World without Vidal

By Ali Imran 

Despite the common knowledge that Gore Vidal – with whom Americans and thinking circles in the world outside the United States had such obsession – was impossible to categorize, he stands out as one of a kind on the American literary horizon.

English: Gore Vidal at the Union Square Barnes...

English: Gore Vidal at the Union Square Barnes & Noble to be interviewed by Leonard Lopate to discuss his life and his photographic memoir, Gore Vidal: Snapshots in History’s Glare. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vidal, who passed away on the last day of July, could assume, on the basis of a towering edifice of his versatile works, so many titles at once – a fierce critic, a grand old man of letters, novelist, essayist, commentator, raconteur, expert, iconoclast, political scientist, feisty intellectual challenger, humanist voice and an insightful investigator of his age.

My fascination with Vidal started years ago, when I once watched him on TV, speaking authoritatively on difficult issues with an unusually high degree of ease and conviction. Since then, I have tried to follow his writings and watch his interviews courtesy Youtube videos.

 Notwithstanding his decades-long powerful intellectual presence, Vidal’s controversial views on some issues related to defense of Timothy McVeigh, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, in some ways slightly dented his reputation. 

Vidal could hold very liberal views, and was sometimes described as kind of going off the deep end intellectually in challenging accepted and conventional views but some people also went overboard in reacting too intensely to his views out of political, nationalistic or patriotic considerations, depending on the tone and tenor of their discourse.

 Yet, in many Asian and European countries, Vidal’s consistent criticism of the United States’ policies from his high scholarly pedestal symbolized the beauty of strong American ideals of democracy and freedom of expression, even in the tense post- 9/11 years, when the country took several steps to ensure its security.

 With international readers, Vidal’s calls for the United States to adhere unwaveringly to Magna Carta, which he regarded as a sacred foundation of Western civilization, made a potent argument in the tumultuous years of the last decade.

 In his numerous discussions and a large body of works including novels and essays, Vidal famously commented with a mix of terseness and satire on sexuality, many facets of politics, media and social and national issues.  A feisty liberal, Vidal challenged conventional thinking generally and targeted actions of former president George Bush’s administration with vitriolic criticism.

 I would like to share some of the tributes paid to Vidal by American and foreign writers.

 While reporting Vidal’s demise at the age of 86 at his home in Hollywood Hills, The Los Angeles Timeswriter Elaine Woo described Vidal as a “glorious gadfly on the national conscience.” 

Gore Vidal at the Los Angeles Times Festival o...

Gore Vidal at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few months ago (April 1, 2012), Charles Isherwood, writing in The New York Times on revival of Vidal’s ‘The Best Man’ noted the prescience with which Vidal could see the friction-filled politics in the years to come.  Here are three paragraphs from that writing.

 “Mr. Vidal’s drama about backroom deal making and the withering of America’s political discourse first opened on Broadway in 1960, back when party conventions in election years were still suspenseful battles for delegates and not ceremonial coronations of preselected candidates. 

“Unfortunately a thin veneer of currency isn’t sufficient to revitalize a drama that feels positively quaint, despite Mr. Vidal’s winking cynicism about the political arena and his undeniable prescience about future trends in American politicking. He was certainly on target in noting the corrupting influence of television cameras on the tone of political campaigns and the rise of pandering populism as a crucial element in the playbook of any politician hoping to make headway in a presidential contest.

“But anyone following politics with even the slightest peripheral vision is acutely aware of how radically the landscape has changed. The toxins Mr. Vidal was identifying in 1960 as hovering threats on the democratic horizon are now confirmed facts of political life, so that this once-trenchant drama — concerning a battle for the nomination between a high-minded, deeply moral candidate and his canny, cutthroat rival — feels like a civics lesson drawn from a long out-of-date textbook.”

 Ayaz Amir, a seasoned Pakistani political writer, praising Vidal’s work, noted in an opinion piece in The News:

 “Why can’t political commentary be closer to how Vidal could write it? I suppose it comes from intellect and reading and spending your entire life in the company of books and the world of ideas. Living such a life you acquire a certain tone and if you take to writing, and are lucky, it comes to permeate the way you write. The style is the man. Who you are is the foundation of your style.

 “Anyway, a life well lived, packed with excitement and joy, and productive labour…the gods would be pleased. For what do they expect of us? That we make the best use of our gifts and opportunities, and live life without regrets.”

 Justin Raimondo, writing for OEN,, observes that “Gore Vidal is a member of what seems to be a nearly extinct fraternity: the American novelists of ideas. When he goes, who is left — and what hope is there that someone will breach the walls of political correctness meant to keep his kind out forever?”


Categories: Articles, Arts and Life, Journalists & Writers

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