Vidal's Spidery Glee

By Schama, Simon | Newsweek, August 20, 2012 | Go to article overview

Vidal's Spidery Glee


Schama, Simon, Newsweek


Byline: Simon Schama

The provocateur brilliantly skewered our self-deceptions.

"Entering, as I am, the springtime of my senility": these were the first words out of Gore Vidal's mouth, uttered in his dark mahogany patrician drawl, when he began the wickedly smart William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization at Harvard in 1991. Once published, they became one of his sharpest, shortest, and most outrageously enjoyable books, Screening History, a cameo-autobiography filtered through his encounters with the movies. Vidal never really turned autumnal, much less senile. Mellow fruits and ripeness were definitely not his thing, though toward the end, faced with what he considered the unshakably fatuous self-deceptions of a moribund American empire, his irony did develop a frosty rime at its bitter edge.

But a venomous glory it was, nonetheless, from its start to its July 31 finish at the age of 86. Perhaps it takes the passing of an ironist of Vidal's spidery glee to make us realize what a rarity that quality is in an American culture that prizes innocence above worldliness, sentimentality over sarcasm, booming testosterone over gadfly wit--and treats any invitation to national self-mockery as Treason Lite.

America, in Vidal's view, could from time to time, if properly encouraged, face dark truths about itself, and he positioned himself in a genealogy of attack-humorists that included Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken. Their mission and his, he thought, was ultimately moral, not cynical: nothing less than the saving of American democracy from the toxic waste of its own humbug. With Twain, who became something of a pariah for his ferocious public flaying of American military adventurism and water-boarding cruelties in the Philippines, Vidal felt a special kinship, and the imagined affinity was not entirely delusional.

Infuriatingly wrongheaded though he could be, and malicious, even occasionally sinister in his prejudices, his passing unquestionably leaves a huge void. For where are the satirical polemicists now when we need them? Precious though the likes of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are, their jabs and stings are confined for the most part to the merry ghetto of late-night Comedy Central. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Vidal's Spidery Glee
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.