Gore Vidal is dead at 86. Lots of obituaries online (see Arts & Letters Daily for a characteristically thorough round-up). I particularly liked Andrew Sullivan’s reflections. Sullivan disliked many aspects of Gore, especially his contempt for the gay movement. But…
I must say that his extreme hostility to the American Empire – sustained relentlessly through the decades – looks much less repellent to me than it did before Bush-Cheney. He ruined his case by exaggeration, and absurd moral equivalence. But he was surely onto something from the perspective of the 21st Century. And his willingness to court public outrage and disdain in defense of his ideas is a model for a public intellectual, it seems to me. As a historical novelist of the Roman past, he was superb – even peerless. No one can or would dispute his profound erudition. And his astonishing memoir, Palimpsest, is better than any writer has any business aiming for.
But he also, it seems to me, let his passions outweigh his reason more than a thinker as gifted as he was should. This emotionally turbulent quality seemed to me to be related to his woundedness as a brilliant scion forced by his homosexuality into a marginalization he learned to adorn with enormous style. He never, perhaps understandably, learned to let go of resentment. But this very rebelliousness was, in some ways, the flipside of a deep and romantic patriotism. You can never be that angry if you have never been that naive.
I agree about Palimpsest, which is a truly astonishing memoir.
One thing that the NYT Obit got right about Vidal is that success never mellowed him. He was a cantankerous old bugger right to the end.