Gore Vidal and the Elixir of Victory

I discovered Gore Vidal (wikipedia) pretty late in life. For my first 25 years or so I always thought he was a Norwegian; seeing his name in print, I pronounced it Gåre Vidahl. So it’s a good thing one has friends (thanks, Stefan!) who can put the right books in your hands.

This book for me was Myra Breckinridge (wikipedia), which Vidal wrote in 1968, and which was turned into an infamous movie starring Mae West in 1970 (wikipedia).

The book is a jauntily written satire, but it’s also permeated by Vidal’s great wisdom. When I heard Vidal had died (yesterday), I walked into my reference library – a kind of Pantheon for the ancient homosexuals that I take inspiration from – and picked out my old copy of Myra Breckinridge. Read and admire:

Myron’s restless cruising of bars was the result of a desire to draw into himself, literally, that which men possess for quite another purpose. For him to be able to take from Woman her rightful pleasure – not to mention the race’s instrument of generation – became a means of exercising power over both sexes and, yes, even over life itself! That is why he was never drawn to homosexuals. In fact, once the man wished to penetrate him, Myron lost interest for then he himself would become the thing used, and so lose the power struggle. What excited him most was to find a heterosexual man down on his luck, preferably starving to death, and force him to commit an act repugnant to him but necessary if he was to be paid the money he needed for survival. At such moments, Myron confessed, he knew ecstacy: the forbidden was his! He had conquered Man, even though to the naïve observer it was Myron who seemed to be the one used. But he was almost always the user, and that was his glory.

What is it that I like in this? Oh, what’s there not to like! The description of an old-school homosexual true to his instincts, the clear understanding of his motives, and, not least, concepts taken to their extremes. If anything, that’s the feature that all my favourite authors have in common, from Socrates/Plato to Witold Gombrowicz. I hate half-measures. As you may know.

Ready for more?

The sailor who stands against a wall, looking down at the bobbing head of the gobbling queen, regards himself as master of the situation; yet it is the queen (does not that derisive epithet suggest primacy and dominion?) who has won the day, extracting from the flesh of the sailor his posterity, the one element in every man which is eternal and (a scientific fact) cellularly resembles not at all the rest of the body. So to the queen goes the ultimate elixir of victory, that which was not meant for him but for the sailor’s wife or girl or simply Woman.

One word: Homosexual Canon!

Let’s exhale (before we reach the climax) with a matter-of-factly yet over-the-top observation of ordinary men:

Of course most people successfully disguise their power drives, particularly from themselves. Yet the will to prevail is constant and unrelenting. Take that charming, seemingly unaggressive man who makes apparently idle jokes that cause others to laugh. In a sly way, he is exerting power quite as much as Hitler did: after all, his listeners were not laughing until he made them laugh. Thus it goes, at every level.

And now the climax. Where Hollywood agent Letitia van Allen tells Myra about her latest (and possibly last) sex with Rusty, which landed her in a hospital. In a way the logical acting out of the example with the sailor boy above. A sex scene so extreme that it can only be topped by Sebastian Venable:

“It was perfection!” She roared happily. “Total perfection! I have never in my life known such absolute and complete happiness. Such a … no, there are no words to describe what I went through. All I know is that I am now entirely fulfilled. I have lived and I have loved to the fullest! I can at last give up sex because anything more would be anticlimax.”

“Not to mention fatal.” I must say Letitia’s happiness depressed me mortally. “Just what did Rusty do to you this time?”

“What did he not do!” Her eyes became glazed with memory and gin. “It all happened the day he signed the contract at Fox. You know I got him the lead in that series with top money, special billing, participation, the works. Anyway, after the signing, we went back to Malibu to celebrate.” Her voice was dreamy. “It began upstairs when he tore my clothes off in the closet. Then he raped me standing up with a metal clothes hanger twisted around my neck, choking me. I could hardly breathe. It was exquisite! Then one thing led to another. Those small attentions a girl like me cherishes … a lighted cigarette stubbed out on my derriere, a complete beating with his great thick heavy leather belt, a series of ravenous bites up and down the inner thighs, drawing blood. All the usual fun things, except that this time he went beyond anything he had ever tried before. This time he dragged me to the head of the stairs and raped me from behind, all the while beating me with his boot. Then, just as I was about to reach the big O, shrieking with pleasure, he hurled me down the stairs, so that my orgasm and the final crash with the banister occurred simultaneously. I fainted with joy! Without a doubt, it was the completion of my life.”

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