Published in Harper’s in 1989: ‘Stalking The Billion-Footed Beast‘:
‘One of the specialties of the realistic novel, from Richardson on, was the demonstration of the influence of society on even the most personal aspects of the life of the individual. Lionel Trilling was right when he said, in 1948, that what produced great characters in the nineteenth-century European novel was the portrayal of “class traits modified by personality.” But he went on to argue that the old class structure by now had disintegrated, particularly in the United States, rendering the technique useless. Again, I would say that precisely the opposite is the case. If we substitute for class, in Trilling’s formulation, the broader term status, that technique has never been more essential in portraying the innermost life of the individual. This is above all true when the subject is the modern city. It strikes me as folly to believe that you can portray the individual in the city today without also portraying the city itself.’
I’m just glad he was there for so long:
Michael Lewis at Vanity Fair: ‘How Tom Wolfe Became….Tom Wolfe‘
‘New York City was—and still is—the only place on earth where a writer might set himself up as a professional tour guide and attract the interest of the entire planet. That’s mainly what Wolfe was, at least in the beginning: his job was to observe the sophisticates in their nutty bubble for the pleasure of the rubes in the hinterlands, and then, from time to time, venture out into the hinterlands and explain what is really going on out there to the sophisticates inside the bubble. He moves back and forth like a bridge player, ruffing the city and the country against each other. He occupies a place in between. He dresses exotically and is talented and intellectually powerful, like the sophisticates in the bubble. But he isn’t really one of them. To an extent that shocks the people inside the bubble, when they learn of it, he shares the values of the hinterland. He believes in God, Country, and even, up to a point, Republican Presidents. He even has his doubts about the reach of evolutionary theory.’
‘Hefner showed me through his chambers. The place was kept completely draped and shuttered. The only light, day or night, was electric. It would be impossible to keep track of the days in there. And presently Hefner jumped onto . . . the center of his world, the bed in his bedroom. Aimed at the bed was a TV camera he was very proud of.’
‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…‘
The satire of the liberal intelligentsia is pretty rich, as well as the Southern Gentleman’s WASP ‘rejuvenation.’ You just know Christopher Hitchens had to get-in on that action:
From the Late Show in 1989 with Howard Jacobson:
Was Tom Wolfe seeing things clearly, as they really are?
Certainly the liberal pieties and the conflicted, activist base is still ripe for the picking…for what is preventing the mocking of the Brooklyn hipster and the echoing of ‘This Land Is Your Land’ across the fruited plain?:
What are you looking for in a novel: Ideas and the deployment of ideas? A reflection of your life/times/society? Good prose? Characters that pop into your life? Glimpses of the author? Pleasure?
‘The deeper divisions, as Wolfe’s novel compellingly presents them, are between those who believe that happiness consists in one form of pleasure or another — including the aesthetic pleasure of sensitively glimpsing one’s own sensitivities and the sensitivities of others — and those who, like Tom Wolfe and his heroes, believe that happiness consists in the exercise of courage, self-control, and the other qualities of mind and character that constitute human excellence.’
A New Yorker review here.
Any thoughts and comments are welcome.