A critic says, "Wolfe's account of an F-4 coming in for a landing onto the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier is the perfect objective correlative for a runaway technology." Do you think that...

A critic says, "Wolfe's account of an F-4 coming in for a landing onto the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier is the perfect objective correlative for a runaway technology." Do you think that this anti-military remark is in any way reflected in Wolfe's article "The Truest Sport" in Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine by Tom Wolfe?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This question is based on the assumption of anti-militarism without there being evidence in the quotation or the text to support the conclusion of anti-militarism. So let's look at this piece by piece: New Journalism's evocative purpose; "objective correlative"; the critic's remark; emotional effect of the F-4 passage alluded to.

New Journalism, as practiced by Wolfe and represented in "The Truest Sport," intends to evoke strong emotions related to the actual experience of the actual persons or events being reported on. New Journalism doesn't paint "as if" metaphorical images of the writer's imaginings but asks questions until a full picture of true emotions are manifest.

What this means is that the F-4 landing on a "skillet" passage is a true-to-experience reportage of Dowd's first emotional responses to the realities of the flight deck. After 100 flights, Dowd is now a veteran of composure, which Wolfe is careful to illustrate, though the composure is that of a knight practicing the code of chivalry that demands courage in the jousting list when face-to-face with crushing death.

some crewmen liked to check out the demeanor of the aviators during the [F-4 launch or recovery] events, just as they might have in the heyday of the chivalric code.

The "objective correlative" is a concept developed by, though not originated by, T. S. Eliot. The objective correlative is that particular sequence of images, words, events, reactions in combination that evokes a specific emotion across a broad and diverse range of people: it is the sequence of associated occurrences that can be depended upon to consistently evoke a sought after emotional response.

objective correlative: noun
    the artistic and literary technique of representing or evoking a particular emotion by means of symbols which become indicative of that emotion and are associated with it. (Oxford Dictionaries Online)

What the critic's quote is saying [without the wider context that might mitigate meaning] is that the sequence of images etc that Wolfe has laid out in the passage describing the reality of F-4s atop the Coral Sea is the objective sequence of images, actions, etc that perfectly correlates to the emotions associated with that sequence: Wolfe's description of the F-4s is the perfect objective correlative for what happens on runways, specifically painfully short runways atop "a skillet" in the heaving Pacific Ocean.     

The emotional effect evoked through the objective correlative (sequence of images etc that correlate to the evocation of a specific emotion) presented by Wolfe of F-4s on a carrier is that of horror and awe and fear that is suddenly broken into by composure inspired by courage as Dowd coolly walks out onto the deck like a knight into the jousting lists: suddenly all is cool green composure and courage, green like the passageways for officers and stewards in the safe heart of the ship.

(1) I can't see any anti-militarism in the critic's remark as presented outside its broader context. The F-4 scene is the perfect objective correlative to [aircraft carrier] runway technology.

(2) In this passage, Wolfe is not ridiculing Dowd, he is lauding him. While there may be anti-militarism expressed by Wolfe in other sections of reportage, anti-militarism is not expressed in this passage of Wolfe's text. Wolfe here means to evoke emotions related to awe for courage that stands steady in the face of overwhelming potential horror.

both engines explode into full afterburn, ... a very storm of flame, heat, crazed winds, and ... steely particles ... followed by an unbelievable shudder--kaboom!--that pounds through the skillet....