I’ve come to the conclusion that what I’ve become, by being immersed so thoroughly in the facts of history while retaining a profound emotional connection to the whole affair, is a Gonzo historian.
Cultural icon Hunter S. Thompson* described Gonzo journalism as a type of journalism in which you get so carried away with the story that you have to discard any and all sense of objectivity.
Although the term has a profound association with heavy drug use, it isn’t a requisite to use the term “Gonzo.” While I’m certainly no saint (I live in the Pacific Northwest, come on), I’m not a heavy drug user and I don’t encourage it; nothing will wreck your mind faster than stimulants, opiates, exotic pills, and alcohol and I avoid them like the plague in this life. I figure since I’m already a little out there I don’t need that much help getting to the far side of things and I don’t want to burn out my body and brain before my mind can take in the truth at the heart of it all.
I suppose at the end of it, whether or not I actually was a writer, a red fox, a soldier, a sailor, and a medieval statesman, I’m so involved in their stories that I might as well have been at this point. I didn’t go into this planning to be a Gonzo historian, after all; it just kind of happened that way, fell in my lap when I had some really awful flashes of World War 1, the 13th century, 1920s Japan, and 70s California. And although a lot of my approach is to let my own mind tell me what the facts are, write them down while the thought’s still fresh, and then worry about whether or not any of it’s true later, I’ve been right enough times about parts of history I didn’t know about that I can and do suspend my disbelief quite often.
What I don’t talk about are all the private moments where I can see old tendencies coming through, those je ne sais quoi moments that simultaneously reinforce my belief and make me wonder if I’m growing slowly more confident in a delusion. I suppose that’s the trouble with understanding history by living as if you were there; it will give you such a troubling and often menacing sense of what the facts of the present day actually are.
I’m coming from a direction that few people have explored and even fewer have been able to face for very long: I’m getting insight into how people lived, behaved, and thought at key moments in history and building off insights of an unknown source to guide my research in a given direction. At times I am so frightened by what I discover about the human condition that I think it really is an appropriate response to reality to go insane; I just wonder when my time will come, if ever. Perhaps I’m already there, in which case it’s actually not so bad because I think I could adapt, given time.
*Thompson died in February 2005. I was not him in my previous life nor do I claim to be; I was 20 years old and off in England looking for myself at the time.