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Farewell, Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe has died: [1]

Tom Wolfe, an innovative journalist and novelist whose technicolor, wildly punctuated prose brought to life the worlds of California surfers, car customizers, astronauts and Manhattan’s moneyed status-seekers in works like “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby,” “The Right Stuff” and “Bonfire of the Vanities,” died on Monday in a Manhattan hospital. He was 88.

His death was confirmed by his agent, Lynn Nesbit, who said Mr. Wolfe had been hospitalized with an infection. He had lived in New York since joining The New York Herald Tribune as a reporter in 1962.

In his use of novelistic techniques in his nonfiction, Mr. Wolfe, beginning in the 1960s, helped create the enormously influential hybrid known as the New Journalism.

But as an unabashed contrarian, he was almost as well known for his attire as his satire. He was instantly recognizable as he strolled down Madison Avenue — a tall, slender, blue-eyed, still boyish-looking man in his spotless three-piece vanilla bespoke suit, pinstriped silk shirt with a starched white high collar, bright handkerchief peeking from his breast pocket, watch on a fob, faux spats and white shoes. Once asked to describe his get-up, Mr. Wolfe replied brightly, “Neo-pretentious.”


It was a typically wry response from a writer who found delight in lacerating the pretentiousness of others. He had a pitiless eye and a penchant for spotting trends and then giving them names, some of which — like “Radical Chic” and “the Me Decade” — became American idioms.

His talent as a writer and caricaturist was evident from the start in his verbal pyrotechnics and perfect mimicry of speech patterns, his meticulous reporting, and his creative use of pop language and explosive punctuation.

“As a titlist of flamboyance he is without peer in the Western world,” Joseph Epstein wrote in the The New Republic. “His prose style is normally shotgun baroque, sometimes edging over into machine-gun rococo, as in his article on Las Vegas which begins by repeating the word ‘hernia’ 57 times.”

William F. Buckley Jr., writing in National Review, put it more simply: “He is probably the most skillful writer in America — I mean by that he can do more things with words than anyone else.”

True, all true. I remember the spring of 1998, when my wife and I were newly arrived in Manhattan. We were walking along upper Madison Avenue one afternoon, and there he came toward us, in his white suit, accompanied by two women. We stopped and moved aside to let him pass. I was too shy to say anything to him, but it was a Moment. The moment said, in part, “Welcome to New York, kid.”

Here’s  Terry Teachout’s remembrance [2]. Here he’s talking about Wolfe’s big novel The Bonfire of the Vanities:

 I remember reading it with the same sense of bedazzled revelation that George Orwell’s Winston Smith read The Theory of Oligarchical Collectivism It was as though the veil of euphemism had been pulled back—no, ripped down—and for the first time I saw New York as it was:

Cattle! Birdbrains! Rosebuds! Goyim! You don’t even know, do you? Do you realy think this is your city any longer? Open your eyes! The greatest city of the twentieth century! Do you think money will keep it yours?…You don’t think the future knows how to cross a bridge? And you, you Wasp charity-ballers sitting on your mounds of inherited money up in your co-ops with the twelve-foot ceilings and the two wings, one for you and one for the help, do you really think you’re impregnable? And you German-Jewish financiers who have finally made it into the same buildings, the better to insulate yourselves from the shtetl hordes, do you really think you’re insulated from the Third World?

Were people talking like that in 1987? Sure—but they didn’t publish that kind of talk, which is what made Bonfire so thrilling. As I wrote in The New Criterion on the fifth anniversary of the book’s publication, “Rereading Bonfire, I found myself thinking, over and over again, Nobody would print that today….Without access to a realism of this degree of specificity and honesty, it is impossible for a writer to describe New York, or America, as it really is. Yet who can imagine any New York editor allowing such things to get into print nowadays?”

Ain’t that the truth. But look, do yourself a big favor and read Michael Lewis’s 2015 Vanity Fair profile of Wolfe, focusing on how Wolfe became a writer.  [3]Here’s Lewis talking about Wolfe leaving Virginia as a young man and ending up at Yale. This is a priceless anecdote:

For the first time in his life, it appears, Tom Wolfe has been provoked. He has left home and found, on the East Coast, the perpetual revolt of High Culture against God, Country, and Tradition. He happens to have landed in a time and place in which art—like the economy that supports it—is essentially patricidal. It’s all about tearing up and replacing what came before. The young Tom Wolfe is intellectually equipped to join some fashionable creative movement and set himself in opposition to God, Country, and Tradition; emotionally, not so much. He doesn’t use his new experience of East Coast sophisticates to distance himself from his southern conservative upbringing; instead he uses his upbringing to distance himself from the new experience. He picks for his Ph.D. dissertation topic the Communist influences on American writers, 1928–1942. From their response to it, the Yale professors, who would have approved the topic in advance, had no idea of the spirit in which Wolfe intended to approach it:

“Dear Mr. Wolfe:

I am personally acutely sorry to have to write you this letter but I want to inform you in advance that all of your readers reports have come in, and … I am sorry to say I anticipate that the thesis will not be recommended for the degree…. The tone was not objective but was consistently slanted to disparage the writers under consideration and to present them in a bad light even when the evidence did not warrant this.” [Letter from Yale dean to T.W., May 19, 1956.]

To this comes appended the genuinely shocked reviews of three Yale professors. It’s as if they can’t quite believe this seemingly sweet-natured and well-mannered southern boy has gone off half cocked and ridiculed some of the biggest names in American literature. The Yale grad student had treated the deeply held political conviction of these great American artists as—well, as a ploy in a game of status seeking. This student seemed to have gone out of his way to turn these serious American intellectuals into figures of fun. “The result is more journalistically tendentious than scholarly…. Wolfe’s polemical rhetoric is … a chief consideration of my decision to fail the dissertation.” To top it all off … he’d taken some license with the details. One outraged reviewer compared Wolfe’s text with his cited sources and attached the comparison. Sample Wolfe passage: “At one point ‘the Cuban delegation’ tramped in. It was led by a fierce young woman named Lola de la Torriente. With her bobbed hair, leather jacket, and flat-heeled shoes, she looked as though she had just left the barricades. Apparently she had. ‘This is where our literature is being built,’ exclaimed she, ‘on the barricades!’ ” Huffed the reviewer: “There is no description of her in the source, and the quotations do not appear in the reference.”

Which is to say that, as a 26-year-old graduate student, just as a 12-year-old letter writer, Tom Wolfe was already recognizably himself. He’d also found a lens through which he might view, freshly, all human behavior. He’d gone to Yale with the thought he would study his country by reading its literature and history and economics. He wound up discovering sociology—and especially Max Weber’s writings about the power of status seeking. The lust for status, it seemed to him, explained why otherwise intelligent American writers lost their minds and competed with one another to see just how devoted to the Communist cause they could be. In a funny way, Yale served him extremely well: it gave him a chance to roam and read and bump into new ideas.

You’ve just got to read Lewis talking about Wolfe and The Right Stuff. And then, how even though he was one of the leading lights of the New Journalism, he refused to turn himself into a character, like Truman Capote or Hunter S. Thompson:

Tom Wolfe wasn’t like that. For years after he became famous for his writing he was unable to stand up and give a talk without writing it out first. He simply hadn’t been raised for the job of being a famous American writer circa 1970. “I got by on the white suit for quite a while,” he now says. The white suit reassured people that he was busy playing a character when he was in fact busy watching them. In truth he had no sense of himself as a character; he thought of himself as a normal guy in an abnormal world. That he had no great ability to attract attention to himself except through his pen proved to be a huge literary advantage. He wanted status and attention as much as anyone else, but to get them he had to write. His public persona he could buy from his tailor.

His career, he suspects, is no longer possible. I also think that is true, for all sorts of non-obvious reasons—the career turned on the distinctiveness of his voice, and he found that voice only because he was given lots of time to do it. The voice also came from a particular place, now dead and gone. Not New York in the 1960s and 70s but Richmond, Virginia, circa 1942, when he was a boy and figured out what he loved and admired. Wolfe thinks his career would no longer be possible for a more obvious reason: the Internet. Electronic media aren’t as able or as likely to pay for the sort of immersion reporting that he did. And the readers of it aren’t looking—or at least don’t think they are looking—for a writer to create their view of the world. “I wouldn’t have the same pathway from the bottom to the top,” he says. “At some point you get thrust into the digital media. God, I don’t know what the hell I’d do.”

Then he surprises me. Looking back on it, he says, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers is his favorite book. His second novel, A Man in Full, published in 1998, sold the most copies, but Radical Chic was the one he wouldn’t change a word of. In the same breath he says that he recalls his father’s reaction to the book. “I remember him saying, ‘God, you’re really a writer.’ ”

Read the whole thing. [3] It’s just great. When I was just starting out as a professional writer, there were three journalists who inspired me, because they showed what a writer could do with journalism: Truman Capote, Pauline Kael, and Tom Wolfe. What a man!

37 Comments (Open | Close)

37 Comments To "Farewell, Tom Wolfe"

#1 Comment By Kirt Higdon On May 15, 2018 @ 3:39 pm

I read none of his journalistic works but all of his novels. I think these were some of the greatest written in the US. He really understood Americans, including the local variations of the places which were the settings for his stories. May he rest in peace.

#2 Comment By Russell Arben Fox On May 15, 2018 @ 4:01 pm

The Right Stuff played a transformative role in my intellectual growth and my appreciation of, and my aspirations in regards to, writing. I suppose his style limited his ability to interrogate ideas and build characters in some keys–his inability to come up with a remotely engaging or even generally believable ending to A Man in Full is a case in point–but man, what he was able to do within those limits! RIP, Mr. Wolfe.

#3 Comment By Russell Arben Fox On May 15, 2018 @ 4:05 pm

“…some key ways” that is.

#4 Comment By ROB On May 15, 2018 @ 4:23 pm

Better yet read Wolfe. In the entirety. The style is compelling the insights true. No finer novelist, no finer reporter.

#5 Comment By Pat On May 15, 2018 @ 4:26 pm

Here’s another reason why his career is no longer possible: publishers are going back to including [4] in their contracts.

#6 Comment By Kurt Gayle On May 15, 2018 @ 4:44 pm

I’m glad that he wrote a book as honest and as fine as “Bonfire of the Vanities” when it was still possible to get such a book published and favorably reviewed.

As a kid who–like Wolfe (and Steve Bannon)–grew up in the Richmond area, I (like many other Richmonders) grew to take a special pride in Tom Wolfe’s genius.

#7 Comment By Anne On May 15, 2018 @ 4:48 pm

Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion were probably the two writers most often emulated by the younger journalists of my day. Who would have thunk that twig of a woman would have outlived the elegant Mr. Wolfe. Well, OK, maybe statisticians, but anyway. The Great White-Suited One (who isn’t Steve Martin) has passed. RIP.

#8 Comment By Elijah On May 15, 2018 @ 5:14 pm

The first Wolfe book I read was “From Bauhaus to Our House”, and the thing that struck me most was the outrageous humor.

“Every new $900,000 summer house in the north woods of Michigan or on the shore of Long Island has so many pipe railings, ramps, hob-tread metal spiral stairways, sheets of industrial plate glass, banks of tungsten-halogen lamps, and white cylindrical shapes, it looks like an insecticide refinery.”

How could you not love the man who wrote that?

#9 Comment By DM On May 15, 2018 @ 5:20 pm

A prophet. I like what Ross Douthat said: we are all characters in an unpublished sequel to The Bonfire of the Vanities.

#10 Comment By Anne On May 15, 2018 @ 5:32 pm

The thing is, after the 1960s, many a journalist who aspired to high status among his own kind sought to emulate Wolfe’s style. Ironically, pitiless trend-spotting had become more fun than the other journalistic endeavor popular at the time, tough investigative reporting, and without half the time wasted on research. Of course, seeing everything through any particular lens only gets you so far, and when the novelty wore off Wolfe’s point of view, the writer lost some of his cred, and status, as well. Still, it was his writing style that was admired more than anything else, and that, the so-called “New Journalism” style he and Didion and others such as Hunter S. Thompson helped usher in, lives on.

#11 Comment By vladdy On May 15, 2018 @ 6:04 pm

In college, when the prof asked for our 3 biggest influences, I said, “Hunter Thompson, Lester Bangs, and Tom Wolfe.” Twenty years later, I’d just make it “Tom Wolfe.”

#12 Comment By connecticut farmer On May 15, 2018 @ 6:07 pm

Wolfe was brilliant. He had a gift for puncturing absurdities, but his satire was elegant and did not evince the not-so-subtle malice of, say, a Mencken. Indeed, I always had the sense that he wrote with an impish grin on his face. When I first encountered him I never “got” the suit bit but, over time, I could see where he was coming from.

In “Bonfire” there’s a scene where the protagonist, Sherman McCoy, is trying to explain to his daughter–with no success whatsoever–exactly what he does for a living and how it justifies his stratospheric salary, complete with stock options. The scene is priceless and vintage Wolfe. R.I.P.

#13 Comment By charles cosimano On May 15, 2018 @ 6:19 pm

I liked his early work, when I was a young man looking for ideas to use to raise hell, but I could never get into his writing, for, as good a stylist as he was, I could never bring myself to give a tinker’s damn about his subjects.

#14 Comment By ludo On May 15, 2018 @ 6:28 pm

The problem with Wolfe qua aesthetic personality is that, from the perspectival lessons afforded by the present Internet-dominated age, the metaphysical/psychological arraiments of such a personality have of necessity become overly transparent per se. The fact that the aforesaid are meticulously, pensively (literally intellectually), and thus pendulously (never lightly or unthinkingly idiosyncratic) cultivated and curated is precisely what makes them so overly, irresistibly transparent, indeed anti-invisible, to the recipient of an Internet-manifested and materialized velocity of ontological ¨reality¨ (i.e. to one subjected to today´s velocity of information-communication transference and absorption). (Ibidem might be said of Buckley Jr., in whose case the transparent personalistic trick is even more cloyingly intolerable/undigestible in today´s epistemological atmosphere).

The high-seated intellectual who is overly studious, conscious, custodial, curated, in short, proprietorial, with his personality´s vestments is now by definition and instantaneously the proverbial emperor who has no clothes.

What is truly classic, and stands the test of time, even in today´s age of internet velocity, is, I think, Chomsky´s complete recommendation against the anti-epistemological sophistries inherent in the so-called rhetorical arts of persuasion (written or otherwise), because they are inherently skewed to impressionistic persuasion and not to epistemological revelation, which trusts in the prosaic logic of the truth of the word (logos), as opposed to the potentially sophisticated finery of the yarns with which it is overlayed, as opposed to made–for the former can never be made, but rather only revealed, outshining from within even the most impoverished of its particularly manifested verbal trappings.

#15 Comment By Arthur Hunt On May 15, 2018 @ 7:19 pm

And then there’s The Kingdom of Speech, which takes a swipe at the inconsistencies of Darwinism. Message: humans are two Grand Canyons away from the apes.

#16 Comment By Clifford On May 15, 2018 @ 7:27 pm

A Life In Full. Godspeed, Tom.

#17 Comment By davido On May 15, 2018 @ 7:43 pm

His masterpiece was Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Somehow he got inside the head and spirit of Ken Kesey and the Pranksters. The greatest chronicle of the rise of the 60’s, and the seeds of it’s degeneration.
Wolfe was a great journalist but not a novelist; his novels read like his journalism.

#18 Comment By Tom the First On May 15, 2018 @ 8:16 pm

What a prose stylist Tom Wolfe was!

Here’s just part of his description of what it’s like to stand on the deck of an aircraft carrier in “The Truest Sport: Jousting with Sam and Charlie”:

“… This is a *skillet!* – a frying pan! – a short-order grill! – not gray but black, smeared with skid marks from one end to the other and glistening with pools of hydraulic fluid and the occasional jet-fuel slick, all of it still hot, sticky,greasy, runny, virulent from God knows what traumas – still ablaze! – consumed in detonations, explosions, flames, combustion, roars, shrieks, whines, blasts, cyclones, dust storms, horrible shudders, fracturing impacts, all of it taking place out on the very edge of control, if in fact it can be contained at all, which seems extremely doubtful, because the whole scorched skillet is still *heaving* up and down the horizon …”

And his 1976 essay, “The ‘Me’ Decade and the Third Great Awakening,” describes a great shift in moral priorities: putting others first had become passe, from that point on, it’s about me first – [5].

Rest in Peace, Mr. Wolfe.

#19 Comment By Tony D. On May 15, 2018 @ 8:17 pm

I’m just a little older than Rod, and felt seriously cheated at having just missed being able to experience The Sixties, which by the time I was aware of such things, circa 1974 or 5, already loomed large as part of American mythology.

Then I read “The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test.” Damn near the same as having been there.

Thanks, Mr. Wolfe.

#20 Comment By TR On May 15, 2018 @ 8:35 pm

The Kingdom of Speech is an embarrassment, showing he understands neither Chomsky nor Darwin, but I once got through a godawful university commencement exercise by tucking a copy of “From Bauhaus to Our House” into the official program. (I was dragooned faculty, not proud parent or graduate.)

I first saw Wolfe after his first book was published walking across Mr. Jefferson’s academical Lawn in Charlottesville. He was wearing his trademark white suit, his hair was too long, and he was also wearing white shoes with spats! I had never actually seen a man wearing spats, and neither had any of the other tweedy, button-down-collar-with-school-tie-denizens of the university that day. I’m not sure I approved, but I knew I had finally seen a genuine dandy.

By-the-way, he could have been a great stand-up comedian. as any one who ever heard him speak can attest.

#21 Comment By Hammock On May 15, 2018 @ 8:46 pm

RIP Tom Wolfe. I loved Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and while probably not one of his best novels, had some incredibly enjoyable and insightful discussions in a Politics and Literature course while reading I Am Charlotte Simmons.

#22 Comment By TR On May 15, 2018 @ 8:46 pm

This is really not about Wolfe, but how he was treated. When A Man In Full in 1998 was published, one major outlet gave the book to Norman Mailer to review and another to John Updike. The editors clearly wanted them to tell the world if Wolfe had actually written a “real” novel.

The problem is that this was 1998 and both these writers’ ideas about what a “real” novel was were formed in the 1950s, before even Joseph Heller came along. And, of course, both panned it. To what end? No one really au courant cared about either Mailer or Updike’s aesthetic theories. Wolfe clearly was not operating within the decorous limits of 1950s’ highbrow fiction, so why not see if some younger practitioners were more sympathetic?

Another example of why one should never trust the Establishment, which is what Wolfe said over the next few years in arguing with the Mailers of this world.

#23 Comment By ludo On May 15, 2018 @ 8:51 pm

P.S. I like this particularly very honest and direct quote of his–“I think every living moment of a human being’s life, unless the person is starving or in immediate danger of death in some other way, is controlled by a concern for status…” Especially for what it says about himself and the limits of that self.

Surely, in any case, he has now escaped those, even in life, overly strict frontiers. The cloistered carapace of his capitalist-anchored ontology (physically mimetized in his de rigueur suits) will surely no longer encumber the capacity or the clarity of his vision. The petty tragedy is that it need not have done so even in life for an artist who so evidently had instinctually the ¨right stuff,¨ but perhaps also overly much of the calculating cynicising stuff that impedes such an art from flowering into something for honest than a coyly kaleidoscopic play on the surface (i.e. pseudo) ¨depths¨ of capitalism itself. Not ¨socialist realism¨ to be sure, but neither the false dawn of capitalist psychedelia either.

#24 Comment By Dan On May 15, 2018 @ 9:04 pm

An incredible writer dear to conservatives due to his unparalleled skill at ridiculing leftist pieties. Kingdom of Speech is a hilarious if at times unfair take down of Darwin. It has never been clear to me though where he stood spiritually. His satiric tone seemed to leave no room for piety (in the positive sense of the word).

#25 Comment By connecticut farmer On May 15, 2018 @ 9:39 pm

@ Tom the First

Wolfe was wrong about the “Me Decade”, but only in terms of time span. It should now read “Decades”–now four in number and counting.

#26 Comment By Caroline On May 15, 2018 @ 9:46 pm

@ludo? Are you Mau-mauing the Dept of Diversity and Intersectionality?

#27 Comment By Harris On May 15, 2018 @ 11:37 pm

With Mike Royko and Joan Didion, Tom Wolfe simply defined the kind of writer I wanted to be — not that I was one, really, but still. The amazing run-on sentences, looping and looping with wordplay and then somehow scrambling inside to show you a world looking out. All of it.

“Mau-mauing the Flak Catchers” is by far my favorite essay.

#28 Comment By galanx On May 15, 2018 @ 11:42 pm

Shorter Bonfire of the Vanities: “Only those of Irish or Italian descent are worthwhile (maybe a few right-wing Jews). Any others, especially those who have black or brown skin, are savages who are destroying a once-great, white man’s country”.
He was Trump before Trump.

[NFR: I think your ability to appreciate satirical writing has been fatally compromised by your politics. — RD]

#29 Comment By Elijah On May 16, 2018 @ 8:15 am

“And, of course, both [Mailer and Updike] panned it.”

@ TR – do you remember Wolfe’s response? Another classic: ‘It’s because their own works of the past few years have been sinking without a bubble.’

True and hilarious.

#30 Comment By Hexexis On May 16, 2018 @ 10:46 am

Around 1975, I figure, Tom Wolfe spoke at our school. I knew the name; that was all.

But he stood there on the stage of the auditorium in a yellow (as I recall) 3-piece suit & proposed that the grand media-hyped, Vietnam war-fueled counter-culture revolution that happened in the preceding decade was no revolution. No, that would occur 30 yr hence, when the leisure class draft dodgers & blue collar draftees jockeyed for power & prestige in the corridors of government & industry.

Even Wolfe could not predict that the blue collar cohort would adopt as & anoint a leisure class draft dodger one of their own.

#31 Comment By Ms On May 16, 2018 @ 10:46 am

Loved his books. Understood NYC so well. Still have Masters of the Universe.

#32 Comment By James Kabala On May 16, 2018 @ 2:05 pm

I guess I am the only one stodgy enough to be troubled to hear that “There is no description of her in the source, and the quotations do not appear in the reference.” If that is true and was typical of the dissertation as a whole, then he tried to pass off fiction as fact. It would be great if more dissertations read like novels, but not for them to actually be novels!

#33 Comment By Scurvy Oaks On May 16, 2018 @ 3:52 pm

One of my favorites is the following, which seems worth revisiting in these lip-quivering, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” hyperbolic days:

From Tom Wolfe’s 1976 essay, “The Intelligent Coed’s Guide To America”

“The next thing I knew, the discussion was onto the subject of fascism in America. Everybody was talking about police repression and the anxiety and paranoia as good folks waited for the knock on the door and the descent of the knout on the nape of the neck. I couldn’t make any sense out of it. I had just made a tour of the country to write a series called “The New Life Out There” for New York magazine. This was the mid-1960’s. The post-World War II boom had by now pumped money into every level of the population on a scale unparalleled in any nation in history. Not only that, the folks were running wilder and freer than any people in history. For that matter, Krassner himself, in one of the strokes of exuberance for which he was well known, was soon to publish a slight hoax: an account of how Lyndon Johnson was so overjoyed about becoming President that he had buggered a wound in the neck of John F. Kennedy on Air Force One as Kennedy’s body was being flown back from Dallas. Krassner presented this as a suppressed chapter from William Manchester’s book Death of a President. Johnson, of course, was still President when it came out. Yet the merciless gestapo dragnet missed Krassner, who cleverly hid out onstage at Princeton on Saturday nights.

Suddenly I heard myself blurting out over my microphone: “My God, what are you talking about? We’re in the middle of a … Happiness Explosion!”

That merely sounded idiotic. The kid up in the balcony did the crying baby. The kid down below did the raccoon … Krakatoa, East of Java … I disappeared in a tidal wave of rude sounds … Back to the goon squads, search-and-seize and roust-a-daddy …

Support came from a quarter I hadn’t counted on. It was Grass, speaking in English.
“For the past hour I have my eyes fixed on the doors here,” he said. “You talk about fascism and police repression. In Germany when I was a student, they come through those doors long ago. Here they must be very slow.”

Grass was enjoying himself for the first time all evening. He was not simply saying, “You really don’t have so much to worry about.” He was indulging his sense of the absurd. He was saying: “You American intellectuals—you want so desperately to feel besieged and persecuted!”

He sounded like Jean-François Revel, a French socialist writer who talks about one of the great unexplained phenomena of modern astronomy: namely, that the dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe.”

#34 Comment By Ken Zaretzke On May 16, 2018 @ 4:55 pm

Compare Tom Wolfe to John Updike. Updike’s novels are boring. Wolfe’s novels are very interesting, though less literary than Updike’s. Updike’s essays are models of style, but say little or nothing about life and the society we live in. Wolfe’s essays are invariably brilliant and tell us a great deal about the world we live in. Updike is like Seattle–way overrated. Wolfe is like Chicago–underrated, if anything.

#35 Comment By PubliusII On May 16, 2018 @ 7:07 pm

His thesis sounds very interesting. I wonder if he got it published anywhere.

The degree of Communist subversion through “cultural agents of influence” was very great all through in the period he studied.

Still is, too, although these days the corrosive substance being spread around is cultural Marxism, or, as it’s called in these parts, liquid modernity.

See also Eric Raymond’s essay, “Gramiscian Damage”: [6]

#36 Comment By Tom On May 16, 2018 @ 10:56 pm

Ken Zaretzke:

I’m guessing you’re from Chicago?

#37 Comment By Ken Zaretzke On May 17, 2018 @ 3:19 pm

“I’m guessing you’re from Chicago?”


I grew up in Seattle’s largest suburb, in the same city Bill Gates now lives in (Medina really being part of Bellevue). My experience of Chicago involves living in Wicker Park for six months. A wonderful city, in ways Seattle can’t remotely match. Thought that was 20 years ago; maybe Mayor Emanuel has ruined the place by now.