Not Your Mom’s Travel Essay

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Title: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Rating: 5 Stars

Where to even begin…

I read it basically over a day in about two sittings. This is the way to do it. It’s pure stream of consciousness, so as much as possible, try to get it into your head in one stream.

There is clearly a connection between Kerouac’s On the Road and Fear and Loathing. On the Road serves to me as the bridge between the staid 1940’s and the emerging beatnik generation of the 1950’s. In a similar manner, Fear and Loathing serves to me as the bridge between the peace, love, communal, and drugs aura of the 1960’s to the drug-addled, self-indulgent, me-generation of the 1970’s. Thompson serves as that bridge as he eulogizes (and mythologizes) the era that he is leaving and embraces the paranoid, selfish excesses of the era that he is entering.

I find it interesting that, in what appears to be a drug-fueled, scribbled in a notebook, primal scream of a book is actually an intelligently crafted post modern novel.

Let us count the ways:

  1. The narrator is clearly unreliable. He is paranoid and hallucinating, and everything we experience is through that prism.
  2. Although the narrator is supposedly Raoul Duke, occasionally the mask falls off and behind it you see the real author (meta-fiction!).
  3. There is a sense that the novel is occurring in the immediate now. There are a number of very topical references (The Process, Melvin Belli, Highway 61 Revisited, Jim Garrison) that in a relatively short number of years (probably < 50) will render this novel unintelligible for most readers. I find this to be an interesting problem for post-modernism in general. What will people think of this literature form when it becomes essentially inaccessible? Just as an aside to this, I don’t remember his name, but there was a literary critic in Shakespeare’s time that was considered one of the most insightful of his time but his reviews were so self-referential to his time that these reviews (including those of Shakespeare) are essentially impenetrable today. Is that the fate for an entire generation of writers?
  4. Discovering real truths through false reporting. There is a skein of truth in his reporting. He did go down to Las Vegas to attend the Mint 400. He did attend the District Attorney’s conference on narcotics. Beyond that, it is impossible to know what is true and what is false. The verifiable truth does not matter because he uses this framework to make larger statements (ie truths).

He makes several statements about the failure of the 1960’s. He briefly talks about Timothy O’Leary and how his views that LSD opens up minds and perceptions but then he prescribes nothing once the mind and perception is opened. What comes next?

In a similar vein but more interesting, he talks about the Hells Angels. He has expertise here since he spent a significant amount of time with them (his first book was about his time with them). He discusses how Sonny Barger (leader of the Angels) led an attack on anti-war marchers. This was a turning point because the anti-war leaders (eg SDS) were trying to unite the student protesters with minority rights groups (eg Black Panthers) and the  blue collar workers to lead a true revolution in the US. The lack of blue collar participation (and, in fact, active antipathy to the student protesters) doomed this revolution and, in my opinion, doomed the youth movement to essentially irrelevance (eg bombing empty bathrooms and calling it a statement).

Trenchant social commentary such as this belies the apparent drug-addled chaos of the work.

And, oh yeah, it’s also laugh out loud funny.

 

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