MIZZOU AND THE MASTER OF OUR UNIVERSE: “Ironic his name is Wolfe. The incidents surrounding University of Missouri president Tim Wolfe’s resignation following protests of racial insensitivity on campus might as well be plot points in a novel by Tom Wolfe. They are certainly as funny,” Matthew Continetti writes at the Washington Free Beacon:
The graduate student on hunger strike against oppression is the son of a millionaire railroad executive. The administrators who gave in to the radicals’ demands did so not out of sympathy or solidarity but out of fear of a football strike. The professor who called for “muscle” to help her expel a reporter from a protest held a “courtesy post” in the department of journalism. The details of the saga—including, and I am not making this up, a “poop swastika”—read like a missing chapter of Wolfe’s 2004 novel I Am Charlotte Simmons.
I don’t know if he invented it, but it was through Tom Wolfe’s 1973 anthology The New Journalism that I discovered the phrase “Muggeridge’s Law,” named after British author Malcolm Muggeridge. As Wolfe wrote, “We live in an age in which it is no longer possible to be funny. There is nothing you can imagine, no matter how ludicrous, that will not promptly be enacted before your very eyes, probably by someone well known.”
And that’s happened to Wolfe as well. As he noted a couple of years after Bonfire of the Vanities was published in the fall of 1987, Al Sharpton, who became notorious almost concurrently with Bonfire’s release for ginning up the Tawana Brawley fable makes Bonfire’s fictitious press-hungry shakedown artist Rev. Bacon look like “a little divinity student” in comparison.
Similarly, having reread 2004’s I Am Charlotte Simmons a few months ago, I was struck by how its nonstop sex and booze debauchery now almost reads like the good ol’ days of “higher learning,” in comparison to the past couple of years. Not the least of which, the false rape accusations by Rolling Stone, followed concurrently by Emma Sulkowicz wandering around the Columbia campus with a mattress — all the way to graduation! — before releasing her own sex tape; a real life walking self-satire Wolfe would have never dared to have dreamed up.
Charlotte also contains this mock “Who’s Who”-style biography on one of that novel’s fictitious professors, which helps to describe one aspect of today’s college craziness:
Victor Ransome Starling (U.S.), Laureate, Biological Sciences, 1997. A twenty-eight-year-old assistant professor of psychology at Dupont University, Starling conducted an experiment in 1983 in which he and an assistant surgically removed the amygdala, an almond-shaped mass of gray matter deep within the brain that controls emotions in the higher mammals, from thirty cats. It was well known that the procedure caused animals to veer helplessly from one inappropriate affect to another, boredom where there should be fear, cringing where there should be preening, sexual arousal where there was nothing that would stimulate an intact animal. But Starling’s amygdalectomized cats had gone into a state of sexual arousal hypermanic in the extreme. Cats attempted copulation with such frenzy, a cat mounted on another cat would be in turn mounted by a third cat, and that one by yet another, and so on, creating tandems (colloq., “daisy chains”) as long as ten feet.
As Mickey Craig and Jon Fennell wrote in “Love in the Age of Neuroscience,” their review of I Am Charlotte Simmons in the New Atlantis in 2005:
The setting of I Am Charlotte Simmons is truly “postmodern” — a world dominated by Nietzsche and neuroscience, a world which has jettisoned the moral imagination of the past. Not only is God dead, but so is reason, once understood as the characteristic that distinguishes man from the rest of nature. We now understand ourselves by studying the behavior of other animals, rather than understanding the behavior of other animals in light of human reason and human difference. We learn that it is embarrassing for any educated person to be considered religious or even moral. Darwin’s key insight that man is just another animal, now updated with the tools and discoveries of modern biology, has liberated us from two Kingdoms of Darkness. Post-faith and post-reason, we can now turn to neuroscience to understand the human condition, a path that leads to or simply ratifies the governing nihilism of the students, both the ambitious and apathetic alike.
And the rush to nihilism really has been this week’s leitmotif hasn’t it? Welcome to “A New Age of Antiquity,” as John O’Sullivan of National Review dubbed the 21st century, based upon his perceptive reading of Back to Blood, Wolfe’s most recent novel.