Sunday, July 1, 2012

Hunter S. Thompson: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 review by Matt Taibbi. - Slate Magazine

Hunter S. Thompson: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 review by Matt Taibbi. - Slate Magazine:

In celebration of the  40th Anniversary edition of Hunter Thompson's gonzo masterpiece of political writing "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail", Slate writer Matt Taibbi writes an extensive essay on  why  HST still matters in our  current climate of  dread and drudgery.It is a nice commemoration, but I'm not persuaded that we could have learned anything more than      we already have from the late writer; what newer readers would learn is what we did, after time, that HST  could be wildly entertaining and then dependably repetitive in his subjects, his insults, his tone.  Truthfully, Thompson's reputation as a writer is based on a very small body of quality  work. I am willing to cede that Hunter Thompson succeeded , momentarily, at being a Great Writer for a couple of books, but the bitter truth was that while he was long on rage , he was short on other elements that keep a writer interesting over a career. Those qualities are insight, nuance, a curiosity about people and their circumstances beyond what mere appearances. 

Mere appearence, though, sufficed too often for Thompson, as his conceit, dove-tailing tellingly with his appetite for high powered stimulants, was that he could walk into the room full of characters and size the situation quickly. His concern was pacing over all, the attempt to simulate the down hill careen of a waiter carrying too many hot dishes from the kitchen. For all the energy and paranoid genius Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas and his Campaign Trail book contained, it amounted to the best expression of the limited set of riffs Thompson. 

He was not especially engrossing as a political thinker--we read him for his vitriol. His attraction for invective , I imagine, was because it was easy and that it was a convenient means to get to the bottom of one typewritten page after another; the rhythm of the constructed persona of being the most wasted man alive bravely inveighing against the stupidities and inequities and the  utter  mendacity of the world in which he finds himself would go into hyperdrive. 

For some this suggested automatic writing, the idea that HST  was channeling some Truth hidden behind the barriers of bullshit and pretense, a voice greater than his own. Perhaps, but for me it was the writing of someone who was working what became a tired set of rhetorical ploys. Thompson plainly never had the chance to transcend his moment of transcendent genius, as had, say, Norman Mailer, himself an egotist with a certainity that only he could get to the disguised truth of things. Mailer settled in for the long haul, abandoned much of his writerly eccentricity and produced a series of brilliant books of fiction and nonfiction in his late career; there are other things to discuss about Mailer than his antics.

There are many who would like to consider Thompson our generations H.L.Mencken, but I would say the departed Hunter comes up short: even a writer as caustic as Mencken would , often enough, vary his tone and write about matters that didn't need to be vilified, crucified or witlessly mocked. Thompson never had the chance to try anything truly different.

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