harm to his Nation than did the attack on New York by Bin Laden's assault team. That is a just and reasoned verdict and it will stand the test of time. It matters not whether the American President is Christian or Muslim because it is not religion which is dividing their country. It matters a great deal that the U.S.A. is polarized politically, and that it's people fixate on the two-party system as if it were Democracy Perfected. To rely on the ideas and base motives of only two parties... (or two "brands") for another hundred years, is madness. Some of Gore Vidal's ideas represent a heart felt slice of the alternative viewpoint which is derided by an arrogant media establishment, which has a vested interest in a two pony race. A country which professes peace but constantly practices war is already Godless, and far more pagan than it realizes.
"BOMB The Hell Out of ..." somebody. This was America in 1969. So what's changed? Last week we read the news about America's new SUPER - SUPER HEAVY bomb, now being readied to penetrate deeply buried nuclear bunkers in Iran... and to what end? How will they prevent the spread clouds of radioactive dust through the region? read "Mega-Buster-Bunker-Bomb" on Wired.