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P. 1
Italo Calvino: Imagining Vidal

Italo Calvino: Imagining Vidal

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Italo Calvino discusses the pleasures of reading the works of Gore Vidal.
Italo Calvino discusses the pleasures of reading the works of Gore Vidal.

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Published by: Columbia University Press on Aug 02, 2012
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03/17/2014

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ImaginingVidal
ITALOCALVINOCelebratingGoreVidalhereinRavello,Ifindmyselfinastrange,multitracksituation.IthinkofGoreinhishousehere,suspendedoveradazzlingandsheercliff,orIseehiminthemainsquareseatedatthecafewhereImethimthismorning,whileatthesametimeIfeelmyselftransportedtoabackdrop,oneofahugecityonalakewhichisencircledbyskyscrapersandneonlights.ThefactisthatI'vejustfinishedreadingVidal'slatestnovel,
Duluth,
tocontinuousamusementandstimulationtotheimagina-tion.Itisanovelinwhichcontemporarylifeseemstohavebeencompletelytakenoverbyfiction,withtheworldbeingnothingbutepisodesofTYserials,withcharacterswhoswitchtheirroles,dyinginoneoftheseriesonlytoreappearinanother.Orelselifeisacriss-crossingofplotsfromcheapnovels,publishedininstallments,orissuedinmassivevolumesdestinedforthemasses.Onecannottellwherereallife,orthatwhichVidalcalls"life,ornonfiction,"endsandwheretheintricatejungleofimaginarysto-ries,withepisodeswhichalternateandoverlap,thankstothecom-binationsofawordprocessor(whosememoryhasbeenfedtheplotsofalltheworld'snovels),begins.Therefore,inspiredbytherecentreadingof
Duluth,
inwhich
 
32
ITALOCALvINa
thethingswhichhappendonotconformtoVidal'sprincipleof"absoluteuniqueness,"ImustaskmyselfifweareindeedinRav-ello,orinaRavelloreconstructedinaHollywoodstudio,withanactorplayingGoreVidal,orifweareintheTVdocumentaryonVidalinRavellowhichweweretohaveseentonightandwhichmysteriouslyvanished,orwhetherwearehereontheAmalfiCoastonafestiveoccasion,butonein1840,when,attheendofanotherVidalnovel,
Burr,
thenarratorlearnsthatthemostcontroversialofAmerica'sFoundingFathers,ColonelBurr,washisfather.Or,sincethereisaspaceshipin
Duluth,
mannedbycentipedeswhocantakeonanyappearance,evenbecomingdead-ringersforAmericanpo-liticalfigures,perhapswecouldbeaboardthatspaceship,whichhasleftDuluthforRavello,andtheE.T.saboardcouldhavetakenontheappearanceoftheAmericanwriterwearegatheredheretocelebrate.Thekeytoallthosemysteriesmaylieinthebook'sfinale,whenwelearnthattheworldexistsonlyinthemindofatirelesswomannovelistwhohasthepowertoerasehouses,hills,existences,untiltheinvasionofthecentipedesfromthespaceshipcreateshundredsofRavellosintimeandinspace,completewithallthemunicipaldignitariesandtheguestsheretonight,andwithaGoreVidalineachRavello,allthatmuchmoremultiformandgiftedwithubiq-uity,andthusthatmuchmore"absolutelyunique"andfaithfultohimself.AsfortheubiquityofVidal,IbelievethatwecangatherthatrighthereinRavello,becausewhenwereadorlistentoVidalitseemsthathehasneverleftAmericaevenforonesecond.HispassionateandpolemicalparticipationinAmericanlifeiswithoutinterruption.WhatweseeinRavelloissomeonelivingatranquil,parallellife.IsitVidalorhisdouble?OristhereasatellitecirclingovertheAmalfiCoastwhichkeepshiminformedofallthatishappeninginAmerica?Certainly,intoday'sworldwheredistancehasbeenerased,whereeverythingispresent;VidalhasinitiatedanewwayofstayinginItaly.Formanygenerations,Americanwriterssawourcountryasapicturesquebackground,exotic,mysterious,andanyhowaworldoppositetoAmerica.TheirsojourninginEuropeandaboveallinItalyofthosedays,soarchaic,distantfromAmericaintimeandin
 
ImaginingVidal33space,signifiedasymbolicbreaking-awayalmostlikegoingtothegreatbeyond.Notfornothingweretheycalledthen"exiles"or"expatriates."Gore,here,doesnotfeelhimselfanexileanywhere.HeliveswiththesameeaseandassuranceontheMediterraneanasonthePacificorontheAtlantic.Infact,hemanagestokeeponefootoneachshore,whichmustrequiresomefastfootworkashisfeetaretwoandhisshoresthree.ThatcouldbethereasonwhyhehasneverfelttheneedtogiveushisItaliannovel,his
MarbleFaun,
his
DaisyMiller,
his
Acrossthe
River
andIntotheTrees.
Iwouldbeverypleased,nowthathehasbecomeanhonorarycitizenofoneofourcities,ifheshouldfeelhimselfauthorizedtowritethatItaliannovel.AndI'msurethatunlikethoseofhisil-lustriouspredecessors,itwouldbeentertainingfrombeginningtoend.ButImustadmitthatsofar,wealsomayhavebeenluckierthanwerealize!WhenIthinkoftheferociousgleewithwhichVidalripsaparttheAmericanrealitywithatransfigurationbothgrotesqueandtruculent,andwhatcouldcomeforthifheweretoturnhispowerson
our
mannersandmorals,Iexperienceaforetasteofenjoymentandatthesametimeanattackofcoldsweat.IcanalreadyseetheFuriesofhisfantasyhungrilyturningonthepublicandprivateimageofItaliansociety,withallthegustoof
Duluth's
women-policecorpswhentheyforce"illegalaliens"toundergobodysearches.Icanalreadyseeallofusinsomeofhishilariouslycruelpages.Whichcantaketheirplaceinthegreat
humour
nairtraditionfromSwiftonward.Vidalknowsuswell.InhisessaysandinterviewsaboutItalyheisrightontarget.HeoncedefinedItaliansocietyasbeingthatwhich"combinesthelessattractiveaspectsofsocialismwithpracticallyallthevicesofcapitalism."StayinginItalyforVidalis,tobesure,alessproblematicadventurethanitisforus.ItisratherawayofkeepingthatlittledistancefromAmericawhichpermitshimtoobserveitbetter.AndbeingAmericanishisproblem.HispassionforwhatAmericaisorisnotdominateshisthoughts.
It
isnottruethatthisenfantterriblerespectsnothingandnoone.HispointofdeparturecanbefoundinthefundamentalprinciplesoftheDecla-rationofIndependence,which,fromthefirstlines,definesastheinalienablerightswhichallmenhavereceivedfromtheircreator

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