Hunter S. Thompson, d. February 20, 2005

Yesterday, Trace Reddell wrote to tell me that Hunter S. Thompson is dead, self-inflicted gunshot wound, "committed suicide." That was yesterday, and HST died on February 20th, 2005, at age 67.

[ BBC | Aspen Times | CNN | NYT | Steven Shaviro ]

Hunter S. Thompson. That's twice in the past several months, about half a year, that two formative influences have slipped from existence as we claim to know it, each in his own way, one accepting death, the other, determining it, and both, in their own way, granting death the privilege of taking them in the face.

It's not contradictory to write that a philosopher such as Jacques Derrida and a maverick outlaw such as Hunter S. Thompson can shape the intellect and craft of living that permeates all the most effectual of written words. Both were on the outside the more they found themselves inside--the system, the text, the character. Both had fame eat away at the distance each had set for himself, whether it be the entire history of Western thought or the hypocrisy of a violent nation gone horribly awry, and both set themselves to living in the world and expressing this profound affirmation to others.

HST's two volumes of letters may surpass his Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. They are poignant, touching, funny, desperate, and they sketch out what is to follow--that sense of being able to narrate and characterize the violent outline of a situation. It is in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 that HST's intelligence grapples with the most complex of games: politics. Sure, Hell's Angels took guts, but it is through those other, lonesome books, especially leading out of the '70s, that the analysis drifts past the acidic writing of something gone horribly wrong, and begins to calculate the real damage of a generation that gave up the dream. It didn't last long, this reflective moment.. as from there it kind of unwound, like it all did, like he did, in the '80s.

Which is why those two volumes of letters are significant works of writing and historical ventures into the thick of a writer who sought to grapple with life like it was a fierce tiger, even if it cost him his life. His life being, once discovered as all writers do, all that a writer has to offer. It is in his early letters that his arguments against both orthodox Marxism and capitalism take shape--although he grudgingly grants the U.S. state with the conditions for his own self-made existence. As much as he sees the decline all around him, he's able to shape something of it. He was always a Patriot, and it has always been a struggle with death for HST: the Death of the American Dream, that is, himself. \

Escaping, fleeing, fighting, backing it up with a supreme confidence betrayed only in his letters, it is here that you read of his experiences in South America and the Caribbean, of being in Vietnam... of his ability to keep at it despite poverty and opposition, despite the recklessness of his own actions, and of the many ghosts that sought to sink their teeth into the flesh of HST. Is it any surprise that the past came to overwhelm the figure that monumentalized the fire of the night?

It is the same thread's John Glassie picked up on: HST, didn't you live the American Dream?

But you didn't want to live it as proxy for the rest of us. You were not meant to be our entertainment, yet somehow the stress of producing the questions, the force of confrontation that brought the question of the Dream to the fore, of producing at all generated the fracture of writing that was Gonzo, the inability to craft the story that resulted in those weird notes, screeds, scribbles, complete failures and breakdowns... all sent directly to the publisher, screaming words of that harsh reality. Leading in, writing that lead which eventually became the story in and of itself, that lead to nowhere and save depravity slipped the character into the tension of the moment and rendered indistinguishable the schizophrenic split of personality known as Raoul Duke. Did it not also destroy aspects of your former self? All that tenderness, words are flesh in violent movement, that remains poignant in those letters. Like Derrida's polylogues, his postcards to himself, his neverending concern with the other who does not reply... and who cannot. Like Thompson's debts, paying them off, to whom he does not know. His constant betting. There is pain in HST, as Steven Shaviro says, he writes as a parody of himself. If you watch the commentary to Gilliam's film, Thompson is asked: "How does it feel to see someone play you on screen?" Pause. For the most part he avoids any serious answer. Pause. For a long time ago he split himself into the screen and the self, and somehow the rest of the world didn't follow.

Hunter S. Thompson was counter-culture. Not subculture, not microculture, but hooked into something so broad and vast that those alive today have no fucking idea how to get that kind of thing even started. We needed him; it was too bad he did not drop the shades, glance around, and realise we were here all along, past the cynicism, looking for guidance. But he couldn't have given it to us anyway: for what shame there is in the survivors of the '60s counterculture...

Robert Sam Anson, journalist. "His special curse" [from salon]

...past midnight, in a townhouse on New York's fashionable East Side, a rock magazine publisher [Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner] is hosting a party for his staff...

The hour is late...he is doing his best to get drunk. Standing off in a corner, trademark shades in place, stoned as usual, he looks oddly depressed. This is not his kind of crowd. Everyone appears to be over thirty. They are wearing suits and ties. None of them is stoned. And they are all so calm. That is the real problem: none of them is crazy. They wouldn't understand the demons that live in his head. He drains his glass in a gulp and orders another drink. And then another. Buy the end of the evening, he will have had many drinks, and will still be sober. It is his special curse: to be able to fill his body with alcohol and drugs, and always have it function; never to be able to blot out what he has seen, what he knows. And looking around, he knows that it is over: the revolution, the fighting, the chance to be different. The counterculture has become The Culture, and out there in the streets is the proof.... (1976)

From "Gone Crazy and Back Again: The Rise and Fall of the Rolling Stone Generation," by Robert Sam Anson (Doubleday, 1981)

posted. Tue - February 22, 2005 @ 11:11 AM           |