Tom Wolfe

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The Internet is the modern form of knitting.

Thomas Kennerly Wolfe (2 March 1931 - 14 May 2018), primarily known as Tom Wolfe, was a best-selling American author and journalist. He was one of the founders of the New Journalism movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

See also:
The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990 film based on the 1987 satirical novel)


At this weak, pale, tabescent moment in the history of American literature, we need a battalion, a brigade, of Zolas to head out into this wild, bizarre, unpredictable, Hog-stomping, Baroque country of ours and reclaim it as literary property.

The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (1965)[edit]

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968)[edit]

  • He talks in a soft voice with a country accent, almost a pure country accent, only crackling and rasping and cheese-grated over the two-foot hookup, talking about —
    "—there's been no creativity," he is saying, "and I think my value has been to help create the next step. I don't think there will be any movement off the drug scene until there is something else to move to —"
    — all in a plain country accent about something — well, to be frank, I didn't know what in the hell it was all about. Sometimes he spoke cryptically, in aphorisms. I told him I had heard he didn't intend to do any more writing. Why? I said.
    "I'd rather be a lightning rod than a seismograph," he said.
    He talked about something called the Acid Test and forms of expression in which there would be no separation between himself and the audience. It would be all one experience, with all the senses opened wide, words, music, lights, sounds, touch
    • On Ken Kesey, in Ch. I : Black Shiny FBI Shoes
  • Suddenly he is like a ping-pong ball in a flood of sensory stimuli, heart beating, blood coursing, breath suspiring, teeth grating, hand moving over the percale sheet over those thousands of minute warfy woofings like a brush fire, sun glow and the highlight on a stainless-steel rod, quite a little movie you have going on in that highlight there, Hondo, Technicolors, pick each one out like fishing for neon gumballs with a steam shovel in the Funtime Arcade, a ping-pong ball in a flood of sensory stimuli, all quite ordinary, but... revealing themselves for the first time and happening... Now... as if for the first time he has entered a moment in his life and known exactly what is happening to his senses now, at this moment, and with each new discovery it is as if he has entered into all of it himself, is one with it, the movie white desert of the ceiling becomes something rich, personal, his, beautiful beyond description, like an orgasm behind the eyeballs, and his A-rabs — A-rabs behind the eyelids, eyelid movies, room for them and a lot more in the five billion thoughts per second stroboscope synapses — his A-rab heroes, fine Daily Double horsehair mustaches wrapped about the Orbicularis Oris of their mouths —
    Face! The doctor comes back in and, marvelous, poor tight cone ass, doc, Kesey can now see into him.
    • Ch. IV : What Do You Think of My Buddha?
  • Everything was becoming allegorical, understood by the group mind, and especially this: "You're either on the bus … or off the bus."
    • On Kesey's coining of the phrase "on the bus", in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), Ch. VI : The Bus; as Paul Grushkin reports, in Dead Letters: The Very Best Grateful Dead Fan Mail (2011), p. 120, the statement became a famous evocation of an attitude:
The phrase became a metaphor for 1960s culture rethinking — if you were "on the bus" you were "with it."

Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine (1976)[edit]

[T]he dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe.
  • He sounded like Jean-François Revel, a French socialist writer who talks about one of the great unexplained phenomena of modern astronomy: namely, that the dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe.
    • "The Intelligent Coed's Guide to America"
  • A sect, incidentally, is a religion with no political power.
    • "The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening"

In Our Time (1980)[edit]

  • Among other things Jonestown was an example of a definition well known to sociologists of religion: a cult is a religion with no political power.
    • "Entr'actes and Canapes"

I am Charlotte Simmons (2004)[edit]

  • Hoyt began moving his lips as if he were trying to suck the ice cream off the top of a cone without using his teeth. She tried to make her lips move in sync with his. The next thing she knew, Hoyt had put his hand sort of under her thigh and hoisted her leg up over his thigh. What was she to do? Was this the point she should say, “Stop!”? No, she shouldn’t put it that way. It would be much cooler to say, “No, Hoyt,” in an even voice, the way you would talk to a dog that insists on begging at the table.
Slither slither slither slither went the tongue, but the hand that was what she tried to concentrate on, the hand, since it has the entire terrain of her torso to explore and not just the otorhinolaryngological caverns – oh God, it was not just at the border where the flesh of the breast joins the pectoral sheath of the chest – no, the hand was cupping her entire right – Now! She must say “No, Hoyt” and talk to him like a dog[...]
  • p. 368-9, winner of the 12th annual The Literary Review Bad Sex Award

American Spectator interview (2005)[edit]

"Mummy Wrap", American Spectator (10 January 2005)
  • Interviewer: So you weren't surprised by the Dan Rather debacle?
Wolfe: I wasn't surprised it happened. The media have a pretty wild history in this respect. Whenever somebody would make up a story, they would say, 'Oh, that's the influence of the New Journalism.' God, newspapers have been making up stories forever. This kind of trifling and fooling around is not a function of the New Journalism.
  • The Internet is the modern form of knitting. In the old days women who had nothing to do would knit, but at least you got something out of it — a pair of socks, maybe a scarf, occasionally a little bedspread. That’s mostly what the Internet is, just passing the time. But unfortunately you are dealing with words that can have meaning.

Quotes about Tom Wolfe[edit]

  • Interviewer: You didn't read The Right Stuff.
John Irving: Oh please. If I were interested in astronauts I would have tried to be one. Bullshit.
Interviewer: No kidding.
Irving: He's a journalist, man, he's a journalist. He doesn't know how to write fiction, he can't create a character, he can't create a situation.
Interviewer: He says he's the Dickens, he's the real version of Dickens.
Irving: It doesn't matter what he says. You see people reading him on airplanes, the same people who are reading John Grisham, for Christ's sake.
Interviewer: You once said in...Shift magazine to me, that you don't believe in the McLiterature theory that if it's popular it's shit. I mean he's popular, it doesn't mean he's shitty.
Irving: I'm not using that argument against him, I'm using the argument against him that he can't write, that his sentences are bad, that it makes you wince. It's like reading a bad newspaper or a bad piece in a magazine. It makes you wince, it makes you wince. You know, if you were a good skater, could you watch someone just fall down all the time? Could you do that? I can't do that.
  • John Irving, comments on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation TV Show Hot Type (17 December 1999)
  • At certain points, reading [A Man in Full] can even be said to resemble the act of making love to a three-hundred pound woman. Once she gets on top, it's over. Fall in love, or be asphyxiated. So you read and you grab and you even find delight in some of these mounds of material. Yet all the while you resist — how you resist! — letting three hundred pounds take you over.
    • Norman Mailer, review of A Man in Full in The New York Review of Books (17 December 1998)
  • Wolfe responds to this review in a letter to writer Anthony Arthur, saying "All I got out of that is the fact that Norman has made love to a lot of three-hundred-pound women".
  • Images of cars and highways fill our literature, songs, movies and art, not just in America but worldwide. Books like "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac or "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" by Tom Wolfe were among the first to romanticize driving and road trips. Old blues and early rock songs like "Route 66," "Brand New Cadillac," and "Goin' Mobile" further romanticized cars and highways for the postwar "Baby Boom" generation. Thousands of films and T.V. shows have focused on or predominantly featured cars and car chases: "Rebel Without a Cause," "American Graffiti," "Easy Rider," "Bullet," "The Dukes of Hazzard," the "James Bond" films, and at least half a dozen Burt Reynolds movies. The list goes on... All this pop culture, combined with relentless commercial advertising, has made cars an integral part of our personal identity. We have been taught to equate motor vehicles with wealth, power, romance, rebellion and freedom. Now, everywhere I go in the world, I see cars-millions and millions of cars-in Rome, Guatemala City, Kuala Lumpur, Bombay and Beijing. Everywhere there are huge traffic jams and poor air quality. The number of motor vehicles in the world is growing three times faster than the population.
  • One of the shrewdest observers of our times, Tom Wolfe, used to be fond of employing the French term nostalgie de la boue, coined in 1855 by the French dramatist Émile Augier. It translates as “nostalgia for the mud.” Or what Merriam-Webster now defines as “attraction to what is crude, depraved, or degrading.”

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