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Gore Vidal October 3, 1925 – July 31, 2012
July 31, 2012 11:40 PM   Subscribe

Gore Vidal, arguably one of america's greatest living post-war writers, died Tuesday at the age of 86.

Gore Vidal started writing novels during his time in the army in World War II; his third novel, The City and the Pillar (1948) featured open homosexuality at a time when it was still very much taboo. His best known novel is probably Myra Breckinridge, which has transsexuality as one of its themes.

But, as his Guardian obituary mentions, Vidal was arguably better known as an essayist and public intellectual, being a powerful leftwing voice in American public debate. In that role he would clash with Christopher Hitchens about the War on Iraq and the Bush administration in general, but his greatests fights were with William Buckley. In Vidal's finest moment, Buckley threatened to punch him "in the god-damn face" when Vidal called him a crypto nazi.
posted by MartinWisse (141 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
His historical novels are brilliant--gossipy, learned, secret history of amercia stuff

a
posted by PinkMoose at 11:43 PM on July 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


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Gore Vidal was ornery, brilliant, and absolutely fascinating to behold. First Hitchens, now Vidal. It's been a rough year.
posted by Vibrissae at 11:43 PM on July 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Adding my too late post on this topic into the mix:

New York Times obit: Gore Vidal, the elegant, acerbic all-around man of letters who presided with a certain relish over what he declared to be the end of American civilization, died on Tuesday at his home in the Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles, where he moved in 2003, after years of living in Ravello, Italy. He was 86.

LA Times obit

Gore Vidal archive at Vanity Fair online

Warrant Officer Junior Grade Gore Vidal circa 1944: Gore Vidal in 2006

Previous posts about Gore Vidal
posted by nickyskye at 11:44 PM on July 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


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posted by brundlefly at 11:46 PM on July 31, 2012


. !!!
posted by Auden at 11:46 PM on July 31, 2012


I've always admired him secondhand and always meant to read him. Can anyone recommend with which book I should start?
posted by tunewell at 11:48 PM on July 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


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posted by New England Cultist at 11:49 PM on July 31, 2012


From the NYT obit:

Mr. Vidal said of himself: “I’m exactly as I appear. There is no warm, lovable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.”
posted by nevercalm at 11:58 PM on July 31, 2012 [34 favorites]


He will be missed.
posted by wierdo at 11:59 PM on July 31, 2012


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posted by dopeypanda at 12:01 AM on August 1, 2012


Can anyone recommend with which book I should start?

Myra Breckinridge
posted by chavenet at 12:02 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by lapolla at 12:02 AM on August 1, 2012


Can anyone recommend with which book I should start?

Lincoln is probably his most popular and highly rated novel, but also Julian (click "10+ ratings" and "Average" column sort).
posted by stbalbach at 12:02 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


-Can anyone recommend with which book I should start? The City and the Pillar is an amazing book for the time it was written and still reads well. His historical novels are all well written, I like Burr. And of course, Myra Breckenridge.'

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posted by Isadorady at 12:02 AM on August 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


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posted by mek at 12:03 AM on August 1, 2012


“I’m exactly as I appear. There is no warm, lovable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.”

I'm going to use this quote when I get introduced to our midwife next week.

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posted by jimmythefish at 12:04 AM on August 1, 2012 [14 favorites]


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posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:07 AM on August 1, 2012


I'll watch Ben-Hur in his honor with my slash goggles turned up to eleven.
posted by book 'em dano at 12:07 AM on August 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


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posted by DaddyNewt at 12:07 AM on August 1, 2012


I really enjoyed his take on Lincoln, and, from what little I know of it, his take on life.

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posted by dancestoblue at 12:11 AM on August 1, 2012


I credit Vidal with approximately 43% of my inherent distrust of both history and government. I'd like to think he'd be moderately amused, if not actually pleased.

And,

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posted by digitalprimate at 12:13 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ah, Jesus, that's really too bad. His collected essays, United States, is a 1300 page Master's class in the uses of rhetoric and history. It's worth reading every page even if you disagree with him. It also has the virtue of being published in 2001 and therefore not containing the bulk of his more shrill later writing (which, even when I agreed with the content, always struck me as too desperate for good reading, which isn't exactly Vidal's fault, as the desperation was fully warranted.)
posted by OmieWise at 12:14 AM on August 1, 2012 [4 favorites]




In Vidal's finest moment, Buckley threatened to punch him "in the god-damn face" when Vidal called him a crypto nazi.

When Norman Mailer actually punched him in the face and knocked him down he responded, “Words fail Norman Mailer yet again,\.”
posted by ActingTheGoat at 12:16 AM on August 1, 2012 [58 favorites]


,\.”

Apparently he was also Qbert.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 12:17 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by cookie-k at 12:18 AM on August 1, 2012


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posted by rongorongo at 12:19 AM on August 1, 2012


Can anyone recommend with which book I should start?

Suggesting the thoughts of the New York Times obit, that you go for his essays first:

In the opinion of many critics, though, Mr. Vidal’s ultimate reputation is apt to rest less on his novels than on his essays, many of them written for The New York Review of Books. His collection “The Second American Revolution” won the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism in 1982. About a later collection, “United States: Essays 1952-1992,” R. W. B. Lewis wrote in The New York Times Book Review that Vidal the essayist was “so good that we cannot do without him,” adding, “He is a treasure of state.”

A few of his quotations:

Vidal, about his childhood: ‎"I was never lonely; rather, I was solitary, and wanted no company at all other than books, movies, and my own imagination."

“Actually, there is no such thing as a homosexual person, any more than there is such a thing as a heterosexual person. The words are adjectives describing sexual acts, not people. The sexual acts are entirely normal; if they were not, no one would perform them.”

“I'm a born-again atheist.”

“As I looked back over my life, I realized that I enjoyed nothing--not art, not sex--more than going to the movies. ”

"All in all, I would not have missed this century for the world."
posted by nickyskye at 12:21 AM on August 1, 2012 [10 favorites]


I've always admired him secondhand and always meant to read him.

Me, too. I feel chastened and embarrassed that it has taken his passing to move him from the "read when you have time" column to the "make time to read" one.

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posted by trip and a half at 12:23 AM on August 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


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The world is poorer and duller today for his loss.

His "Creation" was an amazing book, made lights go on in my head.

Who do we have that can stand in his shoes?
posted by runincircles at 12:28 AM on August 1, 2012


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Corey Robin relates an anecdote I dearly hope is true:

Vidal once saw Henry Kissinger in the Sistine Chapel, gazing upon Michelangelo's depiction of hell. He turned to a friend and said, "Look, he's apartment hunting."
posted by Bromius at 12:34 AM on August 1, 2012 [25 favorites]


Also, United States has a great essay about early homophobia called "Pink Triangle and Yellow Star" that has a beautiful takedown of the Podhoretzes, the Mrs. of which has just described how lesbians tended to wander the beach at Fire Island accompanied by their large dogs. Vidal: "Well if I were a dyke and a pair of Podhoretzes came waddling toward me on the beach, copies of Leviticus and Freud in hand, I’d get in touch with the nearest Alsatian dealer pronto."
posted by OmieWise at 12:37 AM on August 1, 2012 [14 favorites]


Which is almost as delicious as his comment about Capote from his excellent memoir Palimpsest: "After Rome I saw him only once again, in 1968, when, without my glasses, I mistook him for a small ottoman and sat on him at Drue Heinz's house in New York."
posted by OmieWise at 12:41 AM on August 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Good ones OmieWise. I like this zinger too, "Andy Warhol is the only genius I've ever known with an I.Q. of 60."
posted by nickyskye at 12:50 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember watching this infamous Dick Cavett show of Vidal and Mailer and just completely falling for Gore.
posted by Isadorady at 12:50 AM on August 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'll leave you with the words of Lisa Simpson:
“My only friend is Gore Vidal–and even he’s kissed more boys than I have."
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posted by Fizz at 12:53 AM on August 1, 2012 [29 favorites]


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posted by brujita at 12:56 AM on August 1, 2012


Myra Breckinridge is (rightly) what he'll be remembered for, but I think Creation is terrifically enjoyable and might be good to start with.
posted by Segundus at 1:16 AM on August 1, 2012


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posted by lucien_reeve at 1:22 AM on August 1, 2012


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posted by one teak forest at 1:25 AM on August 1, 2012


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posted by sidi hamet at 1:29 AM on August 1, 2012


One vote for Burr here and of course

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posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 1:34 AM on August 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


I thought "Burr" was fantastic as well.

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posted by Purposeful Grimace at 1:37 AM on August 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


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posted by Mister Bijou at 1:48 AM on August 1, 2012


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posted by gomichild at 2:03 AM on August 1, 2012


From the Guardian. . . Gore Vidal quotes: 26 of the best
posted by Mister Bijou at 2:05 AM on August 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


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At least he is spared seeing what is to come.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 2:13 AM on August 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


Can anyone recommend with which book I should start?

I'd recommend either Burr or Lincoln. They're both great fun.

His historical novels are brilliant--gossipy, learned, secret history of amercia stuff -- seconded.
posted by marsha56 at 2:55 AM on August 1, 2012


I should reread Julian and if it's half as good as I remember it, it's going to be a hell of a read. Shame to see Vidal go.

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posted by ersatz at 3:04 AM on August 1, 2012


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posted by feets at 3:11 AM on August 1, 2012


That man changed the way I think, and read, and think about reading, for the better.

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posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 3:15 AM on August 1, 2012


I was thinking of Vidal a few days ago and wondered how much longer he would live.

I never read very many of his novels, but I read and reread his essays during the 90s. I can't recommend United States: Essays 1952 - 1992 highly enough.
posted by cropshy at 3:21 AM on August 1, 2012


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posted by NordyneDefenceDynamics at 3:29 AM on August 1, 2012


EMPIRE was a revelation to stuffy history nerd me, and his essays on sexuality where always hilarious and wry.
posted by The Whelk at 3:44 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by Mezentian at 4:10 AM on August 1, 2012


As much as I will miss his sharp wit and clever social/political commentary. He is not without controversy though: A Conversation With Gore Vidal. [The Atlantic]
Interviewer: In September, director Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland for leaving the U.S. in 1978 before being sentenced to prison for raping a 13-year-old girl at Jack Nicholson’s house in Hollywood. During the time of the original incident, you were working in the industry, and you and Polanski had a common friend in theater critic and producer Kenneth Tynan. So what’s your take on Polanski, this many years later?

Gore Vidal: I really don’t give a fuck. Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she’s been taken advantage of?
posted by Fizz at 4:10 AM on August 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


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posted by Elly Vortex at 4:29 AM on August 1, 2012


The Best Man is the best movie about politics that I've ever seen.
posted by putzface_dickman at 4:36 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking of Hitchens and Vidal, they had an interesting relationship, Hitchens much admiring of Vidal. There are two lovely essays on Vidal in Hitchen's collection of essays, "Unacknowledged Legislation," from 2000 (Verso) worth reading should you get the chance: 'The Cosmopolitan Man' and 'After-Time'. The latter, from 1995, begins like this, "I recently paid a solemn and respectful visit to Gore Vidal's grave." He further explains, "... there in the grass is a stone slab, bearing the names and dates of birth of Vidal and his lifelong companion Howard Auster." They were of course prospective plots, bought long ago for the two men.
posted by buffalo at 4:39 AM on August 1, 2012


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posted by box at 4:46 AM on August 1, 2012


Man. Burr and Lincoln are among my favorite books that I've read in the past few years. Lincoln kicked off a multi-year Civil War bender, and Burr had me babbling more or less nonstop when my wife and I went to Manhattan (who squealed with joy at finding Hamilton's grave? I did).

It's always sad to see someone go, but 86 and an immense legacy of work is a damn good run.
posted by COBRA! at 4:50 AM on August 1, 2012 [4 favorites]




A true hero, and great mind. Fuck.

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posted by dbiedny at 4:53 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


His pamphlet "Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace" did a lot to move my politics when I read it in 2003. I was a young paleoconservative dissatisfied with the right, and I found in that book that a lot of what I already believed could perhaps have a better home on the left.

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posted by gauche at 4:58 AM on August 1, 2012


I very much enjoyed "Washington DC" when I was young and stupid. Accessible and atmospheric and Kennedy-tinged.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 5:12 AM on August 1, 2012




It's a tremendous loss for us.

It's been a long time coming -- he was clearly ready go to go for a while, since the death of Howard, and giving up the place in Italy -- but still. A singular talent, an incredible mind, and above-all, a much-needed voice, whom we only too often found convenient to dismiss. A social gadfly of the highest order.

Thank you, sir. Safe journey.

I started out with Breckenridge, which was just a knockout of a book, and made my way from there. His memoirs are incredible, especially in audiobook form, where it's just him chatting with you. Read Julian for the first time only last week -- such a clever, sly novel. Outstanding!
posted by Capt. Renault at 5:21 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by Gelatin at 5:21 AM on August 1, 2012


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posted by localroger at 5:23 AM on August 1, 2012


His memoir Palimpsest is unputdownable.

On his lifelong mate, Howard Austen:

"How," we are often asked, "have you stayed together for forty-four years?" The answer is, "No sex." This satisfies no one, of course, but there, as Henry James would say, it is.

I hope he's in a better world now, criticizing it.

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posted by Egg Shen at 5:24 AM on August 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


From the NYT obit:

Mr. Vidal said of himself: “I’m exactly as I appear. There is no warm, lovable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.”
posted by nevercalm at 11:58 PM on July 31


It's not true. He was warm -- to McVeigh
posted by knoyers at 5:30 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by jquinby at 5:31 AM on August 1, 2012


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posted by odinsdream at 5:32 AM on August 1, 2012


"But why is he so indifferent to the idea of creation?"

"Because he thinks it, literally, immaterial. The ultimate human task is to dematerialize the self. In his own case, he has succeeded. Now he has set up the wheel of the doctrine for others to turn as best as they can. He himself is come--and he is gone."

Democritus finds these ideas easier to comprehend than I do. I can accept the notion that all creation is in flux and that what we take to be the real world is a kind of shifting dream, perceived by each of us in a way that differs from that of everyone else, as well as from the thing itself. But the absence of deity, of origin, and of terminus, of good in conflict with evil . . . The absence of purpose, finally, makes the Buddha's truth too strange for me to accept.


--Cyrus Spitama, Creation

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posted by CincyBlues at 5:37 AM on August 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


“I’m exactly as I appear. There is no warm, lovable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.”

He plagiarized my law firm profile!
posted by moammargaret at 5:39 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


OmieWise: "Pink Triangle and Yellow Star"

Excerpts from Pink Triangle and Yellow Star. Which I'm sad to say doesn't do it justice. The original polemic was 17 pages long and is just glorious to read. Background.

The man was a force of nature. A brilliant and powerful writer. Did not shy away from controversy. And man, seeing him go toe to toe with William F. Buckley in the link above, or a mercurial (and probably drunk) Mailer on Dick Cavett was incredible.

About the Mailer feud: Cavett remembers the Mailer / Vidal confrontation quite well: 1, 2. Slate: The Guest from Hell.

Fizz: "He is not without controversy though...."

He thrived on it. Beginning with his novel The City and the Pillar.

Love him or hate him, he was an intellectual giant. What a tremendous loss.

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posted by zarq at 5:42 AM on August 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


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posted by Morrigan at 5:44 AM on August 1, 2012


To put Myra Breckinridge into historical perspective: it put a lip-smacking description of ass-fucking a stud at the top of the best-seller list in a year when the most popular television shows in America included Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. and Mayberry R.F.D.

Its degree of cultural subversion would be difficult to overstate.
posted by Egg Shen at 5:45 AM on August 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


As mr. hippybear said last night, "one of those people who did more for gay liberation than many who were louder and more noticed".

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posted by hippybear at 5:47 AM on August 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


Metafilter: “I’m exactly as I appear. There is no warm, lovable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.”
posted by Fizz at 5:56 AM on August 1, 2012


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posted by steambadger at 5:58 AM on August 1, 2012


It's always sad to see someone go, but 86 and an immense legacy of work is a damn good run.

We should all be so lucky. I'm sorry to read of his death, but he left with lots to be proud of.
posted by Forktine at 6:15 AM on August 1, 2012


A day before he died I had a strange compulsion to watch the fake trailer for a 2005 remake of Caligula.

Gore was a hero of mine. Even though I could not understand everything he was writing about at the time, he was one of the people who showed me what a homosexual could be. He was my own It Gets Better Project: an elder statesman of queer life.

You can read The Pillar or Myra now, and it is pretty tame stuff. But at the time it was controversial in a way that makes 50 Shades laughable. I can't thank Gore enough for making the world that much better. Thank you, Gore.
posted by munchingzombie at 6:18 AM on August 1, 2012


He is not without controversy though

I think 9/11 really did a number on him, FWIW, and he was exactly the kind of guy to be loud and proud about his idiosyncrasies. Not that it excuses what he said since then, but neither does it diminish what he said before. His evisceration of William Buckley during his life and after his death were especially spot-on, and I'm interested to see what Christopher has to say about Gore.

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posted by zombieflanders at 6:28 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


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posted by postcommunism at 6:28 AM on August 1, 2012


America has lost it's most brilliant thinker and advocate. He was the genuine article, the real deal.

A radio interview with Vidal that I heard, he pointed out that the Temple of Jerusalem of biblical times wasn't just a financial center. It was a seat of power, with a large infrastructure of people supporting it. Jesus Christ didn't wander in there with twelve guys and pitch a fit, throwing tables over. It would have required an army. And that puts Rome's attitude towards him in a new light.

Thing is, this struck me. Here's a man, ostensibly a leftist and atheist, talking about Christ in a way that is both respectful and intellectual, without being disdainful. Presenting new ways to look at Him that are constructive and enlightening, whose only subversion was that it questions not Christ, but the image the church has carefully constructed of Him. I confess I haven't read the book he was discussing during the interview - maybe he is not at all any of that - but I was also struck by what an impact Vidal could have in just a few sentences on the radio.

Sorry to see you go, man. I hope someone can fill those shoes.
posted by Xoebe at 6:32 AM on August 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think 9/11 really did a number on him, FWIW, and he was exactly the kind of guy to be loud and proud about his idiosyncrasies.

I may be wrong, but the country's response to 9/11, combined with the troubles and disappointments in his own life around that time, finally overwhelmed him. As much as he was a curmudgeon before, there had to have been a fundamental optimism underneath, if there was a belief in the country's ability to change for the better, if everyone just did as he recommended.

But those fundamental disappointments made him check out of life early, not unlike Hunter Thompson in a way, that just the simple awareness of just how so much was going wrong, everywhere, and in every way, was just too great to bear. He didn't choose the solution Hunter did, but lost all interest in life, giving up on the personal and common future, and retreating to the solace of the past. Pleasurable stories, marvellous people, better choices made -- it was an understandable turn to take. But with that came the elimination of optimism, and spitting back in the face of life which had so disappointed and resisted his will.

I will miss the angry Gore very much. The Gore who lived in captivating full flight has been gone for quite a while, and I miss him even more.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:45 AM on August 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


zombieflanders: "His evisceration of William Buckley during his life and after his death were especially spot-on, and I'm interested to see what Christopher has to say about Gore."

I'm guessing he'll be kinder than Vidal was to his father, or to him. I have difficulty seeing Christopher Buckley penning anything as vicious as Gore Vidal Speaks Seriously Ill of the Dead.
posted by zarq at 6:50 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wonderful writer — blazing technique, blowtorch wit, speckled and magpie eye. The world's a poorer place for his passing.
posted by Wolof at 7:02 AM on August 1, 2012 [4 favorites]



The last defender of the American Republic (against the American Empire).

"He bore a melancholy regard for lost worlds, for the primacy of the written word, for "the ancient American sense that whatever is wrong with human society can be put right by human action".

Vidal consistently made the case that the American Republic had started across its Rubicon in 1945, if not 1898; and consistently and vigoreously did what American public intellectuals are supposed to do, challenge assumptions.

An irreplaceable loss.

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Dug him as Brickley Paiste in Bob Roberts, too.
posted by Herodios at 7:07 AM on August 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


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posted by incandissonance at 7:08 AM on August 1, 2012


I'm guessing he'll be kinder than Vidal was to his father, or to him.

Vidal gave no quarter. His shade asks no quarter.

Christopher can say any damned thing he likes. Vidal will be remembered long after he's forgotten - and he knows it.
posted by Egg Shen at 7:21 AM on August 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


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posted by ecourbanist at 7:31 AM on August 1, 2012


One of my favorite Vidal anecdotes appears in Snapshots In History's Glare. The old man is reminiscing about his friendship with Tennessee Williams—whom he called "The Glorious Bird"—and the time they spent with Jack and Bobby during the former's presidential campaign. At a skeet shooting range during a break in the race, The Glorious Bird turns to Gore while Jack is shooting and says "My God, that boy's got a nice ass."

"You can't say that, Bird; that "boy" is the next President of the United States."

"I know, but he still has a nice ass."

I stumbled on Burr in the 11th grade and I've been reading Gore Vidal ever since. Of the novels, my favorites are Myra Breckinridge, Julian, then Messiah, then Lincoln, probably. Of the essays, it's impossible for me to pick even a handful of favorites, though the title "This Critic and This Gin and These Shoes" has rung in my head for years (even if I have always, mentally, wanted to add "and That Sandwich" to it for some reason.) Of his opinions, I think a good quarter of them are absolutely crack-brained, but no more crack-brained than things I read here everyday, I guess, and 75% on target isn't a bad score for anyone who's said and produced as much as Vidal.

There isn't another writer, artist, musician, or filmmaker, who made a greater impression on me over a longer period of time than Gore Vidal.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:31 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


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posted by condesita at 7:36 AM on August 1, 2012


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posted by doctornemo at 7:40 AM on August 1, 2012


I read several of his books when I was somewhat younger, really messed with my head in a most exceptional way. I never wanted to lug around Lincoln but hey now that I have a kindle.

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posted by sammyo at 7:49 AM on August 1, 2012



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posted by blurker at 7:49 AM on August 1, 2012


Egg Shen: " Christopher can say any damned thing he likes. Vidal will be remembered long after he's forgotten - and he knows it."

No, I meant that my impression of Chris Buckley is that he doesn't have the temperament.
posted by zarq at 7:55 AM on August 1, 2012


I never wanted to lug around Lincoln

He ain't heavy, he's the 16th President.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:58 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


He meant a lot to me as an irascible homosexual intellectual. He is missed. Sometimes I fear his role in the US is replaced by Jon Stewart. And as much as I like Stewart, he is a thin replacement.
posted by Nelson at 8:04 AM on August 1, 2012


I fear his role in the US is replaced by Jon Stewart.

Public intellectual and court jester are both important roles, overlapping, but not identical.

Though it may be that there'll be no place in the future for a public intellectual without corporate sponsorship, in which case you'd be not far of the mark, sadly.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:20 AM on August 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


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posted by ged at 8:26 AM on August 1, 2012


Can anyone recommend with which book I should start?

Try this vanity fair piece.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 8:34 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by sa3z at 8:36 AM on August 1, 2012


The world's a poorer place for his passing.

So many things have been said here that I could quote line by line, that surpass anything I could write-- but, for one, what he said.

This saddens me far past what I would expected, had I given it much thought beforehand. But, for some reason, I guess I expected he would be around forever. And now I feel diminished.


Oh, would that I could be a tenth as well written, well spoken, witty and wise as he. What a loss.
posted by y2karl at 9:04 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Paris Review ran a link to their interview with Vidal from 1974.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:14 AM on August 1, 2012


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posted by whir at 9:38 AM on August 1, 2012


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It's worth watching the interview Mr. Vidal conducted with the BBC on the night of Barack Obama's election as President of the United States. He professes to be "thrilled," but you can also see how this fact presents an inconvenience to his highly conspiratorial outlook on public affairs.
posted by BobbyVan at 9:44 AM on August 1, 2012


May I suggest Messiah?
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:44 AM on August 1, 2012


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posted by Lutoslawski at 10:02 AM on August 1, 2012


I think Live from Golgotha is one of the funniest books I've ever read. In it, one of St. Paul's former boyfriends is visited by time-travelers from the future, asking him to pen a Gospel. His reminiscences about the showman Paul as well as Fat Jesus are outrageous.

"Jesus was enormously fat with this severe hormonal problem - the so-called parable about the loaves and fishes was just the fantasy of somebody who could never get enough to eat."

I too deplore that 9/11 conspiraloonacy Gore got into. But if truthers are sad to see him go, I won't speak ill of them for the rest of the afternoon.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 10:06 AM on August 1, 2012


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posted by homunculus at 10:17 AM on August 1, 2012


...but you can also see how this fact presents an inconvenience to his highly conspiratorial outlook on public affairs.

He was very quickly and properly disillusioned when Obama didn't close Gitmo or cancel any of the security apparatus power grabs made by the W administration.
posted by localroger at 10:31 AM on August 1, 2012


Burr was the first historical novel I ever read.

The ending damn near gave me vertigo.

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posted by mmrtnt at 11:58 AM on August 1, 2012


RIP Al Gore
posted by homunculus at 1:24 PM on August 1, 2012


Heh. Gore and Al were actually related; cousins, I believe, on Vidal's mother's side. He wrote a funny short essay about going to a Gore family reunion sometime in the 90s. (If I recall correctly, Al was a no-show.)
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:00 PM on August 1, 2012


Noone ever made Buckley's tongue dart in and out faster.

Without any way to express the feeling that a pillar of the universe is gone ... I'll just note that he outlasted the other Vidal by just two months.
posted by Twang at 2:13 PM on August 1, 2012




I remember first encountering the essays in Pink Triangle and Yellow Star and being overwhelmed by the power of the rhetoric and the devastating clarity of the argument. It was only later that the doubts began to creep in. A witty friend of mine once remarked to me: 'Americans have this touching illusion that Gore Vidal is a left-winger'. I think that's profoundly true. Vidal was an instinctive conservative forced to the left by the distorting pressures of American politics, just as Hitchens was an instinctive progressive forced to the right.

Vidal wrote about homosexuality at a time when very few other writers went near the subject. That in itself was intellectually liberating, even if you didn't share his conviction that 'there are no homosexual people, only homosexual acts' (a typical example of a Vidalian aperçu that wasn't as progressive as it looked at first sight). This is a merciful release, but I prefer to forget the long embarrassing twilight years and remember the thrilling experience of reading Vidal's essays for the first time.
posted by verstegan at 3:16 PM on August 1, 2012


TOME
posted by "But who are the Chefs?" at 4:02 PM on August 1, 2012


.
posted by conradjones at 5:17 PM on August 1, 2012


.
posted by schyler523 at 5:29 PM on August 1, 2012




On second thought, that essay doesn't really make many strong points.
posted by grouse at 6:23 PM on August 2, 2012


I just read Vidal's essay Some Jews & The Gays, a remarkable bit of 1981 Vidal writing on homosexualism. It's nominally a review of Renaud Camus' Tricks but really it's a remarkably witty takedown of Midge Decter's neocon essay The Boys on the Beach. His points are so complex and rich with cultural references. It's nearly incomprehensible to me 31 years and a gay liberation and AIDS crisis away. It's exciting writing. I particularly like how he keeps using the word "fag" because he so hates the word "gay".
posted by Nelson at 4:19 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Stop Eulogizing Gore Vidal
He was a racist and an elitist, forever mourning the decline of his era of aristocratic privilege.

posted by Joe in Australia at 5:52 PM on August 4, 2012


Dude.
posted by grouse at 6:05 PM on August 4, 2012


Oops, missed that you had already posted that.

I think it's worth reading because it points out that Vidal was actually a reactionary, not a liberal. But you could probably guess that from the title of the essay Nelson linked to: Some Jews & The Gays where he blames persecution of gays on Jewish "hucksters" whom he initially describes as members of the "new class") ("né arrivistes") but who, it is eventually made clear, actually constitute it.

Yes, I know it's presented as a witty takedown that uses antisemitic tropes to eviscerate homophobic ones. All I can say is, it you could strip out the anti-homophobic context and it's precisely the sort of thing that you'd expect from an antisemitic orator.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:20 PM on August 4, 2012


But you could probably guess that from the title of the essay Nelson linked to: Some Jews & The Gays where he blames persecution of gays on Jewish "hucksters" whom he initially describes as members of the "new class") ("né arrivistes") but who, it is eventually made clear, actually constitute it.

Yes, I know it's presented as a witty takedown that uses antisemitic tropes to eviscerate homophobic ones. All I can say is, it you could strip out the anti-homophobic context and it's precisely the sort of thing that you'd expect from an antisemitic orator.


Um... no. That's not what he does in that essay.

In that essay, he points out that one persecuted group is participating in the persecution of another group (not responsible for it, not blaming them for it, but giving specific examples of where they participate in the greater culture's persecution), and is pointing out how similar the kinds of persecution both groups have suffered is.

Specifically, he is saying that a group of people who have suffered by being declared less than desirable, in fact as being evil, by The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion, should perhaps not be so quick to buy into a whole other set of stereotypes about another group of people which will in turn declare those as undesirable and evil. Specifically, he points to a magazine article in Commentary magazine (a mouthpiece for conservative viewpoints) [not available for free] which attempts to lay out, from the position of an outsider, everything which constitutes homosexuality and does so in a particularly mean-spirited, othering way.

That the author of this piece is Jewish is probably secondary to the actual content of the piece, but for Vidal, it becomes primary because he sees in this piece the same kind of smear job that Jews have suffered across the centuries. And he is troubled because, historically, Jews and homosexuals have suffered the same fates when it came to people wanting to cast them into the role of Other.

At no point does Vidal make broad sweeping statements about Jews as a monolithic group participating in this ugly stereotyping. At no point does he suggest that Jews solely constitute this "new class", but he does point out that the ones he is talking about proudly, themselves, claim membership in this new class. And as such, they are more than willing to buy into and echo and further the bigotries and misconceptions of that group. In this specific case, the troubling beliefs are about homosexuals, and the Jews who are self-proclaimed members of this new class are happy to be as bigoted as they need to be toward the fags in order to show they are, indeed, part of the group.

In the end, Vidal suggests that this is wrong-headed and that the Jews in the new class should see the homosexuals as allies to work with against the encroaching bigotry found across society, rather than joining society in focusing bigotry toward groups perceived as Other.

There's nothing at all anti-semitic in this piece. It's only seen there if you're not reading closely, and if you're going to the piece expecting to see something which you suppose should be there, when in fact it isn't there at all.
posted by hippybear at 6:13 AM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hippybear, that's outrageous special pleading and it does you no credit. I'm especially surprised to see you accept his implication that Jews, collectively, are to be blamed for Ms Podhoretz's essay by saying "he points out that one persecuted group is participating in the persecution of another group". Even in Vidal's own mind the persecutors were what? a few Jewish writers he disliked. They became a group typifying World Jewry because he was angry and he knew his audience; he could tar them with the same brush and people would accept it.

At no point does Vidal make broad sweeping statements about Jews as a monolithic group participating in this ugly stereotyping. At no point does he suggest that Jews solely constitute this "new class" [...]

How do you understand his suggestion that
This might explain the ferocity of the new class on the subject. They know that should the bad times return, the Jews would be singled out yet again.
Do you think that his "new class" was largely composed of gentiles determined to protect Jews? He goes on to further characterise them by saying that
like so many Max Naumanns (Naumann was a German Jew who embraced Nazism), the new class passionately supports our ruling class [...]
So the new class are determined to protect Jews; they are like this Jewish guy who supported the Nazis; but they're not actually Jewish. Really? And what do you make of his assertion that
these neo-Naumannites are going to be in the same gas chambers as the blacks and the faggots [...]
Why are the Nazis going to round up these non-Jewish new-classers? And what of the Jews themselves, if they are not to be identified with the "new class"? Are the Nazis coming for "the blacks and the faggots" and "the new class" but not the Jews themselves?

Of course his "new class" are Jews; and the Jews are the "new class". This is the classic language of the Jew-hating aristocrat against pushy, equality-seeking Jews: they are neither Nature's aristocrats nor the sturdy peasantry but a new and alien force in the land. Vidal even calls them "hucksters"; when did you last encounter this derogatory term for a petty trader outside a science fiction convention? I'll tell you where he got it from: it is a term of art used in antisemitic literature, most notoriously Marx's essay On the Jewish Question. Gore was nothing if not well read.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:04 AM on August 5, 2012


Yeah, you're not reading carefully. I'm okay with that, really.
posted by hippybear at 7:39 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


you could strip out the anti-homophobic context and it's precisely the sort of thing that you'd expect from an antisemitic orator.

When you strip out the anti-homophobic context you completely demolish the essay and any sense it makes. I'm not saying Vidal doesn't have his problems, and I don't much care for how he uses the rhetoric of The Other (Jews) as part of his general disdain for the "new class" (what a phrase!). But the essay is a carefully constructed discussion of identity politics and you can't just ignore half of it to make a point about another quarter of it.

I found Benjamin Ivry's discussion of Vidal's possible anti-semitism interesting and nuanced.
posted by Nelson at 8:02 AM on August 5, 2012


FWIW, the "new class" phrase comes from a theory about communist regimes which had in the 1970s (basically right before The Boys On The Beach and Some Jews & The Gays were published) been expanded and applied to western culture. It's not a phrase Vidal invented, and it has specific meaning which applies very well to what he's talking about in this particular instance.
posted by hippybear at 8:49 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let's fill in the blanks. Suppose I said
"____ know that should the bad times return, the Jews would be singled out yet again .... the ____ are going to be in the same gas chambers as the blacks and the faggots".
Isn't it clear that the missing word is "Jews"?

Take this passage:
classic ____ professions as doctoring and lawyering
Could the missing word be anything but "Jewish"?

I don't dispute that the terms "new class" and "né arrivistes" can have other meanings; but here, in this essay, they are explicitly equated with Jews. It's a masterful polemic in which Jews curry favor with their overlords by promoting homophobia, which is in itself a Jewish invention: it is blamed on "Moses and St. Paul and Freud ... these three rabbis". None of them were rabbis, of course; and the latter two are not even Jewish religious figures. Furthermore, homosexuality "was previously known to right-thinking Jews as an abomination against nature"(*) - Christians, atheists, Moslems, had nothing to do with this you see. It was the Jews, the Jews, the Jews, all the way down.

(*) This looks like a quotation from Podhoretz, but it was actually Vidal's own interpolation.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:09 PM on August 5, 2012


Yeah, you're just looking for evidence to support your already conceived thesis. You'll have to do better than continuing to quote the final paragraph and a single word used early on in the essay to convince me of your point.

I don't know why you want to desperately to think this essay, or even Vidal in general, is anti-semitic. But the general context of this particular essay and the specific things you're pulling out of it aren't working to support your thesis.
posted by hippybear at 8:49 PM on August 5, 2012


You haven't addressed any of my points.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:37 PM on August 5, 2012


You don't have any points. You keep quoting sentences from the final paragraph in various forms over and over, as if that is the only thing Vidal wrote. It isn't. There's an entire essay ahead of that, and a careful reading of what he wrote shows that your assessment of it is wrong.
posted by hippybear at 10:54 PM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Paris Review: Gore Vidal’s Bully Republic
It was probably because I’d assumed he was straight. I knew him only as a political writer of large, crusty tomes about political figures or vaguely named epics: Burr, Lincoln, Hollywood, Washington, D.C. With this information in mind, I jumped to conclusions. Surely only a straight person could want to write thick, lofty studies on such a fully unqueer topic as the American empire. The thought that an interest in these things could coincide with a dedication to true, campy queerness in its purest form had never occurred to me. What I discovered later, on closer inspection, was that Vidal seemed to understand that within the world of scholarship and letters was embedded an excuse for the kind of heightened bitchiness that in any other kind of public forum doesn’t quite fly. The world of politics, likewise (nowhere more in evidence than 1962’s Advise and Consent, which amps up this bitchiness to an exhilarating pitch).
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:38 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]






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