Saturday, February 26, 2005

Fear and Loathing

Hunter S. Thompson, who died earlier in the week wasn't a "rated" writer, and for some reason literary types always classified him as a cult author and minor celebrity. This was true enough at the height of his powers in the early 1970s, but as his fame spread the literary types got it wrong, unable to see or admit that Thompson had a formidable talent, and his talent was in the most difficult literary form of all - satire.

Satire is of course, the most over-used and common form of comedy available today. There must be hundreds of lame television series, books, and articles produced every year whose excuse for being obvious and clumsy is that they are satire. Indeed they are, but they are incompetent satire, unfunny satire, lazy satire, at their best incapable of raising more than a thin smile and nod of recognition. Americans in particular don't really "get" satire at all, which is why the conventional Time Life/Newsweek portrait of H.S.T focussed on his drug taking (utterly exaggerated, as any 1st year medical student could tell you) and his "craziness." Wow. How amazing. How original. How exciting.

The truth is that at his best, HST could actually have you laughing out loud, laughing hysterically, unable to hold the book still, and if your lungs are as bad as mine, fumbling frantically for your inhaler. I well remember one trans American flight in the mid 1990s where I got worried I might actually rupture or pull some muscles in my torso because of the laughter I was painfully trying to suppress (U.S. flights, even pre 9/11, were rigorously conformist places where refusal to watch the film was considered odd to the point of subversion). The book I was reading, re-reading actually, was Fear and Loathing and Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson's masterpiece.

Fear and Loathing has so many good qualities it’s rather dull to list them all. Rereading it again recently, I was struck, hard, once again by the tremendous pace and driving energy of the narrative. It’s rather like a great thriller, only funny, very funny, and with a needle sharp intelligence and observation that penetrates the glittery surface of everything in Las Vegas to reveal the tawdry greed and base motivation below. Then there’s the effortless vivid description, which is capable of sketching everything from people, to motorcycle races, to hotel rooms, the inevitable casinos, and famously, the suspiciously apt and coherent hallucinations. Then there are the one-liners, the epigrams, a Thompson speciality, such as:

The Circus-Circus is what the whole hep world would be doing on a Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war.

And:

[Las Vegas] is not a good town for psychedelic drugs. Reality itself is too twisted.

Thomson admired the previous generation of American writers such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald and the polished craft of his writing style reflects this. In 200 pages there isn't a single bad sentence, or a miscued punch line. Vast amounts of hard (sober) work (and talent) must have gone into perfecting this deceptively conversational, light style.

For "serious" readers, you can see it as a coda to the late 1960s social revolution. By the early 1970s, its apparent to Thompson that the dream is dead, the Counter Culture has been defeated, a pre-Watergate Richard Nixon is safe in the White House, and the silent majority are satisfied and complacent.

This is the best American comedy of the 20th Century, and it will be read and enjoyed [with footnotes to tell you who Spiro Agnew was] 100 years hence. No great author really dies, death simply stops him or her writing – Hunter S. Thompson’s legacy will endure.

NOTE: Portions of this entry come from my review of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas on Amazon.com

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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Fuckwits

The Fuckwits who run our company excelled themselves yesterday.

On a bitterly cold day with the wind howling directly from the North, I make my usual 1 and 1/2 mile hike from the station to the office and stride straight for the radiator, hoping to get some feeling back into my hands before I start a typical day filled with typing and mouse clicking action (live the dream). But the radiator is cold. Disconcerted, I fiddle with the dusty plastic knob at the bottom, wondering what idiot would turn off the radiator on such a day.

My colleague opposite chuckles - They've run out of heating oil, he explains.

Incredible but true. The clowns whom the government has entrusted with a multi-million pound software design, development and implementation project are unable to order a few hundred gallons of fuel oil before the tank runs out.

And the old-timers tell me the exact same thing happened in February last year...

Heads will roll? Don't be silly. The bloke in charge of operations has been with the company for years, and sits on the board of directors who are all friends.

Not so friendly for Carly Fiorina, the C.E.O. "released" this week by Hewlett Packard. No doubt she's humilated and devastated to be sacked in such a public way. But don't worry too much, a "severance package" of about $21,000,000 will chase those tears away in no time!

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Saturday, February 12, 2005

Companion

A really nice week as I've had a lovely guest staying. It's so nice to return to someone to talk too, comment on tele programs, and generally be with.

The freedom of being alone is wonderful, but glimpses of other ways remind me how much I'm missing...

Enough. She leaves tomorrow and I've got to get my act together regarding work and the future.

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