The Beginnings of New Journalism: Capote’s In Cold Blood

capote2.jpgTalk has recent­ly focused on the pass­ing of Nor­man Mail­er, a nov­el­ist remem­bered for many things. As The New York Times put it, he was “a prodi­gious drinker and drug tak­er, a wom­an­iz­er, a devot­ed fam­i­ly man, a would-be politi­cian who ran for may­or of New York, a hip­ster exis­ten­tial­ist, an anti­war pro­test­er, an oppo­nent of women’s lib­er­a­tion and an all-pur­pose feud­er and short-fused brawler, who with the slight­est provo­ca­tion would hap­pi­ly engage in head-butting, arm-wrestling and ran­dom punch-throw­ing.” He was, of course, also a nov­el­ist, and, for some, “the great­est nov­el­ist of the sec­ond half of the Amer­i­can cen­tu­ry.” That’s at least how George Pack­er sized him up on his New York­er blog.

For Pack­er, Mail­er achieved his lit­er­ary great­ness when he ven­tured into the realm of “New Jour­nal­ism,” help­ing to cre­ate a new genre that brought fresh lit­er­ary tech­niques to con­ven­tion­al jour­nal­ism and his­tor­i­cal writ­ing. We need only men­tion The Exe­cu­tion­er’s Song, Mail­er’s heav­i­ly-researched account of the exe­cu­tion of Gary Gilmore, that earned him the Pulitzer Prize in fic­tion in 1980.

Although Tom Wolfe offi­cial­ly coined the expres­sion “New Jour­nal­ism” in 1973 (see the book with the same title and relat­ed book review), this lit­er­ary approach was not entire­ly new. Oth­er authors had already writ­ten mas­ter­pieces in the genre but referred to it by dif­fer­ent names. More than any­one else, Tru­man Capote gave form to the genre when he pub­lished In Cold Blood in 1965. Famous­ly cen­tered around the 1959 mur­der of the Clut­ter fam­i­ly in rur­al Kansas, this “non­fic­tion nov­el” was writ­ten to give real­i­ty to some­thing Capote believed for 20 years — that jour­nal­ism was “the most under­es­ti­mat­ed, the least explored of lit­er­ary medi­ums” and that in the right hands “jour­nal­ism, reportage, could be forced to yield a seri­ous new art form,” (See Capote’s inter­view with George Plimp­ton, 1966.)

In Cold Blood orig­i­nal­ly came out in four suc­ces­sive print­ings of The New York­er. And as the cur­rent edi­tor of the mag­a­zine describes it, “peo­ple were lit­er­al­ly chas­ing the deliv­ery trucks down the street.” Quite nice­ly, you can find the first install­ment of the nov­el in the New York­er’s online archive (for free). It cov­ers the first 70 pages of the cur­rent­ly pub­lished book, and here the stage for the rest of the non­fic­tion nov­el is set. To para­phrase a line from the recent film star­ring Philip Sey­mour Hoff­man, it’s in this sec­tion of the nov­el where two Amer­i­c­as col­lide — the qui­et con­ser­v­a­tive Amer­i­ca and its vio­lent under­bel­ly.

Quick after­thought: The New York­er should con­sid­er reprint­ing the four copies of the mag­a­zine which intro­duced In Cold Blood to the world. I imag­ine that copyright/contractual issues might stand in the way. But if they did­n’t, it could be a pret­ty excit­ing media event and read­ing expe­ri­ence.
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Wikipedia Dominates Search

Inter­est­ing stats:

In Decem­ber 2005, how often did Wikipedia come up as the first search engine result in a giv­en search? Just about nev­er in Google’s case, and 7% of the time in Yahoo’s case. Now, Wikipedia is the first search result 27% of the time on Google and 31% of the time on Yahoo. Rather astound­ing.

This is all revealed in a study which chalks this change up to “the increas­ing dif­fi­cult­ly [search] engines have in cal­cu­lat­ing sat­is­fac­to­ry rank­ing.”  (Source: John Bat­telle’s Search­blog)

Relat­ed Posts:

The 10 Best Books of 2007

After recent­ly pub­lish­ing its list of 100 Notable Books of 2007, The New York Times has nar­rowed things down and select­ed The 10 Best Books of 2007 — five fic­tion, and five non­fic­tion. Have a look.

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Predictions for the World in 2008

The Econ­o­mist has issued its pre­dic­tions for the world in 2008, and here’s what they’re bank­ing on: The Democ­rats, and par­tic­u­lar­ly Hillary Clin­ton, nar­row­ly win the upcom­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Mean­while the Unit­ed States, which has nev­er met a bub­ble it does­n’t like, will get mired down with hous­ing and cred­it prob­lems. And look­ing for a new eco­nom­ic engine, the world will turn to Chi­na and India. Even bet­ter for Chi­na, it will host the Olympics in Bei­jing, win many medals, and feel like it has arrived (or rather re-arrived) as a nation. But per­haps feel­ing a bit too proud, it might ratch­et up ten­sions with Tai­wan, while the U.S. sur­pris­es every­one, even itself, by pos­si­bly strik­ing a “grand bar­gain” with Iran. Oth­er than that, George Bush will accom­plish lit­tle dur­ing the last year of his admin­is­tra­tion, and politi­cians will talk lots about cli­mate change. But whether they actu­al­ly do any­thing is any­one’s guess.

For more pre­dic­tions, check out The Econ­o­mist’s full write-up, and keep an eye on The Econ­o­mist pod­cast (iTunesFeedWeb Site) where I’m sure these issues will get fuller cov­er­age in the com­ing days.

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The MIT Lecture Browser & A Beautiful Mind

beautifulmind2.jpgMIT has released a new search engine that draws on speech recog­ni­tion tech­nol­o­gy and lets users search MIT audio & video lec­tures by key­word. For exam­ple, if you type “NASA” into the search box, the search results will include all of the instances where a speak­er utters the word NASA in a record­ed lec­ture. (You can get more back­ground infor­ma­tion on the new search engine here.)

Now, what’s nice about using this exam­ple is that a “NASA” search will bring you to an intrigu­ing pre­sen­ta­tion by Sylvia Nasar. (Click here and type “NASA” or “Sylvia.”) She’s the author of the bestelling book, A Beau­ti­ful Mind, which offers a bio­graph­i­cal account of the Nobel Prize-win­ning math­e­mati­cian John Nash and his strug­gles with para­noid schiz­o­phre­nia. The book was turned into an Acad­e­my Award-win­ning film, and here you can find Nasar deliv­er­ing a lec­ture at MIT called “A Beau­ti­ful Mind: Genius, Mad­ness, Reawak­en­ing.” She’s a very able speak­er and tells a good sto­ry. Have a look. (You can also access Nasar’s talk here.)

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Stephen King on Britney, Lindsay, Jenna & Waterboarding

Below, you’ll find excerpts from TIME Mag­a­zine’s con­ver­sa­tion with Stephen King. You can access the full inter­view here. King turns up the heat after the jump.

STEPHEN KING: So who’s going to be TIME Per­son of the Year?

TIME: I real­ly don’t know, there’s a very small group of peo­ple who make that deci­sion.

STEPHEN KING: I was think­ing, I think it should be Brit­ney Spears and Lind­say Lohan.

TIME: Real­ly?

STEPHEN KING: Yeah. You know, I just filmed a seg­ment for Night­line, about [the movie ver­sion of his novel­la] The Mist, and one of the things I said to them was, you know, “You guys are just cov­er­ing — what do they call it — the scream of the pea­cock, and you’re miss­ing the whole fox hunt.” Like water­board­ing [or] where all the mon­ey went that we poured into Iraq. It just seems to dis­ap­pear. And yet you get this cov­er­age of who’s gonna get cus­tody of Brit­ney’s kids? Whether or not Lind­say drank at her twen­ty-first birth­day par­ty, and all this oth­er shit. You know, this morn­ing, the two big sto­ries on CNN are Kanye West­’s moth­er, who died, appar­ent­ly, after hav­ing some plas­tic surgery. The oth­er big thing that’s going on is whether or not this cop [Drew Peter­son] killed his… wife. And mean­while, you’ve got Pak­istan in the midst of a real cri­sis, where these peo­ple have nuclear weapons that we helped them devel­op. You’ve got a guy in charge, who’s basi­cal­ly declared him­self the mil­i­tary strong­man and is being sup­port­ed by the Bush admin­is­tra­tion, whose rai­son d’e­tre for going into Iraq was to spread democ­ra­cy in the world.

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How to Watch DVDs on Your iPod?

The answer is sim­ple: Hand­brake. This free, open source soft­ware (which works on MacOS X, Lin­ux and Win­dows) makes it sim­ple to load and watch DVDs on your video iPod. Here are some help­ful instruc­tions to get you start­ed.

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The Graduate at 40

The film that spoke to a gen­er­a­tion of alien­at­ed youth dur­ing the 1960s is now 40 years old (and actu­al­ly look­ing much tamer than it first did). To mark the occa­sion, a 40th anniver­sary col­lec­tor’s edi­tion DVD has been released, filled with a good amount of extra mate­ri­als. Also, Fresh Air broad­cast­ed a show last week (iTunesFeedWeb Site) that brought togeth­er inter­views with var­i­ous mem­bers of the film’s cast and crew. As Lar­ry David would say, it’s pret­ty, pret­ty, pret­ty good. And, by the way, have a look back at our ear­li­er post: Meet Lar­ry David (in Video)

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.