Gore Vidal, in an interview largely about how much he hates Hemingway, 1974.
Besides the pleasures of living, are there any advantages in terms of perspective for the writer who lives outside the country?
For me, every advantage. If I lived in America, I would be a politician twenty-four hours a day, minding everybody else’s business and getting no work done. Also, there are pleasures to this sort of anonymity one has in a foreign city. And it’s nice to be always coping with a language you don’t speak very well. Occasionally I regret it when I’m with someone like Moravia, who speaks so rapidly and intricately in Italian that I can never follow him.
What do you think generally about the writer engagé? Should a writer be involved in politics, as you are?
It depends on the writer. Most American writers are not much involved, beyond signing petitions. They are usually academics—and cautious. Or full-timeliterary politicians. Or both. The main line of our literature is quotidian with a vengeance. Yes, many great novels have been written about the everyday—Jane Austen and so on. But you need a superb art to make that sort of thing interesting. So, failing superb art, you’d better have a good mind and you’d better be interested in the world outside yourself. D. H. Lawrence wrote something very interesting about the young Hemingway. Called him a brilliant writer. But he added he’s essentially a photographer and it will be interesting to see how he ages because the photographer can only keep on taking pictures from the outside. One of the reasons that the gifted Hemingway never wrote a good novel was that nothing interested him except a few sensuous experiences, like killing things and fucking—interesting things to do but not all that interesting to write about. This sort of artist runs into trouble very early on because all he can really write about is himself and after youth that self—unengaged in the world—is of declining interest. Admittedly, Hemingway chased after wars, but he never had much of anything to say about war, unlike Tolstoy or even Malraux. I think that the more you know the world and the wider the net you cast in your society, the more interesting your books will be, certainly the more interested you will be.”