artium and moribus, Litterarum



By David Beilstein

TOM WOLFE’S ambitious new novel, Back To Blood, whose blurb touted the novel (set in sunbathed Miami) as being about where “America’s future has arrived first”, was a harbinger of Republican defeat in the 2012 presidential election.

Wolfe’s Back To Blood has garnered mixed reviews — better than his previous novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons, but not as good as 1998’s A Man In Full or 1987’s The Bonfire Of The Vanities.

Be it said. President Barack Obama’s reelection despite tepid leadership and disastrous economic policy is rooted in the socially, cultural, and demographic realities ensconced in our neo-America – preciously what Wolfe’s Back To Blood documents by purveying a slice of this new USA in the micro in Florida’s sizzling Miami cultural milieu.

Such aesthetic prescience is rare. Wolfe managed to conjure that magic with Bonfire (some 25 years ago) but missed it in his subsequent efforts. In Back To Blood Wolfe returns to the gates as cultural/societal prophet — intimately relevant, and, for an 81-year-old novelist, immensely future-orientated.

Quite a feat for a man born early enough to remember America of 1950’s lore — the America Republicans are seen to want to go back to despite large swaths of the American electorate unwilling too. Dark is the veneration of the past without reflection and without context.

Some reviewers have focused on Wolfe being too old to get — to feel! — the tempo and beat at which America swings. Maybe in particulars an argument can be made — but generally speaking, Wolfe captured the teleological underpinnings of Republican defeat back in 2008 when he began writing Back To Blood.

It should be reasoned, Wolfe ably captured the cultural, societal, generational, and demographical shifting plates within America better than men and women half his age — illustrating it within a slice of America (Miami) and in a fictional novel no less.

I’m curious as to anyone else picking up on this.

Ron Charles’ Washington Post review of Wolfe’s Back To Blood makes some pertinent points — revealing a new America Republicans (if they wish to succeed electorally) will have to speak classical liberalism to in new and various ways. An acknowledgment of Burkean islands of separation and Madisonian conceptions of factions by Republicans, is now, more than ever, relevant.

In a chaotic world without religion, patriotism or civility, “that leaves only our blood, the bloodlines that course through our very bodies, to unite us.” And this city of recent immigrants is ground zero. As the Cuban mayor tells the black chief of police:“If you really want to understand Miami, you got to realize one thing first of all. In Miami, everybody hates everybody.” To beat that point home, Wolfe constructs a Balkanised town and a narrative that reads like a gabby encyclopaedia of ethnic stereotypes.

One thing seems clearer now. Had pollsters and political strategists who picked a Romney victory by wide margins read and re-read Back To Blood, they would have picked Obama to retain the presidency.

I picked Romney. By slightly 300 plus electoral votes. And I did not read Back To Blood before I made my predictions. I made my predictions based upon electoral models no longer true — or less true in states that must be won in order for Republican’s to win the presidency.

If Back To Blood speaks lessons it is these: Republicans no longer communicate effectively — they no longer are seen as competent to govern the people where America’s future has arrived first. And America’s future arrived last night in stark detail — illustrated in Tom Wolfe’s sweeping slice of American life in Back To Blood.

Good literature matters. It also becomes prophecy.


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