Hunter S. Thompson was necessary for the rest of us to be able to do whatever we want in our columns and chronicles, without anyone knowing exactly it’s true or if it is all part of some joke — although it is fair to say that life is an infinite joke, and that “earnestness,” as P.J. O’Rourke wrote, “is stupidity sent to college.” Hunter had to be a lunatic, an impostor, and a genius to carve out a niche that no one can fill, even if his noisy imitators are legion — not inspirers or heirs but counterfeiters of styles and poses, with empty heads. I have always thought that those who want to be like Hunter S. Thompson are right to want to, but that they should start at the end.
Among the most odious and morbid habits of contemporary literature is that fever for publishing private letters of not exactly the most edifying characters usually deceased. It all started with saints, and there is a reason for this: their exemplary lives. But now our most idolized writers are portrayed as pessimists, egomaniacs, rude, sex maniacs, and psychotics; in other words, they are shown as they are, in editions prefaced by their old editors, who almost always take advantage of the pages to collect some outstanding post-mortem debt. And yes, I am one of those readers hooked on authors’ letters, and I am not in the slightest ashamed of complaining about their existence.
Of course I avidly read the letters from the man from Kentucky. I especially enjoyed those missives that did not expect a reply — and all of the ones Hunter wrote to those who had rejected his work, written exclusively with the hypothetical future publication of those private papers in mind. The message was the message, already in the ’60s. It is no coincidence that some of them, so rude, wild, and inspired, were decisive in launching his later literary career. The exchanges of written insults between the editors of avant-garde magazines — which were already cutting edge before anyone invented Vice — and publishing managers of all stripes are, most probably, the pinnacle of epistolary literature on literature.
Hunter S. Thompson was bored to death by his imitators, and understandably so. His reader is compelled to strangely believe that the author is as he describes himself. Fortunately, after Hunter S. Thompson, it is absurd to even hint at such a thing because said author would have died thousands of times if his literary self-portrait were accurate, even though several years later Twitter would start killing the same people every week.
And yet, he created a propitious climate between fiction and reality, incredibly fertile for the hundreds of columnists who would later arrive at journalism almost by accident, after having received the divine commission to write letters at a time when most people are too busy writing on social networks to sit down and read. Thus, we have landed in journalism with such a baggy vocational suit that no one would be surprised if tomorrow we announced the beginning of a new life as submariners. But it doesn’t matter, because we’re here, and that’s beyond repair. And no, Hunter’s final solution cannot be considered a way to fix it.
Be that as it may, the great literary crisis was on its way. Hunter saw it coming. And in that he was also a visionary, even before the acid taught him to see his own projection in hot pink eating the ceiling of the room with hippos in his pocket. Like many others, he was everything he was, perhaps in spite of himself. That horrible character was on the verge of putting an end to his plans of world domination without moving from behind his desk. Self-destruction was a given for him.
In the end, the only condition that literature imposes on those who want to play at being scoundrels is that, in some way, they really are scoundrels. And the smartest way to be a scoundrel is not to be one at all. In that, Hunter S. Thompson was also, as in everything else, extreme, pioneering, and definitive. And, one way or another, I’d like to see him face to face with Biden, watching him babble and behave like a newly initiated fentanyl user, desperately trying to get the president to tell him the name of his drug dealer.
Translated by Joel Dalmau.