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Tom Wolfe Spoofs Certain Secular Sacred Cows (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Wolfe at White House
Wolfe at White House
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) September 9, 2016: Tom Wolfe (born in 1931; Ph.D. in American Studies, Yale University, 1957) is a fashionable prose stylist and satirist. In his new book The Kingdom of Speech, he gently spoofs Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory and Noam Charisma's linguistics theory. For his irreverent spoofs, Tom Wolfe may be banished -- or worse! -- by the political-correctness police, because they do not like to have their secular sacred cows spoofed -- especially by one of their fellow atheists.

But what could the political-correctness police say or do to Tom Wolfe that would be worse than banishing him from the ranks of respectable secular intellectuals? Perhaps they could say that Tom Wolfe is really a closet conservative. In fact, that would be sufficient to banish him. After all, he is a southerner (born and raised in Richmond, Virginia). And he studied English at Yale University at a time when the southerner Cleanth Brooks, who distinguished himself as a Faulkner scholar, was a big shot in English at Yale. So perhaps Tom Wolfe is culturally a conservative southern agrarian, not a Yankee industrialist, eh?

Years ago now, the Canadian Catholic convert Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980; Ph.D. in English, Cambridge University, 1943), aligned himself in spirit with the southern agrarians in his article "The Southern Quality," which is reprinted in the book The Interior Landscape: The Literary Criticism of Marshall McLuhan 1943-1962 McGraw-Hill, 1969, pages 185-209).

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Years ago now, after McLuhan had published his books The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (University of Toronto Press, 1962) and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (McGraw-Hill, 1964), Tom Wolfe helped propel him to extraordinary fame by publishing his article "What if He [Marshall McLuhan] is Right?" which is reprinted in Tom Wolfe's book The Pump House Gang (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1968, pages 133-170).

Of course the political-correctness crowd today does not think that Marshall McLuhan is right. For them, he represents one road not taken. But what if Tom Wolfe today still suspects that Marshall McLuhan is right? Wouldn't this help explain why he is spoofing certain sacred cows of the political-correctness crowd? Wouldn't this be sufficient reason for him to risk the wrath of the political-correctness crowd?

Now, Tom Wolfe is not the only person today who is offending against the spirit of political correctness. The developer Donald J. Trump of New York, the Republican Party's 2016 presidential candidate, has garnered an enormous amount of free media coverage of various things he has deliberately said to offend the spirit of political correctness. And he has a fervent base of white middle-class male supporters cheering him on in his assault on the spirit of political correctness. But Trump's fervent supporters do not strike me as likely to read Tom Wolfe's new book, even though he gently spoofs certain secular sacred cows.

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Because OEN's Rob Kall has alerted us to bottom-up versus top-down imagery, perhaps we should note here that Trump's fervent white middle-class male supporters see the secular intellectuals in the political-correctness crowd as engaging in top-down social and political change -- to the detriment of their economic and social standing.

Historically in American culture, intellectuals have play a big role. So perhaps top-down political and social change is part of our American heritage, eh?

Now, in Tom Wolfe's estimate, Jesus is one of the six most influential people in world history (page 165). Charles Darwin is another one of the six, but, alas, Noam Chomsky is not.

Tom Wolfe even paraphrases certain points from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, which he characterizes as "the most radical social and political doctrine ever promulgated (page 166). No doubt many Christian believers today would agree with his assessment.

But don't Noam Charisma and the political-correctness crowd fancy themselves as promulgating "the most radical social and political doctrine" in contemporary American culture? You bet, they do. In addition, they tend to see themselves as pitted against Christian and other religious believers. Their secular spirit could be summed up in the rallying cry, "Atheists of the world, unite!"

Unfortunately for the atheists, religionists in American culture still outnumber them by a wide margin, and American religionists tend to be organized at the grassroots level into activist cells known as churches and synagogues and mosques and the like -- some of which tend to be more conservative in terms of social and political doctrine, while others tend to be more liberal and progressive.

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However, in terms of contemporary American culture, it is hard to imagine the rallying cry, "Religionists of the world, unite!" Of course in terms of contemporary world culture, it is also hard to imagine the rallying cry, "Religionists of the world, unite!"

But not so long ago, the official anti-religion position of communism did evoke widespread anti-communism in American culture and world culture. Fortunately for contemporary American culture, our idealistic atheist intellectuals/activists under the influence of Noam Charisma and other charismatic leaders have not yet managed to evoke a widespread response as strong as anti-communism hysteria once was in American culture. Nevertheless, the secularists are working on it.

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www.d.umn.edu/~tfarrell
Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)
 

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