July 10, 2013

A Review of Chuck Klosterman's "I Wear the Black Hat"

I have been a fan of Klosterman for years.  Before that point, I had been aware of him even though I hadn’t bothered to read anything he wrote.  I don’t remember what book it was, but someone lent me the most recent book that was out and I read it in a day.  I went and got the others, and read those as quickly as I could.

I then waited, and was blessed with another book of essays.  Then there were two novels – interesting, but not what makes me want to read Chuck Klosterman as an Idea, you know.  The best thing about Klosterman is that he is smart, but not overly academic.  That means you can read his books and learn things and he’s not necessarily thinking about how his cultural essays will look in front of the tenure committee.

You know this already.  You’re probably a fan of his work;  he’s preeminent in the “non jewish non serious” demographic (as he puts it) and you have a story like mine.  I bought this thing sight unseen except for the name months ago.  I devoured it gladly, and now it’s over. 

This is criticism, but it isn’t as tight as some of his other pieces.  By having a whole book to meander over who are villains and who are not, Klosterman gets a little self-indulgent at times (and this isn’t a pure criticism, he excels at self-indulgence).  Ultimately though it is rewarding, and he is great at a turn of phrase.  For example , he is discussing Hitler (Yes, Hitler is covered in the book) and he muses: “No one ever talks about building a time machine in order to go back and kill Judas.”  He brings forth truth.  The Hitler/Time Machine thing is such a trope there was a Dr. Who episode entitled “Let’s Kill Hitler”.  Yet – Judas betrayed god.  Dante puts Judas at the bottom of the heap for sinners, yet even he is part of God’s plan. It gets complicated in a way that Hitler doesn’t.

Will you learn more about the nature of evil?  Maybe and maybe not.  I like his formula for figuring out who the villain is: the one who knows the most yet cares the least.  I liked it, but I worry that it is ultimately ephemeral – though it may be more solid than the other books.  Klosterman is definitely a critic of his generation, an a lot essays have an expiration date on them.  This book should go stale more slowly than the others since it is tight around the theme,  though it is rooted in time in place that is very recognizable for a middle-class white guy with some education in the here and now. 

The best advice in that case, is to get this book as soon as possible and read it right now.