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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 Three: Reality Itself Is Too Twisted

← 50 | 51 → • Chapter Three •


THOMPSON’S tacit approval of recreational drug use within Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is in some respects an inherently problematic position, considered in relation to ideas of journalism, including conventional ideas even of literary journalism. The concepts of health, sanity and sobriety, without objective existence and measured against an ostensibly democratically determined ‘normalcy’, underpin a myriad of hegemonic subject positions in American society; for example those of the good citizen, the productive member of society, the professional and, by extension, the good, objective journalist. To fall short of these standards, in ‘losing touch with reality’ through drugs, is in some senses to fall outside the social order. The bond to which Derrida referred is weakened by any such tainted individual, and the purity of the society itself is polluted. Here again, drugs are like madness, ‘which is the moment of pure subjectivity’ (Foucault, 1988: 175) and a practitioner of subjectivity, like Hunter Thompson, could be viewed as invading the purity of journalistic practice. It is worth noting that the text of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has been read in this sense as performing an albeit somewhat self-critical attack on journalism itself: ‘A hatred of journalists and journalism burns deep in the new books as well, though it must be self-hatred to a considerable degree’ (Woods, 1972). This critique, (which will be engaged with as a theme of the Gonzo Text more fully in Chapter Four) may be read in both direct criticisms of journalism within the text,...

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