Gore Vidal, who died last week aged 86 was one of the most obnoxious public figures in the English-speaking world. He was predictably mourned in liberal circles where any denigration of Israel, the United States, American capitalism, the Pentagon, conservatism, conventional mores, or the accepted behaviour of the majority in the West is welcomed as liberative, insightful, or at least refreshing controversy.
In the more energetic of these precincts there was some effort to portray him as a brilliant writer who made a lasting contribution to the literature, and a piercing wit and scintillating salonnier. He was, in fact, profoundly insufferable and deeply maladjusted.
He was the apogee and caricature of a number of notorious types, fused in one ambulatory, humanoid sociopath.. His best-known works, Burr, Lincoln, and Myra Breckinridge, (on the basis of the first two he styled himself America's "biographer"), were rubbish, the historic novels were turgid and effectively pointless, and Myra was pornography of no particular merit even of that genre.
He was capable of clever and clear writing, and some of his essays were reasonably interesting and crisply turned out. But his claim to noteworthiness rested on his personality. He was the effete snob affecting charter membership in the patriciate; the poseur at intellectual populism while disdaining the masses who were the unwary and ungrateful beneficiaries of his acidulous solicitude; the nihilistic iconoclast despising all beliefs, ambitions and attitudes commonly embraced, such as patriotism, religion, legality, most notions of family, conventional romance and sex; and most often, he was the ultimate bitchy pansexual, or more likely homosexual.
He set out with an implacable will to be obnoxious, and at this he was an over-achiever. He was almost incapable of being civil, much less generous, though he cultivated a social self-assurance by cozying up to the sort of prominent women who for various reasons seek a diverting walker, like Jackie Onassis and Princess Margaret. Vidal was almost constantly and uniformly obstreperous, and attracted little of the convivial nostalgia generated by Christopher Hitchens or Norman Mailer, who were better writers, were not complete cynics, and could retain normal civilized, and often spirited relationships with a variety of people.
Vidal could be relied upon to be the evocator and voice of almost every fashionable racial, sectarian, social, or political form of bigotry, an amplifier of almost any group defamation, blood libel, or imputation of conspiracy and wickedness. He was one of the most insidious and relentless anti-semites in English-language literary circles for decades, and claimed to believe that United States public policy was dictated by self-serving Jewish crooks, starting with J.P. Morgan, who, of course, was not Jewish and had few Jewish associations. Israel was an infestation of shysters, warmongers, and murderers, who stole their country and lived from the wages of oppression and racism. All American supporters of Israel were traitors.
No unfortunate event in modern American history could have failed to be a criminal conspiracy staged by those who were apparently most riled by it, while the ostensibly guilty were mere fellow victims of those in the line of fire. The attack on Pearl Harbor was well-known in advance to Roosevelt, (which as I once had the pleasure of pointing out to him leaves unexplained Roosevelt's orders, via Admiral Stark, to put torpedo nets out around anchored warships and keep constant air patrols 250 miles out from Oahu in all directions during daylight hours, orders that were not followed).
President Truman ignored Japanese efforts to surrender, so he could have the pleasure of dropping the atomic bombs; (the Japanese rejected the request for their surrender of the Big Three at Potsdam in July, 1945). The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were in fact, (of course), conceived and orchestrated by the defense establishment in league with the most sinister elements of Wall street.
Vidal obviously had no evidence for any of his deranged allegations, and carried to Goebbels-like extremes the po-faced practice of representing the absence of evidence as indicative, not of any possibility that the accused was not guilty, but rather of the accused parties' fiendish cleverness in hiding the evidence, since their guilt was obvious without evidence, motive, or any plausible connection to the offense. He wasn't a controversialist, he was a loopy, and at times almost psychotic myth-maker.
Gore Vidal candidly disliked or hated almost everyone and despised almost all conventional activity and was ambivalent about the rest. He did not seek or appreciate normal civilized human relationships and would, I am confident, welcome these comments as a remembrance from me. It was his honour to be objectively loathsome and a constant generator of ulcerous abrasions and provocations, cloaked only in what he haphazardly held to be the mystique of complete cynicism and the pleasure of uniform, equal-opportunity mockery. He was so personally abrasive and unattractive, it was not energizing to hate him, but, on the basis of my mercifully slight acquaintance with him, I did despise him, though I admit his malignant vivacity of mind at times.
Where he did attain a certain distinction was in this seamless and uninterrupted insistence on being unrelievedly objectionable; a life-commitment he made and adhered to with the will and fidelity of a sacerdotal oath. In his perversity he did become almost majestic, and so I salute him. And some of his written barbs were lively and will be cited for a time. But he was so hackneyed and twisted and silly and deluded, I cannot even claim to be pleased that he is dead. I suspect that he will not be missed, nor his death much lamented or even noticed by anyone. This, in his derangement, would please him, and I do not begrudge him that pleasure; I modestly share in it.