You’re born into a society and you are shaped by it whether you know it of not, whether you like it or not. Each of us is born into a prison of received opinion, of superstition, and of prejudices. Now, one of the functions of art is to try and define the prison. A: the artist must know he’s in it, and many of them don’t, and those are the bad artists. They just take it for granted this is the way things are. They don’t know that there are worlds, as Shakespeare said, “there is a world elsewhere.” They don’t see anything past these bars . . . and that to me is . . . Alfred Whitehead said something fascinating about this. He said “you can always determine the nature of any society by the things that it does not write about itself." 'Cause it takes them so much for granted they feel no need to state it, so by the omissions you can determine what a society was like.
The prison is going to break you eventually, but you can at least get a look out, and it’s the look out that is art: seeing something that is elsewhere; an alternative to the life that you’re leading. To get to try to see the thing; the whole, that’s what we want, that's why we write. To try and get. . .
There is no purpose to life, there is no point to life, other than what you invest with yourself, by your own actions. Or the making of a book, or the making of music, or the making of any creation is to try and hold the moment, to give it certain order, to bring order out of chaos, and for an instant to say “here it is, held, seen whole," even though, of course, it really isn’t.
Gore Vidal speaking with Studs Terkel on WFMT in 1961