Wednesday, October 07, 2015

So You Want To Be a Creative Writing Professor...

Lake Forest College's middle campus.  Note presence of both lake and forest.

So you want to be a professor of creative writing? You've come to the right place: we're hiring! It's a visiting professor with an emphasis in fiction writing, renewable for three years, located on a leafy little campus just north of Chicago. Here's the official ad copy from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

The Department of English at Lake Forest College seeks to fill a Visiting Assistant Professor position in English with a specialization in fiction writing, annually renewable for up to three years. This position carries a 3-3 load of undergraduate courses in both creative writing and literature. The successful candidate will have a PhD in creative writing or English, with further specialization in teaching contemporary or postmodern literature. Applicants with an MFA and the appropriate teaching experience will also be considered. Desirable secondary areas of expertise include editing/publishing (for involvement with Lake Forest College Press/&NOW Books), American multicultural literature, and diasporic literature. Applicants must submit a letter of application, a curriculum vitae, three reference letters, and a twenty-page sample of their fiction. Reference letters must be submitted directly by the referring parties and not come directly from the candidate. The deadline is November 1. All material should be submitted electronically to  

A highly selective liberal arts college located on Chicago's North Shore, Lake Forest College enrolls approximately 1,600 students from more than 40 states and from more than 70 countries. At Lake Forest College, the quality of a faculty members teaching is the most important criterion for evaluation. The College also expects peer-reviewed publications and active participation in the College community. Lake Forest College embraces diversity and encourages applications from women and members of other historically underrepresented groups.

Friday, October 02, 2015

The End of An Era: Cathy Park Hong and Kenneth Goldsmith

If you're inclined to think that active controversy about poetry in the mainstream media is a sign that things are going well for the art, then we're living in a very auspicious moment indeed. Poetry isn't just being tepidly reviewed in magazines whose pages aren't filled primarily with poems: it's being debated with considerable heat. Take, for example, the current issues of The New Yorker and The New Republic: if you'd told me in, say, 2009, that these journals would not only be covering, but participating in, serious debate about Conceptualist poetry, I'd have replied by saying "sure, sure: when pigs fly and a socialist is leading in the Iowa primaries."

In The New Yorker we find Alec Wilkinson saying "Kenneth Goldsmith's poetry elevates copying to an art—but did he go too far?" while in The New Republic Cathy Park Hong takes issue not only with Goldsmith but with Wilkinson's representation of the controversy surrounding Goldsmith's reading, as a poem, of a modified autopsy of the slain Michael Brown.

For the record, I'm inclined to sympathize with Cathy Park Hong's largest point—that the American poetry world, including the avant-garde, is no more immune to institutionalized racism, subtle or otherwise, than any other part of American society. I think she's right, too, about how Wilkinson's essay, despite gestures toward objectivity (such as including parts of an interview with her) presents Goldsmith in a far more sympathetic light than it does his critics. And while I have no x-ray vision to see into Goldsmith's soul, I suspect she's on to something when she says that Goldsmith's reading of the Brown autopsy had something to do with a desire to keep such spotlights as shine on poetry pointed at him. Some time ago, long before the Michael Brown controversy, I wrote about the desire for fame being likely to bring unhappiness to Goldsmith, and that unhappiness seems to have come to pass, at least for the moment.

But I'm not writing to weigh in on the controversy about race and Conceptualism. I'm writing to point out something that most people interested in the controversy will think of as a very minor point indeed: a point of apparent agreement between Cathy Park Hong and Kenneth Goldsmith.  They seem to agree, in a broad way, about the dynamics of literary history. That is: each is willing to present claims about the end of one era and the beginning of another—a view that implies a clear progression in literary history.

Here, for example, is a passage from Kenneth Goldsmith's essay "Flarf is Dionysus, Conceptual Writing is Apollo":
Disjunction is dead. The fragment, which ruled poetry for the past one hundred years, has left the building. Subjectivity, emotion, the body, and desire, as expressed in whole units of plain English with normative syntax, has returned. But not in ways you would imagine. This new poetry wears its sincerity on its sleeve . . . yet no one means a word of it. Come to think of it, no one’s really written a word of it. It’s been grabbed, cut, pasted, processed, machined, honed, flattened, repurposed, regurgitated, and reframed from the great mass of free-floating language out there just begging to be turned into poetry.
He's declaring the death of the Language movement and Elliptical poetry, and the birth of a new, Conceptual era. Co-existence and overlap? Forget about it. Your game is over, Charles Bernstein. Step aside, C.D. Wright.  It's all about Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa Place now—or so we are meant to believe.

And here's the ending of Cathy Park Hong's essay in The New Republic:
The era of Conceptual Poetry’s ahistorical nihilism is over and we have entered a new era, the poetry of social engagement.
However vast the gulf may be between the two poets on a variety of issues, they both seem quite sanguine about the rhetoric of historical division, about obsolescence and relevance, about the beginning and ending of eras. As rhetoric, it's stirring stuff. It certainly got Goldsmith a lot of attention—although one wonders if some small portion of the criticism he's been subjected to has been reinforced by schadenfreude from those whose work he so cavalierly dismissed.

If Cathy Park Hong's closing words draw attention to the BreakBeat poets and the people published by Action Books (to name just a few of the groups she mentions), I'll be grateful for the result.  But as literary history, I can't get behind the concept of clearly demarcated eras, no matter where it comes from. I'm with Theodor Adorno when he says "the concept of progress is less directly applicable to art than it is to technical forces of production." Which, unlike the declaration of a new era, isn't a particularly rousing way to end an essay.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Hating the Other Kind of Poetry: Now Online

Whatever you think the "other" kind of poetry is, and whether you hate that kind of poetry or not, I hope you'll take a look at my essay "Hating the Other Kind of Poetry" in the latest issue of Copper Nickel.  It's also available online here.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Top Ten Metaphors for the Heart & Other Notecards: The List Poems of Andy McGuire

You’ve got to be kidding me. Really? You haven’t heard of Papirmass? Don’t worry, people, I’ll fill you in. Papirmass is sort of like a literary journal, if a literary journal were an art gallery.  They send you twelve nicely made art prints a year, of variable size and ready to frame, and in one way or another include something literary along with it—a chapbook sometimes, or poems, sometimes on the verso side of the print. It’s a grand idea, and if it were based in Brooklyn rather than Canada you’d have been hearing about it for a long time (they’re on their 69th issue). I’ve been thinking about the current issue because it’s managed to deliver something quite rare: a list poem I actually like.

I don’t know why I’m a hard sell when it comes to list poems—maybe it’s because they’re such a staple of the creative writing classroom that I’ve seen too many that are either merely workmanlike or strive a little too hard for novelty. Certainly there are exceptions—if we’re calling Joe Brainard’s I Remember a list poem, then I’m a fan of at least one large scale list poem. But generally, when I sit down with a list poem, the thing is considered guilty until proven otherwise. I know. It’s not fair. But Andy McGuire’s set of four list poems in the latest Papirmass (printed on the back of “Reflet,” a photo by Sarah Bodri) overcame my resistance. I think I understand why.

To begin with, there’s what we see at first glance— McGuire’s lists take advantage of Papirmass’s ability to present the written word in a visually interesting manner. The lists appear on old library index cards, yellowed and ruled in blue and red, with holes punched for the old catalog box rods. There’s a nostalgia value, even for my generation—I am of that unfortunate generation that came of age with the microfiche library catalog, a brief transitional technology between the card catalog and the fully electronic index, but we still used the card catalog when all of the fiche readers were engaged, and the sense memory of how it felt to thumb through those old cards is real enough. It’s not just nostalgia that we get from the images of lists on these cards, though—there’s a kind of pathos, especially since McGuire has chosen to have the text appear handwritten.  We get something like the feel Wes Anderson works so hard to give us in his films, where a character like Dignan in Bottle Rocket will reveal large binders of handwritten, naïve life plans—there’s a sense of how hopelessly outgunned we are by the world when we attempt to impose order on it. For Wes Anderson, the maker of plans andlists seems like a lost child grown old. It’s an important part of the Wes Anderson aesthetic, and more than incidental to the feel of McGuire’s list poems. They’d lost a lot if they appeared conventionally printed in an ordinary literary journal.

But McGuire isn’t out to show us a sincere attempt to order an unruly world. Instead, his lists work more like Jorge Luis Borges’ Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, a fictitious text described in his essay “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins.” Here, Borges shows us a set of asymmetrical categories of knowledge. The Emporium seeks to list and classify all the world’s animals, but instead of a system of mutually exclusive categories (say, “land based animals,” “flying animals,” “water-dwelling animals” and “amphibians”) it gives a muddle of overlapping categories:

Those that belong to the emperor
Embalmed ones
Those that are trained
Suckling pigs
Mermaids (or Sirens)
Fabulous ones
Stray dogs
Those that are included in this classification
Those that tremble as if they were mad
Innumerable ones
Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
Et cetera
Those that have just broken the flower vase
Those that, at a distance, resemble flies

The idea is to show the confusion of ideas, the variety of ways knowledge can be structured, and the failure of consistency in the application of those varieties. Borges makes fun out of the very idea of categorization.

In a different way, Andy McGuire makes fun out of the idea of rankings. Rankings, after all, are meant to be rankings of things in terms of the same criteria—but he presents overtly non-comparable things in his rankings. In “Top Ten Places I Have Seen a Swan,” for example, we get locations where an artificial swan might be found (“Souvenir shop”); places where what one sees isn’t a swan but a drawing of a swan (“Book of bad drawings”) (here the “bad” is sort of egregious, which is wonderful); places where what one sees may or may not be a real swan, and may or may not be there because people want it there (“Art opening”—how avant-garde is the show?); places that are plausible but nevertheless incongruous for a goose (“Stuck in a doggy door”) and places that must be somehow surreal (“Under a tongue”). In a list poem, everything is about selection and juxtaposition, and McGuire’s juxtapositions are uncommonly clever, even charming.

We get similar a similar feel from McGuire’s “Top Ten Things Not Meant to Be Carried.” When he tells us a bird isn’t meant to be carried, it feels right—those things squirm and really don’t want to be in your hands. But when he tells us a hologram or a lawn are not meant to be carried, the rightness of the assertion that they aren’t meant to be carried is predicated on different grounds (immateriality and non-portability, respectively). Then there are other items that simply don’t perform their intended uses if carried (balaclava and parachute). What we’re really getting is a kind of demonstration of the variability within our language—how “not meant to be carried” can apply to many different states. To rank these things implies that they are comparable (same in kind, different in degree), but the variety of things chosen shows how the same language applies to things that are not comparable. If I were a grad student, and it were the early 1990s, I would go on for paragraphs here about linguistic slippage, dropping the names of as many French theorists as possible. But you get the idea.

“Top Ten Miscellaneous Metaphors for the Heart” is a little different, since it deals with figurative language, and in a sense the listed items are comparable. What’s nice, though, is the freshness of the metaphors, and the variety of ways in which each is accurate.  Yes, the heart is a windsock, being blown this way and that, and yes, it is the national debt, owing ever more and more, and yes, it is a polygraph, on which the truth of our actions is proved, and yes, it is a flea market, full of random accumulations and broken things. McGuire is so sure footed here that I’m sure there’s a way the heart is an “Alpha mule,” too, though I’d first have to find out just what one of those is to confirm it.

The final list, “Top Ten Places to Report From,” also shows the multiple senses of the seemingly simple language of the category. The place can be visually designated (“vanishing point”) or a matter of time (“seconds before”—there’s a nice implied narrative in that one) or ambiguous (“wherever the weather comes from”).  It can also be an “art opening,” the penultimate item in this, the final list—and a nice call back to the initial swan list, giving a satisfying sense of formal conclusion to an already satisfying piece of writing.

If this is your kind of thing, and you’re ready to be surprised with a new art print in your mailbox a dozen times a year, give Papirmass a try.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Hating the Other Kind of Poetry

Hot news, people—the latest issue of the reborn Copper Nickel has arrived, fresh from the good people at the University of Colorado.  It has Tony Hoagland, Paige Ackerson-Kiely, John Koethke, Kevin Prufer, and translation portolios by Yi Lu, Christina Hesselholdt, and not one, not two, but three poets from Uruguay.  Who could want more? No one! But there is more, including an essay I wrote called "Hating the Other Kind of Poetry."  It deals with sectarianism in the poetry world.

Here's a section from near the end, in which I talk about the attempt (and it can only be that) to get beyond our own assumed values and habitual tastes as readers: 

Conquistadors and anthropologists

            The Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski once wrote with apparent sympathy of a group of people who believed fervently in their own ideals and disdained those of others, saying:

A few years ago I visited the pre-Columbian monuments in Mexico and was lucky enough, while there, to find myself in the company of a well known Mexican writer, thoroughly versed in the history of the Indian peoples of the region.  Often in the course of explaining to me the significance of many things I would not have understood without him, he stressed the barbarity of the Spanish soldiers who had ground the Aztec statues into dust and melted down the exquisite gold figurines to strike with the image of the Emperor.  I said to him, ‘you think these people were barbarians; but were they not, perhaps, true Europeans, indeed the last true Europeans? They took their Christian and Latin civilization seriously; and it is because they took it seriously that they saw no reason to safeguard pagan idols; or to bring the curiosity and aesthetic detachment of archeologists into their consideration of things imbued with a different, and therefore hostile religious significance. If we are outraged at their behavior it is because we are indifferent, both to their civilization, and to our own.’

Kołakowski was, however, playing devil’s advocate—since, for him, the better angels of European civilization were not the conquistadors, but the anthropologists.  “The anthropologist,” Kołakowski writes,

must suspend his own norms, his judgments, his mental, moral, and aesthetic habits in order to penetrate as far as possible into the viewpoint of another and assimilate his way of perceiving the world.  And even though no one, perhaps, would claim to have achieved total success in this effort, even though total success would presuppose an epistemological impossibility—to enter entirely into the mind of the object of inquiry while maintaining the distance and objectivity of the scientist—the effort is not in vain.  We cannot completely achieve the position of an observer seeing himself from the outside, but we may do so partially.

Like the scholar C after he heard my irritating paper at the conference years ago, when confronted with that which is alien to our sensibilities we may make the attempt to stand outside ourselves, and in doing so see something other than an object of disdain.  Indeed, we may get a kind of doubled or even tripled vision: we’ll know the thing we’re looking at—a poem, say—on something like it’s own terms, as well as on ours.  Moreover, we might discover something about our own assumptions—our assumptions and, one hopes, ourselves.


There's more.  The essay is in Copper Nickel 21, Fall 2015.  A modified version will also appear as the afterword to my book The Kafka Sutra.

UPDATE:  The article is now available online here.

Cover by Mark Mothersbaugh. You know, from Devo.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Poetry and Refugees

Migrants, we're told, present a crisis for Europe—untold thousands trek over dusty trails from Syria, or put themselves at the mercy of the Mediterranean as they set out from North Africa on rafts and other uncertain craft. I don't much care for the term "migrant," though: it implies something like choice, that the sufferings of these people are somehow their own fault, and reduces the moral urgency of the situation. Journalist Barry Malone gets at the truth of the matter when he writes:
The umbrella term migrant is no longer fit for purpose when it comes to describing the horror unfolding in the Mediterranean. It has evolved from its dictionary definitions into a tool that dehumanises and distances, a blunt pejorative. It is not hundreds of people who drown when a boat goes down in the Mediterranean, nor even hundreds of refugees. It is hundreds of migrants. It is not a person – like you, filled with thoughts and history and hopes – who is on the tracks delaying a train. It is a migrant. A nuisance.
What we really have is a crisis, not of migrants, but of refugees. What can poetry do, in a time of such crisis? The question probably seems absurd to the more practical-minded, but it haunts poets at times like these. W.H. Auden addressed an earlier era's troubles in "Refugee Blues," a poem about Jewish refugees in the time of fascism, and Chinua Achebe's "Refugee Mother and Child" spoke to a crisis closer to our own time.

My own poor, best effort, came from the Yugoslav wars of the nineties, when I was living in Europe:

Poem for a War Poet, Poem for a War

The lines inked on the map are railways and roads.
The lines on the road are refugees, and moving.
The lines inked on the page are a poem, your poem.
            While you are singing, who will carry your burden?

The lines on the page are a poem, words
that move toward the refugees, their tattered world
of hurt and proper names, their lost, their staggering.
            While you are singing, while you are singing.

The lines are helpless in this time of war.  They survive,
if they are a poem, in valleys of saying, they survive
and reach for valleys where bodies cough, bleed, or stumble blind.

They survive while you are singing.
            While you are singing. 

The lines on the road are refugees,
Their paths are marked with ink, charted
on a General’s table.  Your lines are a poem.
            While you are singing, who will carry your burden?

A woman bends beneath her load, a young man stutters in his fear,
a guard at the valley’s border lets them through,
or not.  Your lines are a poem.
            Who will carry your burden

I am a great believer in poetry, and know what it has done for me and for others I care about. But I am also a believer in these words, from an anonymous editorial in the Arab American News:
The photo of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian child who drowned and washed on the shores of Turkey, has inspired volumes of poetry and sympathy. But words and tears will not help the people of Syria. Actions are needed by all governments— including ours— which considers itself the leading force in the free world. 
The United Nations has a fund for aid to refugees. Help if you can. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Poetry City: Call for Papers for a Collection about the SUNY-Buffalo Poetics Program

Robert Creeley and Charles Bernstein at Buffalo

I'm very happy to announce the call for papers for Poetry City: The Founding of a New American Poetry at Buffalo, 1963-2003.  It will be the first book in the LF Critical Documents series from Lake Forest College Press, and will be edited by Robert Zamsky. The call for papers below gives details (and is also archived at the University of Pennsyvania's "Penn English Calls for Papers" site). 

The LF Critical Documents series is projected to publish one title of literary criticism per year, begining with Zamsky's Poetry City in 2017. Books may be by a single author or edited collections, and inquiries about possible future titles may be directed to me.

Poetry City: the Founding of a New American Poetry at Buffalo, 1963-2003. (Abstracts due: Oct. 1, 2015; chapters due Dec. 1, 2016)

full name / name of organization: 
Robert L. Zamsky / New College of Florida

contact email:

This is a call for an essay collection to be published by the Lake Forest College Press.
Poetry City explores the establishment, evolution, and impact of the Poetics Program at SUNY-Buffalo. The program has its roots in the academic fervor of the 1960s, the period in which the dynamic and visionary Chair of the English Department, Al Cook, filled the faculty roster with an unlikely array of influential literary scholars working in a wide range of periods and genres. In 1991, this commitment to innovation found a further iteration in the founding of the Poetics Program by Robert Creeley and Charles Bernstein. Identified with a tradition of innovation in American poetry and poetics, the Poetics Program was envisioned as an alternative to both conventional doctoral programs in English and traditional creative writing programs. Poetics at Buffalo was to be a place where poets taught graduate level courses in literature , literary history, and literary theory, and where graduate students learned to work creatively as literary critics. The book takes its chronological frame from the arrival of Charles Olson in 1963 to the departures of Creeley and Bernstein in 2003.

Parallax Landscape is especially open to contributors working in unconventional forms.

Possible topics might include but are certainly not limited to:

• The relationship between the Poetics Program and the Poetry and Rare Books collection in the SUNY-Buffalo Library;

• The Poetics Program in the context of the nationwide proliferation of MFA programs;

• Gender in the Poetics Program;

• The influence of the tradition of experimental education in the United States on the formation of the program;

• Pedagogy and innovative poetics;

• The Poetics-List and Electronic Poetry Center;

• Small press publishing in the program;

• Performances and readings;

• Lives of the Poetics degree – career paths in/out of academia.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Archambeau World Tour: Live at the Poetry Foundation and the Grolier!

Where, you ask, is the place to be on the evening of Tuesday, September 15th? From 7:00-8:00 pm in Chicago it'll be the Poetry Foundation, at 61 West Superior, for a free reading featuring Mary Kinzie, Alexandra Pechman, Nicole Nodi, and some guy named Robert Archambeau, who will read from his new (indeed, released that very day) book The Kafka Sutra.

There will also be a small installation of images by artist Sarah Conner from a series of prints she made to accompany The Kafka Sutra.

Here, by the way, is the cover of the book, including blurbs by a number of worthies (click to enlarge the text to readable size).

If you can't make it to Chicago in September, how about Boston (well, Cambridge) in November? I'll be reading at The Kafka Sutra's east coast launch November 14th at the Grolier Poetry Bookshop on Harvard Square at 7:00 pm.

Friday, August 21, 2015

What Ever Happened to Gore Vidal?

You know what would really bother Gore Vidal, were he living today? A lot of things—the persistence of homophobia, say, or the banality of the mass media, or the continued overextension of a haplessly imperial America. But what would bother him even more would be the fact that the question "what ever happened to Gore Vidal?" is a reasonable one to ask. He loved many things, but chief among them was the idea of himself as a famous, public man, suave, sly, smarter than anyone else in the room, and with absolute faith that he (as author, as prophet, as charismatic icon) would be vindicated by history.  Of course he hasn't disappeared: if you read and you're of a certain age, you do know his name. But he's fading fast from both public consciousness and the literary canon, and it's fair to ask why.

Vidal's was certainly a copious literary talent, and while I've read ten or twelve of his books, that really only scratches the surface of the oeuvre, which was both vast and various: from political essays to satires of politics, media, and society, to sensitive coming of age novels, to historical fiction, to plays for screen and stage, to the bare-fisted yet elegant pummeling of opponents in political debate, his range was as great as his ambition, and nearly as great as his considerable charm, and equally considerable ego. One of the most popular serious writers of his generation, and one of its more memorable media figures, he seemed, during his lifetime, to have wedged himself firmly into the culture, a figure to be remembered for posterity.  And yet, if you plug his name into Google's ngram reader, you'll see a precipitous plunge in mentions of his name in print.  And if you gather up the syllabi for courses in American literature—the great wax museums in which we commemorate the literary dead—he rarely appears. So we ask: what happened?

One explanation may be that our institutions of cultural memory, especially our academic ones, tend to value innovation. The inventors and pioneers of literature get a special place, and are forgiven many of their shortcomings. We don't (at least, I hope we don't) read Ezra Pound for his analyses of society, except perhaps to treat his views on those matters as symptoms of a grim time when democracy was in such deep crisis that fascism seemed, to a surprising number of people, like a kind of solution. We read Pound in large measure because he was an innovator, a writer of manifesti, a shaper of movements, one who pushed against the margins of accepted form. Imagism, Vorticism, a new way to build a long poem—that's the Pound of the syllabi. And for all of Vidal's evident talent, all of his range, it's hard to find something he accomplished that didn't derive from what others had written.  His Julian is a sensitive treatment of late Roman antiquity, but if you've read Robert Graves, you can't help feeling that you've seen this sort of thing done before, and better, by someone who knew the period better than did Vidal.  Vidal's political fiction, especially Washington, D.C. owes quite a bit to Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men, in outlook and in structure. Williwaw  is a decent young man's novel about coming of age in a time of war, but it comes out of a well-established playbook for such novels. Even his most far-out fiction, the transsexual eros and power festival that is Myra Breckenridge, which the public didn't see coming and couldn't get over, is less of a surprise if you've read, say, the then-semi-clandestine works published by Olympia Press.

Another factor in the decline of Vidal's renown has to do with genre. The bulk of his achievement as a novelist was in historical fiction, and English departments, a generation or so of democratizing moves notwithstanding, still draw a strong distinction, in practice, between high-genre forms of fiction and low-genre forms—historical fiction is low caste stuff. Not as low caste as crime writing or swords & sorcery, but still pretty low on the totem pole, below the novel of manners, say. It's one reason why Jane Austen is on so many more syllabi than Sir Walter Scott, even though he was arguably the leading novelist of his generation.

There is, too, the suffragette factor to consider. When we move away from Vidal's historical fiction, it's books like Myra Breckenridge and its sequel, Myron that made the biggest splash in Vidal's lifetime—and much of that splash had to do with leaping into the seemingly calm pool of gender norms with an enthusiastic cannonball dive. The fluidity of gender and of bodies in those books, and the exploration of the intersection of sex and power, were things rarely seen in the public eye, and he put them there, on the page and on the screen. This was an enormous act of liberation.  But the thing about the sexual revolution, and the queer revolution, and all revolutions that achieve a large measure of success, is that their success makes them seem somewhat banal to later generations. It's hard to get young people enthused about the idea of the suffragettes, or even to get them to declare themselves to be feminists, even though they live lives and hold beliefs that would not have been possible without the work of those heroes of the struggle. When Myra Breckenridge came out in 1968, it was one of a handful of publicly accessible sources for genderqueer ideas and representations. Now, thirty seconds on the internet will give you access to a wider range of genders and sexualities than Vidal could possibly cram into that book's pages. Vidal was certainly an important part of the expansion of the public palette when it comes to sexuality, but the very success of the movement of which he was a part renders his contribution less visible.

Finally, we may want to consider the nature of Vidal's fame in his lifetime. Certainly he had to have been a writer to gain a public platform, to begin to appear in the media. But he had such a genius for media appearances that his fame as a personality soon came to dominate over his fame as a writer of novels and essays. As Seymour Krim put it in 1969,

…for 20 years [Vidal] wrote novels with no loud success until Myra Breckenridge—yet all of a sudden he seems to have walked into a spotlight glittering with a million bucks, "national prestige," intellectual respect, multiplying projects, and also the very tangible power denied to most pathetic dollar-begging literary lives in our disunited States. The interesting thing is that while the practice of literature or at least the common novel gave Vidal the opportunity to be a Somebody, it is not on the basis of letters pure and simple (even complex) that he has created a stir about himself…. The success is in close-combat American life.

For Krim, Vidal wasn't a novelist so much as a media personality, someone who would hash out any battle with any opponent on the air, and do so with such an idiosyncratic and memorable style that he stayed in the mind as an icon, or a brand. And when he aged, and died, and slipped from the media, that part of his reputation died with him. He was so good at this kind of ephemeral media activity that parts of this side of his life—the debates with William F. Buckley, for example—have been commemorated in documentary film. But in the end, the kind of fame he had was the kind of fame you can only maintain by constantly appearing in the spotlight, connecting yourself and your opinion to each passing spectacle. Now that this is no longer possible, we're left with only the books, and an archive of old film and videotape on issues that were once in the headlines. The books will survive, I'm sure of that. But the media personality? I liked him. May he rest in peace.