Gore Vidal. Norman Mailer. Two great writers and thinkers of their time. Apparently they didn't like each other. Then Esquire sent someone to interview them and apparently they liked each other after that. Or something. Whatever the case, Esquire published that interview in May 1991, and today, for the first time ever, made it available online.
Here's a couple exchanges I rather liked. And here's the link to the whole interview. And I also definitely cribbed that image from the Esquire website, just FYI.
Norman: I don't read other writers because I'm writing all the time. It's too disturbing to read a writer with a good style when you're in the middle of putting your work together. I've used this image before: It's very much like taking your car apart and having all the pieces on the floor when somebody rides by in a Ferrari. Now, you may hear a note in the Ferrari and say, That motor needs a little tuning. But nonetheless that car is there and yours is on the floor. So while I'm working on a book, I rarely read anything more than The New York Times. Which may have the long-term effect of flattening my style.
Vidal: Also, reading other people… we're very suggestible, writers. And I think when you're writing something, another person's work can leak into your own style.
You don't still want to be known for writing the best sentences, which I think Capote claimed you said.
Vidal: Well, I said that to somebody — not Capote. It's a dumb answer to a dumb question: "What do you want to be remembered for?" I might have said, you know, for having the fullest head of hair of any novelist of my time. SO I said for having written the best sentences. I notice a sharp look from Mailer here on "the fullest head of hair."
Mailer: No, I was looking at your hair and I was comparing it with mine.
You're a Democrat, Gore. What do you think of the party now?
Vidal: I have no interest in either political party as they are the same political party, and the sooner we get rid of this political system, the better. We no longer have a republic. We have a national security state. And the sooner that is thrown over, the better. I would like to do it in an orderly way, through a constitutional convention, which Thomas Jefferson prescribed once a generation. But since we haven't had one in two hundred years, nothing works. So I have no interest in either of the political parties, because the same people pay for both of them and their candidates.
How do you feel about that, Norman?
Mailer: I agree with most of what Gore just said. The one place where I shrug my shoulders is talk of constitutional conventions, because I don't see that happening. I think this country has come to a point where it's in the lap of history. It's comparable to any number of great nations that went through various kinds of decadence and dissolution of the particular sources of energy that had fueled the country and helped it to become a great one.
In America we now have our sex and our sexual freedom because what we're really interested in these days is not sex , but power. This is where I agree completely with Gore. The main power is held by the military-industrial complex and it's been that way since World War II. But it's enormously articulated now. It has almost total grasp the center of everything in American life. Other people only get little bits of power. The people who fight for more money for AIDS organizations belong to a little power group. The women, the blacks, the Jews, the Moslems, the National Rifle Association. You have power groups from Left to Right — all over the country, and they go nowhere. They exist in order to maintain the sense of power of the people who are in those organizations, but what they also do is paralyze any possibility of a large political movement. I dread the thought of a constitutional convention. Just think of all those power groups loose. None of them able to think in terms of a larger whole. They're totally inadequate as diplomates, negotiators, people who have a vision of history.