Not Just Another Ice-Cream-Suit-Wearing, Pen-Wielding Master of the Statusphere

Bruce Cole, Humanities, May/June 2006.


NEH Chairman Bruce Cole discusses the impolitic in education, art, and architecture with Tom Wolfe. Wolfe is the author of fourteen books, among them The Bonfire of the Vanities, The Right Stuff, and his most recent, I Am Charlotte Simmons.

Bruce Cole: I wanted to talk about literature and you as a chronicler. You just spent a lot of time on college campuses talking to kids. What is happening with how we study literature and how we interpret literature in the academy now?

Tom Wolfe: The study of literature has been so politicized at the graduate level that I urged my daughter, who has a degree in English from Duke, not to even think about it. It’s a theory-ridden field now and the theories, somewhat like the theories of the international style in architecture, are essentially political.

The assumption is that all languages have been molded by the masters. It’s kind of considered vulgar Marxism any longer to talk about the capitalists. So, you don’t use terms like the proletariat, the bourgeosie, infantile leftism, and all those things. You talk about the masters of the establishment or the powers that be. The idea is that the powers that be have been able to mold the language so that–to use the most blatant example–the word “women” is 60 percent men. I don’t know if you remember the age when feminists were urging that we spell women with a y–“womyn”–instead of an e.

National Endowment for the Humanities