The kitchen-sink correction that ran with the obituary for Gore Vidal in The New York Times may be the best commentary yet on the life of Vidal, the larger-than-life writer and TV personality, who died on July 31 at 86.
In 1968, Gore Vidal, it seems, had savaged a prominent right-winger as a “crypto-Nazi”; not, as his obituarist had erroneously reported, a “crypto-fascist.”
Vidal was not a cousin to Al Gore, though he often liked to dilate on their kinship. And although Vidal publicly credited the longevity of his relationship with his companion Howard Austen to their practice of never having sex, the couple did copulate, at least once, on the night they met. That encounter was robustly described in Vidal's memoir, “Palimpsest.”
Taken together, these earnest Times-style corrections suggest that Gore Vidal led a rich, florid and glorious life being Gore Vidal—advertising himself and dismantling others and then fleeing into umbrage, smugness, pedantry, fake innocence or actual exile when his audience went bananas. He also—as the wonderful correction demonstrates—got the last laugh.
He got to take a last posthumous jab at William F. Buckley, the formidable intellectual he must have deeply envied. He got to raise again the pet subject of his in-bedness with prominent American political families. And, from beyond the grave, he got to crow about his sex life in the pages of the Times. To say “well-played” would sell the achievement short!
Fortunately, the 21st century has bestowed on us a name for figures like Vidal, the garrulous tricksters who are as necessary to politics and culture as buffoons, beetle-browed commenters and tender-hearted artists.
It's plain: Vidal was a virtuoso troll. A 20th-century, pre-Internet troll. An analog troll of the first rank.