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Transcription de l’entre­tien avec Robert Born, sur sa Biographie duelle de Hunter Thompson et Oscar Acosta

Eric Dayre / Transcription de l’entre­tien avec Robert Born, sur sa Biographie duelle de Thompson et Acosta , à paraî­tre en 2014.

E.D. Dear Robert, thank you for accep­ting to talk to us about your pro­ject. What is the gene­ral idea behind the dual bio­gra­phy of Hunter Thompson and Oscar Zeta Acosta ?

R.B. : In France, there is no serious or docu­men­ted research on Thompson, in spite of the recent trans­la­tions of J.-P. Mourion and the pre­fa­ces of the Rock’n Roll critic and his­to­rian Philippe Manœuvre which essen­tially consists in a tongue-in-cheek treat­ment of H. Thompson. There is even less mate­rial on Acosta’s life and books, even more so on their rela­tion­ship. Everything has to be writ­ten on this side of the Atlantic, and I thought it was time to take the oppor­tu­nity to inter­view the wit­nes­ses of the period, in Aspen and California, as well as those invol­ved in the sha­ping of these two figu­res : jour­na­lists, scho­lars, edi­tors and film-makers.

E.D : Having a bio­gra­phy, or two bio­gra­phies for two cha­rac­ters in the same book seems unu­sual. What was the moti­va­tion ?

RB. The pro­jec­ted « dual bio­gra­phy » will inter­wine texts and pho­to­graphs. It will cons­ti­tute a sort of scho­larly and iconic pil­gri­mage on the traces of H.Thompson and Acosta. This book is meant for lovers of the American popu­lar Culture of the 60s and 70s. I will try to retrace the ori­gins and lives of both authors and cha­rac­ters, whose mee­ting and friend­ship was highly emble­ma­tic and signi­fi­cant of a moment in American his­tory, and highly thought-pro­vo­king, inclu­ding from a French « old world » point of view. One of the key ideas in my pro­ject is that, in their own way, they are as impor­tant as the Beats, although they do not share the same cultu­ral status and seem to be res­tric­ted to the area of popu­lar cultu­res, because they are rather consi­de­red as non intel­lec­tual wri­ters — a point of view I intend to contra­dict.

E.D. In a few words, how would you define the impor­tance of both authors ?

R.B. Thompson and Acosta were part of a rede­fi­ni­tion of what American expe­rience was meant to mean in the 60s and 70s, that has yet to be explai­ned and expan­ded for European publics inte­res­ted to see how an exotic writer from Europe can view the encoun­ter bet­ween a white pro­vo­king, eccen­tric writer and jour­na­list, and a Chicano acti­vist and writer. I am aware that Thompson’s status as a humo­rous popu­lar figure, illus­tra­ted in two films with Johnny Depp over the recent years, is very dif­fe­rent from Acosta’s status. Such a dis­cre­pancy is very inte­res­ting in itself, and it is one of the things that I would like to try to docu­ment, to use and dra­ma­tize in the sha­ping of the dual bio­gra­phy. Acosta’s talent as a writer is, I think, consi­de­ra­ble.

E.D. Could you be per­haps more spe­ci­fic about the par­ti­cu­lar aspects they have in common ?

R.B. There is some­thing typi­cally American as well as border-line and fas­ci­na­ting in Hunter Thompson the white man, and Oscar Acosta the chi­cano, in the forms and styles that concen­trate in their wri­tings. There was a chal­lenge bet­ween them as wri­ters, which is essen­tial to their rela­tion­ship. A man to man « pen duel » so to speak, and the sense of a com­mu­nity. Their lite­rary dimen­sion (never really stable, or assu­red of itself), and the way they relate to wri­ting is a pecu­liar form of « mel­ting pot » or of self-tel­ling sub­jec­tive styles. There is, in all senses of the term, a « Gonzo pot », fraught with humour and cri­ti­que, poli­tics and drama, vio­lence and free­dom, indi­vi­dual addic­tive fien­di­sh­ness mat­ching or coun­te­rac­ting col­lec­tive deli­rium or pre­pos­te­rous « mains­tream » atti­tu­des. They look for a dif­fe­rent American Dream, and attempt to pro­long the time of rebels and Rock’n Roll, of inde­pen­dant minds and sha­mans (I would go that far), a time whose ending was so beau­ti­fully por­trayed in Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, in 1973.

E.D.In what terms would you say that they are impor­tant to unders­tand what the 60’s and 70’s were about ? And also, in what sense is their expe­rience still of import today ?

R.B. Through forms of free­dom and libe­ra­tion obviously, irony and truth, drugs, alco­hol and inven­tive excess, gro­tes­que images and sexua­lity, hila­rious, unexe­pec­ted and often unex­pec­ta­ble situa­tions, through their rash­ness and fre­sh­ness, their science and sense of modern lies, we may consi­der the linea­ments of a Thompson-Acosta expe­ri­ment (a phrase which could also be a good title for the book), maybe at the cost of one’s health, or at the cost of one’s life in Acosta’s case. In the end, the nar­ra­tive and reflec­tions of the book will consi­der the ele­ments of true tra­gedy in Acosta and Thompson’s lives. A pecu­liar rela­tion to Law, is always a key pro­blem in the US. By reflec­ting on the highly serious term of the « Law » in the lives of H.T. and O.A. , I would like to insist on the fact that Acosta’s and Thompson’s indi­vi­dual atti­tu­des and risk taking send us back to a period in which trans­gres­sion was part of the gene­ral out­look. It was a time in which trans­gres­sion, more than « sub­ver­sion » per­haps, was almost mar­ve­lously sur­pri­sing and inte­res­ting, allo­wed as it were to play a sha­ping part in human life as it tra­ver­sed social order.

Most fas­ci­na­ting is the role of true risk and actual danger in the pro­cess of the pro­vo­king search for the limits of lega­li­ty— the taste for guns, a way of wal­king — not « the line » but « over » the line – and some­ti­mes « above » the line itself — or right on top of it — when they both ran for elec­tion as she­riffs. Playing « with the law » means sear­ching new defi­ni­tions, new pos­si­bi­li­ties of a way of life that directly addres­ses the American sense of Law and the American deep mind : America as an eter­nal foreign tee­na­ger facing the puri­tan pres­crip­tions of the old fathers, so to speak. The Thompson-Acosta expe­ri­ment is a key to unders­tan­ding Americanness, the Animality of Americanness and its rela­tion to social life, and in the end, the pos­si­bi­lity of one’s per­so­nal life in the com­mu­nity. There is a sou­ther­ner in Thompson, a non-Yankee rebel­lion or seces­sion emer­ges from his atti­tude, there is a sur­vi­ving Indian or Inca Dragon in Acosta the lawyer. The immi­grant story and his­tory in Acosta ‘s life as a cockroach or as a buf­falo unkilled by William Cody, addres­ses the sense of space and American appro­pria­tion with the spe­ci­fic consi­de­ra­tions of Chicano poli­tics. Together they are buoyant and some­ti­mes mons­trous exam­ples of hidden and non-mains­tream avant-garde, tes­ting the rela­tions of dreams and law, rea­lity and the absurd. They stand in pers­pec­tive with a tra­di­tion of eccen­trics : De Quincey, Poe, Lowry and Burroughs. I also think that there is a John Fordian qua­lity in them, remin­ding us of the secondary figu­res, of the drop-outs who are so impor­tant in his movies, the ins­tinc­tual mis­fits, drun­kards, dere­lict doc­tors, comic and morally sublime « quasi-heroes » without which there would be no American heroes or epic what­soe­ver.

E.D. What methods will you deve­lop for the wri­ting of this dual bio­gra­phy ?

R.B. The inquiry will begin at Louisville, with a pho­to­gra­phic tour and docu­men­ting of H.Thompson’s early years, and I will end the Thompson iti­ne­rary in Aspen, inter­vie­wing those who knew him, family, friends along a pho­to­gra­phic « por­trait and place » gal­lery. The inquiry will focus on the people and a tour of the places known and linked to Acosta. My hope is to be able to inter­view friends, col­la­bo­ra­tors in the news­pa­pers and maga­zi­nes, or simply acquain­tan­ces, to col­lect anec­do­tes, myths « in the making », to docu­ment the repu­ta­tions, dis­cour­ses and opi­nons on H. Thompson and Acosta. One of the key ideas is to view the story also by pla­cing « local his­to­rian », aca­de­mic or non aca­de­mic, at the center of of focus.

I think the idea of mixing inter­views, por­traits, pho­to­graphs and an ongoing reflec­tion of the "local his­to­rian", and free lance jour­na­list tryiing to sell his stuff to edi­tors and publi­shers, in itself, pays homage to Thompson and Acosta’s atti­tu­des, and their more or less serious self-fic­tio­na­li­zing. It will visually intro­duce a form of cri­ti­cal poetry in the book, which will be accom­pa­nied and sus­tai­ned by the style in which it will be writ­ten. It will contri­bute to the blur­ring of the limits bet­ween art form, his­to­ri­cal dis­course, and frau­du­lous pre­sen­ta­tion or seduc­tive inven­tion, acting as a double sided way of loo­king at things and people, offi­cial and pri­vate sto­ries, of obser­ving contem­po­rary objects and people and the traces of past his­tory.

The form of popu­lar his­tory I am aiming at will be a way of reflec­ting on the making of his­to­ri­cal cha­rac­ters from a small angle, and through a form of wri­ting that will not be simply a lite­rary his­to­rian’s job, but that of a sub­jec­tive writer, well aware of his nar­ra­ti­ves and choi­ces, ready to com­ment his posi­tion as an eccen­tric or « gonzo scho­lar » and would-be artist and pho­to­gra­pher, all too incli­ned to under­line his pri­vate invol­ve­ment in the pro­ject and consi­der his own expe­ri­ment on H.T and Acosta as his own « road book ». Such is the essence of the seduc­tive Gonzo treat­ment of sub­jects, which I would like to acco­mo­date in the book.

E.D. Thank you Robert, and good luck with the book !