For the uninitiated, this long meditation by John Cotter provides both a biographical sketch and a sympathetic reading of Vidal's essays:
He loves books that seduce him, take him to new places (Vidal was an early champion of Italo Calvino and an old fan of Fredric Prokosch). Later, this curiosity about unfamiliar lands leads him deeper into his own country’s past. This love of discovery was also a hatred of boredom, of being told what he already knew he knew. Thanks, perhaps, to his alcoholic mother, Vidal developed a loathing of deliberate liars (as opposed to bullshitters and tale-spinners, like Anthony Burgess and Tennessee Williams, whom he adored for their bald blarney). Vidal’s aesthetic philosophy—to the extent such a thing can be pinned down—is causal: because he is angered by boredom, he finds solace in books that either tell him something new about this world or which sweep him into another. Because he hates lies, he champions that which is precisely observed and truly told.
His interview with The Paris Review, focusing mainly on his fiction, can be read here. Another interview, more about politics and published at The Atlantic, here. For an account of Vidal's limitations, who better to turn to than Hitch, with whom he had a very public falling out? Christopher found Gore's post 9/11 politics particularly nasty, and his public pronouncements especially lacking in grace:
Rounding off his interview, an obviously shocked Mr. Hari tried for a change of pace and asked Vidal if he felt like saying anything about his recently deceased rivals, John Updike, William F. Buckley Jr., and Norman Mailer. He didn’t manage to complete his question before being interrupted. "Updike was nothing. Buckley was nothing with a flair for publicity. Mailer was a flawed publicist, too, but at least there were signs every now and then of a working brain." One sadly notices, as with the foregoing barking and effusions, the utter want of any grace or generosity, as well as the entire absence of any wit or profundity. Sarcastic, tired flippancy has stolen the place of the first, and lugubrious resentment has deposed the second. Oh, just in closing, then, since Vidal was in London, did he have a word to say about England? "This isn’t a country, it’s an American aircraft carrier." Good grief.
(Image via Wikimedia Commons)