Wednesday, August 01, 2012

A semi-appreciation of Gore Vidal

Well, gosh. The old boy's pegged out. I will miss him.

Probably not many on my conservative side of the political spectrum feel the same. But I admired him without, usually, agreeing with his arguments. He was the rare leftist who could write with elegance and spirit. (The late Christopher Hitchens was another. I miss him, too.)

I've read Vidal a fair amount, although not much in recent years. When I sampled his later essays, they seemed like the doodles of a crackpot. How to account for an obviously intelligent man indulging in such tosh? 

Here's my guess. Vidal had the temperament of an artist. He wasn't a great one, but still, an artist. He approached every subject as a writer, a craftsman, not a critical thinker.

As the years added up, I suspect this world began to seem less and less real to him, as happens to some aging people. Eventually it became a kind of game: to see how far he could go with outrageous, absurd positions while still being entertaining and retaining his old style and wit. I haven't read any of the obits, but I suppose the words "style" and "wit" will figure prominently, and fair enough.

Unlike today's young left-wingers, Vidal actually knew history. His historical novels like Julian, Creation, and Lincoln display insight into personalities, times, and places. I haven't read his campy stuff like Myra Breckinridge and don't intend to, but at its best his fiction does him credit. As do some of his essays and articles, mostly the earlier ones.

Finally, I respect him as a homosexual who didn't conceal it but, as far as I know, kept it a private matter. I'd like to believe there are still many gay men like that. If so, they just go on about their lives normally and you don't hear about them. It's the screaming faggots that get the media attention, of course.

The journalists with literary pretensions will doubtless claim that he was the last in some great line, the torchbearer of a generation of whatever. Baloney. Gore Vidal wasn't part of a pack; he was Gore Vidal. And that wasn't so bad.


green mamba said...

A fair and eloquent appraisal. While I loathed Vidal's political garbling, especially in his later phase, and never read his novels (historical fiction is not my thing), I did appreciate him as witty and learned cultural and literary critic. His essays cut through all manner of cant and vulgarity in American culture with masterful prose and a delicious mocking wit. In that regard, he was similar to my favorite critic, John Simon, who admired him (the admiration was not mutual, unfortunately - probably the result of Vidal's vanity).

Rick Darby said...

Green Mamba,

I vaguely remember the Vidal-Simon spat. My recollection is that Vidal wrote something uncomplimentary about Simon; Simon said Vidal was miffed because he'd read a review in which Simon had panned a play or film script by Vidal; Vidal responded with the ultimate literary insult: "It had nothing to do with his review; I never read it." Touché.

Do you know that John Simon, now 80-some years old, has a blog? See the link in the blogroll.

green mamba said...

Yes, I did discover John Simon's blog recently. Unfortunately, he talks very little about movies in it and that's mostly what I want to read him on. I did order his most recent book of movie reviews, however, which covers the early 80s to the early 2000s. What a joy to read. I gobbled it up, then read it several more times.

The very fact that John Simon is regarded as some kind of villain in our culture (to those who have heard of him) is a sign of its immaturity and vulgarity.