Striking real gold

You can't read it online, so you must buy a newstand copy of the November Harper's just for Dave Hickey's article, "It's Morning in Nevada: On the campaign trail in post-Bush America." Mr. Hickey is a superb and unconventional art critic (Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy), but here he heads into political journalism. His essay is one of the sharpest, funniest pieces of political journalism since David Foster Wallace followed John McCain around ("Up Simba" in Consider the Lobster), and somewhat like that piece, it wrestles with glimmers of unironic hope.

This is Hickey at full throttle, explaining what is unique (and wonderfully American) about the vulgarity and hardscrabble virtues of his home state, Nevada:

"The state may be a rough jumble; the library may jangle with the tattoo parlor; Bagelmania-Vegas may jangle with Chicken-Ranch-Pahrump. But it is one culture and thrice blessed -- first by volunteer inhabitants who prefer Nevada to the place from whence they fled; twice blessed by being a WASP-deprived environment and the only state in the union that is not run from a white-napkin country club; thrice blessed by being virtually farmer-free, a site upon which the Middle American equation of agricultural drudgery and Christian virtue has no traction, where mercantile virtues triumph and your average Nevadan's experience of food production is confined to watching the 'lobster plane' land at McCarran airport every morning.

Nevada, in a word, is inauthentic. The mise en scene, whether it's the eloquent desert or the glamorous Strip, is just that, a theatrical setting, an adaptable backdrop before which the theater of human folly is acted out -- a usable drama in the midst of which the tricky business of extracting gold from 'them thar hills' or 'them thar tourists' transpires -- and this raw inauthenticity has its virtues. It repels the cozy communitarians, the identity politicians, and the devotees of Jeffersonian agrarian utopianism who make up a large majority of Those Doomed to Be Perpetually Disappointed."

October 30, 2006 12:13 PM | | Comments (3)



I have lived in Las Vegas and southern nevada for seven years, and perhaps I am merely a dense Nevadan, too busy gorging myself on buffet food (fourteen kinds of potatos), and slipping fives into strippers twats, but it seems to me that nothing Hickey has any basis in reality. Instead it is a work of fiction dressed up as some sort of analysis, and depends on the assumption that nobody who lives here is going to read it too closely. After all, who has time to read with all the trips to Pahrump (which one never visits without paying a visit to good ol Trixie) and too busy busy watching the lobster plane. I don't care if Dave Hickey is rude or arrogant, but if his social criticism is not amusing then it has no value whatever.

I can't say whether people know Hickey better out this way. He is 'known' in Texas for the obvious reasons that he's from Fort Worth, was once the arts editor at the Ft Worth paper, opened the first truly 'modern' art gallery in Austin (A Clean Well Lighted Place) etc. I've met him through a dear, departed friend. One sign that he's known here somewhat: He just appeared in Dallas to talk to the convention of the Texas Society of Architects.

Have you read him on Beauty? That is still perhaps the source of his biggest public acclaim -- it was the topic of his Dallas talk, for instance. Or rather, that topic and his winning the MacArthur "genius" grant are the sources of some public attention. It's interesting; I love his work, but he does have the reputation among many of being a bastard, and if you don't know him or haven't read him and you hear him talk, you could pick up that impression. As he's perfectly willing to tell people, he doesn't really give a damn what artists say about their work. They often don't know what they've accomplished, no matter what they intended. It's actually a very old, standard critical position to take (even D. H. Lawrence once wrote, don't trust the artist, trust the artwork), but to hear Hickey say it so bluntly -- he sounds so 'anti-reverential' or disrespectful -- some people conclude he's an arrogant son of a bitch. A classic piece of Hickey, how he doesn't let anything bother him: He was interviewed on the local NPR station, and a woman called in, spoke only to the interviewer and said the guest today sounded completely full of himself and she wished they'd just switch to classical music. Hickey replied without a ruffle that he agreed. He'd much rather hear classical music than any art critic.

I agree about Air Guitar. The Harper's piece inspired me to dig out my copy and re-read a couple of the essays. They're so lovingly written; they're the only art criticism I know that nearly brings me to tears. Yet the Harper's piece was a wonderful hoot.

Thanks for writing.

Cheers to you for trumpeting Dave Hickey. Do people in Texas, and the west more generally, know him better. Here in the south (I'm in N.C.) I have pushed him to all I think might get him, and I don't think any of those folks had heard of him. Air Guitar is one of my all-time favorite essay collections. I'm waiting for some intrepid publisher to do a collected writings. I was thrilled to see his byline in Harper's and to get his views on ground level democracy at work in Nevada. I've always wondered if their are any copies of the dissertation which Hickey refers to being in the process of writing when he decided to drop out of grad school at UT...


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