Saturday, September 26, 2009

Bear vs. Snake

Here is another thing I like from A NEW LITERARY HISTORY OF AMERICA: Mary Gaitskill's third-person description of her fifteen-year-old self watching the famous contretemps between Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer on the Dick Cavett show. Mailer, she writes, was "like a bear trying to fight a snake on the snake's terms. At one point he spluttered, 'You know very well I'm the gentlest person here,' which made the audience laugh while Cavett and guests made ironic faces - but (horribly enough) Gaitskill sensed that this was quite possibly true, even if Mailer did head-butt Vidal in the dressing room, even if, yes, he did stab his wife in the dim past of a drunken party. For a gentle person who has been stung by clever, socially armored people adept at emotional cruelty may respond with oafish brutality..."