Saturday, 15 October 2011

Man of Gonzo.

The words of Dr Johnson which mark the beginning of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas are highly appropriate "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man." The image of the swaggering obscene paternal figure comes to mind, Raoul Duke stands as an obvious figure which Thompson equated himself with in a way which he never really did with Paul Kemp. It is worth keeping in mind, when he wrote The Rum Diary Thompson had yet to dabble in psychedelics but he was a seasoned drinker and went on to garner a reputation as an "impervious man" when it came to drugs and alcohol. When he had dinner with George McGovern, who was running for the Presidency in 1972, Thompson ordered three Margaritas and six beers in one sitting. This is the man who became a beast in order to continuously purge himself of an unending source of pain. Are we talking about the burden of masculinist norms here? Perhaps we are talking about masculinity itself? The beginning of The Rum Diary is marked with an eye-opening sentiment from Eileen O'Connell from 1773:
My rider of the bright eyes,
What happened you yesterday?
I thought you in my heart,
When I bought you your fine clothes,
A man the world could not slay.
There is something defiant about the figure conjured up in O'Connell's words, the world could not slay this man. This is not the normal paternal presence, whose symbolic authority is derived from a phallic insignia. Keep in mind that the phallus facilitates the articulation of desire, simultaneously a symbol of sexual difference - the lack of the signifier in the Other - and the object of desire. Desire in the Lacanian sense of the longing which persists even after needs have been satisfied. It is not a case of the wish to simply possess an object, it is a lack of being which signals the split at the heart of the subject. The phallus is symbolic, so it cannot be possessed as an attribute of sorts. In a way desire is an appeal to receive from the Other the complement to what it lacks, so desire is a longing for the desire of an other and so on. It is tempting to designate the figure as not merely wearing the phallus, rather the man is the phallus. But if we accept that to be slain is to be possessed then we can't hardly hold onto this position. Really then it is about the dissatisfaction of desire which is consequent of the unattainable and fleeting quality of the object of desire - objet petit a.

We could continue along this psychoanalytic line for answers to the "bestial" indulgences of man that Thompson advocated as a kind of release from a great pain which seems to be connected with existence itself - perhaps in Schopenhauerian vein. Freud might have designated the bestial drives of man as the Id (to put it in rather crude terms). Think of Harpo Marx as the Id, which is just as ambiguous and silent as him. The strange antics of Harpo were childlike - in the pursuit of mindless fun - but gripped by a primordial evil at the same time. Here we should turn to Nietzsche who reserved great praise for the grand passions, which have often been treated as bestial and animalistic drives in the past. Passion brings meaning to life, it can bring insight, understanding and orientation. This is because of the attachments that are born out of a passionate life: the friendships and relationships we forge, as well as the ideals we hold dear and the creative powers we can exercise through art. The acceptance and love of life is the highest passion, as well as the highest virtue, for Nietzsche. To unleash the passions might be to "make a beast" of oneself.

The passions which gripped Thompson in life ranged from Freak Power and Fitzgerald to motorcycles and mescaline, there were plenty of attachments made to art, music, friends and lovers. He experimented greatly in his life, the indulgence in drugs and alcohol was not just a form of hedonism it was part of the persona he worked to create. The same goes for the passionate lives led by the protagonists of Thompson's books, though the lives they led have been crystallised in fiction for us to enjoy. Most tragically Hunter S Thompson ultimately chose to end his life partly in reaction to the political climate of America. It was a most un-Nietzschean end, Thompson had become a hostage to the persona he had built over the years. It would be easy to paint him as a simple hedonist, but look at the Wave Speech and it is not simply a celebration of hedonism (though there is an element of that involved). Rather it is a joyous eulogy to the 60s zeitgeist, the immense explosion of energy which would prevail over the old politics. Take his words in The Proud Highway "Hopes rise and dreams flicker and die. Love plans for tomorrow and loneliness thinks of yesterday. Life is beautiful and living is pain. The sound of music floats down a dark street."

No comments: