United States: Essays 1952-1992 (1993)

Although most of Vidal’s literary work does not deal directly with the crises of 1968, this 1993 collection contains several major essays that give a good insight into what he thought of some of the major issues of the time, including the war on Vietnam, the civil rights movement and some of the presidents. The collection is divided into three parts, the first of which, State of the Art, contains his literary essays, which highlight his position as a literary critic. Some of these are about specific authors, whereas others deal with larger developments. He makes frequent reference to his contemporaries, including James Baldwin and Norman Mailer, showing their influence in the literary scene around the 1950s and 1960s. Perhaps the most interesting part of the collection is State of the Union, in which his political essays are gathered. Vidal himself was mostly left-leaning, but it is clear, especially from his later essays, that his views grew more radical over time, frequently criticizing the American political system and trying to capture “the decline of the American republic” (Pells 806). One recurring point of criticism in his writing is the fact that the political system consisted of only one real party with two wings. That is why he urged for radical reforms, such as the decriminalization of private issues and an overhaul of the electoral system, or in absence of that at least the hope that people would stop voting. Not all essays in this section deal with contemporary political figures and developments, but even in his essays on historical presidents, certain attitudes shine through and it is clear that Vidal was highly critical of American democracy. This is particularly interesting because he is in many ways part of the political elite.

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