One of the great minds in American writing has left the body. At 86 Gore Vidal came down with pneumonia, something that afflicts people in their 80s rather often, and now is on the other side. He was in a wheelchair and not looking well in video I've seen of him in recent years. 86 is a good time to go when you're dependent and tired of not being well. Earlier today I was talking with someone I know in the coffee shop who talked about how sad he was over Doc Watson's dying. I was wondering why when he asked how I responded to the news of Doc dying. I said I didn't feel much of anything about it. He asked if I didn't like Doc Watson. I said I like him a lot, but I don't know him, never met him, never talked with him, never shook his hand. I saw him in concert, but I see a lot of people in concert. People are born, people die. I feel sorrow when a friend dies, but not when a celebrity I only know of as a celebrity dies. I'd come closer to mourning Gore Vidal, because I've read a lot of his writing, not anywhere near enough of it to suit me, and I love his writing, I love his mind and appreciate what I know of him as a human being.
American History has been Vidal's intellectual study all the way along. He's written a series of novels of American history, some of which were Burr, Lincoln, 1876, and quite a number of others. One of my favorite of his books is United States: Essays 1952-1992, a collection of his articles for magazines through those 40 years. I've read his autobiography, Palimpsest, which I didn't take for as interesting as his other writing. The man spends about all his time writing and reading. What other life does he have? I don't care. It's his writing, his thinking I like to read. I like the way he thinks. He is straight-forward on every topic of his attention. He seems to me another kind of Noam Chomsky voice, though in his own way that's not anything like Chomsky's. He's an intellectual, a real intellectual, not a fake one, who articulates for us analysis of what government and ruling class are doing to We-the-People and getting away with it because 80% of us are complacent, unaware that democracy requires commitment by We-the-People.
In Vidal's later essays, he was grieved by the end of Democracy under the Reagan Revolution, finished off by the Bush Junta. The later essays came from a place on the order of despair seeing what has happened to his country he's had so much hope for, seeing democracy spiral down the drain directed systematically by the republican party into police state while the American people watched tv. In the time of the Bush take-over by judicial fiat, Vidal, Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore and Alex Jones were the only active voices of dissent I was aware of. Surely there were others. Where Chomsky writes in a somewhat detached analytical way, Vidal wrote in a personally involved way intellectually. Chomsky is involved too, but he keeps his persona out of his writing more than Vidal does. Vidal's persona is present as the writer, the one putting his thoughts on paper. He writes 3rd person, too, but I feel his presence in his writing more than the others. Vidal was as much a personality as an intellectual. He was something of an historian who made history not only palatable, but interesting, entertaining, funny and realistic, as much a student of human character as history.
He appeared on tv talks shows fairly often, becoming a tv personality, a curmudgeon news analyst who saw things a bit differently from how they're presented by corporate tv. On NPR news when they were telling about Vidal, an interviewer made a comment about him being a famous writer. Vidal interjected that to say "famous writer" in this time is like saying "famous ceramicist." Writers don't have fame in this time. Not many years ago, they did, but not anymore. He was quick to note such trends that pass the rest of us by. That's what he was good for. I've an idea time will regard him one of the great American writers of the 20th century. He wrote the original screenplay for Ben Hur around 1958, which was written over by somebody else. Then he wrote a screenplay for Caligula, 1976, which I ran to the top of my netflix Q to see it possibly Monday. Might even watch Ben Hur some day. It's 4 hours long. I don't know about 4 hours of Charlton Heston. As a senior in high school I could handle it, thought it was a great movie. Motivated me to read the book. Now? I don't know. I believe I'd rather read some Gore Vidal essays.