photo: Alex Schwartzman instagram.com/alschwa
Even when I’m not reading him, I hear him. If I’m somewhere that seems peculiar for reasons I can’t immediately pinpoint, like the oilfields of North Dakota or a nightclub or a Home Depot, my first impulse is to wonder, “What would David Foster Wallace think of this place?”
I’m no Wallace expert. I’ve never read any of his fiction and only a handful of his essays. But the few essays I have read I revisit often. Every semester, the first essay I teach to my college writing class is “Consider the Lobster,” in which Wallace reports on the 2003 Maine Lobster Festival and what it was like to “spend several days in the midst of a great mass of Americans all eating lobster, and thus to be more or less impelled to think hard about lobster and the experience of buying and eating lobster.” Continue reading
Back in the year 2000, Rolling Stone sent David Foster Wallace on assignment to cover John McCain’s long-shot effort to be the Republican candidate for president. Remember John McCain? Well yeah, but do you remember him from the year 2000? When he actually seemed like a maverick and rode around the country on the Straight Talk Express, being vulnerable and open with voters, and making people feel like they’d held up Diogenes’ lantern and seen the one honest man in politics?
Remember that feeling? There is no candidate in 2016 that has accomplished anything like that feeling*. Continue reading
This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.”
September 23, 2011, pgs 270-283. First, thank you to The Howling Fantods for honoring this liveblog with a link on their site. THF is an incredible Wallace resource, and I encourage everyone, especially those unfamiliar or just getting started on David Foster Wallace, to spend some time with it.
As for these pages: I find it interesting that the one writer most often accused of excess verbosity, long-windedness, lexical maximalism and just overall overdoing it with the sentences is actually probably the world’s number one all time defender of the pithy phrase. Here we have the former professor Geoffrey Day waxing condescending to the group at Ennet House about AA’s ‘attitude of platitude.’ Per Day: “…life is so much easier now. I used sometimes to think. I used to think in long compound sentences with subordinate clauses and even the odd polysyllable. Now I find I needn’t. Now I live by the dictates of macrame samplers ordered from the back-page ad of an old Reader’s Digest or Saturday Evening Post. Easy does it. Remember to remember…” and so on. These are the phrases and dictates, as Gately describes them, “that look so shallow for a while and then all of a sudden drop[
s] off and deepen[ s] like the lobster-waters off the North Shore.” Consider the lobster-waters*. Gately looks forward to the Day who will finally surrender in understanding that “the clichéd directives are a lot more deep and hard to actually do.” I was reminded of a recent study about the varying speeds at which different languages appear to be spoken, in which researchers found “the more data-dense the average syllable was, the fewer of those syllables had to be spoken per second.” There is also something reminiscent of the repetition and eventual unfolding of constant prayer, which makes me think of Franny and Zooey. I don’t believe there’s a deliberate connection here, but there is some overlap for any fans of both books. I do see a deliberate connection to Wallace’s own experience with AA, and what seems like a dramatization of his own Before — the skeptical academic who “used to think in long compound sentences” etc. — and his After — the humbled and peacefully reposed Gately, 421 days sober, who looks on Day and folks like Randy Lenz as lessons in patience. It is one of the most important themes in the book.
Then, the Enfield kids are returning victorious from Port Washington. It seems unlikely that any writer has done a better job of capturing the fatigued exhilaration of a dimly lit tour bus of adolescents returning from a well-executed field trip, if any other writer has even tried such a thing, that is.
Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog.