I’ve read a flood of obituaries of Hunter S. Thompson in the last few days, most of them falling into one of two extreme categories. Depending on who you listen to, Thompson was either an unquestioned genius who changed journalism forever or, alternatively, nothing more than a drunken hack who liked to do drugs and obsess over himself. The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between. Christopher Hitchens, I think, strikes a pretty good balance in this Slate article.
Thompson was a man who, in many ways, got stuck inside his own invented persona. When Hitchens refers to him “discharging fire extinguishers, or hurling blown-up fuck-dolls around the scenery, as if this sort of thing was expected of him,” he hits it right on the head. No doubt that persona represented part of who he was, but only a part, and I suspect it must have been frustrating to find himself trapped inside of it.
But there is one odd aspect of Hitchens’ article, which is a footnote that quotes David Plotz saying of Thompson, “he has betrayed himself. He’s a romantic who has become a cynic.” Hitchens, of all people, should recognize that romanticism and cynicism are not contradictory at all, but quite complimentary. While it is true that not all romantics become cynics, it is equally true that all cynics are romantics at their core. An idealist, said Irving Layton, is “a cynic in the making.” Only one who has a clear standard in mind can be so disappointed when it is not reached.