Simon Kelner: Our mundane world will miss that Vidal spark

Kelner's view

Related Topics

What would Gore Vidal have made of the fact that he was trending on Twitter yesterday? He would surely have been rather pleased: as an arch communicator, and the master of the epigram, he would have recognised the power, relevance and reach of Twitter.

Of course, he would have publicly dismissed it as the solipsistic burbling of a million fools, but many of Vidal's more memorable quotes from a lifetime of political and social commentary were within the parameter of 140 characters. One by one, they were quoted on Twitter yesterday.

Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little. The four most beautiful words in our common language: I told you so. I never miss a chance to have sex or appear on television. A good deed never goes unpunished. The more money an American accumulates, the less interesting he becomes. And so on.

Then there were the people who said that they'd been entranced – or insulted – by him, or once had a drunken encounter with him in Ravello, the magnificent hilltop town in southern Italy where he spent his latter years. (I don't think it was that difficult to run into Vidal there. I have only once been to Ravello, and on my first day there, I saw him in the main square having breakfast with the actor Woody Harrelson.)

Following the recent death of the writer and journalist Christopher Hitchens, Vidal's demise means there is now a considerable gap in our cultural landscape. In truth, Vidal had not said anything of real substance or perspicacity for some time, and some of his pronouncements post-September 11 would have registered on the barmy-ometer. But he always demanded attention, largely because his was an unusual voice in an era when so much public discourse is mundane and antiseptic.

Quite simply, we don't seem to breed figures like Vidal any more. Who is the heir to his tradition of trenchant commentary? Who will provide intelligent and acerbic insight into the political mores of the day? Where will the bite come from? There are so few credible anti-establishment figures in our lives – even the editor of Private Eye, a satirical and ostensibly subversive magazine, can be found in the Royal Box at Wimbledon – and should someone in public life make an off-colour remark that can in any way be deemed offensive, then all manner of opprobrium descends on him or her.

Judging by recent events, it won't be long before ill-judged comments or a wild accusation become a matter for the police. In the current climate, Vidal's statement that the Bush administration were in on the September 11 attacks would probably result in a visit from the plods.

In recent years, Hitchens and Vidal, once mutually admiring friends, fell out. Hitchens dismissed him as a crackpot, and Vidal said a few years ago: "Hitchens identified himself for many years as the heir to me... Unfortunately for him, I didn't die." And now they're both dead. I have a feeling that we will search in vain for the pungent combination of fearlessness and erudition they embodied.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The plan could lead to up to 15,000 people being operated on annually  

The obesity crisis affects the whole of Europe... apart from France

Rosie Millard
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'