Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Wolfe on Gonzo

I keep thinking I'm done, and then I come across something else worth sharing. Contrasted with the Times impoverished obit, which has been fleshed out a little since I complained about it (confirming, I suppose, my suspicion that more than anything the Newspaper of Record was simply unprepared for Thompson's death), Tom Wolfe's remembrance suggests a more esteemed place for Thompson in American letters.

You know what? I think Wolfe is a bit more authoritative on this. The gist:

Hunter's life, like his work, was one long barbaric yawp, to use Whitman's term, of the drug-fueled freedom from and mockery of all conventional proprieties that began in the 1960s. In that enterprise Hunter was something entirely new, something unique in our literary history. When I included an excerpt from "The Hell's Angels" in a 1973 anthology called "The New Journalism," he said he wasn't part of anybody's group. He wrote "gonzo." He was sui generis. And that he was.

Yet he was also part of a century-old tradition in American letters, the tradition of Mark Twain, Artemus Ward and Petroleum V. Nasby, comic writers who mined the human comedy of a new chapter in the history of the West, namely, the American story, and wrote in a form that was part journalism and part personal memoir admixed with powers of wild invention, and wilder rhetoric inspired by the bizarre exuberance of a young civilization. No one categorization covers this new form unless it is Hunter Thompson's own word, gonzo. If so, in the 19th century Mark Twain was king of all the gonzo-writers. In the 20th century it was Hunter Thompson, whom I would nominate as the century's greatest comic writer in the English language.

Read the whole thing. I'd say I'm done now, but I've said that already, and evidently I haven't entirely lost interest in the topic as yet. I think it's especially edifying to see the peers of a writer's writer rally around his memory with such unqualified generosity and fondness, especially when the writer in question was such an unquestionably bizarre character.


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