Saturday, May 19, 2018


much as I'm loving the blogging-through-Koshkin's 24 preludes and fugues series that's going to be temporarily on hold.  There's a few reasons.  One is that we're hitting parts of the cycle where a guitarist has to sit down and do some score work and on-instrument work.  That will take some time.

And ... there's a book that's out that we're going to discuss by way of review here just like I said we would at the end of last year, Jessica Johnson's book Biblical Porn.  Got a copy of the book and need to read through it and write that review.

And ... there's an interview by someone associated with Driscoll over the years that I heard recently that I wanted to get to, a Gerry Breshears interview about what can be learned in the wake of the demise of Mars Hill.  It'll take some time to get to that because of the book stuff, but that's another thing I hope to get to.

And ... there's another one but that's not something that really needs a ton of discussion at the moment.  It's been a few years since the resignation and it's going to be interesting to go through interviews that in some way broach the subject of the resignation and transitions.  We'll try to get to those but not everything has been put in places where it'd be easy to find. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

National Association of Scholars, a conversation with Tom Wolfe, with a quote about men finding themselves at jobs they're at a loss to describe to their children in bureaucracies

I have to admit I didn't even finish A Man in Full. My fandom of Wolfe went right up to Bonfire of the Vanities and stopped there. But sometimes there's stuff he's discussed in the last few decades that might be worth quoting on the week he's passed:
Iannone: What was your dissertation on?
Wolfe: It was on the League of American Writers, which was a Communist front. That was a very hazardous subject for a dissertation at that time. We are talking about the 1950s, when the debate over McCarthyism was still going strong. Most of the major writers in the country belonged to the League from 1935 to 1939. On the surface it was merely one of many anti-Fascist organizations and had nothing to do with the Communist Party directly.
Iannone: Or it said that it didn’t or you believed that it didn’t?
Wolfe: Oh, no, a Communist fraction ran it. The party used the word “fraction,” not “faction.” I did a lot of reporting for that dissertation. I interviewed the principals, Communist and non-Communist, and they told me exactly how it was done. You should read it—or maybe you shouldn’t. Talk about a dry piece of sociology. It dealt with political issues only insofar as they affected how the fraction ran the front. That dissertation is so diligently dull and puritanically objective, it’ll dry up your skin and make your teeth fall out. But I got my Ph.D. My sole interest was in how the Party could turn writers, people who pride themselves on their independence, into what they called “a manipulable mass.” I combed through census figures, biographical yearbooks, newspaper files, and found out that—this was no surprise—most lived in New York and Los Angeles but came from other places all over the country. They were adrift socially. Their whole social life depended on friendships with other people in the same line of work. [emphasis added] Offer them an organization devoted to a cause they believe in, namely anti-Fascism, and it wasn’t all that hard to manipulate them…in behalf of Soviet foreign policy.
See that part jumps out at me, as a former member and attender of Mars Hill. I could write more than I already have about that bolded segment but in this case mere allusion suffices.
Wolfe: MFA programs are subject to the influences of what I call “the charming aristocracy.” That was a term coined by a French poet in the 1880s, Catulle Mendès. He said “All this business of naturalism”—Zola, Flaubert, Maupassant, and the rest—“is really finished. Today, no real writer wants to write for the masses. Today, one writes for a charming aristocracy.” Of course, that means an aristocracy of higher taste. To prove you have it, you have to praise things the masses wouldn’t understand or would consider too boring or weird for words: Joyce, Proust, Kafka, the early Faulkner, on up to Beckett, Pinter, Robbe-Grillet.
Wolfe: It becomes removed in a lot of ways. To the charming aristocracy, writing about the muck of everyday life is considered vulgar, which is another way of saying it’s too easy to understand and appeals to ordinary readers. Psychological sensitivities should be what it’s all about. Whereas, I think if you look back at the novelists who are remembered from ages past, practically every one of them wrote about his own time in a thoroughgoing way. Fielding, Dickens, Balzac, Flaubert, Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Tolstoy… And they are so “accessible,” that being the charming aristocratic euphemism for readable. Anna Karenina is clear as a raindrop, but in no time you find yourself out in some very deep water. You feel the agony of an adulterous affair in the nineteenth century, even though today Anna and Vronsky would be nothing more than a Page Six item.
I was tempted to read a book called The Program Era about writing programs and I started into it but couldn't get far enough into it before having to return it to the city library. What Wolfe is getting at that I have noticed when I reflect back on my musical education and what some of my professors told me is that there's a kind of academic canon, stuff you're supposed to like to prove you're educated.  Then there's the "repertoire canon" as Richard Taruskin has put it, the music people voluntarily part with their own money to go hear.  Wolfe is laying out this class divide in literature but it's the kind of class divide he spent a lot of his career charting. 
And then, since it seems in some circles people want to talk about Jordan Peterson, it's almost quaint to consider that Tom Wolfe had some stuff to say about the distinction between work that conferred status verses work that confirmed dignity.
Wolfe: I think that started before feminism. I think that started in the era—I don’t know if you ever read The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. Then, because of bureaucracy, a word that was in the air constantly, men were filling jobs that made them feel like replaceable parts in a machine, jobs they could hardly even explain to their children. They were feeling emasculated thanks to lack of authority. It was one thing to be the blacksmith who runs the shop, and maybe that’s not considered a job of high status, but it has authority, and you know you’re a man. What are you if you are working for Morgan Stanley? I don’t know. [emphasis added]

Wolfe's description seems plain enough--a lot of men had jobs in bureaucratic contexts where they didn't have a lot of authority and while Wolfe uses that word I think another, better, word for this might be dignity.  The town blacksmith didn't have a job with a high social status but anyone and everyone in the town knew what he was good at. It's a useful example of what Wolfe could say when he was "on".  Take that statement about how men felt like they were filling jobs that made them feel like cogs in a machine. That part is pretty rote, boilerplate.  But the part that comes at the end is about how the men who had these jobs could hardly explain what they did or a living to their own children.  When the subject is, "What do you do, dad?" the real hits-you-where-you-live anomie about the job you have is when your child asks you what you do and you're not sure how to explain what it is you do for which you get paid. 

Theres a line like that in Whit Stillman's film Metropolitan where the lizard von Slanaker confesses that the thing he most dreads is that someone will ask him "what do you do?"  He's just idle rich, that's it.  that's all.  He doesn't do anything.  That's a brief light Stillman's film sheds on this Amerian aristocrat who has money and no sense and a dubious moral compass.  So my comparison of Wolfe to Stillman was strategic.  It was part of a wind-up for something later, which has arrived.

So, seeing as I've read Tom Wolfe semi-regularly over the last twenty years it is kind of another reason why when I read some guys going on about how fantastic Jordan Peterson is and how he "gets it", what men of this age have to face I still say, so what?  It's not like Tom Wolfe didn't broach thee subject of how contemporary office and finance life can seem enervating and emasculating to guys who struggle to think of how to explain their day jobs to their own children. 

When Wolfe riffed decades ago about how you could buy all the Windsor and Newton paint you wanted in Akron, Ohio but that "every" artist "had" to go to New York to go get "the loft" he wasn't ripping on artists or art in themselves.  He was ripping on the status game with a certain bemused scorn mingled with sympathy.  After all, he made himself a notorious journalist it wasn't like he couldn't understand the appeal of having a reputation for being good at something.  But pertinent to his own comments about men and meaningful work, he made a point at being recognizably good at something.  What Sean Nelson alluded to in his encomium to Tom Wolfe was that writers like Tom Wolfe seemed to have vivid writerly personalities on the page but they did not make themselves more central to what they wrote than what and who they were writing about.  I like that about Wolfe and I like that about Didion.  It's been a guide to my own approach writing about stuff here, most obviously things to do with mars Hill. 

My journalism professor once said in a class lecture that one of the grave misunderstandings about editorial writing is to forget that it must always, finally, still be journalism--nobody cares what you think, people want to know what the facts are.  Writers like Wolfe had narrative voices that could be so vivid that inattentive readers could forget that Wolfe was writing about astronauts or art world status seeking and, along the way, had a vivid, memorable literary style.  The style at its best highlighted rather than distracted from substance.  What so many lesser imitators of Wolfe and Thompson and Didion and others imitated was the style. In that sense Wolfe can be blamed as well as praised for having such a dynamic and frenetic style it came to permeate whole fields of writing that, maybe, it shouldn't have influenced as much as it did.

an enconium for Tom Wolfe from someone at ... The Stranger

From Sean Nelson, of which we'll quote some large chunks.

Of course, Wolfe and his NJ cohort also helped make journalism safe for run-on sentences, overcooked narrative conceits, and onomatopoeic indulgences, so... I hope Hunter S. Thompson and Lester Bangs saved him a comfy seat in the elite section of hell reserved for writers whose brilliant legacies are clouded by all the inferior imitators they inspired. [emphasis added]
His other great work was a novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities, which performed a similar function for the culture of extreme greed in 1980s New York. Except instead of a eulogy, the book was more like one of the seven angelic trumpets announcing the coming rapture.
Bonfire nailed it: The saga of Sherman McCoy, self-proclaimed "master of the universe," his mistress Maria, the black kid they hit with their car, the particularly New York-style media frenzy that whips up around them, is an eerily timeless lens through which to view so many powderkeg issues of privilege, class, race, fame, inequity, ambition, avarice, bigotry, and indeed vanity that snake around the contemporary news and media landscape like silver dental floss through rotten teeth loosely wobbling in bleeding gums.
It's also a fantastically vivid and kinetic piece of writing—a little lightweight supermarket pop-fic perhaps, but nonetheless full of passages that never leave your memory. The prologue, "Mutt on Fire," set at an especially tense mayoral press conference, and it thrums like a wasps' nest:
It'll be on TV. The whole city will see it. They'll love it. Harlem rises up! What a show! Not the hustlers and the operators and the players rise up-but Harlem rises up! All of black New York rises up! He's only mayor for some of the people! He's the mayor of White New York! Set fire to the mutt! The Italians will watch this on TV, and they'll love it. And the Irish. Even the Wasps. They won't know what they're looking at. They'll sit in their co-ops on Park and Fifth and East Seventy-second Street and Sutton Place, and they'll shiver with the violence of it and enjoy the show. Cattle! Birdbrains! Rosebuds! Goyim! You don't even know, do you? Do you really 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?
Come down from your swell co-ops, you general partners and merger lawyers! It's the Third World down there! Puerto Ricans, West Indians, Haitians, Dominicans, Cubans, Colombians, Hondurans, Koreans, Chinese, Thais, Vietnamese, Ecuadorians, Panamanians, Filipinos, Albanians, Senegalese, and Afro-Americans! Go visit the frontiers, you gutless wonders! Morningside Heights, St. Nicholas Park, Washington Heights, Fort Tryon-por que pagar mas! The Bronx-the Bronx is finished for you! Riverdale is just a little freeport up there! Pelham Parkway-keep the corridor open to Westchester! Brooklyn—your Brooklyn is no more! Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope-little Hong Kongs, that's all! And Queens! Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Hollis, Jamaica, Ozone Park-whose is it? Do you know? And where does that leave Ridgewood, Bayside, and Forest Hills? Have you ever thought about that! And Staten Island! Do you Saturday do-it-yourselfers really think you're snug in your little rug? You don't think the future knows how to cross a bridge?
And you, you Wasp charity-bailers 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?
That line, "You don't think the future knows how to cross a bridge?" has been on the tip of my mind's tongue for 30 years, still probably the best encapsulation of the inevitability of class uprising I've ever read.
Wolfe, as more than a few have noted, was just fine with Reagan.  Sometimes a writer has enough influence that even folks writing for The Stranger can grant that influence while disagreeing with political positions staked out by said authors.  When Joan Didion passes I'm not sure everyone is going to lead with how she, by her own account, voted ardently for Barry Goldwater or how she distrusted Reagan because he didn't seem like he was actually conservative about anything.
If there was something Wolfe could be memorably good at, it was roasting the elites of the New York scene for their insularity, privilege, and decadence ... all the while seeming to enjoy it a bit himself ... possibly like a late 20th century F. Scott Fitzgerald in a vague sort of way. 

Ethan Iverson remembering a paragraph from Tom Wolfe


As a teenager I thumbed through my mother’s copy of From Bauhaus to Our House without understanding much of it. However, one paragraph naturally stood out. Looking at it again I am struck by the perhaps needless cruelty of the author. Still, the larger point hits home then and now.
For that matter, in most of the higher arts in America prestige was now determined by European-style clerisies. By the mid-1960s, painting was a truly advanced case. The Abstract Expressionists had held on as the ruling compound for about ten years, but then new theories, new compounds, new codes began succeeding one another in a berserk rush. Pop Art, Op Art, Minimalism, Hard Edge, Color Field, Earth Art, Conceptual Art — the natural bias of the compounds toward arcane and baffling went beyond all known limits. The spectacle was crazy, but young artists tended to believe – correctly – that it was impossible to achieve major status without joining in the game. In the field of serious music, the case was even more advanced; in fact, it was very nearly terminal. Within the university compounds, composers had become so ultra-Schoenbergian, so exquisitely abstract, that no one from the outside world any longer had the slightest interest in, much less comprehension of, what was going on. In the cities, not even that Gideon’s army known as “the concert-going public” could be drawn to an all-contemporary program. They took place only in university concert halls. Here on the campus the program begins with Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” followed by one of Stockhausen’s early compositions, “Punkte,” then Babbitt’s Ensembles for Synthesizer, a little Easley Blackwood and Jean Barraqué for a change of pace, then the committed plunge into a random-note or, as they say, “stochastic” piece for piano, brass, Moog synthesizer, and computer by Iannis Xenakis. The program winds up with James P. Johnson’s “You’ve Gotta Be Modernistic.” Joplin and Johnson, of course, are as cozy and familiar as a lullaby, but they are essential to the program. The same thirty-five or forty souls, all of them faculty members and graduate students, make up the audience at every contemporary musical event. The unspeakable fear is that not even they will show up unless promised a piece of candy at the beginning and a piece of candy at the end. Joplin and Johnson are okay because both men were black and were not appreciated as serious composers in their own day.
What strikes me about the "needless cruelty" of Tom Wolfe's book is how that "needless cruelty" is the baseline of social and political commentary.  If the tone seems lacerating and condescending from Wolfe regarding highbrow art it's possible it seems that way because Wolfe was targeting art but, more directly, a class. 
By the way, the Easley Blackwood string quartets are okay but I like Bartok's a whole lot more.  But the zinger about how you have to promise candy at the start and candy at the end lest people not endure all the musical broccoli and brussel sprouts in the middle doesn't seem too harsh.  I say that as someone who actually likes some stuff by Xenakis and Blackwood. I don't care hugely for Stockhausen overall and Babbitt ... eh. 
But Wolfe, as so many have been saying, had a singular focus on status and its trappings.  His satires on art criticism and the arts scene are first and foremost about what might be called the leisure classes or the chattering classes.  It may smell like anti-intellectualism to those who like Xenakis and think Wolfe is ripping on Xenakis.  Eh, possible, but he's definitely making fun of what people of an educated and leisurely class began to feel they were obliged to provide patronage to by way of money and attention in the 1970s.  As one of my music teachers put it, the 1970s was a rough time when official composers and teachers thought you couldn't write tunes any longer.  Even Leo Brouwer was doing avant garde stuff, although he managed to sneak in some sweet prog rock style rhythms into his avant garde guitar music.  Then he started writing tunes again, but I digress.
If the quoted paragraph was actually Wolfe being needlessly cruel that's still restrained and vaguely polite enough to name all proper names.  Nothing in there that's half as vitriolic as some of the comments you can read at slippedisc these days.

a very brief (for me) comment on the Internet Monk piece about how futurist dispensationalism is no longer a fringe theology

this is less a comment on iMonk's post than on some claims made in the comments

What some people don't seem to understand is that there has never been a real conflict between dominionist strands of theology and dispensationalism.  Dispensationalism is subordinate in American theology.  The dominionist element comes first?  Why?  Go back and look at postmillennialism and the Social Gospel movements in the 19th century and early 20th century. There wasn't a conflict between Manifest Destiny and the Social Gospel, there wasn't a core conflict between the formal eschatological framework and the public policy back then.

It takes theological and historical ignorance to imagine that contemporary dominionist streams of thought and dispensationalism are somehow conceptually at odds with each.  Jeffrey Burton Russell had a book about religious dissent in the medieval period and in that short but useful survey he pointed out that during the medieval period the political dissidents found all sorts of millenarian views useful as a basis for political protests. The Catholic Church rejected millenarian views as bad theology for theological reasons but it was also, as Russell noted rather flatly and directly, rejected because those advocating postmillennial or premillennial views tended to do so in tandem with advocacy for political revolutions. 

So any Americans proposing that there's somehow a conceptual conflict between advocacy of any for of dominionism on the one hand and dispensationalism on the other just hasn't read enough history, most likely.

Now I happen to reject both dominionist thought and dispensationalist thought but I keep those categories distinct.  Unfortunately not very many Americans do seem interested in keeping those categories distinct.

On the whole, particularly since half my lineage is Native American, I've got a far more negative view of the long-term policy effects of postmillennialism paired with dominionism than with dispensationalism.  Sure, we have reason to be worried what premillenialist dispensationalists will do with a catalyzing role in a dominionist streak in political theology that has never gone away in America's civic religions. That's not the same thing as saying that dispensationalism is creepy because it's no longer fringe.  It's been the dominant view in American civic religious Christianity for at least half a century.  Get your view off the mainlines and it's been a norm, even if it shouldn't have been.

But given the history of the mainlines and given the history of the Social Gospel and Manifest Destiny let's be cautious to not act as if dominionist theology hasn't been normative in American Christianity and Christian engagement with politics for centuries.  The religious right isn't scary because of the dominionist streak, because the old mainline and even the religious left have the exact same doctrinal lens at a practical level.  It just seems different to journalists and some historians who are so busy looking at the platform of desired policies they are missing that the underlying eschatological theory is in common.  As I've dryly quipped here in the past, the underlying eschatological/apocalyptic framework for a postmillennialist theocratic Presbyterian and a Marxist isn't that different.  Since I reject postmillennial views across the board as disastrously interested in revolutions and social engineering in American cultural and political history I'm no more fond of one than the other.  But thanks to the peculiarities of American thinking one is view as different in practical terms than the other.  There ARE Differences, of course, but I think the core danger is shared.

Two postscript thoughts

1.  I have described myself as an amillenial partial preterist for decades when people have asked what my actual views are, and it's generally only come up in theological discussions where dispensationalists and postmillenialists tend to assume their view is the only real option and/or the other one is the alternative.  I don't think your views on the millennia do anything in themselves to preclude tendencies toward autocratic views.  That requires a distinct and too often separate set of thoughts and disciplines

2. Back when I was at Mars Hill I tended to come across people who were, if they thought about the issue of eschatology at all, defaulting to some form of dispensationalist futurism on the one hand or some kind of postmillennialism on the other.  Doug Wilson and others have an idiotic shorthand for things about optimillenialism and pessimillenialism.  Well, optimillenialists in the United States have penchants for Manifest Destiny and seeing that as a rationale for massacring Native Americans, which is half my lineage.  So I think people might understand why I find the legacy of postmillennialism and Manifest Destiny ghastly.  While dispensationalism could be scary informing public policy I don't think the full legacy of postmillennialism has been  seen for as bad as it has been.

There's a short anecdote that comes to mind.  Years and years ago I recall someone telling me at Mars Hill that he had to speak up in my defense and explain to a guy who would later be a pastor at Mars Hill that, no, I was not a heretic for being an amillenial partial preterist.  That someone explained that my views could be considered historically normal and mainstream in Christian terms and that this was not a sign that I was a heretic but that I had made a point of reading not-American theologians. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Tom Wolfe, author of The Right Stuff, leading figure in the New Journalism scene, has died

One of my friends who wrote for a college newspaper years ago remarked that it seemed like every 20-something guy who wrote for a college paper had a fantasy of being the next Hunter S. Thompson.  My rejoinder was, "Not me, I'd rather be the next Joan Didion." 

Among the leading figures of what has sometimes been called the New Journalism I never got into Thompson.  The two writers I did get into were Joan Didion and Tom Wolfe, in mostly equal measures.  I admired Didion's icy reserve and I admired Wolfe's effervescent and effusive writing style.  I have reread The Right Stuff more times than many other books I've read in my life. Some of those paragraphs describing crash sites brought tears to my eyes, they were so vividly written.  And having at one point wanted to be in the military and then concluded I'd never fit into such a culture, it was nonetheless fascinating reading Wolfe's account of the dread and Cold War context within which the early space race was inextricably woven.  We had to not just be number 1 but to show the whole world we were number 1. 

Wolfe's best writing managed to simultaneously skewer and demonstrate, even distill and embody American braggadocio.  I remember that his flamboyant description could abruptly stop for a dryly underplayed quip about how a fighter jet jock would rather punch a multi-million dollar hole in the ground than admit that he made a dumb-ass mistake.  Or how the early astronauts did not want that much, really, just to be led out on to a platform where tens of thousands of people could seem them and receive as much adulation as the Pope because that, really, was not too much to ask.  Wolfe managed to chronicle American people as capable of valor and mind-numbing egotism.  Especially in The Right Stuff Wolfe chronicled an America that was valorous and paranoid in equal measure, a story full of a people and a nation able to accomplish great things and simultaneously be obscenely and absurdly proud about it, insisting that basically the entire world know how awesome we are.

Even if I have a certain amount of affection for some avant garde stuff The Painted Word was very, very funny as a send-up of arts criticism.  It was a send-up of modernist art, too, but I think Wolfe was more right than the modern art world would admit he was when he declared that art theory ascended up its own fundamental aperture and came down to us as if from the heavens as literature.  The punchline seemed obvious enough, that modern art had become so theory laden that you found artists needing to write literary treatises to explain why a Frank Stella canvas was daring and revolutionary when an ordinary person would ask why a framed canvas that apparently had nothing more on it than white paint was even in a museum. 

From Bauhaus to Our House, of course, continued the critique of theory with an aim taken at architecture. 

Wolfe at his best formulated the satirical jabs that founder just about any and every time attempts at satire show up at a couple of websites I don't feel a need to mention by name. 

Still, I gave up on his novels swiftly.  What makes for bracing journalism does not necessarily make for bracing fiction.  Wolfe was a fantastic writer when his ebullient and detailed style described real flesh and blood people.  He was masterful at observing everything about the surface.  He was a bit less convincing in a more Dostoevskian mode in which the idea was to convey the thought lives and emotional arcs of imagined characters.  Not that I didn't read Bonfire of the Vanities.  I remember it being ... okay.

In a way Wolfe's prose reminds me of Whit Stillman, in the sense that Wolfe's subject could be construed as a bright and not altogether flattering light on the American aristocracy that imagined it was more respectable and ethical than it really was.  He wasn't exactly anti-American and as others have noted, Wolfe's prose doesn't exactly seethe with scarcely concealed contempt the way Mencken's does.  The likes of Wolfe and Stillman can be thought of as having played a role in chronicling a kind of WASP meltdown where a semi-formal American aristocratic class begins to lose its prestige and role and isn't quite sure what to do about that, and along the way is full of people who say and do kind of stupid things. 

But I can't say I think a whole lot about his novels,  Yeah, I read Bonfire and only dimly remember it.  His journalism is justifiably what the bulk of his reputation is built on. 

he was also a formative influence for me in my twenties.  I wanted to write way more like Wolfe and Didion than I wanted to write like Thompson and as has been noted in obituaries and commentaries thereon, Wolfe had an identifiable style but he did not make himself a character in the same way Thompson did.  If there's a common mistake among fans of New Journalism it is forgetting that in the end if you're a journalist people want to know what the news is. They want to find out what the facts about the world are.  There can be a type of narcissism and solipsism that can breed in New Jouralism that I feel is a net negative influence on features writing over the last thirty years.  I didn't detect this so much in Wolfe as I'd find it in post New Journalism exponents of the style.  I don't feel like naming names there because it'd be pointless.  There are too many people who write articles and reviews who find it almost impossible to separate themselves from the topic of review.  It's great to love or hate stuff and articulate that in a personal way ... but there's a kind of personal is the political to arts commentary and it seems to span the spectrum.

In the sense that Wolfe and other New Journalists introduced techniques that broke the "fourth wall" of journalistic distancing through the use of fictional narrative techniques that is something that we could consider bad as well as good.  Compared to a kind of faux-omniscient Establishment approach to journalism that got lured in byMcCarthy era paranoia maybe the New Journalism needed to happen to remind Americans that our journalists and chroniclers of American life and culture are also mortals with feet of clay and points of view.  Now that that whole approach from the New Journalism legacy has been assimilated thoroughly and is staring us down from every blog on the internet, including this one, now that I think about it, it has seemed that a direction to go is in a different direction from the one Wolfe took.  It's why I ultimately chose to emulate Didion rather than Wolfe. 

But I can't deny how formative and significant Wolfe's whole approach was.  His best work shows a journalist who could put you in the middle of an entire culture and its rules and aspirations, its ambitions and double standards, and see how people might navigate those.  He managed to demonstrate how inextricable heroism and egotism can be in the American psyche.  Sometimes he did that via demonstration and sometimes he did it by way of chronicle.

While I suppose it might be said that Wolfe was a stylist who was so brilliant as a stylist he didn't turn to ideas of substance there's something Manfred Bukofzer wrote about the Baroque era that comes to mind, that the early Baroque era was a revolution in style before there were any revolutions in forms.  In the arts a change of style does not always lead to a consolidation of new forms.  From Palestrina to Sweelinck some major changes happened.  Too many people think of Bach as the summation of the Baroque era.  There were many, many average, good and great composers from that century and a half of musical change.  By extension, if Wolfe's entire literary output an be thought of as "just" style that is not insignificant.  Sometimes styles have to change before new forms can be developed that make full use of those styles.  The last century and a half has been very tumultuous.  It's how it's tended to be.  I write all this as a Haydn fan--somebody had to consolidate what's known as the high Classic style before Mozart and Beethoven could be seen as raising it to "the next level".  Wolfe may never be the Mozart of journalism in American letters but he might be its haydn, a jovial joker with eloquence and wit who might, depending on who you asked, seem a bit too shallow for "real" thought.  That's as may be, but on the day of his passing I am taking some time to remember how much I have enjoyed his journalism over the years.