Gore Vidal died this week.
In America (and perhaps everywhere) we sing the praises of dead people we are told are important, whether we personally have any conception of the deceased’s significance, or not…or whether we liked them or not.
With this in mind, rather than refer to Wikipedia, or the author’s obituary in the New York Times, I’d like to delve into the particular significance of Mr. Vidal and his work to me, personally.
Vidal was a member of the American ruling class, travelling in the same social circles as President Kennedy. I believe he even ran for office himself, but that his mainstream marketability as a politician was compromised by his politics….and the fact that he wrote about homosexuality in a relatively nonchalant way in The City and The Pillar…which I never read.
I heard an interview with Vidal on NPR’s Fresh Air in which the author referred to the fact that few great writers come from the upper class and that great writing (and really, writing in general) is a middle class phenomenon. With respect to writing in America, Mr. Vidal is entirely correct and the point is an interesting one.
He also discussed the fundamental incompatibility between writing and politics, identifying the fact that a writer must always tell the truth and that a politician is compelled to “not give the game away.” While this is both a truism and an elevated perspective on writing, it’s an interesting distinction from a man who was uniquely positioned in both arenas.
Vidal also stands, for me, as the classical liberal scion in contrast to the Burkean conservativism of William F. Buckley, whom he debated very publically over a period of years. I generally sided more with the latter than the former, but more importantly, I appreciate spirited, public debate from intellectuals outside of the ivory tower.
I have heard his memoir is worth read.
Perhaps, I’ll give it a look.