Sunday, June 17, 2007

Terre Haute

Edmund White's new play, Terre Haute, based on his 'imagining' of a series of meetings between Gore Vidal and Timothy McVeigh (which never occurred), is still running in some London theatre or other. Vidal famously wrote that it was rather important to take McVeigh seriously: he was not psychotic, racist, homophobic or any of the usual things one hangs on these right-wing militia recruits. He suggested that, despicable though McVeigh's actions were, the political motivation was not insane. It was a bit of a shock to encounter, in Terre Haute, a vaguely homophobic narrative (note, White is a gay author), in which Vidal gets all moist in the crevices about the Oklahoma bomber. True, Vidal is convincingly depicted, at least when his character isn't describing a hot flush for McVeigh's character, and there is some excellent dialogue. However, the politics of the play suck: essentially, White concludes, the principal reason that Vidal decided to write passionately about the running down of the Bill of Rights, and McVeigh's relationship to it, is that he is an old queer who has lost the ability to be rational about it. He has McVeigh's character discredit Vidal's 'conspiracy theories' about the possibility of federal government collusion in the bombing by haughtily dismissing them. He has McVeigh's character demonstrate the hang-ups about gays and blacks and Jews that Vidal says he didn't have. In fact, Vidal is correct - although McVeigh had flirted with ideas of 'white power' and read fascist tracts like the Turner Diaries, his associates and friends have generally stated that he was obsessed with government infringement of liberties but was not a racist. However, even if Vidal had been wrong, the play has a rather cheap and tacky way to deal with it.

Anyway, Gore Vidal has a few words to say about it today:

When I murmur something about Terre Haute, a new play by Edmund White which dramatises a fictional encounter between the writer and the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, Gore Vidal merely growls, 'Edmund White will yet be feeling the wrath of my lawyers.' Where once he might have revelled in going the distance with another writer, now he seems surprisingly hurt by the treacherous ways of the creative community. 'It's unethical and vicious to make it very clear that this old faggot writer is based on me, and that I'm madly in love with Timothy McVeigh, who I never met.' He adds, tetchily, that he doesn't want to be 'lumped together with Mailer and Capote. They both went for murderers, and I don't go for murderers.'

Go ahead and read the rest. And if you fancy it, here is some Vidal to watch: