More Fear and Loathing

Every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only real cure is to load up on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas.  To relax, as it were, in the womb of the desert sun.  Just roll the roof back and screw it on, grease the face with white tanning butter and move out with the music at top volume, and at least a pint of ether. (H. S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, p.12)

But our trip was different.  It was a classic affirmation of everything right and true and decent in the national character.  It was a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country—but only for those with true grit.  And we were chock full of that. (18)

Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run… but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.…
History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.
My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights—or very early mornings [….] You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning.…
And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.…
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back. (66-68, brackets added)

The wave broke and rolled back, and we’re left in the desert.  Our experience of the tremendous power of the sacred (mysterium tremendum) has become empty, and we’re left trembling with fear and loathing in the desert.  All forms of transcendence have become empty: God, the American Dream, and counterculture idealism and utopianism.  The counterculture was the last hope for the emergence of a community based on love, but like other movements before, the counterculture became “a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody—or at least some force—is tending that Light at the end of the tunnel” (179).  And now we’re left in the desert, facing “grim meat-hook realities” (178).  If abandoning the old-mystic fallacy sounds bad, wait…there’s good news here…

Left in the Vegas desert, we are left with the real, not in the sense of an original reality that grounds everything that follows from it.  Such an origin is precisely what we’ve lost.  Thank God.  For Baudrillard, existence in the “desert of the real” is existence amidst a groundless play of images and signs, where the real is itself an effect, a copy, a hallucination or image.  The sign is the thing in itself.  Furthermore, this hyperrealism of the Vegas desert is basically a realized eschatology.  The wave broke and rolled back, and now God (Love, Freedom, America, Counterculture, etc.) is deserted and dead, and thus deserted, the divine has passed fully into immanence, into the desert.   In About Religion: Economies of Faith in Virtual Culture, Mark C. Taylor is explicit on this point: “Las Vegas is, in effect, the realization of the Kingdom of God on earth” (5).  With true grit, we can start at the edge of the desert, find our way to the main nerve of the American Dream, and relax in the womb of the desert sun.  If we have eyes to see it.  Real healing–the real cure–is at hand, amidst the Kingdom of Fear.

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