Tom Wolfe's "Hooking Up"

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Tom Wolfe's "Hooking Up"

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Editado: Abr 22, 2007, 1:36am

For the past couple months I’ve been reading and re-reading the essays of Tom Wolfe’s collection, Hooking Up, published in 2000. This is my first direct encounter with Wolfe, the writer who brought us The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test--and I’m just a little giddy with, finally, discovering the delights of his masterly synthesis of reportage and incisive, cutting-edge, taboo-busting social analysis. There’s nothing quite like following Wolfe as he goes after celebrity scientists and “Darwinian fundamentalists,” the New York art world, progressive superstition, or those U.S. intellectuals (referred to here as “sweaty little colonials”) desperate to see their country remade in the image of post-modern Europe.

For my money, the book has 4 central essays. And it’s just a personal fantasy, but I think the world would be a better place if everyone on Earth committed them to memory.

“Digibabble, Fairy Dust, and the Human Anthill”

This essay and “Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died” are more or less companion pieces. “Digibabble” begins with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, both a Jesuit priest and a fervent Darwinian, and his concepts of the “noösphere” and “convergence.” These concepts, promoted by Teilhard and his disciple Marshall McLuhan, can be considered the direct antecedents to today’s World Wide Web, the Digital Universe. Wolfe points out that like Teilhard, our internet pioneers of the past decade hold an unfounded optimism about the potential of the internet to throw open the doors of enlightenment and global unity. Such theories, Wolfe explains suffer from a phenomenon known as the “explanatory gap.” That is, all of this sounds fine, but there’s no hard evidence to back up the optimism. It is all, in Wolfe’s terms, “digibabble”:

“{These theorists have} succumbed to what is known as the ‘Web-mind fallacy,’ the purely magical assumption that as the Web, the Internet, spreads over the globe, the human mind expands with it. Magical beliefs are leaps of logic based on proximity or resemblance. Many primitive tribes have associated the waving of crops or tall grass in the wind with the rain that follows. During a drought the tribesmen get together and create harmonic waves with their bodies in the belief that it is the waving that brings on the rain. Anthropologists have posited these tribal hulas as the origins of dance. Similarly, we have the current magical Web euphoria. A computer is a computer, and the human brain is a computer. Therefore, a computer is a brain, too, and if we get a sufficient number of them, millions, billions, operating all over the world, in a single seamless Web, we will have a superbrain that converges on a plane far above such old-fashioned concerns as nationalism and racial and ethnic competition.

“I hate to be the one who brings this news to the tribe, to the magic Digikingdom, but the simple truth is that the Web, the Internet, does one thing. It speeds up the retrieval and dissemination of information, partially eliminating such chores as going outdoors to the mailbox or the adult bookstore, or having to pick up the phone to get hold of your stockbroker or some buddies to shoot the breeze with. That is the one thing the Internet does, and only that. The rest is Digibabble.”

From here, Wolfe jumps to the other hot sphere focusing on “convergence” at the moment, to the realm of sociobiology and its great champion, Edward O. Wilson. Here we review Wilson’s slow rise to the status of celebrity scientist and the amusing infighting that took place in scientific communities following Wilson’s studies in sociobiology. Wilson’s studies were vilified but not repudiated on scientific grounds. The firestorm among “Darwinian fundamentalists” was provoked by several unsettling ideas brought to light by Wilson’s work: a post-modern revival of “determinism” based on Wilson’s findings that Nature does, in fact, trump Nurture in almost every meaningful contest; the notion that eugenics might be entirely consistent with Darwinian theory; and last but not least, the implication that all areas of human knowledge were now subordinate to sociobiology. Wolfe explains, Wilson found that:

“Among Homo sapiens, the division of roles and work assignments between men and women, the division of labor between the rulers and the ruled, between the great pioneers and the lifelong drudges, could not be explained by such superficial, external approaches as history, economics, sociology, or anthropology. Only sociobiology, firmly grounded in genetics and the Darwinian theory of evolution, could do the job.”

But where does all this leave out great social values of egalitarianism, civil rights, etc? Well, apparently our little experiment in convergence, in Enlightenment scientism, in the Tower of Babel Redux, has taken us well beyond all of that. It’s left us with good old determinism and the Human Anthill.

“Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died”

This essay focuses on neuroscience, which Wolfe predicts to be the hottest scientific field of the early 21st century: “Neuroscience, the science of the brain and the central nervous system, is on the threshold of a unified theory that will have an impact as powerful as that of Darwinianism a hundred years ago.”

Wolfe returns to Edward O. Wilson and the attempts by fellow scientists to stifle Wilson’s theories of biological determinism. Early on, Wilson’s findings had some political appeal--to leftists (gays are hardwired by the “gay gene”!) and to conservatives (feminism is a “doomed violation of Nature”). But the political potato finally got to hot to handle when Wilson’s combination of sociobiology and neuroscience implied that it was very likely that we soon would be able to identify violent individuals at, or before, birth. Now such research is tainted by concerns about eugenics, and pursuing this line of science is considered taboo. Wolfe writes: “The present moment resembles that moment in the Middle Ages when the Catholic Church forbade the dissection of human bodies, for fear that what was discovered inside might cast doubt on the Christian doctrine that God created man in his own image.”

Wolfe then relates a story about a pair of neuroscientists who had developed an “IQ Cap,” a comprehensive brain scanner able to evaluate IQ more accurately, with less expense, and much more quickly than our current testing. The scientists were shocked to find, though, that no one wanted the cap:

“Nobody wanted to believe that human brainpower is. . . is that hardwired. Nobody wanted to learn in a flash that. . . the genetic fix is in. Nobody wanted to learn that he was . . . a hardwired genetic mediocrity . . . and that the best he could hope for in this Trough of Mortal Error was to live out his mediocre life as a stress-free dim bulb.”

Thus, our absolute faith in scientific progress has led to this end-moment, this final truism: “We now live in an age in which science is a court from which there is no appeal.”

In the two passages below, Wolfe illustrates the enormity of this development:

“This sudden switch from a belief in Nurture, in the form of social conditioning, to Nature, in the form of genetics and brain physiology, is the great Intellectual event, to borrow Nietzsche’s term, of the late twentieth century.”

“Meantime, the notion of a self--a self who exercises self-discipline, postpones gratification, curbs the sexual appetite, stops sort of aggression and criminal behavior--a self who can become more intelligent and lift itself to the very peaks of life by its own bootstraps through study, practice, perseverance, and refusal to give up in the face of great odds--this old-fashioned notion (what’s a bootstrap, for God’s sake?) of success through enterprise and true grit is already slipping away, slipping away. . . slipping away. . .”

All of us, it seems, are now victims, victims not merely (in the old Marxist language) of the social order, but victims of genetic determinism. Women who cheat on their husbands with richer or more powerful men may defend themselves with the rationale that they are genetically programmed to be attracted to men better able to care for their offspring. And since genetics finds that men are hardwired to cast their seed as widely as possible, they may respond: “Don’t blame me, honey. Four hundred thousand years of evolution made me do it.”

Throughout this essay, Wolfe refers to Nietzsche’s remarkably accurate predictions about the developments of the 20th century and how things would unfold, on the social scale, once the “death of God” took hold as a widely-accepted event. Finally though, Wolfe writes: “He predicted that eventually modern science would turn its juggernaut of skepticism upon itself, question the validity of its own foundations, tear them apart, and self-destruct.” The notion of scientific knowledge being limited, non-comprehensive--a function, after all, of the limited human mind--has already taken root. We already see a new generation of scientists ripping apart the Enlightenment foundations of their field. Darwin is being attacked not merely by the Intelligent Design crowd, but by secular mathematicians and biochemists. Also under attack are: the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, the Unified Field Theory, and the Big Bang Theory.

“In the Land of the Rococo Marxists”

Here Wolfe traces the collective yawn that rose up to meet the new millennium on January 1, 2000, the decadent boredom that overlays our imaginations and U.S. culture today, the rejection of Truth and Meaning in favor of “universal skepticism, cynicism, irony, and contempt.” He traces this development to the exposure, after each of the world wars, of disillusioned American thinkers to that weird species, the European “intellectual”:

“From the very outset the eminence of this new creature, the intellectual, who was to play such a tremendous role in the history of the twentieth century, was inseparable from his necessary indignation. It was his indignation that elevated him to a plateau of moral superiority. Once up there, he was in a position to look down at the rest of humanity. And it hadn’t cost him any effort, intellectual or otherwise.”

Throughout the 20th century, the imported mantle of “intellectual” coincided with Americans exhibiting social guilt and self-loathing, as well as attempts to import concepts like “fascism” and affect a social overlay here at home, suddenly identifying various forms of embedded social fascism in the Land of the Free. Eventually inconvenient developments meddled with the hopes of U.S. intellectuals, developments like the fall of the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. “proletariat” suddenly becoming exactly as wealthy as it wanted to be. Ah. . .

“But we can find new proletariats whose ideological benefactors we can be--women, non-whites, put-upon white ethnics, homosexuals, transsexuals, the polymorphously perverse, pornographers, prostitutes (sex workers), hardwood trees--which we can use to express our indignation toward the powers that be and our aloofness to their bourgeois stooges, to keep the flame of skepticism, cynicism, irony, and contempt burning.”

Yet: “Today, as throughout the twentieth century, our intellectuals remain sweaty little colonials, desperately trotting along, trying to catch up, catch up, catch up with the way the idols do it in France, which is with Theory, Theory, Theory.” Still, do these champions of reader-response theory, deconstruction, and feminist theory really want to see the elevation of the masses, of their darlings: the perpetually disenfranchised? Not really. This species of hipster theorist, these ornate intellectuals, these Rococo Marxists are in fact empowering nothing more than an absurd tension--the tension between the role of victimized counterculture, and playing at becoming the powerful mainstream; the tension between championing the little guy, and keeping the little guy in his place to be milked like the good bovine he is:

“All the intellectual wants, in his heart of hearts, is to hold on to what was magically given to him one shining moment a century ago. He asks for nothing more than to remain aloof, removed, as Revel once put it, from the mob, the philistines. . . ‘the middle class.’”

“The Great Learning”

This short, powerful essay distills one important theme from Wolfe’s writing, the idea of modern social regressiveness and how it applies to architecture, socio-political theories, and the sexual revolution. As a starting place, Wolfe goes back to the late 1960s:

“Among the codes and restraints that people in {hippie} communes swept aside--quite purposely--were those that said you shouldn’t use other people’s toothbrushes or sleep on other people’s mattresses without changing the sheets or, as was more likely, without using any sheets at all, or that you and five other people shouldn’t drink from the same bottle of Shasta or take tokes from the same cigarette. And now, in 1968, they were relearning. . . the laws of hygiene. . . by getting the mange, the grunge, the itch, the twitch, the thrush, the scroff, the rot.”

The Rest of the Book

The title essay, “Hooking Up: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the Second Millennium: An American’s World,” is a stream-of-consciousness riff, a satirical round-up of the book’s central themes. Wonderful, wicked stuff.

“Two Young Men Who Went West” – This is a long, fascinating history of silicon valley that traces some of its ideological roots, by way of a few of its founders, one generation back to the Puritanical, egalitarian Midwest.

“The Invisible Artist” – An essay about the little-known American sculptor Frederick Hart, who “won what would turn out to be the biggest and most prestigious commission for religious sculpture in America in the twentieth century.” And yet when the sculpture was completed, Hart’s work received not a single significant review in the art world. Why? Because his technique was classical, traditional, and thus of no interest to the mindset of the New York art world.

Ambush at Fort Bragg – This is the collection’s single piece of fiction. The novella is obviously flawed, but has a few nice moments. And the best way to experience it, in my opinion, is on audio book, read by actor Edward Norton.

“My Three Stooges” – A hilarious recounting of the literary brouhaha that surrounded the mega-success of Wolfe’s novel, A Man in Full. Wolfe reviews, in exquisite detail, the manner in which three literary superstars made fools of themselves while publicly vilifying Wolfe and his writing. The clowns in question are John Updike, Norman Mailer, and John Irving.

The final section of the book, “The New Yorker Affair,” is more literary feuding and will likely appeal only to dedicated Wolfe fans.

Note: the audio book edition of Hooking Up includes only about half of the pieces in this book, but the bonus is that Wolfe reads some of them in his marvelous Southern accent. The rest are read by Ron Rifkin, and he does a fine job as well.


Abr 22, 2007, 3:19am


Abr 22, 2007, 1:00pm

Thank you for the terrific essay on Wolfe, Wilson, Nietsche, science, the future and most of the folks on both sides of the political fence. Look into the group 'Consilience'. They would enjoy your essay.

Abr 22, 2007, 2:43pm

More from Adam Walter, please. If he does post in other groups, a note placed here directing us to the location of his posts would be appreciated.

Another (appreciative) conservative take on Tom Wolfe can be found here.

My two cents' worth: I love Tom Wolfe (the current one), but I always feel a bit uneasy reading him, because he seems to belong to my least favorite current of conservative thinkers, the "abandon all hope" tendency.

I know that the Division of Labor may require some to tear down, while others build. But the tearers-down should leave hints for the builders-up that the latter's work won't necessarily be in vain, even if it probably will.

Editado: Abr 23, 2007, 7:47pm

Doug, I'm glad you liked the post. Mostly I keep busy at my film-literature-n-conservatism blog (a little sparse in recent weeks, due to an illness), but I'll do a few things here when I get the chance. And thanks for the link to the review of Wolfe's novel.

I think Wolfe is uniquely effective, as a conservative cynic, because he's exposing so many modern superstitions and ruining the whole idea that contemporary liberalism is progress-ive. This sort of social analysis free of argumentation (really, he does free himself up by not arguing for anything), is indispensable to the conservative cause. We need at least one guy out there doing it, and Wolfe is certain our man.

Besides, he does occasionally make positive statements, spinning his pieces with conservative optimism. Take the way he ends "Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died":

"I suddenly had a picture of the entire astonishing edifice collapsing and modern man plunging headlong back into the primordial ooze. He's floundering, sloshing about, gulping for air, frantically treading ooze, when he feels something huge and smooth swim beneath him and boost him up, like some almighty dolphin. He can't see it, but he's much impressed. He names it God."


Editado: Maio 10, 2007, 12:41am

Fans of Tom Wolfe will enjoy this essay-interview on/with him, from which I quote just a bit:

“Everything that’s said now was said about the war in Vietnam,” he continues. “It was also said that we had a very stupid president. You should have been here when Eisenhower was president; he was not very good in a press conference because he would start a sentence with a relative clause and by the time he started adding more relative clauses and appositions, he never got to the subject or the predicate. So he was called really stupid. How can this guy run the country? But, you see, all he did was win World War II! There must have been something there!

“Very few people remember the way Reagan was portrayed as an idiot,” he adds, citing a comment by Henry Kissinger that, after 20 minutes in Reagan’s company, one found oneself asking: “How on Earth can the fate of the free world be in the hands of this man?” And yet for all that, says Wolfe, Reagan kept making the right decisions.

“Bush is portrayed as a moron. I’ve only conversed with him a couple of times – not for very long – but I found he was more literate on literature than the editor of the New York Review of Books, Bob Silvers. I’ve talked to both of them, and he makes Bob Silvers look like a slug.” He laughs, possibly at the idea of New York’s literary-set frothing into their cappuccinos over the latest blow in a long but low-intensity conflict. (In the 1960s Wolfe mocked the Review as the “chief theoretical organ of Radical Chic”, after it published a cover picture showing how to make a Molotov cocktail.

and in general everyone should know about this wonderful website, where I found the link to the above.

Maio 13, 2007, 12:36am

Mensagem removida pelo autor.

Maio 13, 2007, 12:38am

I think Tom Wolfe is great for a simple reason, one that eludes the vast majority of writers who chronicle the time we live in today: Tom Wolfe is fun. I don't agree with his knee-jerk conservatives. Sure, Tom it's fun defending Bush at New York dinner parties and watching the NY liberals turn purple in the face. But face facts, you're defending the indefensible.
The image of Wolfe as an outsider looking is largely an image. Tom Wolfe is a New Yorker in residence and spirit. For someone who defends the great conservative normality relentlessly mocked and disdained by the NY elite, Wolfe has called the same NY and the same elite home for the vast majority of his career. So as bad as the liberal elite are, he finds something rewarding about them. At least enough to make them his neighbors.
Perhaps that too is a sign of his orneriness. But as I wrote, the fact that he stirs things up in the Upper East and West Sides, - where there is no shortage of unquestioned, suffocating orthodoxies, I must give him credit for. Wolfe is engaged with the world. He actually seems to like a lot of his subject matter. And to like the world itself which, in terms of his fiction particularly, is a real break from the narrow subgenre known as literary fiction today.
I plan to pick up some more of his Sixties non-fiction soon.


9glbass86 Primeira Mensagem
Jul 4, 2007, 4:37am

In response to Mr. Walkter's post:

"To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven; the same key opens the gates of hell."

This is a Buddhist proverb that Feynman uses in his lecture, "The Value of Science." In regards to the discussion of the internet and its impact on society this proverb is rather apropos. The internet is an incredible tool for the dissemination of information, and in the age of information in which we live it is a flattening force for the world. In ages past power was built on wealth and the strength of numbers, and while they may still play a part in our time, an informational advantage yields a great deal of power. From buying cars to toppling governments the internet gives the average person the facts they need and a way to make their voice heard round the world. With its wealth of information the internet can be used for good or for bad. It can educate the minds of our children with lessons on science and history, or it can corrupt them with saddistic pornography and vehement bigotry. It is up to all of us to make sure we use the internet to open that gates of heaven, not to lead us into hell.

As with most things in life genetic biology is hardly black and white. While our genes do play an important part in determining our character, they are not a road map set in stone. Our genes in many instances do not determine outright just what sort of person we will be, they merely give us a certain proclivity to go this way or that. Take for instance the oft stated example of a violent person. While a person may have a gene that gives them a tendency towards violence, it does not make them a murdered. If raised in the right environment that gene for violence might never show itself, and the person will live a normal life as a poitive member of society. On the other hand, if exposed to a trigger, say a traumatic experience like seeing your father beat your mother, that genetic tendency might be awakened, and a murderer made. The idea that a person's gene fully determine what sort of person they will be is a very, VERY dangerous view, as I think most people can see. On the other hand, the idea that we could perhaps control the expression of genes with the environment is an incredibly intriguing idea. Criminals are no longer evil menaces to society, but are only sick people in need of specific medical attention, and thus perhaps a significant burden on society, the criminal system, could be in a way lifted.

Last of all, science is hardly in danger of imploding under the force of self-doubt. In fact, that could hardly be further from the truth, for doubt is the very driving force of science. They don't call them "theories" just because. No "law" of science is one hundred percent certain, it is only a best approximation. Doubt and uncertainty only leave the door open for improvements. It is the constant questioning, doubt and skepticism that drives scientists to conduct more experiments, develop new thoeries, modify old theories and continue the work that might some day produce a great breakthrough (if they're lucky). Quite to the contrary, it is a lack of skepticism and doubt that is the real danger. Blindly accepting an answer as the ultimate truth stunts progress. Think of the Catholic Church banning the teaching of the Coperincan theory of heliocentrism. This is why fanatacism is so dangerous. So, be sure to question everything, and please, question what I write.

For more information:
A bit on "biological determinism"
Feynman's "The Value of Science"

Jul 4, 2007, 10:39am

The Link above on "biological determinism" is broken, but here it is repaired.

I would urge everyone to read that article, which, despite being in The Nation, could have been written by a conservative.

It basically attacks the Left -- including people like the late Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Rose, Richard Lewontin, Leon Kamin -- for their extreme opposition to the idea that genes could have anything at all to do with human behavior.

This article is just one more proof that there is a serious diffrence between genuine liberals, and the hard-core Left.

It's a distinction to which conservatives are not always alert, or which some of them choose to overlook because it is easier to attack the Hard Left rather than democratic liberalism.

But it is not in our interests, or the in the interests of liberal democracy in general, for the two trends to be merged together and we shouldn't help it happen.

Jul 4, 2007, 10:21pm

Doug1943 says,

"This article is just one more proof that there is a serious diffrence between genuine liberals, and the hard-core Left."

Thank you for pointing out this distinction. There is one person who needs to know this. I wish you could find him and make him aware of it. In another thread he suggested Mao was a favorite of the Left. I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was talking about the hard-core Left. I don't know many "genuine liberals" today who think Mao was one of the good guys. Remember there are people on the right who admire Hitler. You're on the right, does this include you?

Jul 5, 2007, 1:47am

Thanks Doug for posting a repaired link. It seems in my late night rush to post I didn't take the time to proofread what I wrote. Will I ever learn?

I'm glad to see people making the distinction between genuine liberals and the hard-core left.

Jul 5, 2007, 2:42am

I will grant you that it is not a universally-acknowledged distinction, but I try to differentiate between genuine liberals and the Left.

It is not possible, in every post, to have a little paragraph discussing the differences, and similarlities, and why liberals are so vulnerable to being manipulated by the Hard Left, etc.

So I just try to use the verbal shorthand "liberals and the Left" frequently and hope that anyone reading will pick up on the fact that these are two related-but-distinct political currents -- in my view, at least.

Now, as for Mao and the Left.

Mao was certainly a hero of the Left, in its vast majority, as was Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh, and was admired by many liberals too, including liberal academics like John King Fairbank who was perhaps the leading China specialist in the United States.

This is not a matter of controversy. It's indisputable fact.

Just as many liberals hailed Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union, and endorsed the Moscow Purge Trials.

Liberals are different from the Hard Left, but they are very vulnerable to being led by it. They share many of the same values -- they both value equality over liberty -- and the Hard Left have a program -- the abolition of capitalism -- to achieve liberal goals, whereas liberals are left with reforming capitalism, a system that, at bottom, they really don't like very much.

Jul 5, 2007, 2:25pm

Can anyone offer me a further statement of the difference between liberals and the left? I'm not sure I know the difference.

Jul 5, 2007, 2:26pm

Forget that. I think I'll start another thread for the purpose.

Editado: Jul 6, 2007, 2:15pm

i agree with awalter about Wolfe being funny, especially The Bonfire of the Vanities which is hilarious and has a well-deserved spot on the 1001 Books list (along with Thackeray's original Vanity Fair).

However, Wolfe's lost his edge more recently. Living in Atlanta gives me a nuanced (as i like to think, anyway) view of A Man in Full which is somewhat forced and puerile.

As always, nobody knows better than Wolfe the brand names and price tags of all our gee whiz toys. In Wolfe's world, we are what we own, eat, wear, drive, and shoot, after a heavy day of trading on the commodity-identity exchange.

Wolfe tells us in his pumped up prose style that the pram is British Silver Cross, the furniture is Hepplewhite, the yacht is Hatteras, and the private plane, taken to a condo in Vail, is a Gulfstream 5 with Sky-Watch radar that costs $40 million.

What Wolfe is best at is tapping into our fear of losing the farm (there's a literal farm at risk in A Man in Full). He plumbs the depth of our night-sweat terrors that all our charm and credit will run out, that the banks and other savage tribes are out there waiting to pounce if we under-develop, or over-extend, or park our Lexus in the wrong neighborhood.

Wolfe's still got a Dickensian talent for funny names (a law firm named Tripp, Snayer & Billings; a character named Raymond Peepgass), but he's become superficial and unconvincing as he thumbs his nose at modern art and modern architecture, at black hustlers and white kneejerkers, at multiculturalists, radical feminists, rock and roll music ("Pus Casserole and the Child Abusers"), gay pride ("lesbians wearing paratrooper boots"), and AIDS Benefits:

"Lets Rap for Clap"
"Let's Riff for Syph"
"Let's Go Hug a Dyin' Bugger"
"Let's Pay Our Dues to Pustular Ooze"
"Glory Me -- I Got da HIV"

That's about as profound as he gets on sexuality. On politics, he's even more succinct -- It's all about "seeing them jump."

He's lost the funny, wide-angled lens he employed in The Bonfire of the Vanities. In A Man in Full he's superficial -- an elitist Andy Warhol.

(** edited for the usual typos)

Jul 6, 2007, 11:04am

I think I'd mentioned this elsewhere, but Michael Lewis is one of my favorite authors in the same vein as Wolfe. I'd especially recommend Liar's Poker : Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street and The Blind Side : Evolution of a Game.

Jul 6, 2007, 11:13am

And for those of you of the conservative bent, I'd recommend Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers. It's two shorter works by Wolfe. I prefer the first. It's a society piece that Wolfe wrote about a party at Leonard Bernstein's pad where the guests of honor were the black panthers. It's an absolutely brilliant send-up of the concept of political/social cause as fashion statement.

Jul 6, 2007, 1:50pm

Ditto that -- Michael Lewis is hilarious. i hadn't heard of Radical Chic, but am looking forward to it. Thanks for the recommendation!

Editado: Jul 6, 2007, 10:21pm

Not a problem. Like Tom Wolfe, Michael Lewis is a master of the telling detail that limns a situation completely in one sentence. Excellent stuff.

And I'd go so far as to say that Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers is a better work than Bonfire of the Vanities.

Jul 9, 2007, 1:33pm

The Tom Wolfe edited anthology, The New Journalism is essential. His essay on the roots and qualities of New Journalism is lucid and hugely informative. There's also great pieces by Gay Talese, H.S. Thompson, and my favorite, Terry Southern covering a cheerleading camp at Ol' Miss.

Jul 9, 2007, 8:28pm

There's also The Gang That Wouldn't Write Straight : Wolfe, Thompson, Didion, and the New Journalism Revolution, by Marc Weingarten. It's a pretty good introduction to the topic, though definitely not perfect. I definitely thought that Joan Didion was given short shrift in the book. It seemed that the editor told him that he'd have to include Didion if he were to write the book and he just slapped a chapter together and stuck it somewhere in the middle without regard to tying it in to the rest of his narrative.

I may just be pissed because Didion is one of my favorite authors, though.

Jul 10, 2007, 2:43am

>So I just try to use the verbal shorthand "liberals and the Left" frequently and hope that anyone reading will pick up on the fact that these are two related-but-distinct political currents -- in my view, at least.

After rereading quite a few of your posts, I think that my main problem with terms such as "Liberal PC Enforcers" stems from usage of this "verbal shorthand". The verbal shorthand may be convenient, but I think it paints with too broad a brush to be truly effective. In the same way that I don't necessarily see Jerry Falwell or Jimmy Swaggart (or whomever their contemporary equivalent may be) as the Christian faith, nor the John Birch Society as the whole of the conservative movement, I spend very little time with these far extremes when discussing conservatives or rightists.

While you may feel that there's a valid distinction between liberals and leftists, I think that by constantly harping on these extreme examples, you're skewing the discussion, if only unintentionally. And I think that this will be about as effective for promoting reasoned discourse as NativeRoses talk of the "NeoCons", those vague shadowy sinister people looking to take control of the world. (Sorry, Native)

And that's all I meant by saying that I expected a higher level of discourse from you, Doug. I apologise for the thread drift (especially since I don't believe this is the thread that I'm actually responding to, but the point remains valid with the quote I'm taking )

Jul 11, 2007, 12:19am

I just had a strange realization. In high school, I went and saw Tom Wolfe speak with the editor of the high school newspaper. He's now a communications adviser on the Mitt Romney campaign. I think I still owe him twenty bucks.

Abr 4, 2015, 12:57pm