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Thompson self-portrait right bribery. There are two main evils in the world today: one is Poverty, the other is Government.” This might seem leftist in the heart of the Cold War, when it was written, but today it could be slipped into the preamble of any militia manifesto without seeming out of place. And consider this, on racism: “Hell, I have a strain of it myself, and the only thing that has brought me around this far is the fact that every time I’ve seen a black-white confrontation I’ve had to admit the negroes were Right.” I have two theories, which are not entirely mutually exclusive. One is that Thompson is the kind of guy who the left could and did attract in the Sixties, but nowadays take their cues from Rush Limbaughguys who were with us when issues could be drawn as clearly as voting rights or the Vietnam war, but who just don’t get the message on affirmative action and who can’t even be talked to about gun control. We could stand to understand this type better. My other theory is that Thompson is a cynical opportunist who parlayed an animal revulsion to Richard Hunter S. Thompson Nixon and a fondness for hallucinogens into a literary career. As a writer, I find Thompson’s early letters embarrassing. Perhaps I am too easily embarrassed \(sometimes I hope I am really a space alien, because it would be too embarrassing to be certain I belong to the same species that calls radio talk shows, or try on the style of whichever novelist has caught his eye for the moment. Here he is as John Dos Passos: In LondonAnthony Eden is wondering which of England’s two enemies will kill it first…. In Parisa shopkeeper prepares for church. His room above the store is cold in the morning, so he hurries to the church, where it is always warm…. In New Yorka prostitute quietly sips a cup of coffee in an all night coffee shop And here he is as \(a somewhat more On Christmas Eve, I voluntarily and under the influence of drink confessed to four heinously cruel homosexual offenses in a Chicago suburb, and was subsequently sentenced on New Year’s Day to 73 years in Joliet prison. Upon hearing the sentence, I mercilessly slew a juror and three guards and fled into the night. I am now working as a pimp on New York’s Upper West Side, in the heart of the Puerto Rican section. In the short space of three weeks, I’ve become addicted to morphine, cheddar cheese extract, and three more forms of sexual perversion…. There are similar, if more subtle, forays into the styles of whichever writer Thompson was impressed with at the moment Fitzgerald was a favorite for a timebut the more disturbing thing is his promiscuity with other writers’ philosophies. He gushes over Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, and Norman Mailer’s “The White Negro” inspires Thompson’s theory that working-class people are “Niggers.” The book includes endless photographs of Thompson in pensive poses, and the photos are credited to Thompson: he has used an automatic shutter. This realization makes it a little hard to follow his stinging denunciations of the hypocrisy of convensomething a little disgusting about young men too much on the makea desperate Southern gentleman, indeedand there is plenty of material here for a full exploration of that sensation. There is a wide selection of funny letters to creditors, peculiar salutations in letters to chums, and grand, sweeping, purple passages. It is rather hard to believe that there will ever be a severe shortage of sophomoric epistles, but we had better grab these because there will not be many more like them. We are past the age of Xerox, and while the electronic age of literature has not \(and office, it has brought about the carbonpaper-less office. Drafts and copies are too easily eradicated in hard-disk crashes, or with a touch of a button by embarrassed authors or their estates. Heirs who could not overlook a closet full of paper-filled boxes can too easily ignore disk drives. Nothing in The Proud Highway is quite so scary as that. Lars Eighner is the author of Travels with Lizbeth and several other books. SEPTEMBER 12, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29