Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal, RIP

A great writer has died.


My colleague Brian Doherty will be posting a more substantial obit for Gore Vidal, the novelist, essayist, activist, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor who passed away yesterday at age 86. I just want to poke my head up to say that Vidal's books Burr and Messiah are two of my favorite novels. The first is as good a piece of historical fiction as has ever been written about the early United States, and the second is one of the best science fiction stories of the 1950s. (Vidal wrote many more good novels too: Julian and Creation and the underrated The Smithsonian Institution and all those sequels to Burr. But Burr and Messiah are my favorites.)

I'll also put in a good word for Vidal's nonfiction, or for most of it anyway. (Yes, he produced some odd, disjointed quasi-Truther stuff in his final decade. I'll forgive a man an eccentric senescence.) He wrote the first serious literary criticism that I can recall reading, way back in my early teens, and over the years he deepened my appreciation of writers ranging from Italo Calvino to L. Frank Baum. And while he wasn't a libertarian, his political essays helped steer me in that direction: He was a fierce defender of civil liberties, a caustic critic of puritanism, an angry foe of war and empire, and a patrician populist prone to quirky deviations from the usual left-liberal positions on economics. (When he ran for the Senate in 1982, Vidal called for a flat tax of just 5 percent. In 1989 he warned about "a worldwide Green movement, and the establishment of a worldwide state, which the few will take over, thus enslaving us all while forgetting to save the planet." And in the 1990s, drawing on James Bovard, David Kopel, and other libertarian writers, he denounced the DEA and IRS as "inveterate thieves of private property without due process of law.")

Finally, let's thank Vidal for one of the most memorable exchanges in TV history—the one where he called William Buckley a "pro-crypto-Nazi" and Buckley called him "you queer" and threatened to "sock you in the goddamn face." Every episode of Crossfire and Hannity & Colmes and all the other debate shows that have littered the cable news channels in the last three decades exists in hopes of seeing something like that break out again. But you can't bottle lightning, especially when you expect a Tom Daschle to play the Buckley role and someone like Paul Begala to be Vidal.

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  1. Lisa: Friends?… My only friends are grown-up nerds like Gore Vidal, and even he’s kissed more boys than I ever will.
    Marge: Girls, Lisa. Boys kiss girls.

    1. “Why just look at these amusing caricatures of Susan Sontag and Gore Vidal.”

  2. I remember he once referred to Dick Cheney as “200 pounds of condemned veal.” Brilliant.

  3. Why is everyone following de mortuis nihil nisi bonum when it comes to Vidal? Vidal was never so charitable; he always had a catty remark concerning the tragedies of those he didn’t like. The soil of Vidal’s freshly dug grave deserves to be moist with urine.

    1. Don’t, he’d enjoy that.

      Better to give him the Che treatment.

    2. I’ve insulted him plenty while he was alive and probably will continue to do so. But his silliness will be forgotten–the man could write, and his books will live on.

      I echo Jesse’s endorsement of his books, though my favorites are Julian and Creation, which I’ve read many times over the years. If you haven’t read them, I’d go grab a copy. Between the two, Julian is probably the better. Just excellent.

      1. That’s true. Separating the art from the man, his books are true American literature.

        1. It’s funny, but when I read his books, he’s so good that I quickly forget what a loon he became.

      2. my favorites are Julian and Creation, which I’ve read many times over the years

        I guess if I were to do a top five list, Julian would be third and Creation would be either fourth or fifth (neck to neck with Lincoln). I love the letters between the two men at the beginning of Julian, the way they clearly hate each other but never say it explicitly, letting it bubble under instead.

        1. Yes, I like that, too. It’s like a separate story, happening underneath the main one, that isn’t overt until the end. Then they go back to being fake civil.

          I’ve never liked his American history books as much, no idea why. I may have to try them again. I used to hold out hope that he’d crank out another ancient history book but gave up on that years ago.

          Messiah was quite good. I haven’t read that in years.

          1. I used to hold out hope that he’d crank out another ancient history book

            what is the name of the ancient history book(s) he did write?

    3. Thank you. Vidal was singular in his unpleasantness. His saving grace – maybe – was his delicious eccentricity.

  4. I’ve read a little of Vidal’s work*, though I was never really impressed by it. I prefer the works of Will Rogers and Mark Twain, to name a couple of examples.

    *Yeah, I know… according to Tony, I cain’t read cuz I gots carburetor grease on my hands, and my overalls pockets are too stuffed with Klan literature to fit in any of his approved reading materials. Heeeeeeeyup.

    1. No, no, no. At worst, you’re only supposed to have begrudging respect for a man who thought it’s A-OK to sodomize a 13-year-old girl as long as you make good films.

      Gore Vidal, cruciet in Tartarem.

      1. Fuck that shit. It’s NEVER okay to sodomize an underage girl – or boy, for that matter.

        1. From Wikipedia:

          “When asked if he would consider granting Polanski a pardon, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said: “I think that he is a very respected person and I am a big admirer of his work. But, nevertheless, I think he should be treated like everyone else. It doesn’t matter if you are a big-time movie actor or a big-time movie director or producer.” Schwarzenegger added: ‘And one should look into all of the allegations, not only his allegations, but the allegations about his case. Was there something done wrong? You know, was injustice done in the case?’

          More than 100 people in the film industry, including Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Darren Aronofsky, and David Lynch signed a petition calling for Polanski’s release.”

          1. What nonsense. Does anyone really believe he was innocent? Making some good movies doesn’t give him a get out-of-jail-free card. Fuck him.

            1. Given that Polanski pled guilty, I’m having a hard time believing he was innocent. But that’s just me.

              1. You didn’t sign the petition! How could anyone just right off what he did?

                  1. Two wrongs don’t make a write.

            2. They probably just think that what he did wasn’t so bad.

              Great men have needs, and if those needs include anal sex with doped up thirteen year olds, so be it.

              1. A leopard can’t change his shorts.

        2. Fuck that shit. It’s NEVER okay to sodomize an underage girl – or boy, for that matter.

          Yep. Other than their sexual orientation and the number of children they raped, there’s really no difference between Roman Polanski and Jerry Sandusky. Of course, that’s assuming that the 13-year-old girl that Polanski raped was his only victim.

          1. What you said, Karl.

            You don’t need to be an intellectual to see that in some cases, black-and-white thinking IS called for.

            Raping an adult is always wrong, pre-meditated murder is always wrong, setting fire to a building is always wrong, and raping children is – you guessed it – always wrong.

            1. Hey, if it’s my building and nobody’s in it, I can demolish it by fire if I want. Some libertarian you are.

              1. I meant “setting fire to other people’s stuff”, T.

      2. Well, if I were he, I would just give up. He should say to the country, “The Republicans will not allow these things to come to a vote without a filibuster. We can’t get anything through. So, good luck. Take two aspirin ? and you’ll all die of the next epidemic.”

        Jesus Christ, for an 83 year old he sounds like a 15 year old.

        1. When Team Blue inevitably has only minority-party power, they will be just as filibustery as Team Red has.

          More of that, please.

    2. Try Julian.

      Twain is amazingly good. I had a personal Twain revival a couple of years ago, where I read a whole bunch of his nonfiction–Life on the Mississippi, Innocents Abroad, etc. Hemingway’s quote about Twain (Huck Finn, more specifically) was more right than wrong.

  5. I envision some sorta Matrix-y burly brawl battle commencing when Vidal first encounters Buckley in the afterlife.

    1. I would think it would be more like the fistfight in Paris at the beginning of Team America World Police.

      1. Okay…that maybe true.

        1. *”may be”

    2. With Buckley going, “See you fucking queen? I was right!” “No you weren’t, this is just a dream, you fascist!” Then they fight for the next ten thousand years.

      1. BTW, what the hell is a “pro-crypto-Nazi”? Is it something different than a Nazi or neo-Nazi?

  6. Vidal was a consummate intellectualist. He was obsessed with having the right opinions rather than examining them at anything other than a superficial level. He hated everything that made this country great; good riddance.

    1. “Vidal was a consummate intellectualist”

      It’s clear he wasn’t eating enough fiber, but a lot of older folks have that problem.

  7. “Vidal was a consummate intellectualist. … He hated everything that made this country great.”

    Substitute “virtually every leftist” for “Vidal”, and you’ve hit on a big part of the problem.

    Not that so-cons don’t do their best to fuck up America. Never forget either truism.

  8. I’d say “now who do,
    Who do you think you’re fooling? “

  9. “As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.”

    1. “Words are to confuse”

      Like calling people racists and homophobes on the basis of “because I said they were”?

      1. BTW, a reminder:


        Hint: It doesn’t mean “anyone who disagrees with gay people on any subject”.

  10. In fairness, Vidal was queer, but Buckley was not a crypto-Nazi. And Buckley apologized, while I don’t believe that Vidal ever did.

    Odd that Walker credits Vidal with steering him towards libertarianism. Isn’t Buckley ideologically a lot closer?

    1. I have a book that is a collection of Buckley speeches. He was always a defender of the individual. I would dearly love to hear his critique of Obama and his administratino.

      1. Individualism is poison to the statists on both Teams.

    2. Odd that Walker credits Vidal with steering him towards libertarianism. Isn’t Buckley ideologically a lot closer?

      I’m not so sure about that: They both have their libertarian sides and their not-so-libertarian sides. At any rate, Vidal’s the one I happened to start reading first. And when I did discover Buckley, the articles I read did not show him at his best — this was the 1980s, when he had become more of a celebrity than a writer. The first essay of his that I remember seeing said that ID numbers pose no privacy problems because the “dream of maintaining one’s individuality in a highly technical age is surely advanced, rather than retarded, by this capacity to mark everyone’s uniqueness.” If I had picked up The Unmaking of a Mayor instead, things might have gone differently.

  11. “Let Us Talk of Many Things” is the book I have. It’s a collection of his speeches from the 1950s through the 1990s. Reading Buckley will expand one’s mind and vocabulary.

    1. I loved God and Man at Yale. Hell of a read.

      1. I’ll check that out from my local library. If they carry it.

      2. really? From what I understand by the end of Buckley didn’t seem to think much of it anymore.

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