Gore Vidal died yesterday.
In obituaries which appeared over that last 24 hours, he’s been described as a writer and protagonist.
He ran for office (losing both times).
And, he provoked — and he certainly did that far better than most.
Like his more recent now deceased contemporaries Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, and William F. Buckley and in the mold of great thinkers of yesteryear such as H.L. Mencken, Upton Sinclair, and even Mark Twain, he was a fixture on the intellectual circuit. He basked in the spotlight in a time when writers were afforded the same celebrity as rock stars. One colleague pined, “he was the man who knew everyone.”
Vidal was a wildly controversial figure, no doubt. Audiences — those who cared enough about society and culture to follow his ceaseless parade of provocation, now increasingly dissolved in what’s spawned into a grotesque 140-character Twitterized world — would describe his ideas as eccentric and hopelessly out of touch.
As if that’s a “bad thing.”
To the contrary. We need more eccentrics. We need more thinkers who are out of touch. And, we need more Gore Vidals. And sadly, we now have one less.
The intent of a great writer and meaningful prose should not be — to be right all the time. Writing, discussion, debate, inquiry, and ultimately provocation is not about prim and proper conformity to expectations and comfort zones. Indeed, great writers should shun such a horrifying prospect. You will forgive me for admitted bias, but whatever inside the box “is,” the thinker should be standing on the outside and perhaps as far away from the middle as possible. And few stood any further from the apex of old-fashioned traditions as Gore Vidal.
Indeed, great writer does not necessarily implant what one must think. But he (or she) should inspire one TO THINK.
There is a profound difference. And no one understood that different better than Vidal and his fellow lions of intellect.
Gore Vidal did plenty of thinking, urging others to contemplate their own existence, their own sense of right and wrong, during an 86-year adventure, ultimately a fruitful life filled with the handiwork of books, plays , articles, essays , debate appearances, speeches, and participation in all forums which encouraged the free exchange of ideas.
This has been a tough year for writers, no doubt. Eight months ago, we lost Christopher Hitchens, a thinker of extraordinary immensity. Now, we have lost another.
Although I never met Vidal, I think of myself as someone who knew him — through his words and ideas. Perhaps his greatest contribution and of those like him was to inspire others to carry on and push the envelope of ideas, to challenge conventionalism, and blaze new paths towards enlightenment.
In your memory, Mr. Vidal. Thank you.