Requiescat In Pace: Tom Wolfe

Well, this was a pretty good day until I learned that Tom Wolfe had died at age 88, far too young.  With his white suits, and gentle manner, Wolfe seemed to be a figure out of time, a classic Eighteenth Century Virginia gentleman somehow marooned in the New York City of the 20th and 21rst centuries. He was constantly out of step with the New York cultural milieu he inhabited with his life long marriage to one woman and his heretical opinions on everything from Vietnam to Evolution.  His literary idol was Emile Zola:

“My idol is Emile Zola. He was a man of the left, so people expected of him a kind of Les Miserables, in which the underdogs are always noble people. But he went out, and found a lot of ambitious, drunk, slothful and mean people out there. Zola simply could not – and was not interested in – telling a lie. You can call it honesty, or you can call it ego, but there it is. There is no motivation higher than being a good writer.”


However, Wolfe, in my opinion, wrote better than Zola:

Las Vegas has become, just as Bugsy Siegel dreamed, the American Monte Carlo—without any of the inevitable upper-class baggage of the Riviera casinos. At Monte Carlo there is still the plush mustiness of the nineteenth century noble lions…. There are still Wrong Forks, Deficient Accents, Poor Tailoring, Gauche Displays, Nouveau Richness, Cultural Aridity—concepts unknown in Las Vegas. For the grand debut of Monte Carlo as a resort in 1879 the architect Charles Garnier designed an opera house for the Place du Casino; and Sarah Bernhardt read a symbolic poem. For the debut of Las Vegas as a resort in 1946 Bugsy Siegel hired Abbot and Costello, and there, in a way, you have it all.

I look forward to reading his observations on the world to come when I reach the world to come.  Although not a believer, Wolfe deplored the absence of religion in modern life:
Anyone who thinks that religion is bad for society is out of his mind. We are now beginning to see what happens when you don’t have it. People get depressed when they don’t have something to believe. I think the contemporary conception of the human mind has become more and more depressing. This is my problem with the atheists, people like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. They’re saying that there is no ghost in the machine, that it’s all physical. And if it’s all physical, it’s going to obey certain laws. And the endpoint of the argument is that there is no free will. That you and I are machines that have had a certain genetic foundation, and as soon as we know enough about that, we’ll be able to predict what’ll happen when you meet me. We just need the information. That’s a very depressing thought.
Depressing and untrue, as I trust you were happy to find out yesterday Mr. Wolfe.  Atque Vale.