Peter Robinson Interviews Tom Wolfe, Documentarian of the New Antiquity
“Everybody… all of them… it’s back to blood! Religion is dying… but everybody still has to believe in something."
July 24, 2013 - 4:06 pm
A phrase pops into his head from out of nowhere. “Everybody… all of them… it’s back to blood! Religion is dying… but everybody still has to believe in something. It would be intolerable— you couldn’t stand it— to finally have to say to yourself, ‘Why keep pretending? I’m nothing but a random atom inside a supercollider known as the universe.’ But believing in by definition means blindly, irrationally, doesn’t it. So, my people, that leaves only our blood, the bloodlines that course through our very bodies, to unite us. ‘La Raza!’ as the Puerto Ricans cry out. ‘The Race!’ cries the whole world. All people, all people everywhere, have but one last thing on their minds— Back to blood!” All people, everywhere, you have no choice but— Back to blood!
Beyond Wolfe’s own introduction, I thought John O’Sullivan had one of the best takes on Wolfe’s new book, (hidden behind the National Review subscriber paywall, alas) describing it as a battlefront report on the warring “Tribes of Post-America:”
Wolfe’s vision of the America emerging from the chaos of modernity is eerily similar to the Rome of Antiquity before Constantine. Where that antiquity was pre-Christian, this New Antiquity is post-Christian. Its original brand of Protestant Christianity no longer influences the politics, institutions, and laws of the nation it once shaped. The WASP elites, for whom Protestantism was long a mark of respectability and soundness, no longer even pretend to believe. It is a genuine religious faith for only a tiny number of people. Its secular expressions, “American exceptionalism” and “the American Creed,” are in only slightly better shape. The former provoked President Obama into an embarrassed meandering as he sought to reconcile his cosmopolitan disdain for it with its popularity among the rubes; the latter has been redefined into its opposite, an umbrella term covering a multitude of tribes and their different customs, namely multiculturalism.
This transformation from the Great Republic to the New Antiquity has happened in large measure in order to accommodate the growing number of immigrant groups forcing their way into the metropolis. It is a colder and crueler world: Inside the cultural ghettos, the new tribes of post-America retain much of their old affections and loyalties; outside them, they treat others with wariness and distrust. And they are slow to develop a common attachment to their new “home.”
“As mainline WASP Christianity shrivels,”O’Sullivan writes, “other cults flourish in its place: the ethnicity cult, of course; the arts cult for the very rich; the sex cult for the young; the celebrity cult for professionals; the psychology cult for billionaire clients; a religion cult (non-traditional religion, of course) for the perplexed; and the cult of wealth for everyone. Only the Gods of the Copybook Headings are missing from this teeming agora through which Wolfe’s characters pursue their fantasies and flee from their anxieties.”
Robinson asks Wolfe about this passage. Also in the interview he asks Wolfe about his process as a writer (which he cranks out on a manual typewriter or even a pencil, considering how difficult it is for him to keep a typewriter in proper repair), and the importance of taking notes and jotting down ideas as quickly as possible while in the field reporting, before the brain’s memory decay erases the tiny details of a scene that adds verisimilitude to his writing.
Needless to say, watch the whole thing.