Writers, Activists Reflect on Vidal Legacy

David Barsamian, the founder and director of Alternative Radio, once asked Gore Vidal how he wanted to be remembered. “Anybody who is stupid enough to want to be remembered deserves to be forgotten right now,” quipped the prominent writer.

Gore Vidal in 1977 at his home in Los Angeles. (Photo credit: AP)

The 86-year-old icon passed away on July 31. Whether he wanted to be remembered or not, he has made an indelible mark on America’s cultural and political landscape. Barsamian considers him a singular figure who, “coming from a background of privilege and power, nevertheless challenged many of the prevailing notions about Washington’s intentions and actions domestically and internationally.”

I asked Barsamian about Vidal’s legacy. “He was a student of history and incorporated his vast knowledge into a series of best-selling novels as well as political books. Referring to the U.S., he coined the phrase ‘the United States of Amnesia.’ He was deeply troubled by the erosion of freedom at home and the expansion of American imperialism around the world. He saw the two joined at the hip. To call him acerbic would be an understatement. He was, as they say in cricket, an all-arounder, someone who could play many positions and assume multiple roles.”

Vidal was a prolific writer, essayist, playwright, screenwriter, actor, and activist. He was also known for his wit:

“Fifty percent of people won’t vote, and fifty percent don’t read newspapers. I hope it’s the same fifty percent.”

“It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”

“Never have children, only grandchildren.”

“Our form of democracy is bribery, on the highest scale.”

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

Novelist Nancy Kricorian remembers how she was first introduced to Vidal’s work. “When I was 16, I babysat for a European academic couple who was living in Watertown while the husband did a post-doctoral fellowship at MIT. It was in their home that I discovered a tattered paperback copy of Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge, which I furtively read after the toddlers were tucked into their beds. Having been raised in the puritanical Armenian Evangelical Church, my eyebrows were up to my hairline as I turned the pages.”

Kricorian continued, “From this first introduction to Gore Vidal’s work to seeing a Broadway revival of his play ‘The Best Man’ only a few months ago, I have long admired the audacity and wit of this American iconoclast. In recent years, I have been inspired by his acerbic denunciations of American imperial adventures.”

Writer Ara Baliozian described Vidal as “brilliant, insightful, sharp, eminently readable, and thoroughly anti-establishment!”

Scholar and activist Dikran Kaligian noted, “Gore Vidal’s publications and speeches rejected the mainstream frame of discussion whether it was regarding Vietnam or the Cold War, Iraq or social justice. His novels looked at key periods in American history from a different perspective, reminding us of the progressive and left-wing movements that have always been important players in this country, but which have been whited-out of history books and current media reportage.”

Kaligian, who is the chair of the Armenians and Progressive Politics Conference to be held on Sept. 28-29 at Columbia University, added, “The issues of human rights and self-determination, historical injustice, and social democracy, which are so important to the Armenian people, were always prominent in Gore Vidal’s writings. He was a true public intellectual and will be sorely missed.”

Barsamian concurred. “We shan’t see the likes of him again very soon.”

Dr. Khatchig Mouradian

Dr. Khatchig Mouradian

Khatchig Mouradian is the Armenian and Georgian Area Specialist at the Library of Congress and a lecturer in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University. He also serves as Co-Principal Investigator of the project on Armenian Genocide Denial at the Global Institute for Advanced Studies, New York University. Mouradian is the author of The Resistance Network: The Armenian Genocide and Humanitarianism in Ottoman Syria, 1915-1918, published in 2021. The book has received the Syrian Studies Association “Honourable Mention 2021.” In 2020, Mouradian was awarded a Humanities War & Peace Initiative Grant from Columbia University. He is the co-editor of a forthcoming book on late-Ottoman history, and the editor of the peer-reviewed journal The Armenian Review.
Dr. Khatchig Mouradian

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