Tom Wolfe’s greatest asset was his emotional distance

Graeme Wood at The American Scholar:

Wolfe’s preposterous clothing was a constant reminder of a core journalistic truth: to be an observer requires distance, and a writer’s alienation from his subject is not to be annihilated but managed and, most often, treasured. His was a much better pose. There are few worthwhile memoirs of the space program or the High (in at least two senses) Counterculture. But The Right Stuff and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test are as close to imperishable as journalism ever gets. In both cases, Wolfe examined a scene with a subjectivity and style exclusive to himself. He saw things as Tom Wolfe, with his own gift of studied by playful detachment.

He was the Great Detached. If that phrase sounds like an esoteric Hebrew name for God, then you are not far off: much of what felt new about Wolfe’s style was the way it coopted the omniscient voice. Readers had been trained to think of omniscience as the exsanguinated black-and-white prose to be found on the front of any daily newspaper.

more here.