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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 Ten: The Place of Definitions

← 170 | 171 → • Chapter Ten •


THE search for what Stephenson called ‘authentic’ action is a complex, problematic theme within the Gonzo Text. Authenticity is one word for the quality of life-experience to which Thompson’s works continually refer, sometimes in terms of freedom, fairness, human potential and/or, the subjective, undefinable ‘edge’. ‘The Edge’ was a concern of Thompson’s non-fiction before the birth of Gonzo, considered as a prominent (or at least interesting) feature of the subjective experience of contemporary American life. As we have seen, this idea of the edge is deployed again and again in discourses relating to politics, drugs, and various kinds of performance, but it can be expressed in a sense at its simplest in terms of risking death in a test of one’s skills, as here in Hell’s Angels:

The only sounds are wind and a dull roar floating back from the mufflers. You watch the white line and try to lean with it…howling through a turn to the right, then to the left and down the long hill to Pacifica…letting off now, watching for cops, but only until the next dark stretch and another few seconds on the edge…The Edge…There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. (Thompson, 1967: 282)

Motorcycles and drugs, like writing Gonzo journalism for a living and/or riding with the Hell’s Angels, are pursuits which balance the need for skilled control in...

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