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Gonzo Text

Disentangling Meaning in Hunter S. Thompson’s Journalism


Matthew Winston

Hunter Thompson’s writing is widely read and studied, yet as a methodology and body of work his Gonzo journalism has not been the subject of much critical or theoretical examination. This book fills the gap by constructing a coherent theoretical framework around Gonzo journalism.
Drawing on theories of subjectivity and authorship from Derrida, Foucault and Barthes, key themes of Gonzo journalism are considered, including edgework, representations of drug use, ideas of professional objectivity in political journalism, sports in American culture and ‘the death of the American Dream’. It is considered in wider social, political and historical contexts and in terms of boundaries of reportable experience and of objectivity and/or journalism.
Matthew Winston’s study provides a critical commentary and a theoretical exploration of how Gonzo can be read as destabilising conventional ideas of journalism itself, in its peculiarly unclassifiable nature.
This book is designed to be read by postgraduates and scholars in journalism, cultural studies and media and communication. It is also suitable as an undergraduate text dealing with journalism theory, literary journalism, sports journalism, the New Journalism and the wider historical contexts of American journalism.
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Chapter Two: Getting Hold of the Drugs

← 32 | 33 → • Chapter Two •


We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like ‘I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive…’ And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: ‘Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?’

—Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 2005, p. 3

IT is not, on its face, an unreasonable question. What are these goddamn animals? And what, for that matter, is the ostensibly disembodied voice that is doing the screaming? The first paragraph of Hunter Thompson’s best-known work, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, is evocative, exuberant, engaging, and, upon close reading, considerably more complex than it may at first appear. Writing about the subjective experience of consciousness-altering drugs is never without its complications. Starting from scratch, we have here a narrative voice, remembering and recounting a drug experience. From the very beginning the text presents a complex internal reality, inasmuch as the reader is given to assume that, the drugs having taken hold, the bats are a chemically induced hallucination while the rest of the scene (car, desert, Barstow etc.) is presumably, within the internal reality to which the text refers, real...

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