Tagged: David Foster Wallace

Review: Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

9780307592439In 2010, there’re a couple of David Foster Wallace biographies due — I’m not sure when the other one is coming out, but David Lipsky‘s Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself is the first one to be released, though, really, it’s not actually a biography.  It’s a book-length interview conducted at the end of the Infinite Jest promotional tour.  David Lipsky was hired by Rolling Stone to do an article on Wallace (or, perhaps more accurately, the hype around Infinite Jest) and so they sent him out to spend five days with the author.  Unfortunately, the article ended up being spiked, but Lipsky kept all the tapes — and this is the result.
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The Literary Nightmare That Is Chris Bachelder’s Bear V. Shark

Cover of "Bear v. Shark"

Cover of Bear v. Shark

I read a lot. I enjoy reading, and I tend to find myself in situations where reading is about the best way to spend time. Since I read a lot, it should follow that I must also get a lot of books, which I do, typically from half.com, where I can often find prices in the $2 range, and risking two bucks on a book is way better than being out the $25 if I bought it at Barnes and Noble. Granted, I blow 2 bucks I could save if I were to go to the library, but I like owning books. Sorry.

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Book Review: Overnight To Many Distant Cities

Overnight To Many Distant Cities[Purchase Book]

For a long time, I’d been somewhat interested in checking out Donald Barthelme‘s work. I’d heard him referenced near and by some of my favorite authors — most recently, an issue of McSweeney’s was half-devoted to him. Recently, in a used bookstore, I stumbled across a few Barthelme books on the “we recommend!” shelf — if I recall, it was this, Sixty Stories and one other that completely escapes me, but I don’t think it was Forty Stories (though it may have been — but I know that reprints some of the stories in this volume, and I remembered checking the table of contents against all three books to make sure that whichever one I chose would have been worth it and not, like, wholly reprinted in something I’d buy later if I liked it). I believe, too, that this was the cheapest of the three and given that — and the relative slimness of the volume — it was probably a pretty good entry point. Not too expensive (and on sale to boot), but not too long (either leaving me wanting more nor being a long, terrible slog, depending on what I thought of the author’s work).

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Doing A Brody

English: MS Majesty of the Seas, one of Royal ...
English: MS Majesty of the Seas, one of Royal Caribbean International’s Sovereign class cruise ships, anchored off Coco Cay, Royal Caribbean’s name for Little Stirrup Cay, an island located in the Bahamas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Warren mentioned the shared dislike he and DFW had for The Professional Smile, I did not realize that this was specifically in the context of cruise ships, and that DFW had, in fact, taken a cruise run by the same company[1] that we did last month. And now I understand, because the Cruise Ship Smile is the worst adaptation of professional friendliness I’ve ever seen. Especially in the aspect of living on the same boat as the staff and having less than a 2:1 ratio to them, the slavelike demeanor of nearly every cruise ship staff member did the exact opposite of making one feel comfortable and pampered. Not only did it induce guilt, but yes, despair of exactly the sort DFW described in his essay A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again[2]. The brochure, he notes, claims that the staff is “one big family”, just like plantation times. “Even the most demanding passenger seemed kind and understanding compared to the martinism of the Greeks, and the crew seemed grateful”, as one is grateful for an ounce of human kindness in NYC.

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A David Foster Wallace Style-Parody in Three Drafts, with Annotations

David Foster Wallace at the Hammer Museum in L...

Image via Wikipedia

The Howling Fantods recently did a contest to win the new book about David Foster Wallace. The rules said entrants had to write a 400-word (!) parody of David Foster Wallace’s style, and this piece had to include a car driving up and a “David-Foster-Wallace-Like Pop Culture Reference”.

It took me a long time to decide whether or not I would actually enter. I finally decided I would a couple days before the contest ended, mainly because I didn’t have anything to do that night. Also, I figured I’d probably end up buying the book offered as the prize anyway, so I might as well attempt to save 40 dollars.

I ended up getting an honorable mention — meaning that I got a special mention, although I still had to buy the book.

 

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Purity

David Foster Wallace gave a reading for Booksm...

Image via Wikipedia

Two of the most important people in building my worldview were Fred Rogers and David Foster Wallace — and, oddly enough, they both taught similar things. Mister Rogers taught that there was nothing more pure than love for human beings for just being human beings and David Foster Wallace taught me that it’s OK, but not just OK but rather important and pure to not be bothered by the ideas of people saying real and important things without the protective layer of irony. Emotions are real and important, and while I don’t know if Mister Rogers ever read any of DFW’s work, I am certain that he would have enjoyed and identified strongly — not that I expect that Mister Rogers had the particular demons that DFW suffered from, but that he would see both DFW’s pure humanity and his desire and shouting for others to embrace THEIR pure humanity as well.

Here is a paragraph from Infinite Jest:

Mario’d fallen in love with the first Madame Psychosis programs because he felt like he was listening to someone sad read out loud from yellow letters she’d taken out of a shoebox on a rainy P.M., stuff about heartbreak and people you loved dying and U.S. woe, stuff that was real. It is increasingly hard to find valid art that is about stuff that is real in this way. The older Mario gets, the more confused he gets about the fact that everyone at E.T.A. over the age of about Kent Blott finds stuff that’s really real uncomfortable and they get embarassed. It’s like there’s some rule that real stuff can only get mentioned if everybody rolls their eyes or laughs in a way that isn’t happy. The worst-feeling thing that happened today was at lunch when Michael Pemulis told Mario he had an idea for setting up a Dial-a-Prayer telephone service for atheists in which the atheist dials the number and the line just rings and rings and no one answers. It was a joke and a good one, and Mario got it; what was unpleasant was that Mario was the only one at the big table whose laugh was a happy laugh; everybody else sort of looked down like they were laughing at somebody with a disability. The whole issue was far above Mario’s head, and he was unable to understand Lyle’s replies when he tried to bring the confusion up. And Hal was for once no help, because Hal seemed even more uncomfortable and embarrassed than the fellows at lunch, and when Mario brought up real stuff Hal called him Booboo and acted like he’d wet himself and Hal was going to be very patient about helping him change.

The happy laugh is important and it’s all right. Even if we think that perhaps the Pemulis jokes might hit a little too close to home, there is still something there that is true and pure. People are, as DFW said, too uncomfortable by the really real; I cannot cast stones from a pure stand either, unfortunately. I have been made uncomfortable by things that are real. It is impossible for me to tell my best friends that I love them — though it is true, and should probably at some point be said, ideally at a time when there is no looming or already-loomed-and-moved-on tragedy — it is still impossible to say and that in itself is a tragedy. I even think of saying it but for some reason some block in my brain keeps it from escaping and I don’t know why. It’s not necessarily that I fear making them uncomfortable, but also my own self uncomfortable as well. And that is silly but it is still unfortunately a real feeling. Would anything happen if I said it? Probably not. It would be returned I figure — I don’t think there’s a fear of rejection in that; it’s just the fear of making something concrete what was previously implied or assumed or even known but not ever spoken aloud.

David Foster Wallace, I did not know personally. I wish I had. But just the same, I loved him. I still do. I love you, David Foster Wallace. You gave so much — you had not only an immense talent for words that made reading a joy just from the use of the English language and phrasing but the important concepts and ideas that you put down, particularly in a world where irony is so prevalent as a shield both over transmitters and receivers; it is not only in the atmosphere, it is almost the atmosphere itself protecting us like the ozone, but like ozone itself, though made of oxygen, is poisonous and while it can help it also hinders and kills.

I do not think irony is what killed David Foster Wallace — that would be too pat and rather silly and just an extreme reduction of the real and true demons he battled and would do him a complete disservice. I do fear that perhaps irony kept him from speaking to others about his fears and terrors and dread outside of in the admittedly more passive field of text-only communication. Text is safe; if anything it can join with irony to provide that protective layer that allows us to say either that we’re only kidding or that that’s not really us but someone else made up and of course we don’t feel that way even if it is from a first person point of view and even if that character speaking in the first person has the name Matt Keeley or David Foster Wallace or whatever other names you would like to see. The words do not escape our lips and therefore they are not us. Even if we read the text aloud it is still not us but a quotation from someone else even if that someone else who wrote the text is us. There is that layer of a questionable identity which allows us to not necessarily take ownership and therefore avoid rejection. If someone does not like what we say, we can say that it’s not a matter of people not liking us, just people not liking the words. And therefore we are still safe, though perhaps hurt that the words are not liked, but not enough that the actual self that we are and we believe makes us up are not liked. And it is perhaps reductionist to make the argument that we are our words and that is also wrong, but the argument that could be made is that while we are not our words, our words are us, or at least vestiges of us and what make us us, our ambassadors to others who can make themselves known as to what we are, but like an ambassador who makes some political faux pas allow us to disown those words and say that while at the time we thought it was a good choice, they have been proven to not be truly what we think of as representative of ourselves. And that is good, as well — people do change, and we should never be held to what we wrote decades ago. But while we might not share the same ideas, we should also be able to recognize that that is indeed who we were at some time.

This, however, is a huge digression that has very little to do with David Foster Wallace aside from that this is what I have been thinking of upon hearing of his death and the kind of things that he has shown me in his writing. The writing so powerful that in the case of the first chapter of Infinite Jest is hilarious on the first reading and absolutely terrifying once the book has been finished and the first chapter re-read. The re-interpretation of the same words is an amazing trick, and one David Foster Wallace pulled off in such a way that my jaw drops every time I think of it. I know that I will never have that level of talent with the English language and I accept that. I am however glad to have read the works of someone who did. I wish that the person who wrote those words was still alive to continue writing words perhaps even more amazing and jaw-dropping than even those words were, even as they were written over a decade ago, and I do not doubt that David Foster Wallace, had he continued to survive, would have handily been able to.

Here is another part of Infinite Jest:

The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

I honestly have nothing more to add other than perhaps the last line of “Westward The Course Of Empire Takes Its Way”:

You are loved.

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David Foster Wallace, RIP

The man I considered the greatest living American Author, David Foster Wallace, killed himself yesterday, Friday September 12th. His wife found his body after he hanged himself. September 12th is not a good day — it’s also the day Johnny Cash died. And but so in tribute, here are some of the posts related to David Foster Wallace.

If you haven’t read any of his work, I heartily recommend you do so. A good one to start with is Brief Interviews With Hideous Men if you don’t want to jump right into the deep end with Infinite Jest. However, just about any of them are good and his writing demands to be savoured. He knew his way around a sentence.

I might have something more in-depth on him later — right now, I’m too stunned really to be terribly coherent about the man whose writing meant so much to me.

The JOI-Cam, a technical thing about how to potentially get a camera effect written about in Infinite Jest

Forever In The Third Booth On The Left, a loving parody of DFW’s short story “Forever Overhead”, one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I have ever read — which can be found in Brief Interviews With Hideous Men.

My entrance in the DFW Parody Contest from a few years back, which I thought I had reposted to Kittysneezes but apparently not. I probably shall in the future, then — but for the time being, my entry is all the way at the bottom of the page. The others are pretty good too, of course. Continue reading

The JOICam

English: David Foster Wallace at the Hammer Mu...
English: David Foster Wallace at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, January 2006. The head shot was cropped out from the original image with fans Claudia Sherman and Amanda Barnes. Česky: David Foster Wallace v Hammer Museum v Los Angeles v Lednu 2006. Portrét hlavy byl vyříznut z původního skupinového snímku s fanynkami. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This article contains Spoilers for Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. So, if you’re reading it, or planning on reading it, you may wish to steer clear. (And if you haven’t read it already, you really should.)
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Book Review: Cloud Atlas

Cover of "Cloud Atlas"

Cover of Cloud Atlas

[Purchase Book]

David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas is less a novel and more a collection of six novellas. Though that’s not quite right either — the novellas are all linked and build off each other. Then again, Mitchell’s other books ALSO reference and build off each other. So, well, there you go. The main difference, however, is that David Mitchell’s other books aren’t split across each other with other characters discovering the previous narrative. At least, I hope not, as that would probably be rather difficult to read — after all, at least with Cloud Atlas you’ve got all the stories in one volume. It might be more difficult if you had to buy the other books to read one.

Enough of that, however. Cloud Atlas is rather similar to Haruki Murakami‘s work in tone — and I got a strange reminding of Neal Stephenson as well, though I’m not 100% sure on why that is. (The snide jerk in me wants to pipe up with “Yeah, Mitchell knows how to end a book!” but that’s just mean. And typically with Stephenson, his books up to the ending are good enough to make it all balance out in the end.)

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Forever In The Third Booth On The Left

J. Henry Dunant III restaurant in The Netherlands

Image via Wikipedia

The New Luck Toy is that restaurant you go to when it’s your thirteenth birthday and your parents tell you that you’re growing into an adult and can choose anything on the menu. You feel your flesh sink into the upholstery of the booth, and feel your skin stick to the fake leather. Your eyes look over the chinese horoscope place and you find your sign, since at 13, you haven’t yet given up on the slight comfort that can be found in the unknown. You notice your sign and the signs it tells you to stay away from, and your eyes drift to these forbidden astrological animal symbols and notice that they’re all linked in a chain. The waiter comes, and you eye him suspiciously, even though he’s a very nice man, just because you know that he knows that you’re going to order for yourself tonight because it’s your thirteenth birthday and there’s something palpably different about you obvious to even the most casual of observers. You take the beaten menu and feel the smooth yet vaguely viscious clear plastic holding in the establishment’s culinary offerings, reading each dish’s name to yourself taking the words and the weight in your mouth and head. Your parents tell you not to worry about the price, but you’re an adult now and you realize that things like that have to be taken into consideration, lest you be considered rude and worse still immature since after all it’s a child who goes to an ice cream parlor and orders the biggest sundae with mountains of ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate knowing that even though she can’t possibly eat it all, perhaps this time she will be able to and besides it doesn’t matter because she wants it. But you, at 13, know that this is no longer you, and you check the prices and rule out the most expensive, even though Dinner Combo #4 looks like it might be appetizing. You think about going out, asking to choose a different restaurant, perhaps one you’re more familiar with, but you look around and see that to get to the exit, you’d have to walk by the other booths, as well as the cash register. It could be done, but it would be awkward — your mother has also recommended this restaurant and you don’t want to let her down. That wouldn’t be the adult thing to do. A bead of sweat trickles down your temple, down your cheek, off your chin, onto the horoscope placemat. Finally, the waiter comes back and asks if you all have decided yet. Your parents agree, and he first looks at you and waits for your order and the words escape your lips sealing your fate to the winds of change and adulthood. Forever sweet-and-sour pork. Also, forever side of steamed rice.

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