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The Wit of Gore Vidal


Eugene Luther Gore Vidal (1925 – 2012) was an American writer born into a political family with a grandfather who had served as United States senator. Vidal’s principal subject was the history of the United States and its degeneration into an empire. His essays were published in The Nation, the New Statesman, the New York Review of Books, and Esquire magazines. In his novels, Vidal explored the nature of corruption. His third novel, The City and the Pillar (1948), was considered offensive by conservative book reviewers because of its presentation of a male homosexual relationship. Vidal also wrote historical novels and social satire and his work displays a sharp wit, as the following small sample of quotes reveal:

'The idea of a good society is something you do not need a religion and eternal punishment to buttress; you need a religion if you are terrified of death.’

'The unfed mind devours itself.'

'You can't really succeed with a novel anyway; they're too big. It's like city planning. You can't plan a perfect city because there's too much going on that you can't take into account. You can, however, write a perfect sentence now and then. I have.’

'How marvellous books are, crossing worlds and centuries, defeating ignorance and, finally, cruel time itself.'

'Write what you know will always be excellent advice for those who ought not to write at all. Write what you think, what you imagine, what you suspect!'

'Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half.'

'I have always regarded as a stroke of good fortune that I was not born or brought up in a small American town; they may be the backbone of the nation, but they are also the backbone of ignorance, bigotry, and boredom, all in vast quantities.'

'Write something, even if it's just a suicide note.'

'A narcissist is someone better looking than you are.'

'Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.'

'There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.'

'As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.'

'No good deed goes unpunished.’

'The genius of our ruling class is that it has kept a majority of the people from ever questioning the inequity of a system where most people drudge along paying heavy taxes for which they get nothing in return.'

'We are the United States of Amnesia, we learn nothing because we remember nothing.'

'Today's public figures can no longer write their own speeches or books, and there is some evidence that they can't read them either. '

'I sometimes think it is because they are so bad at expressing themselves verbally that writers take to pen and paper in the first place.’

'Ayn Rand's “philosophy” is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society.... To justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil.'

'[Professor] Frank recalled my idle remark some years ago: 'Never pass up the opportunity to have sex or appear on television.' Advice I would never give today in the age of AIDS and its television equivalent Fox News.'

'Actually, there is no such thing as a homosexual person, any more than there is such a thing as a heterosexual person. The words are adjectives describing sexual acts, not people. The sexual acts are entirely normal; if they were not, no one would perform them.'

'It is not enough merely to win; others must lose.'

'Little Bush says we are at war, but we are not at war because to be at war Congress has to vote for it. He says we are at war on terror, but that is a metaphor, though I doubt if he knows what that means. It's like having a war on dandruff, it's endless and pointless.'

'The important thing is not the object of love, but the emotion itself.'

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