Gore Vidal

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Happiness is a matter of one's most ordinary everyday mode of consciousness being busy and lively and unconcerned with self. To be damned is for one's ordinary everyday mode of consciousness to be unremitting agonizing preoccupation with self.
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I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.

Gore Vidal (born 1925-10-03) is an American author.


Homage to Daniel Shays: Collected Essays (1972)

Random House/Vintage, 1973, ISBN 0-394-71950-6

  • I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.
    • "Writing Plays for Television," New World Writing," #10 (1956)
  • The theater needs continual reminders that there is nothing more debasing than the work of those who do well what is not worth doing at all.
    • "Love Love Love," Partisan Review (Spring 1959)
  • At any given moment, public opinion is a chaos of superstition, misinformation, and prejudice.
    • "Sex and the Law," Partisan Review (Summer 1965)
  • The more money an American accumulates the less interesting he himself becomes.

Matters of Fact and Fiction (1978)

  • In any case, rather like priests who have forgotten the meaning of the prayers they chant, we shall go on for quite a long time talking of books and writing books, pretending all the while not to notice that the church is empty and the parishioners have gone elsewhere to attend other gods, perhaps in silence or with new words.
    • "French Letters: Theories of the New Novel" (1967)
  • that peculiarly American religion, President-worship.
  • The period of Prohibition — called the noble experiment — brought on the greatest breakdown of law and order the United States has known until today. I think there is a lesson here. Do not regulate the private morals of people. Do not tell them what they can take or not take. Because if you do, they will become angry and antisocial and they will get what they want from criminals who are able to work in perfect freedom because they have paid off the police.
    • "The State of the Union" (1975)
  • The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country — and we haven't seen them since.
    • "The State of the Union" (1975)
  • Big oil, big steel, big agriculture avoid the open marketplace. Big corporations fix prices among themselves and thus drive out of business the small entrepreneur. Also, in their conglomerate form, the huge corporations have begun to challenge the very legitimacy of the state.
    • "The State of the Union" (1978)

The Second American Revolution (1983)

  • It is reasonable to assume that, by and large, what is not read now will not be read, ever. It is also reasonable to assume that practically nothing that is read now will be read later. Finally, it is not too farfetched to imagine a future in which novels are not read at all.
  • In any case, write what you know will always be excellent advice to those who ought not to write at all.
    • "Thomas Love Peacock: The Novel of Ideas" (1980)
  • Television is a great leveler. You always end up sounding like the people who ask the questions.
    • "Sex Is Politics" (1979)
  • Religions are manipulated in order to serve those who govern society and not the other way around.
    • "Sex Is Politics" (1979)
  • 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.
    • "Sex Is Politics" (1979)
  • The reason no one has yet been able to come up with a good word to describe the homosexualist (sometimes known as gay, fag, queer, etc.) is because he does not exist. The human race is divided into male and female. Many human beings enjoy sexual relations with their own sex, many don't; many respond to both. This plurality is the fact of our nature and not worth fretting about.
    • "Sex Is Politics" (1979)
The average "educated" American has been made to believe that, somehow, the United States must lead the world even though hardly anyone has any information at all about those countries we are meant to lead. Worse, we have very little information about our own country and its past...

At Home (1988)

  • My father had a deep and lifelong contempt for politicians in general ("They tell lies," he used to say with wonder, "even when they don't have to").
    • "On Flying" (1985)
  • The last best hope on earth, two trillion dollars in debt, is spinning out of control, and all we can do is stare at a flickering cathode-ray tube as Ollie "answers" questions on TV while the press, resolutely irrelevant as ever, asks politicians if they have committed adultery. From V-J Day 1945 to this has been, my fellow countrymen, a perfect nightmare.
  • In a nation that has developed to a high art advertising, the creator who refuses to advertise himself is immediately suspected of having no product worth selling.
  • The average "educated" American has been made to believe that, somehow, the United States must lead the world even though hardly anyone has any information at all about those countries we are meant to lead. Worse, we have very little information about our own country and its past. That is why it is not really possible to compare a writer like Howells with any living American writer because Howells thought that it was a good thing to know as much as possible about his own country as well as other countries while our writers today, in common with the presidents and paint manufacturers, live in a present without past among signs whose meanings are uninterpretable.
    • "William Dean Howells" (1983)
  • I suspect that one of the reasons we create fiction is to make sex exciting.
  • Class is the most difficult subject for American writers to deal with as it is the most difficult for the English to avoid.
  • I regard monotheism as the greatest disaster ever to befall the human race. I see no good in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam — good people, yes, but any religion based on a single... well, frenzied and virulent god, is not as useful to the human race as, say, Confucianism, which is not a religion but an ethical and educational system that has worked pretty well for twenty-five hundred years. So you see I am ecumenical in my dislike for the Book. But like it or not, the Book is there; and because of it people die; and the world is in danger.
    • Appendix

A View from the Diner's Club (1991)

  • Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates.
    • "Gods and Greens" (1989)
  • Think of the earth as a living organism that is being attacked by billions of bacteria whose numbers double every forty years. Either the host dies, or the virus dies, or both die.
    • "Gods and Greens" (1989)
  • The corporate grip on opinion in the United States is one of the wonders of the Western World. No First World country has ever managed to eliminate so entirely from its media all objectivity — much less dissent.
    • "Cue the Green God, Ted" (1991).

Screening History (1992)

Harvard University Press, 1992, ISBN 0-674-79587-3

  • To speak today of a famous novelist is like speaking of a famous cabinetmaker or speedboat designer. Adjective is inappropriate to noun.
    • Ch. 1: The Prince and the Pauper, pp.2-3
  • Half the American people never read a newspaper. Half never vote for President — the same half?
    • Ch. 1: The Prince and the Pauper, p. 5
    • Sometimes quoted as: Half of the American people never read a newspaper. Half never voted for president. One hopes it is the same half.
  • Lonely children often have imaginary playmates but I was never lonely; rather, I was solitary, and wanted no company at all other than books and movies, and my own imagination.
    • Ch. 1: The Prince and the Pauper, p. 23
  • Apparently, a concern for others is self-love at its least attractive, while greed is now a sign of the higher altruism. But then to reverse, periodically, the meanings of words is a very small price to pay for the freedom not only to conform but to consume.
    • Ch. 1: The Prince and the Pauper, p. 24
  • I shared, naturally, in that hatred of organized labor which has been the one political constant in my lifetime, culminating in Ronald Reagan's most popular gesture, the smashing of the air-controllers' union. No alternative view of organized labor has ever come to us through the popular media. If labor leaders were not crooks like Jimmy Hoffa, they were in the pay of Moscow.
    • Ch. 2: Fire Over England, p. 34
  • It is notable how little empathy is cultivated or valued in our society. I put this down to our traditional racism and obsessive sectarianism. Even so, one would think that we would be encouraged to project ourselves into the character of someone of a different race or class, if only to be able to control him. But no effort is made.
    • Ch. 2: Fire Over England, p. 49
  • By and large, serious fiction was the work of victims who portrayed victims for an audience of victims who, it was oddly assumed, would want to see their lives realistically portrayed.
    • Ch. 3: Lincoln, p. 78

The Decline and Fall of the American Empire (1992)

  • Every four years the naive half who vote are encouraged to believe that if we can elect a really nice man or woman President everything will be all right. But it won't be. Any individual who is able to raise $25 million to be considered presidential is not going to be much use to the people at large. He will represent oil, or aerospace, or banking, or whatever moneyed entities are paying for him. Certainly he will never represent the people of the country, and they know it. Hence, the sense of despair throughout the land as incomes fall, businesses fail and there is no redress.
  • 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.

Preface to The City and the Pillar and Seven Early Stories (1995)

  • I have begun writing what I have said I'd never write, a memoir ("I am not my own subject," I used to say with icy superiority). [1]

Palimpsest, a memoir (1995)

Viking/Penguin, 1996, ISBN 0-14-026089-7

  • Anais Nin gave me my most original, or so I thought, creation.

    As I read Incest, I realized that something which I had always taken to be unique, the voice of Myra Breckinridge, was actually that of Anaïs in all the flowing megalomania of the diaries. Of course, I had not read the diaries then, but even so, if only for that one thundering voice, I am forever in her debt.

    • Ch. 7: "Today My Nerves Are Shattered. But I Am Indomitable!," pp. 107-108
  • I used to be able to summon up scenes at will, but now aging memory is so busy weeding its own garden that, promiscuously, it pulls up roses as well as crabgrass.
    • Ch. 12: The Guest of the Blue Nuns, p. 162
  • Celebrities are invariably celebrity-mad, just as liars always believe liars.
    • Ch. 18: To Do Well What Should Not Be Done at All, p. 311

Newspaper and magazine articles; speeches and lectures

  • The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism. From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three anti-human religions have evolved — Judaism, Christianity, Islam. These are sky-god religions. They are, literally, patriarchal — God is the Omnipotent Father — hence the loathing of women for 2,000 years in those countries afflicted by the sky-god and his earthly male delegates. The sky-god is a jealous god, of course. He requires total obedience from everyone on earth, as he is in place not for just one tribe but for all creation. Those who would reject him must be converted or killed for their own good. Ultimately, totalitarianism is the only sort of politics that can truly serve the sky-god's purpose.
  • Congress no longer declares war or makes budgets. So that's the end of the constitution as a working machine.
    • "America First? America Last? America at Last?," Lowell Lecture, Harvard University (1992-04-20)
  • Happily for the busy lunatics who rule over us, we are permanently the United States of Amnesia. We learn nothing because we remember nothing.
    • "The State of the Union," The Nation (2004-09-13)
  • We have ceased to be a nation under law but instead a homeland where the withered Bill of Rights, like a dead trumpet vine, clings to our pseudo-Roman columns.
    • "The State of the Union," The Nation (2004-09-13)

Interviews and profiles; remarks cited by others

  • Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.
    • Quoted in The Sunday Times Magazine, London (1973-09-16)
  • Envy is the central fact of American life.
    • "Gore Vidal," interview by Gerald Clarke (1974), The Paris Review Interviews: Writers at Work, 5th series (1981)
  • First coffee, then a bowel movement. Then the Muse joins me.
    • "Gore Vidal," interview by Gerald Clarke (1974), The Paris Review Interviews: Writers at Work, 5th series (1981)
  • It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.
  • I can understand companionship. I can understand bought sex in the afternoon, but I cannot understand the love affair.
    • Quoted in profile by Martin Amis, "Mr. Vidal: Unpatriotic Gore" (1977) in The Moronic Inferno (1987)
  • As one gets older, litigation replaces sex.
    • Quoted in profile by Martin Amis, "Mr. Vidal: Unpatriotic Gore" (1977) in The Moronic Inferno (1987)
  • A narcissist is someone better looking than you are.
    • Quoted in "Vidal: 'I'm at the Top of a Very Tiny Heap,'" profile by Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times (1981-03-12), Late City Final Edition, Section C, Page 17, Column 1
  • Never pass up a chance to have sex or appear on television.
    • Quoted by Bob Chieger, Was It Good For You, Too? (1983)
  • We're supposed to procreate and society, god knows, is ferocious on the subject. Heterosexuality is considered such a great and natural good that you have to execute people and put them in prison if they don't practice this glorious act.
    • "American psyche", extract from interview with Anthony Clare on BBC Radio 4, "In the Psychiatrist's Chair"; published in The Independent (2000-10-08)
  • We should stop going around babbling about how we're the greatest democracy on earth, when we're not even a democracy. We are a sort of militarised republic. The founding fathers hated two things, one was monarchy and the other was democracy, they gave us a constitution that saw to it we will have neither. I don't know how wise they were.
  • Lennon was somebody who was a born enemy of those who govern the United States. He was everything they hated. So I just say that he represented life, and that is admirable; and Mr. Nixon and Mr. Bush represent death, and that is a bad thing.
    • Quoted in the documentary The U.S. vs John Lennon (2006); video excerpt from The Huffington Post (2006-09-12) [2]
  • We must always remember that the police are recruited from the criminal classes.
  • Private lives should be no business of the State. The State is bad enough as it is. It cannot educate or medicate or feed the people; it cannot do anything but kill the people. No State like that do we want prying into our private lives.
  • Everybody likes a bit of gossip to some point, as long as it’s gossip with some point to it. That’s why I like history. History is nothing but gossip about the past, with the hope that it might be true.
    • Quoted in Gert Jonkers, "Gore Vidal, the Fantastic Man," Butt, No. 20 (2007-04-07)

"What I've Learned" (Esquire, June 2008)

Interview by Mike Sager, p. 132

  • There was more of a flow to my output of writing in the past, certainly. Having no contemporaries left means you cannot say, "Well, so-and-so will like this," which you do when you're younger. You realize there is no so-and-so anymore. You are your own so-and-so. There is a bleak side to it.
  • You hear all this whining going on, "Where are our great writers?" The thing I might feel doleful about is: Where are the readers?
  • Some of my father's fellow West Pointers once asked him why I turned out so well, his secret in raising me. And he said, "I never gave him any advice, and he never asked for any." We agreed on nothing, but we never quarreled once.
  • Nonprofit status is what created the Bible Belt. The tax code brought religion back to this country.
  • People in my situation get to read about themselves whether they want to or not. It's generally wrong. Or oversimplified — which is sometimes useful.


  • Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so.
  • My favorite sex fantasy is becoming president, so I can do it to two hundred million people at once.
  • Television is now so desperately hungry for material that they're scraping the top of the barrel.
  • 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.
  • To Jonathan Dimbleby during BBC election coverage, following announcement of an Obama Victory: "I don't know why you're asking me - I don't even know who you are."... "I know too much about the subject matter, and you like to talk to people who don't know anything about the subject matter".


  • Never have children, only grandchildren.
    • This was said by Vidal's maternal grandfather, Thomas Pryor Gore, as recalled by Vidal: "My grandfather, Senator Gore ('I never give advice') was suddenly Polonius; he also changed his usual line from 'Never have children, only grandchildren' to 'Be not fruitful, do not multiply.' " [Palimpsest, ch. 3: The Desire and the Successful Pursuit of the Whole]

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