Hitchens, Hunter S. Thompson and the Nature of Cynicism

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.

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The graphic novel "Transmetropolitan" explores the concept of "persona entrapment" using a Hunter S Thompsonesque character, if you're interested.

My obit was not complimentary of him. He ended a fool and a eunuch.

But the line, "An idealist, said Irving Layton, is "a cynic in the making." " intrigues me.

You would have to say that Bush and many neo-cons are idealists (as are conservatives in general about the rule of law and inalienable rights) in wanting to help democracy prevail in the world, and not just here.

But neither Bush nor I will ever become a cynic, because the ideals are tempered with realistic assessments of human nature. Sympathy for the human condition and realization of one's own fallibility means one will not become a cynic.

One may grow weary but not dyspeptic.