Thursday, August 09, 2012
Gore Vidal Dies at 86; Prolific, Elegant, Acerbic Writer --New York Times, 01/08/2012 Gore Vidal was an unexpected teacher of mine. From the New York Times: “He published some 25 novels, two memoirs and several volumes of stylish, magisterial essays. He also wrote plays, television dramas and screenplays. For a while he was even a contract writer at MGM. And he could always be counted on for a spur-of-the-moment aphorism, put-down or sharply worded critique of American foreign policy. Mr. Vidal took great pleasure in being a public figure. He twice ran for office — in 1960, when he was the Democratic Congressional candidate for the 29th District in upstate New York, and in 1982, when he campaigned in California for a seat in the Senate — and though he lost both times, he often conducted himself as a sort of unelected shadow president. He once said, “There is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”” That last quote made me chuckle. I remember a time when I also believed that the world would be a better place if people would only listen to me. I think I was fifteen years old. I got over the feeling, but I still remember it. I would not likely have noticed Vidal’s death if he had not died at the time when I had just begun to read one of his books, and I would not have continued to read that book if I hadn’t heard of his death at the moment when I was deciding to return it to the CNIB Library—having read only the first couple of chapters. At the moment before I heard the news I would have told you that I had begun a rather dull book called 1876 by an author I’d never heard of. The moment after I heard about his death, I decided to find out a little more about Gore Vidal. Though I am certain that I would not have liked this pompous and opinionated man, the Times reported other things that endeared Vidal to me. He was an activist who tried to change things. Vidal was gay, and he courageously wrote about that at a time when it was unacceptable to write about it. He created a wider awareness by addressing “sexual deviation” in novels. He as a forerunner of societal shift in attitude and his career paid a price for this prescience. This alone would have impressed me, but might not have kept me reading, for the recording of 1876 was difficult to follow. It was dubbed onto CD from a worn studio recording made for cassette tape. The combination of Vidal’s descriptive prose with the muffled reading was an apt substitute for sleeping pills when I listened from a horizontal position. The decision to stay the course was clinched by another revelation: “He loved to read to his grandfather, who was blind, and sometimes accompanied him onto the Senate floor.” And so it was that I resolved to stay awake through every muffled chapter of 1876. I am glad that I persevered, for Vidal’s extensive research, coupled with his ability to create story, introduced me to a time that can teach us something today. 1876 was a year when Americans lost sight of the importance of their democracy. Fearful of restarting the civil war that had so recently ended, they allowed an un-elected president to push aside the man his country had chosen for the job. They attributed his election to the voting power of the Negroes, who had recently been given the vote. To reverse this unexpected change, they permitted several southern states to produce two sets of election results, one on election night, and a later set of results with different counts. By this means the election was decided. People stepped back when they ought to have stepped forward. I have learned many interesting things from unexpected teachers. Gore Vidal is one of them.