Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Arthur Miller & Hunter S. Thompson

I wonder if they ever met? I doubt if they would have gotten along very well.

Arthur Miller was the leading moral voice among American writers of the Postwar Era (John Steinbeck's best works were published before the Second World War). This is not to slight writers such as Ralph Ellison, Flannery O'Connor, Alice Walker, and Bernard Malamud; it is just that none of them had the wide reach of Miller. How many Americans are unfamiliar with Willy Loman? And how many theatergoers worldwide have seen The Crucible and saw their own society represented in its story? When it came to the depiction of moral conflict, Miller had few peers in any generation or any country.

Hunter S. Thompson was a talented writer who had flashes of true brilliance. If only one did not have to slog through page upon page of paranoid, hallucinatory gibberish to get to those moments of brilliance. If only the Teflon President made the kind of villain that Nixon did. If only Hunter had been elected sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado in 1970. Of course if he had won that election we wouldn't have had Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, which was one of his best books.

His suicide was a surprise for about ten seconds. It didn't take very long to realize that anyone who took that many chemicals was an unhappy person.

At any rate, Jann Wenner should thank the Deity every night for having sent Hunter S. Thompson his way all those years ago. Whatever interest Rolling Stone once held was largely due to Thompson (he always was better in essay-length pieces than he was in full-length books).

So two more writers who spoke truth to power are gone. We need someone to write The Crucible of the Post-9/11 Era. Or at least someone to write Fear and Loathing in Mesopotamia.

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