Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Gore Vidal: In Memoriam

It is about four months from a year since Gore Vidal's death. His impressions of the country would certainly not have changed. I can't help but think that the body of work he has left is worthy of study in campuses across the nation. Connected with political science, culture and history, his was a patrician voice, but he spoke for the people who could not speak for themselves. He was a paradoxical combination of elite and everyman. I wrote the sonnet right after his passing. Now, I've added "Notes and Impressions." I'm glad his words resonate to chide this nation. Is anyone listening?
Vidal's second memoir
Acerbic, vitriolic, searing words,
In you fermented, then poured out, a draught
Of wine. We sipped refreshed, the wisdom heard.
It quenched our ravaged souls and spirits wrought.
We culturally dispossessed? You raised us high.
Redeemed our history's worth with wit and grace,
And literary gifts none could decry.
Your genius ne'r could Truman* er' displace. 
Self-described emotionally cold were you
Patrician, righteous, prophet of the age,
To Buckley calumnious, to Mailer crude,
Tiresias: forthright, just, a humorous sage.
Your writings live, though Death choked off your time.
You lived a maverick's life, one of a kind.

*Truman Capote. Vidal and Capote often knifed each other's work or person with serrated sarcasm 


I read a good deal of Vidal, his American Empire series from soup to nuts beginning with Burr and ending with The Golden Age, the seventh and last historical novel in the series. But I was introduced to Vidal much earlier in my teen years when I saw him being interviewed on TV a frequent guest of talk show hosts. Unfortunately, I missed the spectacular program with Vidal, Mailer and another guest on the Dick Cavett Show which I read about later in Cavett's wonderful Talk Show. I thought he was witty then, but didn't come to appreciate his great talent for word craft until much later after I read his two memoirs and then moved on to his essays, the empire series and Julian. He was incredibly prolific. I saw The Best Man on Broadway last year, twice, and regretted that I never worked hard enough to get an opening night ticket in the hopes of being able to speak with him to tell him how much I appreciated the gift he had given Americans with his empire series, an iconic history of the country seen through his eyes and in great measure neither accepted nor acknowledged by many historians. 
Vidal was a beautiful young man.
However, Vidal could care two hoots about them and their traditional and non investigative approach to the study of this nation's glory and infamy. Vidal was edgy, calculating and unafraid to peel back the onion to arrive at the meat of what was often an ugly core of colonialism, paternalism and corruption which he laughed at with a bitter, sardonic irony that revealed the child-like hope he still held for this nation which never lived up to or embraced the best part of itself or its ideals. In many ways he was the last political intellectual, uncompromising and undaunted in his outlook at what he noted was the growing oppression of freedom of thought and the burgeoning of the corporate-political fascist state. He was our voice, he was our conscience. And who shall take his utterly American place? I shudder to think of it. RIP, Gore Vidal. You were a professed atheist, but God loved you and loves you for His magnificent creation who like Jesus' Nathaniel within whom there was no guile. And if you were not true to yourself? You were brazen enough not to let on that you may not have cared.

In his last years, stentorian, a statesman who mellowed ever so slightly.