Tom Wolfe-Aha!

By Tyrrell, R. Emmett, Jr. | The American Spectator, July/August 2006 | Go to article overview

Tom Wolfe-Aha!


Tyrrell, R. Emmett, Jr., The American Spectator


WASHINGTON

THE BRIGHTEST YOUNG LITERARY TALENT in America today skipped into our nation's capital in May to deliver the National Endowment for the Humanities' 35th annual Jefferson Lecture. 11 is name is Tom Wolfe. And though he is young he has already written several very good hooks, most recently the best-seller, I Am Charlotte Simmons. It chronicles the revelries of campus life as witnessed by Wolfe, and it reads as though he spent a great deal of his research time at Duke University, observing the high-spirited Duke lacrosse team whose members have mired themselves in such controversy owing to their interest in modern dance.

Wolfe lectures with the vigor of youth, animating his witty insights with eyes popping, a tongue darting across his lips, broad smiles, and dramatic hand gesticulations, especially when he comes upon one of his "aha" findings, to wit. some insight or story that explains Everything. I n Washington, he spoke for over an hour without notes! He barely broke a sweat! He leapt from sociology to neuroscience to literature (he has a special place in his heart for the French "naturalist" Emile Zola) and on through history to elucidate The Human Beast, that is to say you and me.

The next day in the Washinyton Post this bright young man received a very cranky review for his efforts. The reviewer accused him of having a "very bleak world view." This is a common philistine response to Wolfe, provoked most likely because Wolfe laughs and because a certain kind of presumptuous lump always suspects that Wolfe is laughing at him, and occasionally at her. A favorite target of his is the "intellectual." As the prodigy put it in his lecture, the intellectual is "a person knowledgeable in one field who only speaks out in others." Wolfc mentioned Noam Chomsky, the distinguished linguist who only became a certifiable intellectual when he began speaking out about the Vietnam War.

Well, let us face the matter boldly. Most of these self-important eminences really are mere lumps. They look alike, sound alike, and cower alike, when any writer with erudition and independence pronounces on the world around them, a world that they assume is their very special preserve.

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