Posted by: W. E. Poplaski | October 29, 2009

Weekly Read-Along—October 30, 2009: The Human Beast

Material for the Stout-Hearted Reader to Ruminate

♦ Essays, Lectures & Speeches ♦

—   —   —

Tom Wolfe (1931 – ) is an American journalist and author of fiction and non-fiction.  Wolfe is one of the founders of New Journalism, which uses fiction-writing techniques in journalism: it tells a story using scenes rather than historical narrative, uses conversational speech rather than quotations, and presents every scene through the eyes of a particular character.  His best-known works are The Bonfire of the Vanities, The Right Stuff, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.  Wolfe is typically portrayed wearing his signature white suit.

This week’s text is Wolfe’s lecture “The Human Beast”.  It is the 2006 NEH Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities given at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C. on May 10, 2006.  In it Wolfe examines the nature of Homo loquax—man talking—which is what he terms Homo sapiens.  His lecture points out the importance of understanding the roles status and culture play in man’s behavior—

“That a wound to one’s status, not to one’s body, not to one’s bank account, not to one’s general fortunes in life, that such a wound to one’s status could have such a severe effect upon the psyche of the human beast, is no minor matter. It means that we have come upon a form of anguish that is somehow primal. Even the most trivial and the most unlikely circumstances can be colored by the beast’s constant and unrelenting concern for his own status. Which is to say, his own standing, his own rank, in the eyes of others and in his own eyes.”

Join others from around the world in this weekly reading event! You can find Wolfe’s text at this website:

http://www.neh.gov/whoweare/wolfe/lecture.html


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