Tag: Tom Wolfe

Remembering Tom Wolfe

Thursday, 31 May, 2018

It’s been over two weeks since the white-suited heart of the New Journalism stopped beating and there’s still no comment from Deray McKesson. For those not familiar with the name, McKesson is a “full-time activist” and the most public face of the Black Lives movement. As Ben Shapiro put it: “Deray McKesson, who has made his name urging on riots in Ferguson and Baltimore while accomplishing nothing of note for black people. McKesson fancies himself a deep racial thinker, and the media have taken him at his word.” His word is often like this: “People have been voting since the civil rights movement & we are still here.”

Anyway, back in March 2016, BuzzFeed ran a story headlined: DeRay McKesson To Hold Fundraiser At Banker’s Manhattan Home. McKesson was speaking in Upper West Side pad of Ted Dreyfus, a former Citibank executive, who has also worked for the Clinton Foundation, and that brings us to Tom Wolfe.

Nostalgie de la boue is a 19th-century French term that means “nostalgia for the mud,” and its white guilt connotation was leveraged by Tom Wolfe in one of the all-time great piece of modern journalism. Published by New York magazine in June 1970 and titled Radical Chic it captured the craziness of those times perfectly.

Background: The scene that Wolfe so (in)famously depicted took place in the Manhattan apartment of Leonard Bernstein. The legendary conductor, composer and Democratic Party supporter assembled many of his wealthy friends to meet members of the Black Panthers to discuss how they could help their cause. Black Panther The director Otto Preminger was there and so, too, was the TV reporter Barbara Walters. With their armchair agitation and high fashion, they were, in Wolfe’s eyes, the “radical chic” pursuing revolutionary ends for social reasons. Snippet:

“One rule is that nostalgie de la boue – i.e., the styles of romantic, raw-vital, Low Rent primitives – are good; and middle class, whether black or white, is bad. Therefore, Radical Chic invariably favors radicals who seem primitive, exotic and romantic, such as the grape workers, who are not merely radical and ‘of the soil,’ but also Latin; the Panthers, with their leather pieces, Afros, shades, and shoot-outs; and the Red Indians, who, of course, had always seemed primitive, exotic and romantic. At the outset, at least, all three groups had something else to recommend them, as well: they were headquartered 3,000 miles away from the East Side of Manhattan, in places like Delano (the grape workers), Oakland (the Panthers) and Arizona and New Mexico (the Indians). They weren’t likely to become too much… underfoot, as it were. Exotic, Romantic, Far Off… as we shall soon see, other favorite creatures of Radical Chic had the same attractive qualities; namely, the ocelots, jaguars, cheetahs and Somali leopards.

When Time magazine later interviewed a minister of the Black Panthers about Bernstein’s party, the official said of Wolfe: “You mean that dirty, blatant, lying, racist dog who wrote that fascist disgusting thing in New York magazine?”

Nothing that Time or BuzzFeed has ever done could match the music and madness that Tom Wolfe put down on paper in 1970:

Quat is trying to steer the whole thing away — but suddenly Otto Preminger speaks up from the sofa where he’s sitting, also just a couple of feet from Cox:

“He used von important vord” — then he looks at Cox — “you said zis is de most repressive country in de vorld. I dun’t beleef zat.”

Cox says, “Let me answer the question —”

Lenny breaks in: “When you say ‘capitalist’ in that pejorative tone, it reminds me of Stokely. When you read Stokely’s statement in The New York Review of Books, there’s only one place where he says what he really means, and that’s way down in paragraph 28 or something, and you realize he is talking about setting up a socialist government —”

Preminger is still talking to Cox: “Do you mean dat zis government is more repressive zan de government of Nigeria?”

“I don’t know anything about the government of Nigeria,” says Cox. “Let me answer the question —”

“You dun’t eefen listen to de kvestion,” says Preminger. “How can you answer de kvestion?”

“Let me answer the question,” Cox says, and he says to Lenny: “We believe that the government is obligated to give every man employment or a guaranteed income . . . see . . . but if the white businessman will not give full employment, then the means of production should be taken from the businessman and placed in the community, with the people.”

Lenny says: “How? I dig it! But how?”

“Right on!” Someone in the back digs it, too.

“Right on!”

Julie Belafonte pipes up: “That’s a very difficult question!”

“You can’t blueprint the future,” says Cox.

“You mean you’re just going to wing it?” says Lenny.

“Like . . . this is what we want, man,” says Cox, “we want the same thing as you, we want peace. We want to come home at night and be with the family . . . and turn on the TV . . . and smoke a little weed . . . you know? . . . and get a little high . . . you dig? . . . and we’d like to get into that bag, like anybody else. But we can’t do that . . . see . . . because if they send in the pigs to rip us off and brutalize our families, then we have to fight.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more!” says Lenny. “But what do you do—”

Cox says: “We think that this country is going more and more toward fascism to oppress those people who have the will to fight back —”

“I agree with you one hundred percent!” says Lenny. “But you’re putting it in defensive terms, and don’t you really mean it in offensive terms —”

“That’s the language of the oppressor,” says Cox. “As soon as —”

“Dat’s not —” says Preminger.

“Let me finish!” says Cox. “As a Black Panther, you get used to —”

“Dat’s not —”

“Let me finish! As a Black Panther, you learn that language is used as an instrument of control, and —”

“He doesn’t mean dat!”

“Let me finish!”

RIP, Tom Wolfe.


Speech II: Tom Wolfe vs. Noam Chomsky

Wednesday, 17 August, 2016 1 Comment

Tom Wolfe’s new book, The Kingdom of Speech, looks at the work of four major figures in the history of evolution and language: Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, Noam Chomsky and Daniel Everett. A 15-page excerpt appeared in the August issue of Harper’s Magazine titled “The Origins of Speech: In the beginning was Chomsky” and it focused on rise of Chomsky and Everett’s challenge to Chomskyism within the world of linguistics. The story begins in 1957, when Chomsky was 28. He wrote a book “with the opaque title” Syntactic Structures that turned the world of linguistics “upside down,” writes Wolfe. Snippet:

Language was not something you learned. You were born with a built-in “language organ.” It is functioning the moment you come into the world, just the way your heart and your kidneys are already pumping and filtering and excreting away.

To Chomsky, it didn’t matter what a child’s first language was. Whatever it was, every child’s language organ could use the “deep structure, ” “universal grammar, ” and “language acquisition device” he was born with to express what he had to say, no matter whether it came out of his mouth in English or Urdu or Nagamese. That was why — as Chomsky said repeatedly — children started speaking so early in life… and so correctly in terms of grammar. They were born with the language organ in place and the power ON. By the age of two, usually, they could speak in whole sentences and generate completely original ones. The “organ”… the “deep structure”… the “universal grammar’… the “device” — as Chomsky explained it, the system was physical, empirical, organic, biological. The power of the language organ sent the universal grammar coursing through the deep structure’s lingual ducts to provide nutrition for the LAD, which everybody in the field now knew referred to the “language acquisition device” Chomsky had discovered.

Harpers Along with Chomsky’s linguistics, Tom Wolfe devotes a great deal of space to Chomsky’s politics, which have grown increasingly bizarre over the years, to the point where he ascribes almost all evils in the world to the USA. Despite, or possibly because of, such derangement, he remains a darling of the left-liberal media and nothing he says, no matter how absurd, is taken seriously by his credulous disciples.

Then, OOOF!

Typically Wolfe, the capital letters are introduced to make a big point and the biggest one concerns a 13,000-word article that appeared the August–October 2005 issue of Current Anthropology entitled “Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã” by Daniel Everett. Pirahã is a language spoken by several hundred members of a hunter-gatherer tribe in the vast Amazon basin and it does not contain any recursion, which is central to Chomsky’s theories, and “it was the Pirahã’s own distinctive culture, their unique ways of living, that shaped the language — not any ‘language organ,’ not any ‘universal grammar’ or ‘deep structure’ or ‘language acquisition device’ that Chomsky said all languages had in common,” declares Wolfe.

Piraha

The Pirahã sentence ‘There is a paca there’ uses just two words: káixihíxao-xaagá, meaning, paca exist there

Tom Wolfe is very enjoyable on the academic skulduggery used by the Chomskyians to denigrate Everett’s work and destroy his career, and one is left with the impression that the professorial class is filled with characters similar to the consigliere and caporegime of the Mafia. Filled with loathing for Chomskyism, Wolfe concludes thus:

“In three decades nobody had turned up any hard evidence to support Chomsky’s conviction that every person is born with an innate, gene-driven power of speech with the motor running. But so what? Chomsky had made the most ambitious attempt since Aristotle’s in 350 B.C. to explain what exactly language is. And no one else in human history had come even close. It was dazzling in its own flailing way — this age old, unending, utter, ultimate, universal display of ignorance concerning man’s most important single gift.”

OOOF!


Speech I: Oliver Kamm vs. Tom Wolfe

Tuesday, 16 August, 2016 0 Comments

The Kingdom of Speech is published by Jonathan Cape but might as well have been issued by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose tracts at least have the merit of being funnier.” So writes Oliver Kamm in a devastating put-down of the latest book by Tom Wolfe. Along with being the author of Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English Usage, Kamm is a leader writer and columnist for The Times and it was in that newspaper on Saturday that he took Wolfe to the reviewing woodshed.

The Kingdom of Speech Tom Wolfe argues that speech, not evolution, sets humans apart from animals and is responsible for all of our great achievements. He targets Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky in The Kingdom of Speech when arguing that there is no evolutionary explanation for language, particularly abstract language. Kamm differs, however: “Wolfe’s theory that words are a memory aid — a mnemonic system — likewise falls apart on a moment’s reflection. Words like cat and dog and run and jump might help us to remember things in the world, but what about words like not and very and whether and however?”

Readers who purchase The Kingdom of Speech in the hope of acquiring an invigorating clarification of the big ideas at the heart of the debate about morphology, syntax, phonetics and semantics will be misled, claims Kamm, who shows no mercy in his critique:

“It’s a celebration of ignorance: a vain, sneering and calumnious piece of fluff in which Wolfe misunderstands his subject and misrepresents leading thinkers, notably Darwin and the linguist Noam Chomsky. It’s not even stylishly written. What I learnt from it is that a crotchety celebrity of vaulting hubris and small mind doesn’t feel constrained by canons of evidence and accuracy.”

Tomorrow, here, Wolfe attacks Chomsky.


Nostalgie de la boue in Manhattan: 1970 and 2016

Wednesday, 9 March, 2016 0 Comments

Today’s BuzzFeed headline reads: DeRay McKesson To Hold Fundraiser At Banker’s Manhattan Home. For those who may not know him, DeRay McKesson is a “full-time activist” and the most public face of the Black Lives movement. “People have been voting since the civil rights movement & we are still here,” is a typical elliptical DeRay McKesson statement. McKesson will speak tonight in the Upper West Side home of Ted Dreyfus, a former Citibank executive, who has also worked for the Clinton Foundation.

Nostalgie de la boue is a 19th-century French term that means “nostalgia for the mud,” and its white guilt connotation was leveraged by Tom Wolfe in one of the all-time great piece of modern journalism. Published by New York magazine in June 1970 and titled Radical Chic it captured the craziness of those times perfectly.

Background: The scene that Wolfe so (in)famously depicted took place in the Manhattan apartment of Leonard Bernstein. The legendary conductor, composer and Democratic Party supporter assembled many of his wealthy friends to meet members of the Black Panthers to discuss how they could help their cause. Black Panther The director Otto Preminger was there and so, too, was the TV reporter Barbara Walters. With their armchair agitation and high fashion, they were, in Wolfe’s eyes, the “radical chic” pursuing revolutionary ends for social reasons. Snippet:

“One rule is that nostalgie de la boue – i.e., the styles of romantic, raw-vital, Low Rent primitives – are good; and middle class, whether black or white, is bad. Therefore, Radical Chic invariably favors radicals who seem primitive, exotic and romantic, such as the grape workers, who are not merely radical and ‘of the soil,’ but also Latin; the Panthers, with their leather pieces, Afros, shades, and shoot-outs; and the Red Indians, who, of course, had always seemed primitive, exotic and romantic. At the outset, at least, all three groups had something else to recommend them, as well: they were headquartered 3,000 miles away from the East Side of Manhattan, in places like Delano (the grape workers), Oakland (the Panthers) and Arizona and New Mexico (the Indians). They weren’t likely to become too much… underfoot, as it were. Exotic, Romantic, Far Off… as we shall soon see, other favorite creatures of Radical Chic had the same attractive qualities; namely, the ocelots, jaguars, cheetahs and Somali leopards.

When Time magazine later interviewed a minister of the Black Panthers about Bernstein’s party, the official said of Wolfe: “You mean that dirty, blatant, lying, racist dog who wrote that fascist disgusting thing in New York magazine?”

When DeRay McKesson speaks tonight, will BuzzFeed have its Tom Wolfe on site? Will the Manhattan dialogue captured in 2016 match the music and madness that Tom Wolfe put down on paper in 1970?

Quat is trying to steer the whole thing away — but suddenly Otto Preminger speaks up from the sofa where he’s sitting, also just a couple of feet from Cox:

“He used von important vord” — then he looks at Cox — “you said zis is de most repressive country in de vorld. I dun’t beleef zat.”

Cox says, “Let me answer the question —”

Lenny breaks in: “When you say ‘capitalist’ in that pejorative tone, it reminds me of Stokely. When you read Stokely’s statement in The New York Review of Books, there’s only one place where he says what he really means, and that’s way down in paragraph 28 or something, and you realize he is talking about setting up a socialist government —”

Preminger is still talking to Cox: “Do you mean dat zis government is more repressive zan de government of Nigeria?”

“I don’t know anything about the government of Nigeria,” says Cox. “Let me answer the question —”

“You dun’t eefen listen to de kvestion,” says Preminger. “How can you answer de kvestion?”

“Let me answer the question,” Cox says, and he says to Lenny: “We believe that the government is obligated to give every man employment or a guaranteed income . . . see . . . but if the white businessman will not give full employment, then the means of production should be taken from the businessman and placed in the community, with the people.”

Lenny says: “How? I dig it! But how?”

“Right on!” Someone in the back digs it, too.

“Right on!”

Julie Belafonte pipes up: “That’s a very difficult question!”

“You can’t blueprint the future,” says Cox.

“You mean you’re just going to wing it?” says Lenny.

“Like . . . this is what we want, man,” says Cox, “we want the same thing as you, we want peace. We want to come home at night and be with the family . . . and turn on the TV . . . and smoke a little weed . . . you know? . . . and get a little high . . . you dig? . . . and we’d like to get into that bag, like anybody else. But we can’t do that . . . see . . . because if they send in the pigs to rip us off and brutalize our families, then we have to fight.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more!” says Lenny. “But what do you do—”

Cox says: “We think that this country is going more and more toward fascism to oppress those people who have the will to fight back —”

“I agree with you one hundred percent!” says Lenny. “But you’re putting it in defensive terms, and don’t you really mean it in offensive terms —”

“That’s the language of the oppressor,” says Cox. “As soon as —”

“Dat’s not —” says Preminger.

“Let me finish!” says Cox. “As a Black Panther, you get used to —”

“Dat’s not —”

“Let me finish! As a Black Panther, you learn that language is used as an instrument of control, and —”

“He doesn’t mean dat!”

“Let me finish!”


The Kingdom of Speech and the Human Beast

Tuesday, 16 February, 2016 0 Comments

Note the date and place your orders. Tom Wolfe’s new book, The Kingdom of Speech, will be published on 30 August. His central argument, and it is a controversial one, is that speech — not evolution — is responsible for humanity’s great achievements. It’s expected that the book will expand on on Wolfe’s 2006 Jefferson Lecture to the National Endowment for the Humanities. Speaking of the “Human Beast” then, he said:

“Evolution came to an end when the human beast developed speech! As soon as he became not Homo sapiens, ‘man reasoning,’ but Homo loquax, ‘man talking’! Speech gave the human beast far more than an ingenious tool. Speech was a veritable nuclear weapon! It gave the human beast the powers of reason, complex memory, and long-term planning, eventually in the form of print and engineering plans. Speech gave him the power to enlarge his food supply at will through an artifice called farming. Speech ended not only the evolution of man, by making it no longer necessary, but also the evolution of animals! Our animal friends — we’re very sentimental about predators these days, aren’t we — the lions, the tigers, the wolves, the rhinoceroses, the great apes, kangaroos, leopards, cheetahs, grizzly bears, polar bears, cougars — they’re ‘endangered,’ meaning hanging on for dear life. Today the so-called animal kingdom exists only at the human beast’s sufferance.”

The book is bound to be one of the hottest reads of the year because it’s expected that Wolfe will challenge Darwinism and, perhaps, argue the case for intelligent design. This time last year, he told the New Yorker that the way in which academics have ostracized proponents of intelligent design for “not believing in evolution the right way” invoked images of the Spanish Inquisition. Financially secure, his reputation established, this elegant homo loquax can afford to speak his mind without fear of of censorship.

The Kingdom of Speech