Monday, October 31, 2011

Sustineri Ira: More thoughts on Hunter S. Thompson

Reading some old Hunter S. Thompson, I am struck by his ability to sustain his anger and loathing for a thing to the Nth degree, until both he and the reader have reached their logical conclusion.  In short, the evil we see in the world, after everything has been said and finally tallied, remains us.  We are the evil.  The world is fine, and most people in the world would be fine if we could just mind our own fucking business.

Thompson, I believe, wanted to believe in a world conceived by John Locke, a world where the natural state of man is goodhearted and without malice.  What tore up Thompson was the idea the whole world may have wanted to have the freedoms which Locke described, but played the game as if Thomas Hobbes' ideas of absolute rule was the means by which you take control and achieve said Locke like freedoms.  Look at everything Hunter Thompson wrote.  See how he injected himself in the story, felt obliged to never shy away from truth, even as he created a fiction for the reader to enjoy. 

Some might say Thompson suffered from hyperbole, that he exaggerated and told outright lies in order to create shock and dismay among the readers.  I say he was simply trying to express his dismay, his inability to find the same raving lunatics everywhere he went.  as early as high school he was speaking of the doomed, highlighting the difference between those who were on the winning side of the social order and the rest of us, the doomed.  Think Lenny Bruce.  Think George Carlin.  I believe the world chewed up Hunter Thompson and shit him out like it does with all of us, but he just wasn't as willing to brush himself off and get back in line like so many of us are.  He had probably had enough in his childhood and did what most of us want to do:  He found a way to live and work outside the system.  Not out of any innate desire to fuck it up for the rest of us, but merely out of a desire to maintain some level of sanity.

Drugs?  Violence?  Insanity?  These weren't a cover or a mask, they were a method of knowing when something wasn't quite kosher.  If he encountered something which seemed level and he was stoned, something was wrong.  If something sounded too good to be true and he was straight, then something was amiss.  I think his so-called persona was a means of possessing a traveling, deeply personal touchstone.  With his work as a writer objectivity became useless because there is no objectivity in the world he traveled. 

* * *

My love of Hunter Thompson runs deep.  

For me, you have to go back to my last year of high school.  I found (I can't remember where---probably at some yard sale) a ratted copy of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, '72 and it was a lightning rod for me.  I had no idea I was such a political junkie, but there it was.  I was hooked.  I was a debate club/drama club geek and everything else in school meant very little compared to those activities, but with that book came a flood of consciousness.  I was only seventeen, but I already knew something was going on with the way Thompson described what was happening.  Suddenly I was writing an underground paper, making fun of everyone from Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Jim Bakker,  and the evangelical right, all the way to Moamar Ghaddafi.  It was liberating.  Suddenly I was one of the kids with something to say.  I took on debate with a vengeance, going balls to the wall in Lincoln-Douglass Debate and ripping everyone else a new asshole in Team Policy Debate.

I was just fooling around with poetry back then.  I had no idea it was going to be what I would come to focus on, but I fell in love with writing and pointing out the absurdities of the world at large.  I had no idea it was going to be anything, nor did I ever really care if it took me anywhere.  I was having fun, and when you are having fun, then, as Hunter might have said, the screwheads could just go fuck themselves. 

It really was that simple.  When I got into college I took to my writing classes like a vengeance.  I knew I was not going to be a journalist, but I still pimped myself out to the college editorial board and hung out with all of the staff writers, though i never became one of them.  I was too busy bullshitting my way through the meetings and having too much fun messing with the minds of naive Utah college students to really be a part of that.  Remember, I had been in the army by this time.  I had seen the world outside the borders of Mormondom, and I was there to light a fire beneath some asses. Eventually though, I had to make a choice, well several really, and I chose to go a different way.  Why would I follow Hunter Thompson.  He had already stomped the terra firma far better than I could, and to mimic his style for a few essays was one thing (as this is a faint shadow of his style) but if I was going to be myself, I needed to take what I learned from Hunter, not simply try to keep up with him. 

I decided to take that edge he gave me and apply it to the classroom.  As a teacher I try to keep my students guessing just a little bit.  Is this old, fat, balding man going to go completely nuts by the end of the hour or is he going to be able to hold it together?  It may not be Gonzo journalism, but it's about the closest thing to Gonzo teaching out there by a long shot. "When the going gets weird, the weird turn professional," and that's what I am.  I'm a professional.

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