Wednesday, August 1, 2012


With the demise of Gore Vidal the United States has lost one of its most prominent "intellectuals."  He was probably the last of a breed, with Susan Sontag and Christopher Hitchens, dilettantes who showed us the way and, in Vidal's case, lost us in the labyrinth of his more cranky utterances (Franklin Roosevelt, 9/11, Timothy Mc Veigh and tuti quanti.

The formidable writer and iconoclast from the earlier days gave way to a half-baked conspiracy-mongerings (in Hitchens' words).  He walked every avenue in life from his beloved Ravello to California, from the dark rooms of a forgotten gay sub-culture to the limelight of failed national politics.  He could be acerbic and it has to be recognized that he seldom came over as the "good guy."  Still, he was a giant in the great Anglo-Saxon tradition of historicity and prank, of personal vendettas (Norman Mailer, John Updike, William Buckley) with a nonchalant approach to genre and gender.

The Tea Party must be jubilant to see the ranks of their enlightened enemies shrinking. Vidal was indeed a true democrat (not along petty party lines), who knew that history was often the brainchild of blue blood who choose to write in red ink.  His quarrels with most things Kennedy were "family quarrels", which had nothing in common with the often exaggerated rendition of a fight between gods in some Valhalla on Pennsylvania Avenue.  He could be petty but was never banal.  Some of his best works such as Burr and Lincoln, were a Hineiniterpretierung with a bite which was not for the weak at heart or for the torch-bearer of the American dream, who was more often than not reduced by Vidal to an an American nightmare. In this he was closer to the French encyclopedistes or Edmund Burke than to the literature of his fellow countrymen, which he usually described as being provincial, if not parochial.

Despite those shortcomings, he was great and loved to let his sarcasm roam in "America, the beautiful."  In doing so he made enemies and created feuds which let his amazing talent be overtaken by his own prejudices. There was something of Oscar Wilde in him, a desire to shock and to make middle-Americans lose their bigoted balance.  Often he went too far, as he did yesterday, abandoning us. His death deprives us of a writer, a pamphleteer, an amuser and, of all things, a man truly of all seasons.  His qualities were such that his missteps did not make any difference in the end.  He played his Hamlet sparing nobody and willing to pay the price. His readers are the losers.  A Renaissance man, maybe the last American aristocrat, he ended up seemingly lost in these current mediocre times, preferring to leave for the winter of his discontent.

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