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)

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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.

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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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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.