To the Editor:
Because Joseph Epstein’s analysis of Gore Vidal’s writings [“What Makes Vidal Run,” June] starts with some acute literary observations, it is somewhat surprising to find Vidal’s leftist political views simplistically accounted for by his “contentious homosexuality.” . . . Although Vidal has obviously not resolved his own ambivalent sexual feelings, nor is willing to be boxed totally into one inflexible category (thus his public advocacy not of homosexuality, as Mr. Epstein states, but of bisexuality), it is quite beside the point of his politics whether or not Vidal considers himself homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual. Nor does Mr. Epstein make a convincing case that Vidal’s politics are all wrong simply by quoting fragments of his critical comments about the U.S. as corrupt, a garrison state, etc. (ignoring here that Vidal exaggerates not only for laughs but to make a serious point—the difference between a caricaturist and a comic).
That the source of Vidal’s wit and politics may be anger is a plausible, if not original, deduction. But to trace such anger to a homosexual jealousy and “hatred” of “Jews, academics, the middle class, and heterosexuals” ignores every other objective social and political condition of our lives. Criticizing or caricaturing some of the attitudes or actions of those who speak for these groups does not constitute the pogromatic “hatred” Mr. Epstein suggests. Do Mr. Epstein’s caustic criticisms of Vidal make Mr. Epstein a hater of Wasps and homosexuals? And does Mr. Epstein consider himself a conservative (or whatever he regards himself) because hs is (presumably) Jewish, academic, middle class, and heterosexual? Such elements no doubt enter into one’s political position, but are hardly the crucial factors.
And who were those “many” homosexuals who were the “Pied Pipers of the youth rebellion of the late 60’s”? . . . The anti-war leaders of the late 60’s—those who organized draft resistance and rallies and marches—happen to have been overwhelmingly heterosexual. But hetero- or homo- or bi-, their anger—and mine—originated not in our sexual identifications but in the nature of the Vietnam war. The systems and psychologies which created and pursued that war and persist today do not have exclusive claim on heterosexuality. To imply that leftist politics somehow derive from homosexual anger (and that both are equally invalid products of “sexual and political adventurism”—and anti-Semitic too) is absurdly irresponsible.
Joseph Epstein writes:
I wonder if Ann Davidon has read Gore Vidal’s book, Matters of Fact and Fiction. She does not say that she has, and I am going to assume here that she hasn’t. If she had, I do not think she would write so confidently. Because Vidal’s book is so contentious on the subject of homosexuality, it is he who forces the issue. Far from being quite beside the point, Vidal makes homosexuality precisely the point over and over again in his essays. In my essay I documented this with quotation, and I do not think there is any need to do so further here.
I grant Mrs. Davidon that, as you do not have to be Jewish to love Levy’s rye bread, neither do you have to be homosexual to hold left-wing opinions. I agree with her, too, that Gore Vidal is serious about his opinions. What I claimed in my essay is that, in his seriousness, he is not at all persuasive.
I do not agree with Mrs. Davidon when she writes: “Does Mr. Epstein consider himself a conservative . . . because he is (presumably) Jewish, academic, middle class, and heterosexual? Such elements no doubt enter into one’s political position, but are hardly crucial factors.” Sometimes such elements are crucial factors, I believe, and sometimes not. It would be foolish to praise Tolstoy for being a heterosexual—as Gore Vital praises Christopher Isherwood largely for being a homosexual—but equally foolish not to take into consideration that he was an aristocrat. Much depends upon the extent to which one’s point of view, whether consciously or not, is influenced by one’s class, professional, or (something new) sexual affiliation. To ignore such matters may have the sanction of conscience, but it outrages reason.
I hope that Mrs. Davidon will forgive me if I do not name the Pied Pipers of the youth rebellion of the late 60’s. (If I were to name them, I suspect she would accuse me of McCarthyism.) But in referring to them I was not thinking of opposition to the Vietnam war alone. I know that people who consider themselves of the Left like to take credit for their opposition to the Vietnam war—opposed as they were, as Mrs. Davidon says, to “the systems and psychologies which created and pursued that war and persist today”—but if they wish to do so I think they must also take their share of credit for the assault on the universities, the urban riots, and the confrontation politics that helped to elect Richard M. Nixon to the Presidency. Credit, as they say, where credit is due.