Point to Point Navigation Analysis

Gore Vidal

Point to Point Navigation

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 4)

The Zen teacher D. T. Suzuki, discussing the Buddhist doctrine of reincarnation, argued that there is no need to be reincarnated to experience many lives, that our experience can be so rich as to enable us to lead many lives in this life. Nothing could illustrate Suzuki’s argument better than Gore Vidal’s memoir Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir, 1964 to 2006.

Vidal takes his title from a kind of navigation used when he served as first mate on an army freight-supply ship in the Aleutian Islands in World War II. Bad weather often rendered the ship’s navigational instruments useless, leaving the crew to navigate by relying on landmarks or “points” that they had memorized to guide them. As he wrote this memoir, Vidal claims, “I felt as if I were again dealing with those capes and rocks in the Bering Sea that we had to navigate so often with a compass made inoperable by weather.” The result is a book that moves back and forth in time between points of Vidal’s memory, shuttling from one life he has led to another.

Vidal’s life in politics is central to the book. Vidal writes that his grandfather Senator Thomas Pryor Gore of Oklahoma, with whom Vidal lived for most of his first seventeen years, brought him up in the heart of American politics. Vidal himself made an unsuccessful run for a seat in the United States House of Representatives from a district in New York in 1960 and finished second in the Democratic primary in California for a United States Senate seat in 1982. He also has had a long career as a political pamphleteer.

Vidal’s politics derive from his Mississippi-born grandfather’s Southern populism: a suspicion of American corporate interests and their influence over the government to the detriment of the people at large; a distrust of the media that, Vidal believes, serve those corporate interests; and opposition to foreign wars and America’s acquisition of empire abroad, the benefits of which, he claims, only go to the corporations that supply the military. Vidal also writes that his political views were shaped by a movie he saw as a boy, The Prince and the Pauper (1937), about two boys who look alike and change places. The young prince learns about the life of the poor in his kingdom. The political message of the film was that “a good king will listen to the people and help them.” Vidal also learned a lesson from the film about the nature of power. In the film, the king says, “Never trust too much, love too much, need anyone too much that you cannot betray them with a smile.” Vidal claims that this is similar to what his grandfather taught him: “In politics you must always treat an enemy as if he might one day be a friend, and a friend as if he might one day be an enemy.”

Vidal recounts the story of the assassination of his grandfather’s friend and fellow populist, Senator Huey Long of Louisiana, who advocated heavy taxes on the rich coupled with handouts to the poor. Long apparently intended to challenge President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the election of 1936 as an independent candidate. A medical doctor who seemed to have no motive shot Long in the Louisiana state capitol, “the first,” Vidal writes, “of a number of stylized ’unsolvable’ murders committed by solitary lone killers given to motiveless acts of violence.” The Long family, Vidal reports, believed that Roosevelt had ordered the killing. That idea seems “farfetched,” Vidal argues, but still, he writes, conspiracies do exist. To illustrate his point, Vidal alludes to a plot revealed by former Marine Major General Smedley Butler, whom a group of right-wing businessmen approached in 1933 and asked to lead a coup against Roosevelt.

Vidal also recalls that, because his father had been a pioneer aviator and the head of Roosevelt’s civilian aviation agency, Vidal had known many of the top air commanders of World War II and heard them, all of whom had conservative politics, complain that the United States was fighting the wrong enemy, that it should be fighting Joseph Stalin instead of Adolf Hitler. The generals discussed how easy it would be to carry out a military coup and overthrow Roosevelt. “Ours is a society riddled with plots of every kind,” Vidal claims, yet the media denounce those who point them out as conspiracy theorists, a practice that, Vidal argues, was “promulgated to make it impossible for anyone to investigate much of anything.”

Vidal believes that the 2000 presidential election was stolen, leading to the disastrous invasion of Iraq. In a preface to a book by Michigan congressman John...

(The entire section is 1885 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 4)

Booklist 103, no. 1 (September 1, 2006): 6.

Kirkus Reviews 74, no. 17 (September 1, 2006): 894-895.

Library Journal 131, no. 18 (November 1, 2006): 78.

The Nation 283, no. 20 (December 11, 2006): 16-19.

The New York Review of Books 53, no. 19 (November 30, 2006): 23-25.

The New York Times 156 (November 24, 2006): E31-E39.

The New York Times Book Review 156 (November 26, 2006): 12.

Publishers Weekly 253, no. 35 (September 4, 2006): 47.