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A Panegyric for Hunter S. Thompson
by Ed Keller
_________________________________________ “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” ESTABLISHING SHOT: Late at night in the deep woods with summer insects clamoring outside, and Bill Laswell / Bootsy Collins’ dub funk psychedelic metal from Zillatron is fueling this writing session- also Mon Paez i Blanch growling a furious Catalonian lyric over Casual’s late 90s gloom metal on their disc Figura 11- all channeling the spirit of Hunter S. Thompson. Demon wine mixes with the fatigue of a bout with lyme disease, abated by powerful antibiotics. Nothing like the strange brew that Hunter S. consumed but weird enough to propel me forward. Writing to invoke his particular spirit- hoping at least a bit of him will rise from the vasty deep as I call him up-in a kind of belated homage and thanks, and also as his particular psychotic breed of energy is something we need these days. Who has this kind of energy? CHARACTER ENTRANCES: I snatch at topical arguments, catchphrases and documents. To wit, pop culture geopolitics that the most successful survivors of 1968 play with late capitalism. A glass bead game with brittle plastic marbles. No question the game has high stakes and is being played for keeps- walking the walk, with tens of thousands of pages, redrawn national borders, and billion dollar commissions- but those beads are cast onto a playing ﬁeld where temporary leverage to gain a step forward can’t always be distinguished from complicity with massive ﬂows of capital and new protocols for regulating biopower. Adbusters becomes an autophagus legitimization for satires of irony. Advertising revenues ﬂow. Transvaluation? I’m not being bitter here. But there’s something maddening - and history repeats itself, this has happened countless times before- when a group of brilliant rebels gets swallowed by the blind spots of mechanism itself. I remember a brief conversation in passing with Andrew Benjamin. I had something to say about value systems, and good and evil. I implied that there might even yet be such things. Andrew’s reply, phrased perfectly as a good humored rebuttal to my somewhat rabid articulation that values still existed: ‘But now we’re beyond good and evil....’. Yes, we are. Friedrich took us past that, and plenty of others. But where does that leave us? The distinction between the negationist and the nihilist is instructive [cf Greil Marcus’ ﬁne book _Lipstick Traces_]. He argues that they both use the same techniques, ranging from surface ideology to the casting of explosives... thus making it possible for the negationist to be mistaken for a nihilist, at least by outside forces and powers.
Could brilliant comedy rescue us from this dilemma?
DUDE: They’re nihilists. WALTER: Huh? DUDE: They kept saying they believe in nothing. WALTER: Nihilists! Jesus. [Walter looks haunted.] Say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos. from THE BIG LEBOWSKI, Coen brothers
So where do we locate the new epistemelogical horizons? Where can autonomy be found, real autonomy? Real freedom, and not just the agency of choice, pre-limited by horizons deﬁned for us by non human ﬂows of energy, capital, and cycles of time? ‘Is this the nineteen sixties or is my mind playing tricks?‘ Where do Bill Laswell & Co. take us with their North African inﬂected trance funk? Remix, sampling, and conspiracy theory meets radical politics and a kind of pan global critical regionalism. P-Funk’s legacy as a subaltern cadre of magi. Laswell, Bootsy Collins and Buckethead gazing thirty years into the past, and rifﬁng in their own blend of Gonzo: if you see a geopolitical system and its limit, and you want to show that epistemological horizon to others [and here I think of Jameson- the intellectual equivalent, par excellance, of a Gonzo reporter, surﬁng on the ontological edge, probing the soft underbelly of capital, of power in its most extreme and stratiﬁed] then you throw the glove that Hunter S. also threw down: this is not played as a neutral postmodern shell game. This is balls to the wall, full bore madness and invention. This is Rabeleis, lived out as what Reality TV should be. If you are going to show the limits of the system, then an encounter with surrealist association and systemic disruption is in order, a demonstration of all systems’ ability to transgress their own boundaries. In other words, a belief that formal systems always include their own ‘overcoming’, or at least their own wrack and ruin. Guy Debord may have tried to kill the weaker strains of surrealism with justiﬁcationbut there are stronger, deeper components to it. Abstract principles of invention and the unknown that have nothing to do with interpretive strategies and cults of personality. CENTRAL CONFLICT vs. NON CONFLICT THEORIES: [the machine views its own blind spot]: And of what worth is GONZO, in any case? As a blending of documentary and ﬁction. An erasure of journalistic objectivity. As a play with exactly those characteristics of destablization and overlap- of subjects, categories, boundaries of power- that the postmodern loves so much- but with an edge added. Is the edge rage? Righteousness? Perhaps a bit, but overall probably something much simpler: the realization that there are some basic truths we recognize that have to do with human dignity, preservation of life, and how we can react as Intelligent beings to the infringements upon those basic rights. Central conﬂict theory- in cinema- depends on a simplistic diegetic structure that produces a blinding narrative of RIGHT and WRONG, of subject/agent in a struggle against that
which should [supposedly] always be struggled against. But another more complicated form of diegetics produces values contextualized against an act of invention, and against the basic fragility of human life and intelligence itself. Precisely this logic informs the descent/ ascent into GONZO. Anything but apathetic, Hunter S. was a fearless, irreverent rat bastard genius who had no compunctions when it came to pushing the envelope, laying it all on the line in search of some kind of journalistic truth which could be attained only through provocation. GONZO AND ARCHITECTURE: Pernicious speculations and belief systems out of control permeate the disciplines: symptomatic of a larger cultural indecision [rot?] that architecture merely ampliﬁes and reﬂects. Post theory, post critical? What is the sense of such a range of -isms when hermetic systems of thought suppose their world models to have universal applicability, yet suddenly discover they have no traction whatsoever? I don’t want to sound like Sokal and Bricmont here, not in the least: but let’s make it clear what is at stake. Gonzo is fueled by a desperate urgency and pessimistic activism. As a good friend of mine says, regardless of what kind of scenarios we can weave in speculation of our futures, people will still like to fuck. Some might take this statement as nihilistic, which would be idiotic. I take it as negationist at worst- maintaining all the feral usefullness of critical thinkingand downright good advice at best. Not only because indeed we still do like to do that- fuck- but because we can see futures opening to us and our kine, and those futures suggest that systems can always escape real or imagined limits. It doesn’t only imply pleasure and reproduction, it implies survival. And more important, it is an engagement with the unknown- an abstract encounter with the unknown and largely inexplicable. Humans are open systems. Open systems are constantly exploring possible futures, and pleasure is a kind of engine for invention that drives that exploration. But not just raw expression, not just selﬁsh pleasure. It’s a question of agency. For example, Hunter S. was afraid to be so incapacitated that he would be unable to commit suicide. He was terriﬁed of a loss of control. Psychoanalyze him as you willthe issue of agency is at stake. At the end of a life, control and agency rule for all of us on an almost pathetic level, but in Gonzo, they become absolute imperatives for a constant and far from equilibrium drive towards the bounds of mediated space, of propaganda, and of the systems of the world: Gonzo provides access to a kind of agency that is unpredictable. When de Certeau and Negri suggest that the temporal zone of Kairos might have something to teach us about a new politics- a crucial form of invention, or a new capacity of the multitude- they are pointing out the exact places in a system where tension exists between a single future/destiny and the range of wide open futures that are born when we move towards far from equilibrium.
Not completely random; but not completely given. The right moment in time. The cubic centimeter of chance. Gonzo wasn’t intended to be a personal, subjective, indulgent experience, although by its nature it would be conducted as such until the mid 90s, when the internet and two way communicative systems would take it beyond the personal. TXTing revolutions are a kind of Gonzo. The revolution won’t be televised as they say, it will be TXTed, blogged, vogged, vod and podcast. Gonzo is the process by which any and all can escape the limits of the world drawn for them by control systems. A CAUTIONARY TALE: Max Renn [James Woods], in Cronenberg’s ﬁlm Videodrome, is Gonzo gone bad. In point of fact, Max was never really Gonzo- his goal not the sensing of hidden boundaries in the quest for a new form of journalistic method, but just a search for transgressive and seductive content for his TV network - nonetheless he’s symptomatic of one of the hallmarks of Gonzo: embedding oneself in the system and the representation of the system so deeply that the boundaries evaporate. Of course, the danger of this method is that one loses all sense of boundary, which is exactly what happens to Max. Unfortunately for Max, he’s being gamed by several competing networks of power, which all use him as a tool. The risk in Gonzo would be that this same shell game of hidden agendas overwhelms the agent. In contrast I offer a successful, if somewhat nostalgic agent example from cinematic reality: Lemmy Caution, Eddie Constantine’s character in the ﬁlm Alphaville, by Godard. LEAD MONOLOGUE: One of the strengths of Gonzo would be its ability to produce scale shifts from the personal to the political, while erasing those above mentioned boundaries, and maintaining a little bit of territory that one can return to, a kind of grounding reality. Shifting zones of stability, hidden sandbars:
Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to ﬁnd neutral while i fumbled for change)... but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were Just as high and wild as I was; No doubt at all about that.... There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or LaHonda...You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning... And that, I think, was the handlethat sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in ﬁghtingon our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.... So now, less than ﬁve years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark- that place where the wave ﬁnally broke and rolled back.” Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson
FLASHBACK/FORWARD- parallel universe encounters [Voiceover] “Exterminate all rational thought, that is the conclusion I have come to.” Naked Lunch, William Burroughs I see Guy Debord, Hunter S., and Richard Nixon. I see them meeting in a bar in Louisville Kentucky, during the Derby, and at each other’s throats like rabid dogs. Nixon was a key ﬁgure for Hunter: reviled yet perversely respected. Who knows if Hunter knew who Guy Debord was. But they could at the least have hoisted a pint or two. What would Debord have to say to Nixon? What provocations would HST have made? Nixon’s [apocryphal?] comment: “I long ago learned to do one thing and think another...” comes up hard against Debord’s self-penned Panegyric:
We’re using maps of the C20 landscape to navigate the desert itself, or ﬁnding the desert in the very center, and the monuments we study aren’t tricking us into forgetting the future: we’re crafting another set of monuments that give us eidetic recall of both the future and the past, while we paradoxically choose at will which kinds of amnesias to slide into, which reductions of destiny to taste like wine. And a host of kindred spirits rides with us, both living and dead. OMNIA MUTANTUR, NIHIL INTERIT --------------------------------------------------------------------ROLL CREDITS: [shot like Fellini’s ﬁnal scene in 8 1/2: the curtains part, and all the participants- near and distant- descend into the circus ring, the harlequin dance, as the lights fade] [Voiceover] Credit is due to the following characters, who sang in the head of the author like vodou loa: Juan Azulay William S. Burroughs Bernard Tschumi Jean Luc Godard, Werner Herzog, Chris Marker Philip K. Dick Rem Koolhaas the S.I. Locke/Robertson [The Passenger, Antonioni] Zarathustra / Nietzsche Grant Morrison Thomas Pynchon Robert Smithson Pier Paolo Pasolini and Mama Roma
“Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era- the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run.... but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant... History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long ﬁne ﬂash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time- and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened. My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or ﬁve or maybe forty nights- or very early mornings- when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing LL Bean shorts and a Butte sheepherder’s jacket...booming though the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and
“All my life I have seen only troubled times, extreme divisions in society, and immense destruction; I have joined in these troubles. Such circumstances would no doubt sufﬁce to prevent the most transparent of my acts or thoughts from ever being universally approved. But, I do believe, several of them could have been misunderstood....My method will be very simple. I will tell of what I have loved; and, in this light, everything else will become evident and make itself well enough understood.”
EPILOGUE: RIDING INTO THE SUNSET: So, intrepid reader: your writer ﬁnds himself once again contemplating a sojourn in the desert, as he’s done several times before, somewhere between LA and the Salton Sea or Barstow, where [like a B sciﬁ ﬁlm- say, The 13th Floor] the limits of civilization become shimmering and transparent as we move farther from the ‘center’, which long ago ceased to hold. Hunter S. ran for sheriff in 1970 on the ‘Freak Power’ ticket. All I can think in response is that ‘...the meek shall inherit the earth...’ The meek being, of course, any of the many strains of subalterity that today can band together in ways never before possible.
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