A few months ago I went one Sunday evening to a Broadway theatre, not to see a play but to enjoy what was meant to be a thrilling contest between Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal. The place was packed; except for those sponsored by some publisher, the audience had bought very expensive tickets, and they displayed a keenness more appropriate to a prizefight. Indeed a prizefight was what they expected, Mailer and Vidal having been rough with each other in the past. In the event nothing much happened - a few not very good jokes and a good view of two heavy gentlemen whose rough-housing days lie very properly in the past. Still, it was interesting to reflect that this large and fashionable crowd had turned out on a Sunday night to watch the two men doing something they would both have regarded as work of the left hand. Writers are supposed to do best the essentially private work of writing, and they would hardly wish to be exposed to public view when engaged in it, nor would anybody but a singular pervert want to watch. All they could do in the circumstances was to collaborate as fully as possible with their public images, which are in any case of much greater interest to most people than their books.
LRB 17 April 1986 | PDF Download