There's a grand irony in the death last night of Gore Vidal, and I suspect he would laugh himself silly over it. A social and literary critic who was best known for his profound knowledge of just about any subject and his glorious unquenchable urge to show off that knowledge, he was perhaps best known for a bit of popular culture fluff.
My most lasting memory of him is how Lily Tomlin, as her character Ernestine the Operator, would pronounce his name: Mr. Veedull.
As the link suggests, Gore Vidal and I share something in common: a love for the one-line put down.
"The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country — and we haven't seen them since.""The genius of our ruling class is that it has kept a majority of the people from ever questioning the inequity of a system where most people drudge along, paying heavy taxes for which they get nothing in return"
And so on, ad infinitum.
In his greatest feuds, with William F. Buckley and Norman Mailer, Vidal displayed his penchant for getting under people's skins and making them make themselves look bad in the process.
That he could irritate so thoroughly a pugnacious pudwhustle like Mailer is nothing to write home about but to chigger into Buckley is tantamount to drilling into the nose on George Washington on Mount Rushmore with a spork.
For my part, I was actually partisan to Mailer, but then I've always been a sucker for the closeted queer over the openly gay man. I like Hemingway, too. As I grew older, I learned to discriminate more with respect to the actual positions a person takes and to ignore the larger-than-life antics.
I still like Hemingway, however, because I believe he had fun writing his books. I think when he finished a book was when he was the most dangerous.
For Vidal's part, I think fun was one long continuum, and that's why he lived to be 86 and neither Mailer or Hemingway did not.