Yesterday one of our greatest twentieth century culture purveyors passed on.
Gore Vidal was 86 years old when he died.
Along with contemporaries such as Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, James Baldwin, Merce Cunningham, Tennesse Williams, John Cage and countless others, he helped shaped not only the modern American landscape, but also the way we perceived various media. In challenging sexual and gender theories and beliefs of the time, he helped to forge free reign of imagining new ways of what it could be (or in some cases not be) homosexual. A cultural critic, journalist, playwright, activist and sometimes actor, Vidal pushed the limits of societal constructs and challenged some of the best minds of the time.
The New York Times refused to review five of Vidal's novels after his forthright depiction of homosexual love in his 1948 novel "The City and the Pillar". He vehemently denied that there was such a thing as gay culture or even a homosexual identity, especially and even urgently, how they relate to the feminist situation in a time where a person could be institutionalized for even uttering those words... much less introducing a dialog around such subject matter:
" Although there is no such thing as a homosexual or a heterosexual person, there are, of course, homo- and heterosexual acts. Unhappily, it has suited the designers of the moral life of the American republic to pretend that there are indeed two teams, one evil and sick and dangerous, and one good and normal and--that word!--straight. This is further complicated by our society's enduring hatred of women, a legacy from the Old Testament, enriched, in due course, by St. Paul. As a result, it is an article of faith among simple folk that any man who performs a sexual act with another man is behaving just like a woman--the fallen Eve--and so he is doubly evil. "
My personal favorite work was his adaptation for the silver screen Tenessee William's "Suddenly Last Summer" starring the indelible Elizabeth Taylor, where he added in spicy dialog as well as mind blowing snippets of arduous soliloquies shedding light on the cultural perception of homosexuals (and self-empowered women) as monsters, articulately and ingeniously inspired my Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein".
Gore Vidal leaves a prolific legacy in his work as a cultural critic and observer of the modern, American human condition. He is the last of the last of the greatest gatekeepers of knowledge in this regard and we mourn his passing with the weighty awareness that there is no one as clever, controversial, inflammatory and profoundly correct that will be stepping up to sit at his throne.
Mr. Vidal's partner Howard Austen, whom he became involved with cira 1950, resided with him in the virtually inaccessible Villa La Rondinaia Ravello, Italy in practical seclusion during later years. Until 2003, when, from his deathbed, Mr. Austen posed the famed rhetorical question:
“Didn’t it go by awfully fast?”
With all the greatest of love and respect,