Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hunter Thompson's Disease

As part of my ongoing mission to drag serious creative writing back into my life, for the past week, Wampeters, Foma & Grandfalloons, a Kurt Vonnegut nonfiction compilation, has been living next to my bed. I figure if I fall asleep with my mind submerged in the words of an author I love, my dreams will teach me to write better.

Or something like that.

Anyway, one of the pieces in the Vonnegut collection is a review that he wrote of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, the Hunter S. Thompson book that I've cited more than once as the primary source of both my fascination with and suspicions about American democracy.

In the review, Vonnegut says he's worried about Thompson, worried that the cheap ugliness of the world is killing him, worried that optimism is slow painful poison...

From this moment on, let all those who feel that Americans can be as easily led to beauty as to ugliness, to truth as to public relations, to joy as to bitterness, be said to be suffering from Hunter Thompson's disease.

Vonnegut's kidding, of course. To a certain extent anyway. I think. I hope.

But, regardless, even if the reviewer is a cariacature of Vonnegut's cynicism, it's a cariacature that speaks a lot of truth.

Educated optimism isn't easy. For every act of kindness, wonder of nature, or expression of genius out there, there's a whole heap of greed, miscommunication, and pain. And that hurts. It wears. It kills. Eventually, it got Hunter Thompson. It slowed his writing to an angry trickle and sent him seeking solace in booze, seclusion, guns, and, eventually, suicide.

Not sure where these thoughts ought to leave us, but I figure it's good to keep this stuff in mind. Good to know what we're up against. Good to acknowledge the prophecy. And good to beware of historical repetition.

And good to shrug it all off. Good to follow the dangerous path because it's more dangerous and, thus, more fun. Good to embrace the disease.

Embrace it and spread it. Like mad. With urgency. With purpose. However one does that.


SustainAbility said...

Makes me think of Steinbeck, the way virtue and vice are always fondoling each other's lairs...

Jake de Grazia said...

I'd love to respond, Alexa, but my Steinbeck knowledge is not only unimpressive but distant in my memory. I'm sure my sister knows exactly what you're talking about, though, and I bet she'd have plenty to say if you caught her in person. She's very quiet on the internets, however, and I'd be surprised if we were able to coax her out in the open. Giuls? You there?

9a said...

I had never quite thought about HST in that way, as an eternal optimist crushed by the weight of the world, but it makes so much sense. I want to see Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas again simply because I remember the final scene of Depp with his typewriter in a room flooded with water and crushed lightbulbs being so moving to me for some reason. Just the act of illogical hope in the face of insanity and futility stirs up this moment of ache for the human condition.

Maybe I should tell my brother to print that last sentence on his HST t-shirts that he made... I think he will slap me or replace "human condition" with "cold mint julep by the pool."

Danny Shapiro said...

Jakenstein 3D. Good post. That is all. I really have nothing cool, interesting, funny, or intelligent to say.

Tomato pies are dandy,
But ice cream is candy (to me).

You'd never win in an ice cream comp.

Bah! Humbug!

Jake de Grazia said...

I don't remember the scene, but the image of HST eyeball deep in his writing process is a great one. I imagine not a man at his typewriter but rather one pacing a room crunching the remnants of a broken typewriter. I see empty bottles, grapefruit peels (evidence of lifesaving vitamin c intake), upturned ashtrays, Dr. Gonzo raving madly into a tape recorder, and a terrified Rolling Stone intern furiously changing tape after tape after tape, trying to catch every word.

The man hated to write, but he kept doing it. Maybe because he knew the world needed truth. Maybe because he liked pushing expense accounts to the limit. Probably both.

Jake de Grazia said...

If you bring me non-chocolatey ice cream from sustainable cows, Danny, I'm ready.