April 15, 2014
This essay examines Las Vegas nonfiction by paying particular attention to the utopian function of the city in American aesthetics and to the dystopian energies of those literary texts positioned in the tradition of the New Journalism. It argues that Southern Nevada, though frequently considered as a postmodern cityscape of simulacra, has in fact always been reflected and shaped by a strong realist tradition. Some of the most important authors of literary nonfiction have written about Las Vegas: among them Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, and David Foster Wallace. In addition numerous works have appeared in recent years exploring the city from a host of architectural, urbanist, and historical perspectives. Visiting writers were interested chiefly in the city’s wealth of opportunities for meticulous observation and representation of the body (the essay explores the figure of the showgirl as a case in point). As the essay outlines this interest has not abated in the early 21st century. But the general nature of Vegas writing has changed from prose informed by the mercurial language of the New Journalism to works interested in larger, more complex and academic representations of this new American metropolis.