Sad news reached us earlier today about the passing of American author Gore Vidal. Not only was he prolific in his writing, producing countless novels, screenplays and letters throughout his 86 years, but having practically invented the soundbite Gore also entertained us with public fighting on an intellectual level. We speak to Dazed's books editor, Stuart Hammond, about Gore's impact on modern literature...
Dazed Digital: The world seems to have lost quite a few literary giants of late…
Stuart Hammond: Oh man I know. Bellow, Vonnegut, Mailer, Updike, and now Vidal. The big guns of the late twentieth century Great American Novel have just about all bitten the dust now, and it sucks. Even David Foster Wallace couldn't bare to stick around until he was properly top of the pile. And what are we left with: Jonathan Franzen? I'd take Bellow or Vonnegut over him any day.
DD: What would you say are were his biggest accomplishments, what defines his importance?
Stuart Hammond: Vidal has just always been one of those very few fiercely intelligent, dead stubborn, constantly angry and gloriously bitchy thorns in the side of the American establishment. The world literally needs voices like his: always up for a ruck, and never less than perfectly, elegantly eloquent. He knew what he was going on about, and he liked going on about it. His death's really got me to thinking about how few of the big American novelists these days really play much of a part in their political culture. Not like him, anyway. No one's even close.
DD: How instrumental was he in giving the gay scene in America a voice?
Stuart Hammond: His novel 'The City and the Pillar' was hugely important: he brought being gay right out into the open, in thousands of comfortable American living rooms, all the way back in 1948. He's always been one of the properly huge profile gay voices in America: without him, that whole scene would be slightly worse off, I think. The whole world's slightly worse off without him in it, is the thing. Same goes for Vonnegut. Bring them back, science!
DD: Do you have a favourite quote of his?
Stuart Hammond: Sheesh, there are a lot, he was a master of the pithy quote. The spats between him and Truman Capote and Mailer are the funniest: like when Mailer punched him at a party and Vidal said "Once again, words fail Norman Mailer." The quote I most overuse, which Vidal put me onto, is actually from the old American humorist H.L Mencken. Vidal had this astonishing correspondence with the Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, while McVeigh was on death row. It makes amazing reading, truly. McVeigh signs off one of his letters (the last one I think?) with this Mencken quote: "Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats." It's a beauty, that one. I say that a lot.
DD: What three Vidal books should we read?
Stuart Hammond: I'm not an authority on this by any means, but the one with the McVeigh letters in is a really incredible book of essays, called 'Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace'. I really enjoyed his recent memoir 'Point to Point Navigation', too: loads of dead fun reminiscing about the glamour-times, ruthless bitching, tender lovey stuff about his late partner, and shit-tons of name-dropping poshos and celebs and royalty (turns out he loved a bit of that). I think one ought to read Myra Breckinridge, I'm told, but I'm afraid I'm fucked if I have. Will do, one of these days. Rest in Peace Gore, is all. He ruled.
Photos from Istancool by Dave Bennett