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The Last Empire: Essays 1992-2000 (Vintage Paperback, 2002), by Gore Vidal

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In The Last Empire, Gore Vidal mentions Jean Paul Sartre, "...who once observed that the bourgeoisie theater will put up with the most harshly accurate depiction of the human case, as long as there is no hint that a solution might exist. What is, is, and must ever be." Almost all the essays in this book, like almost all the ones that have earned Uncle Gore the title of the finest essayist of our time, aim to destroy this "What is, is, and must ever be." And they succeed brilliantly. Their content, let us say, is enormously critical to their success; but even more critically, Gore Vidal's political essays succeed because he is the finest American prose stylist and humorist since Mark Twain. The last time I saw Uncle Gore on TV was two years ago or so, looking good and saying, "Fighting terrorism is like fighting dandruff." A couple of other recent-to-me Vidal comments are, and I paraphrase, "One's sexual practices have nothing to do with anything except one's sexual practices." And, "Of course African-Americans drop out of school before going to college, out of boredom not incompetence." Like many of Vidal's comments, these may initially sound implausible or sincere but struck off for popular consumption, but upon mature reflection, as they say, their literal truth is undeniable. From The Last Empire, here are three more gems of Vidal's humor-while-rocking-the-ship followed by his tribute to the man I opine to be his favorite fellow American anti-imperialist and humorist: Gem 1 - "Most establishment American journalists tend to be like their writing, and so, duly warned by the tinkle of so many leper-bells, one avoids their company." Gem 2 - "...who would care about Pericles today had he not given a sublime funeral oration - as reported by General Thucydides, Retired - in which he reminded the Athenians that an empire like theirs, no matter how larcenously acquired, is a very dangerous thing to let go? Ditto now, as Perot would say." Gem 3 - "Even our wise hero, Edmund Wilson, didn't really write all that good himself." Finally, Vidal's tribute - "Mark Twain is our only...Mark Twain.... (His) is simply a voice like no other."

So is Uncle Gore's.

(Written in 2006 and 2008)


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I have a law degree (Stanford, 66') but have never practiced. Instead, from 1967 through 1977, I tried to contribute to the revolution in America. As unsuccessful as everyone else over that decade, in 1978 I went to work for the U.S. Forest (more...)

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