…don’t just describe an emotion, arouse it, make them experience it, by manipulating the symbol of the emotion…
― Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
The New Journalism is a 1973 book that explains the concept behind the “new” kind of journalism presented by Tom Wolfe – and I say “new” because even Wolfe says there’s no novelty. The book is also an anthology. It includes several articles to exemplify the principles of this style: scene‐by‐scene construction, dialogue, third‐person point of view and recording of status‐life symbols. Norman Mailer, Rex Reed and John Dunne are some of the journalists whose work has been added to this wonderful collection.
One of my favorite articles was Beth Ann and Macrobioticism, by Robert Christgau. It was published in The New Herald Tribune in 1965. Wolfe points out the lack of dialogue but I don’t see it as a shortcoming at all: it’s a powerful story told using a clear, straightforward language that still conveys an emotion that never seems to burst.
Another shocking article is The General Goes Zapping Charlie Cong, published in 1966 by Nicholas Tomalin. Repulsive and yet enthralling.
There are a couple of things I found a tad annoying. Tom Wolfe’s writing is something that leaves no one indifferent, especially to a punctuation purist. An excessive use of exclamation marks, onomatopoeia, dashes and dots everywhere? I don’t mean to retroactively (hailed as a milestone back then but a defunct movement for years now) disrupt your revolution but slow down, mate. Some things are sacred, there’s no need to arouse emotion through sheer vandalism.
Nevertheless, this is nothing but a detail when discussing accuracy and verifiability, which by no means should be sacrificed to give creativity a more important role.
Either way, this was a very enjoyable read. And an incredible source of inspiration, not only regarding themes but also due to some of the stylistic devices used by these journalists. I can also relate to the importance they give to the expression of emotions and its relationship with the reader. The raison d’être of the quote that opens this review.
Something about that reminds me of an interview with physician writer Daniel López Rosetti that I watched today in which he referred to humans as emotional beings that reason, distancing himself from the notion of rational beings that feel.
We don’t need to carry out any prolonged research to know which one is true, do we?.
* Photo credit: Book cover via Goodreads.