February 16, 2019

"It was that deep worry that lives in the base of the skull of every resident of Park Avenue south of Ninety-sixth Street—a black youth, tall, rangy, wearing white sneakers."

From Kindle location 320 in Tom Wolfe's "The Bonfire of the Vanities," this is the second entry in The "Bonfire" Project, where we talk about one short passage of continuous text:
All at once Sherman was aware of a figure approaching him on the sidewalk, in the wet black shadows of the town houses and the trees. Even from fifty feet away, in the darkness, he could tell. It was that deep worry that lives in the base of the skull of every resident of Park Avenue south of Ninety-sixth Street—a black youth, tall, rangy, wearing white sneakers. Now he was forty feet away, thirty-five. Sherman stared at him. Well, let him come! I’m not budging! It’s my territory! I’m not giving way for any street punks!

The black youth suddenly made a ninety-degree turn and cut straight across the street to the sidewalk on the other side. The feeble yellow of a sodium-vapor streetlight reflected for an instant on his face as he checked Sherman out.

He had crossed over! What a stroke of luck!

Not once did it dawn on Sherman McCoy that what the boy had seen was a thirty-eight-year-old white man, soaking wet, dressed in some sort of military-looking raincoat full of straps and buckles, holding a violently lurching animal in his arms, staring, bug-eyed, and talking to himself.
This is sort of like the old "Gatsby" project, but, for reasons previously discussed, it can't be just one sentence out of context, examined purely as a sentence. I'm giving you more text and permission to use what you know from the rest of the reading — I know some of you are reading along with me — but you need to concentrate on what's going on in the chosen text.

A few thoughts of mine:

1. The "violently lurching animal" is a dachshund. I'm not sure that last sentence is properly written, since you might at first think the dog is "staring, bug-eyed" and only figure out that refers to the man when you get to "talking to himself."

2. There are 3 creatures — the "black youth," the white man (who has a name, Sherman McCoy), and the "violently lurching animal" (who isn't even called a dog, let alone a dachshund, let alone Marshall (which is actually his name, and I'm wondering if he was named after — speaking of black people — Thurgood Marshall)).

3. The dog is wild, uncontrollable, and very annoying to the white man, but the white man is terrorized at the sight of the black youth, who's doing nothing but walking down the street at night.

4. When the black youth suddenly crosses the street, McCoy exults in his release from what he perceived as danger, but he hasn't an inkling of awareness that the youth is also a human being, with his own inner life, and the youth did reveal something of inner life through his outward action of crossing the street to stay away from the man and his beast.

5. The beast in McCoy's hands seems to be the outward expression of his roiling innards. And there was other outward expression: He's out walking in the rain, what he thinks is an ordinary raincoat actually has disturbing military attributes (straps and buckles!), his eyes are crazy (bugged and staring), and he's doing what in the 1980s was the #1 streets-of-NYC way to look crazy — talking to himself. (I know, I lived in NYC in the time period when this book takes place.)

6. Despite that outward expression, the one thing McCoy doesn't do — refuses to do — is divert his path to avoid the black youth. He's standing his ground. It's "my territory." He's the gangster, in his own mind, though he does nothing, he's a mass of fear, and he doesn't even have domination over his own dog.

7. He's the beta, and yet he's ready to go down dying, "Well, let him come!"

8. Yellow is the color that symbolizes cowardice, and yellow is the color that falls onto the black youth's face. And it's even "feeble yellow." The youth may be more afraid than the man, but he's behaving like a normal, cautious person, keeping his distance from a weirdo. The white man has yet to realize that he's the weirdo.

9. McCoy is really very slow on the uptake, and yet he's ready to stand his ground — what ground? — and — what? — fight? use his dog as a weapon? accept a beating? Apparently, he's too stupid to know, and I, the reader, am entirely ready to see him get into the trouble I know is in store for him.

10. He emerged from his encounter with a black person unscathed. Unlike the mayor (in the first installment of the "Bonfire" project), he was not so much as hit with a jar of mayonnaise.

169 comments:

gilbar said...

for reasons that aren't clear to me;
Many blacks fear/distrust dogs
Many(at least Some) dogs seem to Actively Dislike Blacks

Of course, you could exchange the groups blacks and dogs with any other two groups, and my statement would Still be true (since it's Completely open ended). . .

However
Many blacks fear/distrust dogs
Many(at least Some) dogs seem to Actively Dislike Blacks

Henry said...

From the black youth's point of view the animal, the "violently lurching animal in his arms" is comically gothic. Has that crazy white man captured a sewer rat? Does he think rats are pets? Is he trying to eat it? Jesus! The ambiguity of the animal makes the scene.

Carol said...

I read this twice, years ago. I wonder if it will seem dated.

Maybe I'll use this as my first audio book, since reading actual books seems to make me sooo sleepy these days. Which is a drag because books are the only way to get to things that are genuinely interesting.

Sadly, my ears are beat up from 50 years of music biz.

Ann Althouse said...

I deleted the first comment, and let me explain why to help people get on track for this project. I don't want to hear a general discussion about black people and crime. I want a discussion of what is going on in the text. I know that reading necessarily involves referring to the real world and what you think and know about it, but — especially at the top of the thread — I do not want general thoughts about black people. It will ruin the project. The project is basically for people who said they wanted to read the book along with me. Others can participate, but you need to be text based. I don't want to hear stories about how you and others may have felt about race and walking down the street at night. That's a stereotypical topic, it's fraught with all sorts of problems, and it dilutes the text-based discussion I am setting up.

Fernandinande said...

When I lived in iffy neighborhoods I'd adopt the attitude that I wouldn't be worth the "hassle". You don't need straps, lurching or self-talking.

Ann Althouse said...

"Maybe I'll use this as my first audio book, since reading actual books seems to make me sooo sleepy these days. Which is a drag because books are the only way to get to things that are genuinely interesting."

I've been doing audiobooks for fiction (with my previously bad eyesight) and I'm switching to text. I've been buying both Kindle texts and audiobooks for the past year, so I can go back and forth, but I had a little trouble with the audiobook, because the first chapter was a chaotic scene and the reader kept the dialogue straight by using an accent. I don't know whether the reader is black, but I was distracted by a reader adopting a black accent for the black characters.

mockturtle said...

The Professor wants us to focus. Having read the novel many years ago, I'll pass. For me, nothing ruins a good novel like analysis.

Ann Althouse said...

The context in the book is that McCoy is going out at night to find a pay phone to call his mistress. He doesn't really want to walk the dog, and the dog doesn't need or want to be walked. The dog is his excuse, not his companion. The dog is more like a weasel, and the man is a weasel.

Dave Begley said...

1. Gilbar is absolutely right and Wolfe knew that.

2. The name Sherman McCoy struck me as so odd when I read the book. Sherman's daughter had an odd name too. Note well that Wolfe, per usual, was way ahead of the curve in the names NYC WASPs pick for their kids. Megyn Kelly's kids are named Yates (boy), Yardley and Thatcher (both girls). Ann or Dave are just out of the question.

3. Later in the book the black kid who gets hit by Sherman's car becomes a media star. He becomes an academic superstar and angel. Same deal with Travyon Martin. Recall the first pictures of him on CNN where he is a cute 10 year old next to a horse. Travyon was actual a drug user,thug and burglar but the MSM had him as an innocent. That's why I said the lawyer for the family read Bonfire and followed it to a T. He made millions off of it.

narciso said...

But Sherman was the sun of a white shoe lawyer from Tennessee that went to the right schools like Buckley in Connecticut from his fathers wildcatter roots

Ann Althouse said...

"The Professor wants us to focus. Having read the novel many years ago, I'll pass. For me, nothing ruins a good novel like analysis."

I believe that focus on a particular passage will open things up and be liberating but that reverting to stereotypical subjects will be limiting (ie, people identifying with being afraid of black youths on the street at night).

I love to stop and take a lot of time over particular sentences. Others like to flow quickly through the pages and be caught up in the world of the story.

I do most of my news reading in the same way. I want to find things to talk about. The alternative is to read and read and be left in peace, in a time-enough-at-last way. That's not how I read, and the blog is my personal monument to that reading style.

By the way, you're kind of ruining the flow of this thread with analysis. Ironically. If you don't like what's happening here, find some place that you do like. Why stay at a party and complain about what you don't like about it? I don't want a threadjack into that subject though, and I considered deleting this, but you closed the door behind you, presumably, so I'm only talking behind your back.

tcrosse said...

If it were written today, the black kid would have been wearing a hoodie. Nobody these days feels threatened by white sneakers.

Maillard Reactionary said...

Maybe the black youth mistook the dog for a pit dachshund.

An abundance of caution is not incorrect in such circumstances.

Ann Althouse said...

Please say "spoiler alert."

I have not read this book before, and I'm not much farther along than the passage I quoted.

narciso said...

I pointed that detail out so you can see how poorly Sherman was miscast. Wolfe apparently had balzac in mind for his tableau although it could have just been Dickens or trollope

Leslie Graves said...

Tom Wolfe knew that by far the majority of the readers of this novel would be middle-aged white people. But even if they weren't, Wolfe presents us with Sherman as his protagonist. It is through his eyes and mind that we are carried along into this world.

What's so great about the last paragraph you quote ("Not once did it dawn on...") is that we are abruptly dumped into the cold water of thinking, "Hm. Sherman, I see, has a surprisingly limited perspective and...me too?"

Quayle said...

“the #1 streets-of-NYC way to look crazy — talking to himself.

Saw it a lot as kid growing up in NYC. Also saw a lot of loud public ranting to no one in particular. Don’t see it much now. I was actually thinking about that on a recent trip to NYC. I concluded that the difference is the meds we now have.

Or social media. Maybe fewer people on the New York streets talks to themselves or rants publicly to no one, because they now do it all on social media and in blog comment sections.

steve uhr said...

The white sneaker jumped out to me. The very beginning of the air jordon age. Today the shoes would get their own paragraph.

Tommy Duncan said...

When I read the passage I immediately assumed this was the seed:

“There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps... then turn around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”

― Jesse Jackson

Bay Area Guy said...

I'm with Mockturtle. The whole book was a joy read. I say read it, and then talk about it.

narciso said...

He captures the interior monologue of the characters which is nearly impossible to translate to the screen,

Eleanor said...

One of the things that dates a book is its cultural references. White sneakers are no longer considered threatening. To be honest, I've never lived anywhere where they were anything but a sign a kid had new shoes, but I do recognize it as once upon a time fear trigger. Today I would expect the reference to be about a black kid wearing a hoodie or a white kid who is heavily tattooed. Even unruly dachshunds have a "cute factor" in today's dog world. If an author wants me to understand the fear, a pitbull or a growling chihuahua would be a better choice. People walking down the street apparently talking to themselves is pretty standard in the era of cellphones, and a guy wanting to talk to his mistress on the phone would just take his cellphone into the bathroom and turn the shower on to hide his voice. He'd have a hard time even finding a payphone so if he didn't need to walk the dog, he wouldn't be out on the street with his dog at night. All of this makes "The Bonfire of the Vanities" an historical novel with themes that might still be relevant, but no longer contemporary.

Drago said...

Althouse: "I have not read this book before, and I'm not much farther along than the passage I quoted."

Well, then you are going to love how the "fish out of water" young and gifted african american homicide detective will be forced by his Philadelphia Chief of Police to work directly with the racist NYPD to find the real killers: MAGA hat wearing Catholic High School dropouts.

It will be imperative for the NYPD to solve this case quickly and properly in order to keep the Widow Bezos from packing up and relocating her planned Amazon operations plant in Long Island to somewhere else....and leaving the New Yorkers.......to themselves....

Ann Althouse said...

"I'm with Mockturtle. The whole book was a joy read. I say read it, and then talk about it."

That's the book club approach.

My project is most emphatically not Althouse's Book Club. Go elsewhere to that. I'm doing it my way. Enjoy it or skip these posts.

I think there's lots of potential here, but it's potential to do things I like. I'm not Oprah or your English teacher or your local group of friends who assign each other books and get together to talk about the whole thing at once.

I take small bites.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm skipping anything that seems to contain spoilers, like what Drago just wrote.

At least say "spoiler alert."

Ann Althouse said...

Don't tell me I'll enjoy something later in the book. It sounds like you think you have something special to give, like you're bringing news, but you're SPOILING. That isn't clever or nice or evidence of your being a person in the know. Ugh.

narciso said...

Because you have to set the tone, it's a mix of farce and danger, which characterizes the story Sherman thinks he is a master of the universe, but life will set him atraight.

Drago said...

Ann Althouse: "I'm skipping anything that seems to contain spoilers, like what Drago just wrote."

Trust me, there are no spoilers in what I wrote....

Drago said...

Ann Althouse: "Don't tell me I'll enjoy something later in the book.


Trust me, there is nothing that I wrote that is possibly enjoyable in that particular novel...

Drago said...

Althouse: "I'm not Oprah...."

That was made clear when I glanced out my window and noticed that no gift bag was on my porch....

narciso said...

Too many modern novels are just interior monologue and not enough observation, of the real world, as you have frame the narrative before you get to the story

Sebastian said...

"I want a discussion of what is going on in the text."

What's going on in that bit of text is triggering thoughts of black people and crime and thoughts of the perceptions of black people and crime on the part of white people.

gspencer said...

The thought is not only at the base of Jesse Jackson's skull. Every liberal out there knows exactly what Wolfe and Jackson and personal-responsible types know. Their hypocrisy prevents them from saying it aloud.

William said...

NYC had a surprise ending. Things, including race relations, got better. I don't understand how it came to pass, but when you see a group of black teens walking the in your direction, you don't tense up. Random "wilding" attacks used to be a thing, but not so much anymore.......Also when you see someone talking wildly to themselves on to street, you presume that they're on the phone.

Otto said...

Ann is playing games "hands up don't shoot" . Ann until you have lived in east harlem or the south bronx you are talking through your a**h***.

mccullough said...

Sodium vapor street light. Uses sodium, which is a white metal, in an excited state to create the feeble yellow color.

It reflected off the “youth”

Nice metaphor for Sherman and most of his neighbors.

Amadeus 48 said...

The change in perspective in the last quoted paragraph is brilliant. So far in this book we see things as they appear in Sherman’s head, and then the omnicient narrator throws in a different perspective so that we can see where our sympathies lie.
Sherman is very close to the professor (and me) in age—let’s date the book as 1986 or 1987 and Sherman is 38. He is a leading edge baby boomer. I remember that I sympathised with him at the time more than I should have. Now from the outset I see his vanity, his self-delusion, his fear, his callousness, his entitlement. Who is the sane one in the passage? It is the black guy who crosses the street to avoid the crazy guy with the ferret(?) in his arms.
Sherman’s fundamental immaturity is on display from the beginning. But it all seems reasonable to him.

Dave Begley said...

Ex post facto spoiler alert in my comment above.

I didn't know the rules. But, hey, who needs rules these days anyway?

Drago said...

Dave Begley: "I didn't know the rules. But, hey, who needs rules these days anyway?"

In the future, there will only be 2 rules:
1) Do everything your lefty betters tell you to do or you will be shot

2).....................well, we never really needed a second rule now, did we?

steve uhr said...

Drago. Politics is 365/24/7 for you. I think your resolution for 2018 should be to make friends with a Democrat.

narciso said...

Exactly who is the reliable witness, had Sherman not had his altercation he might have chairman of the firm, of course he wouldn't have much a character arc.

Amadeus 48 said...

The outdated cultural references help me to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The pay phone call is a plot device. Go watch the movie, A Man and Woman, which was a great romantic date movie when I and Sherman and Ann were in high school and college. Look how the plot turns on long distance telephone calls and telegrams. You could say that makes it a historical movie, or you could that a man and a woman in love will find a way to come together.

narciso said...

But how genuine is that, that's Sherman's illusion that he can have a double life without consequences.

gilbar said...

Professor Althouse, i haven't read the book, and was Trying to just respond to the passage you posted; please let me know if you don't want me to play?

Not once did it dawn on Sherman McCoy...
From my favorite memoir of All Time:
A valuable lesson learned in 1861. My heart resumed its place. It occurred to me at once that Harris had been as much afraid of me as I had been of him. This was a view of the question I had never taken before; but it was one I never forgot afterwards. From that event to the close of the war, I never experienced trepidation upon confronting an enemy,..

rcocean said...

Its a good example of why Wolfe is such an enjoyable writer. The whole thing is satire of people like McCoy - we see everything through his eyes - but we're supposed to laugh at him and we do. The flip at the end, seeing McCoy though the eyes of the black youth is the kill shot.

Jupiter said...

Althouse, what Drago gave you is the plot from In The Heat Of The Night, modified with topical NYC references.

rcocean said...

"Too many modern novels are just interior monologue and not enough observation,"

That's what Wolfe said. Like Mencken telling Henry James to get a whiff of the Chicago stockyards, Tom Wolfe chastised novelists for navel gazing.

Needless to say, he got some snotty pushback from Mailer, Updike, etc.

tcrosse said...

Bonfire is worthy of Trollope. Too bad the title "The Way We Live Now" was already taken.

narciso said...

There are some echoes with trading places the Philadelphia mainline and the urban environs. winthorpe is of the same type as McCoy, both discover the artifice of the world they live in, although the former is more a deus ex machina.

BudBrown said...

So the white sneaker out of the house is noticing the white sneakers on the sneaking black kid.

Drago said...

steve uhr: "Drago. Politics is 365/24/7 for you. I think your resolution for 2018 should be to make friends with a Democrat."

This comment could be exhibit A in the other thread:

"An interesting example of how Trump derangement syndrome deranges the understanding of facts.
Notice the projection of the derangement into the mind of the people you can't understand:"

Jupiter said...

" The whole thing is satire of people like McCoy - we see everything through his eyes - but we're supposed to laugh at him and we do."

SPOILER AHEAD!!!

The book is called Bonfire of the Vanities for a reason. Everything and everyone gets burned by the time it's over. With the possible exception of that one judge, every single character is utterly contemptible.

Drago said...

For the slow amongst us (I'm looking at you Steve Uhr):

Jupiter: "Althouse, what Drago gave you is the plot from In The Heat Of The Night, modified with topical NYC references."

I recommend Steve Uhr make a resolution to develop a sense of humor and not consider every joke a political attack 24/7/365.

narciso said...

Just tells you he was over the target, but bonfire is much more kaleidoscopic covering many perspectives

Gojuplyr831@gmail.com said...

Both individuals see the same thing, someone to be feared. A fear based in each's own prejudices. One sees a potential criminal, the other a possibly dangerous crazy person. Is either perception correct?

Something struck me as odd when first reading this. Then it hit me. The black youth was wearing white shoes. How long would his shoes have stayed white in the rain and wet of a NY street? A strange thing to notice, no doubt.

Quaestor said...

I'm wondering if he [the dog] was named after — speaking of black people — Thurgood Marshall

Nope. He was named for Herbert Marshall McLuhan. When it comes to dachshunds the medium is definitely the message.

ken in tx said...

I was once walking two Boston Terriers on leash at night in Atlanta. They were overly friendly, small, harmless dogs. The worst they might do is lick your ankles. Of course you can't tell that by looking at them. The male dog snorted when he breathed. A black guy coming from the other direction appeared to be freaked out by them. He backed up and stood way out of the way until we passed. I told him that they were friendly but he didn't reply.

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

FYI: The Amazon link is bad.

Quaestor said...

...but the white man is terrorized at the sight of the black youth, who's doing nothing but walking down the street at night.

Strangely doing nothing but walking down the street at night is a common precursor state to robbery, assault, rape, and murder.

Race relations in the United States would vastly improve if criminally inclined persons would do us the favor of clearly and forthrightly announcing their intentions beforehand, say with a bullhorn.

ATTENTION CITIZENS! CRIMINAL APPROACHING!

Perhaps Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will propose bullhorns-for-thugs legislation.

rcocean said...

"How long would his shoes have stayed white in the rain and wet of a NY street?"

Are NYT sidewalks full of mud?

rcocean said...

Needless to say, McCoy would never have SAID he was scared of the black kid. That would be racist. But Wolfe nails the real thinking of plenty of white people.

Quaestor said...

When the black youth suddenly crosses the street, McCoy exults in his release from what he perceived as danger, but he hasn't an inkling of awareness that the youth is also a human being...

Reading between the lines is much like a Rorschach test.

buwaya said...

For some reason it has been my lot to have had guns pointed at me quite often, in similar situations. Perhaps it is a mark of a broad lack of judgement, or an inefficient instinct for survival. In any case I have been in such cases, of watching danger come, in the form if a human threat, and having it manifest, a half-dozen times, so I have been able to be an observer of my own feelings repeatedly.

In such circumstances it is quite natural to think of the other person in an encounter as a tactical problem. It is better to have anticipated such situations and formed at least a rough plan, into which the other person fits as an element that is interchangable and anonymous.

I dont know how it is for women, but for some men anyway violence or the prospect of it is an impersonal thing. It is a sort of simplification of context, an emotional tunnel-vision. The role of fear comes in the form of betrayals of intention or performance, a failure to get the body to do, or do well, what one wills. In my case the actual conscious feeling of fear, in cases of physical danger, is frustration. The body feels this fear in another way, by becoming unreliable.

As for the prospect of death or injury, also in such cases it is curious that this is, at least consciously, so easy to dismiss. When in that state it is not at all strange to accept the prospect of death quite calmly. The anxiety is about perhaps more absurd things, like maintenance of dignity. This is not unique to the especially brave.

The Jeff Cooper color code system (white, yellow, orange, red) probably should be taught to all children, along with at least the rudiments of unarmed combat. Its better to have anticipated the pissibility as it reduces the shock of the reality.

Besides this it has become my habit, after some unfortunate encounters in Oakland thirty years ago, to carry, as part of the standard furniture of my pockets, a substantial folding knife. Not in order to save my life, because, consciously, it does not matter so much, but for the sake of self-respect, that the forms be followed and that the game be scored, and not be a blowout.

BudBrown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Quaestor said...

He's out walking in the rain, what he thinks is an ordinary raincoat actually has disturbing military attributes (straps and buckles!)

Calm down, Althouse! You're treading perilously close to paranoia. Perhaps you shouldn't continue reading Bonfire, if it's going to push your buttons that way.

A disturbing military attribute is a live grenade hanging from one of those straps or buckles. I went into the Bull and Bear wearing a similar coat (mine was made in Australia rather than England) and the patrons didn't dive for cover. Instead, I was immediately greeted as a fellow power trader, which I wasn't then or now.

chickelit said...

BudBrown said...So what's with "north of 96th street?" I think most readers would get that Park Avenue = rich people, I mean , you know, from Green Acres. I mean what's happening on, like, 69th Street?

Nice!

BudBrown said...

Yeah, well, it's south of. So I deleted.

Quaestor said...

6. Despite that outward expression, the one thing McCoy doesn't do — refuses to do — is divert his path to avoid the black youth...

7. He's the beta, and yet he's ready to go down dying, "Well, let him come!"


Contradictions aplenty.

chickelit said...

North, south, up is down

Nice!

Quaestor said...

Apparently, he's too stupid to know, and I, the reader, am entirely ready to see him get into the trouble I know is in store for him.

Is it racism or class envy that makes Althouse so hostile?

n.n said...

Diversity or color judgment was/is a clear and progressive condition. #HateLovesAbortion

BudBrown said...

And why is the black kid thinking it looks like a military outfit? I think it'd be more like a power coat rich people wear. Nothing creepier than a rich creepy cracker.

bgates said...

Nobody these days feels threatened by white sneakers.

Adidas pulls all-white running shoe created for Black History Month

Gahrie said...

Needless to say, McCoy would never have SAID he was scared of the black kid. That would be racist. But Wolfe nails the real thinking of plenty of white people.

Given the FBI statistics, White people have reason to fear young Black men, and not out of racism.

gspencer said...

"Caroline Lee Radziwiłł [younger sister of Jacqueline Kennedy] died on Friday, February 15, 2019 in New York City."

She died where she lived - right in the midst of White NYC, White Manhattan. A rub-shoulder neighbor of Sherman McCoy when he was once a Master of the Universe.

Radziwill had the good sense to stay out of the Bronx, most especially the southern part.

gspencer said...

Nobody, but nobody, will be doing the pimp roll at Radziwill's funeral.

I wonder if the wake'll be held at the Harold A. Burns Funeral Home, in the Ruskin Memorial Chapel?

John henry said...

Ann, I take issue with characterizing Sherman as feeling "gangster"

Wolfe makes it Quite clear that he is a "master of the universe"

I think feeling gangster would imply a sense of power? Violence? I don't know the word here.

I think an motu would feel more a sense of imperviousness or invincibility.

Sherman doesn't need to defend himself. As an motu he cannot be attacked.

John Henry

hstad said...

AA your comment about focus is kind of silly! Isn't "focus" more an issue for the reader to decide. Everyone reads a novel and comes away with a different point and a particular book, chapter, paragraph or sentence. The one AA lead with about the "black youth" reminded me of Jesse Jackson's comments: ".....“There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps... then turn around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”― Jesse Jackson

John henry said...

People often mention or quote books here. Someone had a quote from their favorite memoir.

I like hearing about other books people like. Could I suggest that when doing this give name and author? Thanks.

John Henry

John henry said...

When it comes to Marshall (mccluhan) the medium is the massage.

Not message.

John Henry

buwaya said...

Sherman is not a true motu.
The whole point is that he is a wannabe motu.
Not at all secure in his social standing.

Yancey Ward said...

I read the book when it was first released, and I read it again 11 or 12 years ago. I loved it, but I will not likely read it again.

Larry Ozone said...

True trivia - Tom Wolfe lived in the neighborhood he was writing about in "Bonfire of the Vanities" - less than 20 blocks south of 96th street, a short walk to the park. (For the privacy of his family, I won't say what street)

Yancey Ward said...

Ann, you might want to just read the novel noting the passages you want to discuss, then start the discussion at that point. I realize you want to discuss the passages out of their context, but that isn't how most are going to deal with this, as can be seen in the comments above from the people who have read it before. I feel inhibited because I have read it twice.

buwaya said...

One big difference between the two American cultures is right there in "Bonfire".

In one, as noted, McCoy would never have admitted what was in the back of his mind. It is this filter of thought, a barrier of taboo, that has grown thicker and expanded. McCoy is a prototype of the sort of person in dominant political, cultural and economic leadership today.

The other America had a much thinner layer of taboo. It was indeed a sort of distinguishing feature of the American, this lack of self-censorship.

Otto said...

I would live to see Ann and Meade stuck with a flat tire on the 138th st Bruckner Blv'd ramp in their beamer at 1 am with no cellphone. " I don't want any stereotyping........" Go live it before you virtue signal.

Ann Althouse said...

"Professor Althouse, i haven't read the book, and was Trying to just respond to the passage you posted; please let me know if you don't want me to play?"

Yours was not the first comment that I spoke of deleting. You only look first now that I deleted the other person.

"Not once did it dawn on Sherman McCoy...
From my favorite memoir of All Time:
A valuable lesson learned in 1861. My heart resumed its place. It occurred to me at once that Harris had been as much afraid of me as I had been of him. This was a view of the question I had never taken before; but it was one I never forgot afterwards. From that event to the close of the war, I never experienced trepidation upon confronting an enemy,.."

Excellent comparison. I strongly encourage things like that!

CWJ said...

Steve Uhr said -

"Drago. Politics is 365/24/7 for you. I think your resolution for 2018 should be to make friends with a Democrat."

OK, but first he'll have to master time travel.

Drago said...

CWJ: "OK, but first he'll have to master time travel."

Like Uhr, I never considered the possibility that I could not overcome that and rather easily as well.

(I am adopting the AOC/lefty/LLR way of thinking about innovation and engineering application)

Zach said...

As I recall, the "military raincoat" is a trench coat, which hasn't had military connotations since the 1920s. Nowadays, it's a luxury item signifying wealth. Lots of trench coats aren't even waterproof!

In a way, it's a metaphor for McCoy, who is someone completely divorced from reality, in the same way that trading bonds is completely divorced from economics.

(In the world of the novel, I mean. In reality, the question of who is a good credit risk and who is a bad credit risk is almost the bread and butter of economics.)

Quaestor said...

As I recall, the "military raincoat" is a trench coat

The coat in question is a riding coat, which can be quite waterproof. Some are made from tweed with lots of natural lanolin retained, which makes them shed rainwater fairly well. Others are oilskin. What makes a riding coat a riding coat is the length (pretty long) and the vent in the back, which goes all the way up to the small of the back. The vent has buttons or snaps so the wearer can close the vent for walking or open it all the way so that the wearer can still on a horse. The inside has straps to attach the coat to the wearer's legs, thus keeping the legs dry while mounted. Actually, there are snaps and closures here and there which I haven't found a use for.

Ann Althouse said...

"Althouse, what Drago gave you..."

No, he didn't give me anything. I immediately skipped ahead.

Maybe some things need a "This is not a spoiler" notice!

***

"Bonfire is worthy of Trollope. Too bad the title "The Way We Live Now" was already taken."

From Wikipedia: "A bonfire of the vanities (Italian: falò delle vanità) is a burning of objects condemned by authorities as occasions of sin. The phrase usually refers to the bonfire of 7 February 1497, when supporters of Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola collected and burned thousands of objects such as cosmetics, art, and books in Florence, Italy on the Shrove Tuesday festival. Francesco Guicciardini's The History of Florence gives a first-hand account of the bonfire of the vanities that took place in Florence in 1497. The focus of this destruction was on objects that might tempt one to sin, including vanity items such as mirrors, cosmetics, fine dresses, playing cards, and even musical instruments. Other targets included books that were deemed to be immoral (such as works by Boccaccio), manuscripts of secular songs, and artworks, including paintings and sculpture.... Although it is widely reported that the Florentian artist Sandro Botticelli burned several of his paintings based on classical mythology in the great Florentine bonfire of 1497, the historical record on this is not clear. According to the art historian Giorgio Vasari, Botticelli was a partisan of Savonarola: 'He was so ardent a partisan that he was thereby induced to desert his painting, and, having no income to live on, fell into very great distress.'... Ray Bradbury's 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451 is a science fiction rendering of a bonfire of the vanities.... Margaret Atwood's works allude to the Bonfire, as in her dystopian novels The Handmaid's Tale (1985), and Oryx and Crake (2003)."

***

"FYI: The Amazon link is bad."

Thanks. Fixed.

***

"Ann, I take issue with characterizing Sherman as feeling "gangster" Wolfe makes it Quite clear that he is a "master of the universe" I think feeling gangster would imply a sense of power? Violence? I don't know the word here."

My observation is based on the text "It’s my territory! I’m not giving way for any street punks!" If you were the master of the universe (and I know the term is used elsewhere in the book) you wouldn't have territory within the city (his was Park Avenue), you'd own everything. He's indicating that it might be different if he were up in Harlem (like the Mayor earlier), but he was in his territory. I associate territory with divided up organized crime. If you're on the wrong block, you could be in trouble.

***

"Ann, you might want to just read the novel noting the passages you want to discuss, then start the discussion at that point. I realize you want to discuss the passages out of their context, but that isn't how most are going to deal with this, as can be seen in the comments above from the people who have read it before. I feel inhibited because I have read it twice."

The blog must follow blog logic, and that means it's all a matter of where my mind is, not holding myself back or limiting my amusement to try to create things other people might like. I believe that does produce the best result, but that's simply a matter of faith. I presume 99% of people are not interested in what I have to say, and my trying to win them over would only wreck the enterprise, which is for whatever the 1% is, the people who like me. Even if only I like it, that would be enough, and I'm just not going to change.

Ann Althouse said...

"True trivia - Tom Wolfe lived in the neighborhood he was writing about in "Bonfire of the Vanities" - less than 20 blocks south of 96th street, a short walk to the park. (For the privacy of his family, I won't say what street)"

20 blocks south of 96th street is completely different from 96th street. Every block north of 86th street was worse than the block south of it.

I lived on East 91st Street in the early 70s and then East 85th Street, so I'm super-aware of the distinctions. (In the late 70s and early 80s, I lived on Jane Street in the Village, then Washington Square Village, then 3rd Street in Park Slope.)

Drago said...

Althouse: "No, he didn't give me anything."

Sidney Poitier weeps.

Ann Althouse said...

"As I recall, the "military raincoat" is a trench coat, which hasn't had military connotations since the 1920s. Nowadays, it's a luxury item signifying wealth. Lots of trench coats aren't even waterproof!"

Yes, that's the white man's point of view, but at this point in the text, we are challenged to think of how he looked to the black youth.

Earnest Prole said...

The beast in McCoy's hands seems to be the outward expression of his roiling innards.

“If you tried to lay hands on him, he turned into a two-foot tube packed with muscle.”

David Begley said...

The novel was published in 1987. This was all before Rudy was Mayor. NYC had a very bad reputation. I visited NYC in 1988 and we saw this woman in a bookstore who (along with her husband) was accused of harming their children. I can’t recall their names but the story was big on CNN. Convicted. It spooked me to see her. She was just walking around. A criminal on the streets! I was not in Nebraska.

gilbar said...

Drago said...
CWJ: "OK, but first he'll have to master time travel."
Like Uhr, I never considered the possibility that I could not overcome that and rather easily as well.


I keep meaning to build me a time machine; but there never seems to be Any Hurry.
Once it's built though, i'm looking forward to going back to East 91st Street in the early 70s
I bet there's some people there i'd love to meet

Laslo Spatula said...

"...dressed in some sort of military-looking raincoat full of straps and buckles, holding a violently lurching animal in his arms, staring, bug-eyed, and talking to himself...."

"Bonfire of the Vanities" is from 1987.

In 1987, if you saw someone "full of straps and buckles, holding a violently lurching animal in his arms" your first thought (I would think) would most likely have been of Michael Jackson.

Michael Jackson full of straps and buckles in 1987.

Michael Jackson with Bubbles the Chimp in 1987.

And, from 1988,a sculpture from an 80s artist of which a Sherman McCoy would've surely known:Jeff Koons' porcelain sculpture of Michael Jackson and Bubbles the Chimp.

Does a Concept of a Michael Jackson exist in Wolfe's NYC? Would the black youth have made a connection, even though incongruous, with Jackson and McCoy?

Surely Sherman would've known of him, if only for brief snippits in the news.

But, to add another layer of era context: 1991's "American Psycho" by Bret Easton Ellis had another NYC player of Big Finance -- this one aware of Pop Culture in the late 80s:

Patrick Bateman: "Take the lyrics to “Land of Confusion,” in which a singer addresses the problem of abusive political authority. This is laid down with a groove funkier and blacker than anything Prince or Michael Jackson—or any other black artist of recent years, for that matter—has come up with. Yet as danceable as the album is, it also has a stripped-down urgency that not even the overrated Bruce Springsteen can equal...."

Yes, Patrick Bateman valued Phil Collins and Genesis as a peak in music; what popular music did McCoy listen to? Is it accurate to say McCoy was insulated outside of Pop Culture, while Bateman was happily immersed inside? Do both of these books mean more when seen in symbiosis?*

(*When this started I had thought of channeling responses to 'Bonfire' sentences with 'Psycho' sentences; may still do from time to time. Then again, may not).

I am Laslo.

Ken B said...

“Shut up mockturtle “ said Ann, who preens as a champion of the wider sense of free speech.

Laslo Spatula said...

Speaking of trench coats, perhaps this is today's "American Psycho" response to "Bonfire":

“At Columbus Circle, a juggler wearing a trench cloak and top hat, who is usually at this location afternoons and who calls himself Stretch Man, performs in front of a small, uninterested crowd; though I smell prey, and he seems worthy of my wrath, I move on in search of a less dorky target. Though if he’d been a mime, odds are he’d already be dead.”

I am Laslo.

Quaestor said...

Yes, that's the white man's point of view, but at this point in the text, we are challenged to think of how he looked to the black youth.

But in the text, it isn't a "trench coat"

As a white woman, how do you rise to the challenge? Assuming of course that the challenge arises not from the text (wow, is that post-modern with a bullet, or what?) but from something from within your own psychic baggage? As a black youth are you more intimidated by a raincoat or a man talking loudly to himself?

Sherman is also wearing topsiders. How intimidating is that? Back in the Eighties, the horsey set wore Sperrys everywhere. So what's worse $300 dollar Air Jordans bought with drug money, or $100 moccasins that smell of manure?

John henry said...

Yes, buwaya.

I should have said that Sherman sees himself as a motu rather than a gangster.

He really is neither.

John Henry

buwaya said...

Tom Wolfe was in a curious way quite isolated from popular culture, or popular music and TV and etc.

He had a tin ear that way. It comes across in all his novels really, which given their subjects is quite a blind spot. His worst errors in, say, "Charlotte Simmons", in my opinion, lie in this direction. One reason Wolfe is so easy for me is because I also am isolated. So much of what fascinates so many Americans just amounts to noise to my ears.

Ken B said...

So, if a passage is foreshadowing, or an event is a synecdoche, or ironic in the light of future events in the novel, you want us NOT to mention it — because we do not know how far you have read. This you think deepens the analysis.

Laslo Spatula said...

buwaya said... "Tom Wolfe was in a curious way quite isolated from popular culture, or popular music and TV and etc. He had a tin ear that way. It comes across in all his novels really, which given their subjects is quite a blind spot..."

That is what I was inarticulately scratching at -- for a writer of sharp attention to detail, what he doesn't note can seem odd in vague absence.

I am Laslo.

John henry said...

Emphasis on "sees himself"

John Henry

narciso said...

I found bret ellis Easton tedious, jay mcinerney slightly less so, his penchant for product placement, obscures character development,

traditionalguy said...

Wolfe always tells a story about a man. A man that is afraid of losing his entitlements.Being rich, being a high class white man, being a married man , but he is playing a role that he has spent his life playing...but one that he knows he could be exposed as a pretender. Whom he fights depends on over whom he has power, using his father's famous "Anger" bluff.

So Tom Wolfe runs him through a come down which makes us all cringe. Insert Lyrics of Like a Rolling Stone here. It was on the same theme and it was written by a Nobel Prize winning author known to us.

traditionalguy said...

A Man in Full does the same trick to a fictional Atlanta Real Estate Developer.And he has it spot on.

My only criticism of Wolfe's perception would be the way he had the women let the man run over them. I never found me one of those.

traditionalguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
narciso said...

and in the life imitates art department, the Smollett squirrel chase turns out to be a hoax, quelle surprise

Sherman McCoy Louis Winthorpe

st. paul yale Exeter Harvard

(Solomon like)
firm Duke and Duke



tcrosse said...

Beneath it all, Sherman McCoy was a parvenu. So was Tom Wolfe.

Ralph L said...

Silly that the youth could guess his age instead of "middle-aged". That kind of specificity might be fun for some people but disrupts the flow for me. It would drive you crazy in a long Victorian novel.

Call me a prude, but the call to the mistress made it difficult to feel much sympathy for McCoy, so the rest of the novel fell flat. Trollope & Thackeray wisely had one (often boring) heroine and wayward suitor to rout for.
McCoy was too nervous to remember to wear a hat in the rain. His wife ought to wonder why.

How far up has gentrification spread since the 80's?

JPS said...

If we wanted to make sure we're not spoiling the book's plot, we could always discuss the movie....

Ralph L said...

Sherman McCoy was a parvenu
Yeah, but they were taking over then after the depressed 70's, and with old money we would have expected more of a cliche character. GHWB makes a fool of himself.

Drago said...

traditionalguy: "Wolfe always tells a story about a man."

In constructing the "man" character, does Wolfe start with a woman and then add reason and accountability?

Drago said...

JPS: "If we wanted to make sure we're not spoiling the book's plot, we could always discuss the movie...."

Ouch.

Screenwriters hardest hit.

Which reminds me of a joke: Did you hear the one about the dumb actress? Yeah, she slept with the writer!....

tcrosse said...

with old money we would have expected more of a cliche character.

Well, Jay Gatsby was a parvenu, too.

buwaya said...

Wolfe was no parvenu.
He was old-money from Richmond VA, a gentleman born and bred.
In the Orwellian class system he would have been, to extend it, middle-upper class.
Orwell, in his own system, was lower-upper middle class.

Wolfe was inserted right into the American cursus honorum.

Drago said...

"with old money we would have expected more of a cliche character."

The thing is that the character may be of old money, but there's significant anxiety and the need to pretend to be more comfortable than he really is because there's not that much of it (money) and in the early chapters Wolfe references how McCoy dreads the hemorrhaging of cash in their daily life operations.

tcrosse said...

Wolfe was no parvenu.
He was old-money from Richmond VA, a gentleman born and bred.


i.e., from the Provinces.

buwaya said...

Having grown up in a very stratified class system, inserted into an interstice, of sorts, in the upper class, it gives an interesting view of how these work.

My father and his father were solidly middle class, technocratic middle-managers in the modern sense. Both did their duty but never got rich. My mother was a descendant of a fallen fortune of the very noveau-riche, her family having risen fast and far, and fallen just as much and as fast. Our many relatives were, in the main, solidly upper class. So we were everyone's poor relations, relatively, knowing everyone and going to all the parties. Its an odd social place to be from.

buwaya said...

"from the provinces"

This is not how the provincial gentry think of it.

Drago said...

buwaya: "This is not how the provincial gentry think of it."

The non-provincial "lions" are unconcerned with what the provincial "sheep" think.

Ralph L said...

Back in the Eighties, the horsey set wore Sperrys
Also in the 70's at my suburban prep boys school, when not Clark Wallabees. Held together with duct tape. No socks. More often Weejuns on frat boys.

buwaya said...

Both my brothers-in-law are provincial gentry.
Its a psychologically -solid- place. They have an air of command.
When they give orders it is done casually and with complete confidence.
Their authority is implicit.

Ralph L said...

But it isn't New York Rich.
My great grandfather played the hick Southern lawyer when he practiced there. It gave him an advantage.

Inga...Allie Oop said...

“Drago. Politics is 365/24/7 for you. I think your resolution for 2018 should be to make friends with a Democrat.”

It reminds me of someone the obsessive/compulsive patients I had over the years.

dbp said...

I read Bonfire soon after it was published, in fact, some of it before it was published: IIRC, the first few chapters were serialized in Rolling Stone. I must have read a borrowed copy or lost mine since I cannot locate it on the shelf, but each of these passages are familiar, even after some 30 years.

At the time I read it, it seemed over-the-top, exaggeration for comedic effect. Now it seems downright prophetic.

Ralph L said...

"Bug-eyed." You wonder how he sold bonds.

IIRC, the Florentines came to their senses and threw Savonarola on a bonfire, too, or was did they just hang him?

BudBrown said...

How bout the white man's anti-military bias is getting projected onto the black kid? The kid was probably thinking the worse could happen is the guy throws the dog at him. Hey, he'll steal the dog. But then worrying the guys military and will ask him to hold the dog while he pulls some papers out and gets him to join the army he crosses the street.

Ann Althouse said...

"But in the text, it isn't a "trench coat" As a white woman, how do you rise to the challenge? Assuming of course that the challenge arises not from the text (wow, is that post-modern with a bullet, or what?) but from something from within your own psychic baggage? As a black youth are you more intimidated by a raincoat or a man talking loudly to himself?"

1. I never called it a trench coat. I just quoted someone who did and addressed a different aspect of his comment.

2. I was drawing quotes from the text that were showing us the point of view of the black youth, which I tried to understand just as I try to understand everything else in the book (while also wondering and marveling about the author's ability to know or give the appearance of knowing).

Ann Althouse said...

Is the "trench" in trench coat the trench of trench warfare? Yes!

Via Wikipedia:

"It was originally an item of clothing for Army officers (developed before the war but adapted for use in the trenches of the First World War, hence its name) and shows this influence in its styling.... The trench coat became an optional item of dress in the British Army, and was obtained by private purchase by officers and Warrant Officers Class I who were under no obligation to own them. No other ranks were permitted to wear them... During the First World War, the design of the trench coat was modified to include shoulder straps and D-rings. The shoulder straps were for the attachment of epaulettes or other rank insignia; There is a popular myth that the D-ring was for the attachment of hand grenades. The ring was originally for attaching map cases and swords or other equipment to the belt. ... . What became known as the ‘trench coat’ combined the features of a military waterproof cape and the regulation greatcoat designed for British officers. Many veterans returning to civilian life kept the coats that became fashionable for both men and women."

Ralph L said...

US Marine officers still wear them.

Otto said...

85th street is heaven compared to 138th street. 85th street is heaven compared to 104th street. Those were the areas where i grew up. Those areas were tough even before the 70s, so when you get this phony " stop stereotyping" from a 60s liberal who never lived in a tough neighborhood , you laugh at her bs.

narciso said...


What I was referring to:

https://mobile.twitter.com/RaferWeigel/status/1096882912685948928?fbclid=IwAR1Q9c9zDwFO-5kN3-eMO2ozT9o7dy4EG_KzsbcRgg6oYBw6GTOQlb_F3CU

dbp said...

The London Fog looking raincoat was issued to enlisted and officer grades when I was in the Marines--may not still be, I've been out since 1990.

I still wear mine on rainy days, my kids give me grief (they think is is pervy, because flashers--which I am absolutely certain they have no first hand knowledge of) but coworkers think it is cool AF.

Andrew said...

A little off the subject, but why do people here think that the movie was such a notable failure? It seems like an easy movie to film.

BJM said...

I'm not sure this project works as there is too much water under the bridge. At the time it was one of my favorite Wolfe books, but too many of his observations have become tropes in the ongoing culture war.

Perhaps "A Man In Full" would be more apt.

narciso said...

Because depalma didnt understand it, he made it too broad a comedy, thanks was all wrong probably Willis too since hes supposed to be Haden guest,

CWJ said...

"It reminds me of someone the obsessive/compulsive patients I had over the years."

Oh my. Where to start?

Drago said...

Inga: "It reminds me of someone the obsessive/compulsive patients I had over the years."

Given your track record, I am in the clear.

rcocean said...

"Nowadays, it's a luxury item signifying wealth. Lots of trench coats aren't even waterproof!"

Really? I thought it signaled "I'm a Humphrey Bogart wannabee".

rcocean said...

Most people don't know or care what "Luxury Items" signify wealth unless its a yacht or asuper-expensive sports car (even that's hard to know if you don't car about Cars).

As for Wolfe not knowing about 80s pop culture. His target audience wasn't Michael Jackson fans in 1986. Did Jackson know who Tom Wolfe was? I doubt it.

Ralph L said...

Most people don't know or care

That's half the point. The other half is jockeying for position in the narrow status hierarchy.

I wonder if anyone throws big parties that aren't charity fundraisers, commercial, or weddings.

Inga...Allie Oop said...

“Oh my. Where to start?”

Start with yourself.

Laslo Spatula said...

"As for Wolfe not knowing about 80s pop culture. His target audience wasn't Michael Jackson fans in 1986."

"The Bonfire of the Vanities" Novel published: 1987.

"The Bonfire of the Vanities" excerpts published in "Rolling Stone":July 1984 to August 1985.

Michael Jackson on cover of "Rolling Stone": September 24, 1987, March 15, 1984, December 8, 1983.

Not sure how we define 'target audience' when the magazine that is publishing his novel in serial form is the same magazine that has the pop star on the cover 3 times during the relevant period.

I am not arguing Wolfe SHOULD have mentioned Jackson. I am pointing out that in the world he depicts Jackson doesn't seem to exist for these people. Which can be interpreted many ways. (Of course, many of them would know Jeff Koons, and have bought his art as investments and signifiers of status and wealth.)

But Jackson WOULD have existed for the black youth on the street Wolfe depicts in the novel.

I simply find it contextually interesting: novels, among many things, are Time Machines.

Wolfe's subjects -- and his expected readers -- are the Eloi.

I am Laslo.



Quaestor said...

...which I tried to understand just as I try to understand everything else in the book (while also wondering and marveling about the author's ability to know or give the appearance of knowing)

The Bonfire of the Vanities draws at least in part on the sordid career of the "Reverend" Al Sharpton and a few other oddities dating to the Dinkins residency in Gracie Mansion, but it is nonetheless a work of fiction. Does it not stand to reason that Wolfe was the authority on his own characters, large and small?

Quaestor said...

Start with yourself.

Abbie Normal has gotten off the slab again. Somebody give her a sedagive.

narciso said...

Wolfe is more 60s focused, later in the story Sherman refers to when he would do the black panther salute at yale, a call back to Wolfes profile of the Bernstein benefit.

mockturtle said...

New money is just old money that got away, says a father to his son in a very old New Yorker cartoon.

Zach said...

A little off the subject, but why do people here think that the movie was such a notable failure? It seems like an easy movie to film.

There's an intereting book, The Devil's Candy, about the making of the film.

I think it was more an accumulation of small things than any one thing. Tom Hanks was a bad choice for Sherman McCoy -- much too earnest a persona for the character. They decided to get Morgan Freeman to be the judge, but he had very limited availability, which cascaded into large parts of the script having to be rewritten at the last second.

If you had to go with one thing, it would be bad casting.

Zach said...

If you went with two things, Brian De Palma was a bad choice for director. Wolfe has a very absurdist take on the world, and his characters often do the wrong thing for bad reasons. So you need to establish two ideas: what the character is doing, and why it's wrong or mistaken. Whereas De Palma likes to go for shots that establish one idea very clearly.

Zach said...

The coat in question is a riding coat, which can be quite waterproof.

Thanks for the correction. A riding coat is even less militarily relevant than a trench coat, of course. And McCoy doesn't seem like the horsey type, to say the least.

McCoy thinks he's a master of the universe, but he panics and loses control at the first contact with reality. Everything in his little universe is alienated from the animating forces which once made it relevant.

narciso said...

Basically he recycled his character from the peace corps comedy, with Donald moffatt replacing George plimpton

narciso said...

Donald moffatt having played lbj in the right stuff, a coincidence,

Narayanan said...

How did yellow become associated with coward?
And red with courage?!

Narayanan said...

I'm wondering ...
Is the difference between Old Money and New Money all about use of appropriate laundry service?

BudBrown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"When the black youth suddenly crosses the street, McCoy exults in his release from what he perceived as danger, but he hasn't an inkling of awareness that the youth is also a human being, with his own inner life..."

Wolfe is a better satirist than to engage in the creaky sermonizing you're projecting onto him here. The descriptions of the reactions of both characters to each other is funny, but not because either character's reaction is ignorant and irrational. I don't think the scene is meant as a sermonette about the dangers of "stereotyping" and "otherizing".

"Yes, that's the white man's point of view, but at this point in the text, we are challenged to think of how he looked to the black youth."

BotV is a pretty good satire, and the point of successful satire isn't to "challenge" the reader to observe human folly through the lens of conventional pieties, which is what you're doing here.

John henry said...

Don't know about yellow but red, i think comes from Stephen crane's Red Badge of courage.

The "red badge" being the blood from a wound.

Not sure if the concept was original with crane though

John Henry

Tina Trent said...

OK.

Frankly, I don't see how we avoid the subject of the now -- and then -- too taboo subject of the power of cultural forces lined up to deny black criminality because that is Wolfe's stated subject of the book, stated ironically in the text and unironically outside of it.

But I absolutely love New Critical analysis, which seems to be what is requested, and the salon host sets the rules of the salon, so here goes:

Both men wildly misapprehend each other. Misapprehension based on appearances may end up being a major plot. Will it end with the men deciding to walk in each other's shoes, since shoes are what is highlighted here? In New Criticism, it is not OK to use outside source knowledge including other literary sources, but even the New Critics couldn't stick to that, so we might consider whether Wolfe would be referencing Atticus Finch's famous dictum (which he sometimes didn't stick to in the novel, with regard to females).

Tom Wolfe is possibly the worst modern author for this sort of analysis because he is a satirist not only of current mores but of current true events, and that satire is the point (metaphysical spoiler). He is like Alexander Pope. The world outside the novel has to be wrestled because without it, there is no novel. That's Wolfe's rules for the book and all of his fiction,so much so that it led John Updike, the greatest author and literary critic of the post-war era, to make his sole aesthetic error in judging Wolfe's work mere reporting, not fiction.

But sometimes fudging New Critical methods a bit can illuminate odd things. Who wears white shoes? Wolfe. Does that mean anything? No, but it would be fun if it did, except even that is stepping outside the text.



Tina Trent said...

Wait. Megan Kelley named two of her kids after upscale milled soaps and the third after Margaret Thatcher?

That is interesting.

Tinderbox said...

Finally read this book recently and found it hilarious on par with "A Confederacy of Dunces". And remarkably prescient. What was broad satire of NYC class and race relations in the 1980s has become par for the course in today's culture of our whole country.

John henry said...

I mentioned The Corps as a book (looking at the series as one book.)

Just read all 8 books, I don't count the last 2 Korean books) last month.

And now I find that Griffin died last night at 89.

I also just read,a few weeks ago the first of his with his son new series about the birth of the cia and the Gehlen organization and the ratline to Argentina

Pretty good. I'll probably read the rest oc the series. Quite possibly twice.

Nothing on the level of The Corps. Or Brotherhood of war.

So long and thanks for all the books.

John Henry

Char Char Binks, Esq. said...

Nobody fears a dachshund.

"But Sherman was the sun of a white shoe lawyer from Tennessee that went to the right schools like Buckley in Connecticut from his fathers wildcatter roots"

This shows Wolfe's great understanding of nuance. Sherman McCoy was the Great White Defendant everyone was looking for, but he wasn't a true Old Money New York WASP or a Yankee. Many characters thought at first hearing or reading his name that he was black. His family was from the South, and his wife was from Wisconsin. His neighbor/former classmate looked down on him for not being a true Knickerbocker, "Sherman McCoy, the mountain boy".

Wolfe adroitly described the various class and ethnic divides of NYC, and the struggles for status between them, and among themselves. He got not only the obvious class and ethnic clashes, but Jew and Harp, white, Black, Englishman, American and "transatlantic man", Hispanic and "other", rich poor and in between, Ivy vs. less prestigious universities, and even Harvard and Yale vs. the "lesser" Ivies.

Char Char Binks, Esq. said...

"A little off the subject, but why do people here think that the movie was such a notable failure? It seems like an easy movie to film."

Political correctness, mostly. Hollywood could not have allowed a faithful adaptation of that book, a book that probably couldn't get published if it were new today.

Also,the movie condensed and combined scenes and characters too much; maybe it would have been better as a miniseries. Tom "Bosom Buddies" Hanks was badly cast, indicative of the choice to make it more of a broad comedy than a satire. This was before Hanks was chiseled into Mt. Rushmore. I seriously think Tucker Carlson, or an actor capable of portraying him, would have been ideal for the role.

Willis was actually the best part of the movie, and played the part well, although necessarily as an American instead of an Englishman.

M Jordan said...

My favorite scene in the book was the old guy at the party who quotes from Poe’s “Masque Of the Red Death,” a short story that contains a radioactive level of truth,

Great, great novel by Wolfe.