Shouting back from the void: ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’


The best place to read Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas may be an abandoned Café Nero in Edinburgh Airport at four in the morning. Here, the delusion of sleep deprivation, paired with the nervous jitters of the six coffees you drank to keep yourself awake this long brings you as close to the novel’s narrator Roaul Duke’s drug-addled stupor as you can get without taking all those drugs yourself. Besides, what other activity in the known universe could so perfectly embody the values of both Fear and Loathing than air travel?  

To mitigate some of the (borderline existential) despair that would naturally arise while waiting eight hours for my flight, I pulled out my freshly purchased copy of Thompson’s novel and — standing at a seemingly innocuous 204 pages — challenged myself to read the entire thing in one sitting.

As someone who has made studying literature one of the defining facets of their personality, I would be lying if I said that the small, hidden away label of ‘Penguin Modern Classics’ didn’t sway me to purchase the book, yet what I ended up reading is a text that stands staunchly against the pretentious gatekeeping of ‘classical’ literature. Thompson juxtaposes visceral scenes of drugs and degeneracy with wildly lucid reflections upon the American Dream and the death of the hippie movement — as in the novel’s most famous stream of consciousness, ‘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.’

Raoul Duke stands on the edge of a precipice, far beyond the revolutionary idealism of the sixties yet unable to see what the future holds

As I read — occasionally picking at the Tupperware full of raspberries I had brought along with me — I couldn’t help but slip into the snarky cynicism of Thompson’s narrator. Looking up from my book and gazing at the handful of strangers waiting for their flights: some working on laptops, others curled around their luggage in a state between sleep and wakefulness, all of us stuck in a windowless box awaiting a change in events that would allow us to get on with our days — I could feel the same anxious energy that pervades Thompson’s text. Raoul Duke stands on the edge of a precipice, far beyond the revolutionary idealism of the sixties yet unable to see what the future holds — he exists in limbo, in purgatory, in Las Vegas, in Edinburgh Airport at four a.m. 

Thompson’s cure-all for this all pervasive existential angst? ‘Two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multicoloured uppers, downers, screamers, laughers … and also a quart of tequila, a quart of run, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.’ While I myself am not likely to go on a massive bender in order to escape the sheer drudgery of the day-to-day, I think Thompson’s writing here points to another, less illegal, solution to the mundanity of existence: action. 

Fear and Loathing is a novel that exists in perpetual motion, jumping dizzyingly from one mind-boggling event to the next. It is through this constant action that the narrator, Raoul Duke, is able to create meaning for himself. When faced with deep universal despair, Thompson’s perspective is refreshingly proactive. And while chowing down on a car’s worth of drugs may not get you any closer to the sense of purpose and meaning you so deeply desire, perhaps getting up and actively trying to create meaning for yourself is a good place to start.

Image: Matteo Raw via Unsplash

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.