Vidal has been running away from thenworld for some time, as evidenced bynhis historical fantasies. This retreat fromnreality is symptomatic of something it isnhard to put a name to, a sort of rottennessnand bad faith that afflicts too many writersnand intellectuals. Never mind theirnmediocre talents and inadequate education—^thosenare remediable deficiencies.nWhat cannot be remedied is their selfhate.nAmerican intellectuals have givennup trying to make sense of themselves innthis world, while at the same time rejectingnany idea of transcendence. As a consequence,nthey are compelled to makenup their own versions of reality. KurtnVonnegut takes refiige in sci-fi speculations;nNorman Mailer recreates ancientnEgypt in his own (coprophiliac) image;nand more and more novelists are turningnto “historical” novels in which theynare openly contemptuous of historicalnfacts. The rarest of all writers today is thenserious novelist (or dramatist) who actuallyndeals with contemporary life innstraightforward fashion.nJL he flight from reality is not confinednto serious fiction. The popularity of costumenromances, soap operas, and fantasynmovies is testimony that somethingnstrange is going on in the American heartland.nObviously, there has always been anplace for literature of fantasy and escape.nMuch of the West’s major works of literature,nfrom the Odyssey to The Lord ofnthe Rings, could be described in suchnterms. But there are important differences.nOlder fantasies (like Homer’s,nVergil’s, and Dante’s) depended upon ancommon stock of legend and belief ThenTrojan War and the founding of Romenpossessed an imaginative reality. Thensame could be said of works as diverse asnShakespeare’s Histories and Tennyson’snIdylls What is more, imaginative literaturenon the classical model always dealtneven more seriously with human problemsnthan more obviously realistic worksnwere able to do. There is, after all, nothingnvery escapist in Aeneas’ desertion of Didonor the ambition of Henry Bolingbroke.nNone of these considerations apply tonlOinChronicles of Culturenour own escapist fantasies. They mostnclearly do not depend on a common tradition:neach writer is free to reinvent thenuniverse according to his whim. The ordinarynlimitations of history, geography,nand even the laws of logic and physicsnare shattered. Still worse, by cutting loosenthe ties to the ordinary world they arenno longer bound to take any pains withnthefr characters. What we know of LukenSkywalker, J. R Ewing, or Earth’s GilesnGoatboy, could be put in a comic bookncaption.nIt is a strange sort of aesthetic rebellionnthat lays the ax against the roots of all art.nWhatever theories may be entertainednCBS versus Law & PeoplenA little doubt likely invades anyonenwho listened to a recent CBS EveningnNews story about the U.S. government’snwar on drugs. The network’s “legal” correspondent,none Fred Graham, intbrmcdnliis audience (people’s right to know) thatnthe government was singling out so-calledncelebrities for investigation. At a certainnpoint in his narrative, however, tlie informationnstopped dead, interpretation andnadvocacy began, and, on tlie receivingnend, people no longer were entitled tonknow but were required to think in linenwith CBS’s sympathies. Mr. Graham andnhis editors were deai’ly on the .side of thencelebrities; the editing, manipulation ofnclips, and choice of arguments all subtlyndefended ttiree men whom tlie law hadncalled to account for some hanky-pankynwith narcotics; Mr. Delxjrean, a fancy carnproducer; Mr. Gerulaitis, a tennis pro; andnMr. Mailer, a writer created by gossipncolumns and literary agents. “VPTiat Mr.nGraham, in the name of CBS, chose not tonsay is that there is both a legiil and a moralndimension to being a so-caUed celebritynwho violates laws by possessing drugsnand using them in the open. Thenenforcement of morals may not work, weniill know that, but a request for die rudi­nabout the nature and fiinction of literature,nwe cannot escape the old ideas ofnrepresentation. In our powerlessness,nwe seek to express ourselves and ournlives with, above all, coherence. It maynbe that our sanest and most significantnact, as human beings, is telling stories.nThe narrative art is older than literature:nit is as old as man. But, one by one, thenarts have turned their backs on representation.nPainters, sculptors, poets, andnnow novelists abandon the world of commonnexperience in order to pursuenthefr private visions. They are like thensleepers described by Heraclitus: cut offnfrom the common world of ordinarynLIBERAL CULTURE Hnnnmentary^ appearance of propriety may benbeneficial. An American celebrity is apropagandandevice, an exemplar, whether henought to be or not. Iliose stars of yesteryearnknew that much, at least. We haventhe impression that CBS does not buy thenneces.sity of acknowledging this simplensocial trutli: it seems to prefer to accordnto the celebritie.s—shoddy individualsnmost of tliem—the riglit to transgressnwhat the average American honors. Thisnis what m:ikes us .suspect that, regardlessnof the avuncularity of its anchonnen, CBSnis not on .society’s side. Dn