What Makes Vidal Run
IN THOSE journals in which they appear, Gore Vidal’s essays are the intellectual equivalent of the comics. Intellectual journals are not noted for providing many laughs, but laughter is Gore Vidal’s specialty-what he plays for and what he is about. The chief ploy in a Vidal essay is to point out that the emperor has no clothes and then to go a step further and remove the poor man’s skin. The spectacle can be most amusing, assuming, of course, that it is not one’s own carcass that is being stripped. But two questions present themselves: How serious is Gore Vidal? And how seriously ought he to be taken?
As it should in a familiar essayist, Gore Vidal’s personality permeates all he writes. More than merely permeating his essays, his personality is, as we nowadays say, very much up front. His grudges, his biases, his social origins, hints about his sexual adventures, the bits of gossip he has to divulge-all come into play. Often it is less what he has to say than what he says by the way that is of greatest interest. While he claims to detest the cult of personality in writing, perhaps no other contemporary writer plays to it as thoroughly as he. Along with his lacerating wit, his splendidly fluent prose, and his wickedly funny mimicry, it is part of the attraction.
About the Author
Joseph Epstein is a regular contributor to COMMENTARY.