Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Gore Vidal and the Swingers.

As a Vidalophile I'm currently reading Myra Breckenridge (1968), a book Gore described as a masterpiece in bad-taste, which has been good fun so far and I foresee much more fun in this wonderful satire written at the apogee of the sexual revolution. The lead character, of whom the novel is named after, sets out to smash traditional masculinity, or in so many words:

I believe in justice, I want redress for all wrongs done, I want the good life - if such a thing exists - accessible to all. Yet, emotionally, I would be only too happy to become world dictator, if only to fulfil my mission: the destruction of the last vestigial traces of traditional manhood in the race in order to realign the sexes, thus reducing population while increasing human happiness and preparing humanity for its next stage.

One wonders how much of Vidal is in Myra. Of course, the author created the protagonist so it is natural for one to bleed into another and possibly vice versa. I bet a lot of the sex and drugs of the book comes out of the author's own lived-experience (he's said to have bedded more than 2,000). Gore had bought into Malthusian fantasies of overpopulation, so does Breckenridge. Gore was suspicious of Freudianism and traditional moralism in almost equal spades, so we find the same in Breckenridge. The work is littered with all of this. In a later passage Breckenridge weighs up the cultural mythology against the socio-economic reality when it comes to masculinity:

On the one hand, they must appear to accept without question our culture's myth that the male must be dominant, aggressive, woman-oriented. On the other hand, they are perfectly aware that few men are anything but slaves to an economic and social system that does not allow them to knock people down as proof of virility or in any way act out the traditional role. As a result, the young men compenstate by playing at being men, wearing cowboy clothes, boots, black leather, attempting through clothes (what an age for the fetishist!) to impersonate the kind of man our society claims to admire but swiftly puts down should he attempt to be anything more than an illusionist, playing a part.

As this is a chapter in which the protagonist attends an orgy, the man born Eugene Luther writes:

It is the wisdom of the male swinger to know what he is: a man who is socially and economically weak, as much put upon by women as by society. Accepting his situation, he is able to assert himself through a polymorphic sexual abandon in which the lines between the sexes dissolve, to the delight of all. I suspect that this may be the only workable pattern for the future...

He goes on to remark that the 'rigid old-fashioned masculinity' is bound to end in either "defeat or frustration". Who can blame him for this conclusion? It's somewhat obvious in retrospect. Perhaps it was much less obvious in 1968 when the old conventions seemed to be approaching a precipice in the minds of so many optimists. It made me laugh, but it also reminded me of those swinger ads from the Sixties posted by Sabotage Times about a month ago.

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