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Gore Vidal: a celebrity, a life writ large

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“In the end, he will be remembered as much for his stints on Johnny Carson as for his writings,” says Dr. Ben Agger, director of the Center for Theory at the University of Texas, Arlington’s, Sociology Department. “He realized that this is not a nation of readers, and perhaps he didn't take academic pedigree seriously because of this. Most of his writings won't endure, and he will be remembered as a personality – a fate which, I suspect, he would have anticipated.”

Professor Agger notes that what made Vidal so American is that he didn’t attend college, after having left the military and been offered admission to Harvard. “We allow our intellectuals to be self-educated, as Vidal was,” he says.

“His greatest work was, perhaps, his life itself – an American epic which sprawled beyond literature to encompass Hollywood, Broadway, Washington and the Bay of Naples, with incidental roles for almost every major American cultural and political figure of the 20th century," wrote the British newspaper the Guardian. For who else “gave JFK the idea for the Peace Corps, was called in to rescue the script of Ben-Hur, ran unsuccessfully for both Congress and the Senate, and got into a fistfight with Norman Mailer?"

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