Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Rest In Peace Mr Gore Vidal

A master of the universe, a titan of literature, a bon vivant, a raconteur, witty conversationalist, verbal bomb thrower and a dissident never losing sight of the humour his adversaries presented to him; these are some of the phrases that come to mind when describing Gore Vidal.

An openly gay, upper crust American, Mr Vidal was a noted dissident in the last years of the Bush administration, coining the phrase "the United States of Alzheimer's" to describe the way the United States allowed itself to forget historical lessons. Gore Vidal was openly gay in a time when it was quite scandalous to be so, but the man had a regal air about him that let him get away with saying and supporting things that ordinary men and women could not do so.

This obviously had to do with his privileged upbringing amongst the American elite. His grandfather was a US Senator, Gore grew up around Washington DC, and during his grandfather's tenure, when the senator was blind, Gore Vidal as a child would act as his aide around the US Capitol.

I was first introduced to Mr Vidal and his strident opposition to Bush era policies in the editorial pages of Harpers magazine. Mr Vidal was referenced widely for his insight into the more arcane traditions of American governance echoed by the Bush administration, where a privileged group of overgrown man-children, in the guise of President Bush and his cabal, were running the most powerful country in the world like it was a family owned factory. As opposed to being the beacon of democracy that it touted itself as.

Mr Vidal had a Roman and patrician air about him, a high imperialism, that sought to maintain a peace or more accurately, a balance of power in the world. This was contrasted by the chaos that the Bush clique set off in and around Iraq, in Lebanon, their slow motion disaster in Afghanistan and the drumbeat to a near war with Iran in the mid-2000's. In contrast to this, Vidal came of as an American patriot who wished to maintain American strength by not squandering it in wars, letting the inertia of America's pre-9/11 example work itself. This model of American regeneration still resonated amongst American liberal 2007-2008 when I learnt more of this man. The economic collapse in 2008 put paid to any ideas of returning to a pre-9/11 world and the election of a half-black man as the president of the United States re-defined what it meant to be an American nationalist.

Mr Vidal's evocation of the Roman Empire was sympatico with his literary career in which he had written historical novels, using pre-World War II America and the Roman Empire as settings.

Mr Vidal's self confidence, in the face of his deeply diverging views with the American mainstream could be seen even in his youth, in the years immediately after World War II. He wrote a book in which the protagonist was not only a homosexual youth coming to term with his gayness, but unlike the prevalent moralising against homosexuality, Mr Vidal did not kill off his protagonist to indicate that homosexuality is a sin.

The late and controversial Christopher Hitchens wished at times that he was considered Mr Vidal's heir. Christopher Hitchens opposed Gore Vidal quite strenuously after the latter had made it clear that he knew of this and did not approve of it. There is also something to be said of Christopher Hitchens, the younger man dying much earlier than Mr Vidal.

Mr Vidal had a sharp mind, wit and an encyclopediac knowledge of American politics and history, a fact that he amply demonstrated in his novels.

However, it was obvious that politics, beyond literature was his true passion. In the late '90's and 2000's Gore Vidal, Noam Chimsky and Howard Zinn formed a sort of dissident, anti-imperialist, academic triumvirate against the dominant narrative relevant in America till the economic collapse of 2008. They constantly shot at the image America projected of itself as a nice and caring place. After the United States saw its economy collapse in 2008, this narrative has lost place amongst the young.

Mr Vidal was there long before the housing crisis, the many wars of this generation, and the faux-righteous of a preceding generation.

Mr Vidal said never give up a chance to either have sex or appear on television. Considering how the television genie is well and truly out of the bottle in Pakistan, observing the studied contempt with which Gore Vidal used and treated this vacuous medium is something we could easily learn from. To commemorate him, I have found the best clip possible to sum up Mr Vidal in his own words, which spliced in his famous verbal dust-up with conservative critic William F. Buckley.

Even in this last epoch of his life, the Obama era, he remained sharp as ever. Enough of my words, here's the man himself. Mr Gore Vidal will have the last word.

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