Cases of character assassination: Vidal and Strindberg

When establishment intellectuals are disturbed by progressives and have to deal with factual, intelligent and witty individuals to whom they have no substantive rebuttals, they far from seldom react by attacking character. That’s what happens when Jennifer Senior reviews a biography of Gore Vidal (1925-2012), written by Jay Parini. And she starts right on in the opening paragraph:

“By virtually any metric, Gore Vidal was a difficult man. He had a skyscraping ego. On a clear day, you could see his grudges forever. He had an almost fathomless capacity for envy; he could be gratuitously cruel even to friends; a vein of paranoia pulsed through his politics.”

The review is printed in New York Times (Oct. 18, 2015), a paper with which Vidal had an old history. When he published The City and the Pillar in 1948 the entire decent intelligentsia almost got a collective stroke. The reason: he presented a male homosexual relationship in a novel, something no one had dared until then. The New York Times’ literary editor promised not to read any more books by Vidal, let alone review one. This blockade by the Times and others ultimately forced Vidal to put the novels aside and start writing movie scripts for Hollywood, just for a living (this “mishap” not mentioned by Ms. Senior, naturally).

One would think that the Times had something to beg Vidal of forgiveness for, given that the future (as usual) proved the progressive part in the conflict right. But no way! The flagship among newspapers must stand tall! Vidal for his part was pouring fuel on the flames by regularly saying about the Times in interviews: “It’s a very bad paper!”.

The review in NYT reminded me of other character assassinations, that insidious and craven habit among reactionaries. In Sweden we have a monumental example in the treatment of our – without comparison – greatest author, August Strindberg. Though now being dead for a century his plays appear continually on stages all over the world. To the 100y commemoration of his death last year our right-wing government contributed only a pittance to the many arrangements carried out (to compare with the many millions the Norwegian government spent for the celebration of their literary giant Henrik Ibsen).

Strindberg, like Vidal, was a progressive, and his satirical wit left the bourgeoisie fuming. Early in his career he literally had to escape his country with his family to live for a long time on the continent. After years abroad he was charged with blasphemy for joking about the profane origin of the wine and wafer for Communion. The charge was allegedly instigated by the queen and blasphemy considered a pretext for the real crime: the mild (and not chargeable) eroticism in the edition of short stories in which it was to find. Strindberg was forced home to appear in court, but fresh winds had blown in his country and he was greeted as a hero by the young generation, and quickly acquitted by the jury.

About the book on trial Strindberg said that it would be read in elementary schools in the future. In that, and in almost everything bad and atrocious he was accused of in his days, the future has exonerated him. Eventually progressives are mostly proven right because their thinking is directed forwards, into the future. Conservatives, on the other hand, are people who intensively work to preserve the same things that their fellow believers in previous generations just as intensively worked to prevent. Thus in the long run, they are mostly wrong.

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