August 2nd, 2012
Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal: The Quotable American

‘There is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.’
— Gore Vidal, 1925-2012

Gore Vidal, 1948 | Photo: Carl Van Vechten | Library of Congress

Gore Vidal, 1948 | Photo: Carl Van Vechten | Library of Congress

BY TOM McNAMARA

In 1960, there were buttons made that read: GORE VIDAL FOR CONGRESS. That kind of red and blue, postwar colored typeface you’d see for politicians like Nixon and Kennedy–or anybody running for office then. Vidal was more Kennedy than Nixon. But, he was also an outsider.

No, Vidal wasn’t Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. How could he be? Jefferson Smith was the head of the ‘Boy Rangers’ from some unnamed Western state: plain spoken, naive enough to believe in his fellow man and woman. Vidal was anyone but Mr. Smith: a gay celebrity writer, one of the cultural elite, and a man that had an answer for everything and everyone. He once said, ‘There is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.’

What he really believed was that he was as infallible as the Pope.

Even running on the Democratic ticket in an all-Republican district in upstate New York, Vidal didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. He knew what he was doing. Because it’s what he always had done and kept on doing until the end: stirring the pot.

Vidal lost the election, but he was in the limelight soaking it up: Kennedy and former President Truman even campaigned for him. (In fact, he won more votes in his district than Kennedy that year.)

Vidal would go on to write more, turn up on TV now and then, and run unsuccessfully for the Senate in California. He was also just there, letting us know he was still around. Because Vidal always had an opinion for us, even if no one was asking.

In that way, he kept us honest.

* * *

Here’s a list of Gore Vidal: The Quotable American (by way of Flavorwire):

1. “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”
2. “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn.”
3. “First coffee, then a bowel movement. Then the Muse joins me.” – from The Paris Review Interviews: Writers at Work, interview by Gerald Clarke, 1974
4. “Write what you know will always be excellent advice for those who ought not to write at all.” – from The Second American Revolution, 1983
5. “…American society, literary or lay, tends to be humorless. What other culture could have produced someone like [Ernest] Hemingway and not seen the joke?” – from United States – Essays 1952-1992

6. “To speak today of a famous novelist is like speaking of a famous cabinetmaker or speedboat designer. Adjective is inappropriate to noun.” – from Screening History
7. “The more money an American accumulates the less interesting he himself becomes.” – from Homage to Daniel Shays: Collected Essays
8. “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.” – from The Sunday Times Magazine, 1973
9. “Andy Warhol is the only genius I’ve ever known with an I.Q. of 60″
10. “I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.” – from Homage to Daniel Shays: Collected Essays, 1972

11. “The four most beautiful words in our common language: I told you so.”
12. “Sex is. There is nothing more to be done about it. Sex builds no roads, writes no novels, and sex certainly gives no meaning to anything in life but itself.”
13. “You hear all this whining going on, ‘Where are our great writers?’ The thing I might feel doleful about is: Where are the readers?” – from Esquire, 2008
14. “Never pass up a chance to have sex or appear on television.”
15. “A narcissist is someone better looking than you are.” – from The New York Times, 1981

16. “History is nothing but gossip about the past, with the hope that it might be true.” – from Butt, 2007
17. “The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country — and we haven’t seen them since.” – from Matters of Fact and Fiction: Essays 1973 – 1976
18. “Celebrities are invariably celebrity-mad, just as liars always believe liars.” – from Palimpsest: A Memoir
19. “I do many different things rather better than most people do one thing.” – from The Paris Review Interviews: Writers at Work, interview by Gerald Clarke, 1974
20. “The usual question everybody asks now is: What are you proudest of, Mr. Vidal, of all your great achievements? To which I answer: ‘Despite intense provocations over the course of what is becoming a rather long life, I have never killed anybody. That is my greatest achievement.’ A little negative maybe, but that’s it.” – from Vanity Fair, 2009

  • RWordplay

    The man was certainly amusing, but also, so damn frighteningly engaged. He made me wonder if the two are not inexplicably related. Like Wilde, the more superficial the man’s observation, the more truth they seemed to contain.
    He may have been the last of his kind, and we’re the poorer for it.

    Thank you for this list, there isn’t a quote on it that isn’t worth stealing.

Salinger

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