Appreciating Tom Wolfe (1930-2018)
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Tom Wolfe the novelist arrived as modern fiction was going bankrupt. Modernism, the revolution in the arts that took place in the early decades of the twentieth century, had delivered all it had to deliver, and was in fact sometimes leaving empty boxes on the curb. The age of iconoclastic landmarks like Ulysses, Metamorphosis, The Magic Mountain, To the Lighthouse, was long past and some of them, such as Ulysses, were looking a little shopworn. The promise of revolutionary breakthrough in consciousness, of aesthetic transformation and transcendence of life, man, society, was long past, and far from being fulfilled. The image of the writer and artist as sacred figure, the prophet or shaman who led to the depths of experience beyond the ordinary, was growing faint.
Postmodernism had set in, beginning sometime after the counterculture of the late sixties and early seventies, bringing in a host of experimental forms—absurdism, fabulism, minimalism, magical realism, metafiction, as Wolfe...