I read Gore Vidal a little bit too young to make use of what he wrote or break too lofty in comments on his passing but there were a couple ideas that he has to want to be that I still recall the first was the idea of a scholar squirrel.
His rant against the cowardice of the professoriate was a great comfort to me in understanding how the prestige of various academics obscured the fact that there were indeed facts about history that they couldn't bear to present in full context. But that was about the extent of it and quite frankly Vidal in the end disappointed.
What annoyed me about Vidal was that he decided to take his pen and run away home, except that he made his home somewhere in Southern Europe. France or Italy, it mattered little. Essentially, he turned in his card and decided that America was no longer home. From that distance, lobbing rhetorical bombs reminded me of nobody so much as Stokely Carmichael aka Kawame Ture. I may not be forgiven for not keeping up with Vidal, but it's patently obvious to me that he didn't have the stomach for living in America. One wonders which cowardice is more odious, that which can't bear to be associated with America or that which succeeds in the fraudulent portion. Vidal criticized all the scholar squirrels, but then left them in charge of his ex-nation.
Considering that America hasn't self-destructed before his death, I guess Vidal's cowardice is all the more apparent. Then again, there may be some idyllic perfection in Southern Europe that we are all just too stupid to recognize.
Vidal was clearly at peace with the degradation of the nation he claimed to know so well. But isn't that the sort of Merovingian elan such an elitist native son given to the thrills of sexuality ought to be expected to possess? Nothing quite so awfully truthful as a sardonic old queen, eh? Especially about awful things that have the ring of truth. It doesn't make one a hero. Shakespeare's Aaron never told a lie and for his truths could spare the life of his bastard got off the evil queen. I suppose that's the best light to illuminate Vidal's legacy. He'd have us barf it all up - with the likes of Kofi Annan in charge.
The world does not, perhaps, need heroics nor courage. Gore Vidal might be a suitable boy for that world of boys and girls who needn't do anything but wish away war and sun themselves in Mediterranean light. But Rabbi Hillel said, when there is no hero, you be the hero. That calls for presence of mind and body and dedication to some risky propositions. None of which seem to be at issue for Vidal at his remove from a nation lying in the lee of the winds of property ownage, civil liberties strewn about like so many trailer parks.
He said, back in 2001:
Once alienated, an 'unalienable right' is apt to be forever lost, in which case we are no longer even remotely the last best hope of earth but merely a seedy imperial state whose citizens are kept in line by SWAT teams and whose way of death, not life, is universally imitated. Since VJ Day 1945 ('Victory over Japan' and the end of World War II), we have been engaged in what the great historian Charles A Beard called 'perpetual war for perpetual peace'. I have occasionally referred to our 'enemy of the month club': each month a new horrendous enemy at whom we must strike before he destroys us. I have been accused of exaggeration, so here's the scoreboard from Kosovo (1999) to Berlin Airlift (1948-49).
You will note that the compilers, Federation of American Scientists, record a number of our wars as 'ongoing', even though many of us have forgotten about them. We are given, under 'Name' many fanciful Defense Department titles like Urgent Fury which was Reagan's attack on the island of Grenada, a month long caper which General Haig disloyally said could have been handled more briefly by the Provincetown police department. In these several hundred wars against communism, terrorism, drugs or sometimes nothing much, between Pearl Harbor and Tuesday 11 September 2001, we always struck the first blow.
It's achingly familiar. How about this?:
Jews, blacks, and homosexuals are despised by the Christian…majorities of East and West. Also, as a result of the invention of Israel, Jews can now count on the hatred of the Islamic world. Since our own Christian majority looks to be getting ready for great adventures at home and abroad, I would suggest that the three despised minorities join forces in order not to be destroyed. This seems an obvious thing to do. Unfortunately, most Jews refuse to see any similarity between their special situations and that of the same-sexers.
Is there nothing but irony in Vidal's screeds against Christians and Christianity? Perhaps so. But you would think a more reasonable atheism would have emerged from his diatribes against the 'sky gods'. In that too, I took some measure of distance against monotheism. In fact, it more clearly places my initial discovery of Vidal back in the late 80s as I first gave the faith vs reason arguments full run in my head, as well as the delights of polytheism.
But there is no discipline but the aesthetics of those celebrities whose names don't leave our memories with the swiftness that their arguments lose their coherence over time. And we are left with nothing but memories.
I think of how obvious the minds I was raised on have failed utterly to recognize what liberties would be generated by those of us who have crafted bit by bit, the information revolution. I just have to grudgingly admit to myself that the men of letters have long abandoned the town squares they have claimed to defend. And now Vidal lies dead, another dead man whose letters will be decomposed, debated and deleted in his absence.