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Remembering Gore Vidal, a great humanist

“…homosexuality is a constant fact of the human condition and it is not a sickness, not a sin, not a crime . . . despite the best efforts of our puritan tribe to make it all three. Homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality. Notice I use the word ‘natural,’ not normal.” -Gore Vidal, Esquire 1969

“The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism. From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three anti-human religions have evolved—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These are sky-god religions. They are, literally, patriarchal—God is the Omnipotent Father—hence the loathing of women for 2,000 years in those countries afflicted by the sky-god and his earthly male delegates.” -Gore Vidal on monotheism

Gore Vidal, a great humanist died yesterday.

I am remembering those days in 1995, when Gore Vidal, some other writers and I gave lectures at Oxford university. Our lectures were published in book form. Chris Miller, a fellow of All Souls College edited the book titled ‘The dissident word’.

THE Times Higher Education wrote about Gore Vidal in 1995 before the Oxford lecture series started.

Six leading writers will speak on the subject of the Dissident Word in the fourth series of Amnesty Lectures which starts next week at the Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford.

Whatever Gore Vidal has to say in the course of his Amnesty lecture, there can be little doubt that it will be said wittily and well. His calculated wit has been criticised as an ingenious means of skating over thin ice – one reviewer said he had “perfected the art of going nowhere, while being deliciously funny en route”. But few deny the man who defined a narcissist as “anyone better looking than you” and who said he was all for bringing back the birch “but only between consenting adults” his standing as a master of the epigrammatic one-liner.

For half a century he has fulfilled the dual roles of iconoclast and scion of America’s ruling classes. Like his exact contemporary and political opposite William F. Buckley – also born in 1925 and the other half of a famous televised spat in which Buckley called him a queer and Vidal labelled Buckley a Nazi – he is a critic from within, a satirist with a deadly serious purpose, chipping away at the complacency of the milieu and the nation that produced him.

Politically well-connected -his grandfather Thomas Gore was a senator from Oklahoma while vice-president Gore and ex-president Carter are relatives – he has run for office himself, losing a New York congressional race in 1960 despite outpolling presidential candidate John Kennedy, and polling half a million votes in the California Democratic Primary of 1982.

But his immense self-confidence rests on achievement as well as birth, with a formidable canon of novels, essays, journalism and scripts built up in the half-century since his first novel Williwaw was published in his teens. Most of his twenties were spent in the shadow of censorship. His third novel, The City and the Pillar, outraged conventional opinion with its portrayal of a college sportsman driven by obsessive love for another male athlete.

He found refuge in pseudonymous crime novels and scriptwriting for MGM. “Censorship was very real in the 1950s and I had a bad time after the blackout. You don’t write a movie like Ben Hur if you’re having a good time.”

He is a ferocious critic of religion as a constraining force and was denounced as an anti-Christ by television evangelist and ex-presidential candidate Pat Robertson. Along with a disdain for religion goes a fear of the over-mighty state. He contends that the postwar United States has been a “National Security State” and calls for a reorganisation along the lines of the Swiss cantons to take power away from the centre. “The rulers of any system cannot maintain their power without the constant creation of prohibitions that then give the state the power to imprison – or otherwise intimidate – anyone who violates any of the state’s often new-minted crimes,” he says.

He is perhaps an ironic choice for a lecture series held on university premises. A scourge of current fashions in English departments, he has said: “It is quite evident that, in the English departments of the United States, not only do they not understand imagination, but to the extent that it comes their way they hate it. And they have eliminated literature altogether from the English departments and replaced it with literary theory.”

‘I regret to report that Gore Vidal has died. He was one of my favorite authors, and a notable atheist and humanist.’ PZ Myers, biologist and blogger.

“The progressive and humanist values Gore Vidal repeatedly espoused moved the culture in a positive direction. He spent his life pointing out the places in society that needed the most attention without worrying who might be embarrassed or upset by his opinions.” -David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association.

”He’s been called an iconoclast, a provocateur, and a misanthrope, and of course Gore occasionally said things that gave humanists pause. But he was forever dedicated to the cause of enlightenment and exposed injustice and hypocrisy at every turn.”Jennifer Bardi, editor of Humanist magazine.

Comments

    • waitingfortheslingsandarrows says

      The girl that Polanski raped (Samantha Geimer) grew up to be a well adjusted mother of three who has publicly stated that all charges against the perp should be dropped. She’s also on record saying that she was not adversely affected by the experience and ‘got over it long ago’. No sane person could be in favor of rape-especially raping thirteen year old girls. But as Ms. Geimer proves this singular act of Polanski’s is not as horrendous or debilitating as some would have you think.

      • Happiestsadist says

        Yeah, it can’t be that she got sick of being hounded by Polanski defenders, or that her own healing involves getting on with her life. It’s just that being drugged and orally, anally and vaginally raped while you cry for your mother is really no big deal. See? She’s fine.

        Also, how the fuck does Samantha Geimer’s healing relate to the fact that Vidal was excusing her rape as no biggie?

        And I notice that you leave the transphobia alone entirely.

        Fanboy bullshit.

      • Sarada says

        What the fuck is wrong with you, rape apologist? You are literally defending the rape of a child, by saying “Ah well, she seems alright now, and doesn’t want to pursue an impossible legal challenge”. You’re fucked up.

  1. lpetrich says

    He also believed that FDR allowed the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor, and that GWB allowed Al Qaeda to perform the 9/11 attacks. He also had an odd sympathy with Tim McVeigh. At least Anders Breivik stated what his goals were.

    But on the positive side, he was a pathbreaker about homosexuality. In 1948, he published a novel, The City and the Pillar, whose main character was a homosexual man, and which pictured homosexuality as essentially “normal”.

    That book provoked a lot of outrage and controversy, and the New York Times refused to review it. He had to publish under pseudonyms for some years after that.

  2. agnesangst says

    I would say some of Vidal’s pov-s have been skewed and plain wrong from time to time… that being said, I also think he was an incredible individual that wasn’t afraid to speak his mind in a shocking and controversial way. He was pro-gay rights when most men and women were forced to live their lives secretly. Granted, the comment about Samantha Geimer was deplorable, however, I can’t see this man in a villainous light because of it. Great story.

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