American Novelist, Short Story Writer, Essayist and Professor of English and Creative Writing
David Foster Wallace
American Novelist, Short Story Writer, Essayist and Professor of English and Creative Writing
Forget so-called peer-pressure. It?s more like peer-hunger. No? We enter a spiritual puberty where we snap to the fact that the great transcendent horror is loneliness, excluded encagement in the self. Once we?ve hit this age, we will now give or take anything, wear any mask, to fit, be part-of, not be Alone, we young.
God?unless you?re Charlton Heston, or unhinged, or both?speaks and acts entirely through the vehicle of human beings, if there is a God.
He didn't reject the idea so much as not react to it and watch as it floated away. He thought very broadly of desires and ideas being watched but not acted upon, he thought of impulses being starved of expression and dying out and floating dryly away.
How can even the idea of rebellion against corporate culture stay meaningful when Chrysler Inc. advertises trucks by invoking The Dodge Rebellion? How is one to be bona fide iconoclast when Burger King sells onion rings with Sometimes You Gotta Break the Rules? How can an Image-Fiction writer hope to make people more critical of televisual culture by parodying television as a self-serving commercial enterprise when Pepsi and Subaru and FedEx parodies of self-serving commercials are already doing big business? It?s almost a history lesson: I?m starting to see just why turn-of-the-century Americans? biggest fear was of anarchist and anarchy. For if anarchy actually wins, if rulelessness become the rule, then protest and change become not just impossible but incoherent. It?d be like casting a ballot for Stalin: you are voting for an end to all voting.
I balked at trying anti-depressants; I just couldn't see myself taking pills to try to be less of a fraud.
A big part of serious fiction?s purpose is to give the reader, who like all of us is sort of marooned in her own skull, to give her imaginative access to other selves? I strongly suspect a big part of real art fiction?s job is to aggravate this sense of entrapment and loneliness and death in people, to move people to countenance it.
Advertising that makes fun of itself is so powerful because it implicitly congratulates both itself and the viewer (for making the joke and getting the joke, respectively).
And I sometimes have a hard time understanding how people who don?t have that in their lives make it through the day.
At first you maybe start to like some person on the basis of, you know, features of the person. The way they look, or the way they act, or if they're smart, or some combination or something. So in the beginning it's I guess what you call features of the person that make you feel certain ways about the person... But then if you get to where you, you know, love a person, everything sort of reverses. It's not that you love the person because of certain things about the person anymore; it's that you love the things about the person because you love the person. It kind of radiates out, instead of in. At least that's the way... That's the way it seems to me.
A bird named Vlad the Impaler, who spent the bulk of his life hissing and looking at himself in a little mirror hanging... in the iron cage, a mirror so dull and cloudy with Vlad the Impaler?s bird-spit that Vlad the Impaler could not possibly have seen anything more than a vague yellowish blob behind a pane of mist... A bird that not infrequently literally bit the hand that fed it, before returning to dance in front of its own shapeless reflection, straining and contorting always for a better view of itself.
All I'm saying is that it's shortsighted to blame TV. It's simply another symptom. TV didn't invent our aesthetic childishness here anymore than the Manhattan Project invented aggression.
And I submit that this is what the real, no-shit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out.
At least part of the reason I am a SNOOT is that for years my mom brainwashed us in all sort of subtle ways. Here's an example. Family suppers often involved a game: if one of us children made a usage error, Mom would pretend to have a coughing fit that would go on and on until the relevant child had identified the relevant error and corrected it. It was all very self-ironic and lighthearted; but still, looking back, it seems a bit excessive to pretend that your small child is actually denying you oxygen by speaking incorrectly.
A crude way to put the whole thing is that our presence culture is, both develeopmentally and historically, adolescent. And since adolescence is acknowledged to be the single most stressful and frightening period of human development ? the stage when adulthood we claim to crave begins to present itself as a real and narrowing system of responsibilities and limitation (taxes, death) and when we yearn inside for a return to the same childish oblivion we pretend to scorn ? it?s not difficult to see why we as a culture are so susceptible to art and entertainment whose primary function is escape, i. e. fantasy, adrenaline, spectacle, romance, etc.
All U.S. irony is based on an implicit I don't really mean what I say. So what does irony as a cultural norm mean to say? That it's impossible to mean what you say? That maybe it's too bad it's impossible, but wake up and smell the coffee already? Most likely, I think, today's irony ends up saying: How very banal to ask what I mean. Anyone with the heretical gall to ask an ironist what he actually stands for ends up looking like a hysteric or a prig. And herein lies the oppressiveness of institutionalized irony, the too-successful rebel: the ability to interdict the question without attending to its content is tyranny. It is the new junta, using the very tool that exposed its enemy to insulate itself. This is why our educated teleholic friends' use of weary cynicism to try to seem superior to TV is so pathetic.
And I was -- this is just how I was afraid you'd take it. I knew it, that you'd think this means you were right to be afraid all the time and never feel secure or trust me. I knew it'd be 'See, you're leaving after all when you promised you wouldn't.' I knew it but I'm trying to explain anyway, okay? And I know you probably won't understand this either, but --wait-- just try to listen and maybe absorb this, okay? Ready? Me leaving is not the confirmation of all your fears about me. It is not. It's because of them. Okay? Can you see that? It's your fear I can't take. It's your distrust and fear I've been trying to fight. And I can't anymore. I'm out of gas on it. If I loved you even a little less maybe I could take it. But this is killing me, this constant feeling that I am always scaring you and never making you feel secure. Can you see that?
At this point the God-understanding stuff kind of makes him want to puke, from fear. Something you can't see or hear or touch or smell: OK. All right. But something you can't even feel? Because that's what he feels when he tries to understand something to really sincerely pray to. Nothingness. He says when he tries to pray he gets this like image in his mind's eye of the brainwaves or whatever of his prayers going out and out, with nothing to stop them, going, going, radiating out into like space and outliving him and still going and never hitting Anything out there, much less Something with an ear. Much much less Something with an ear that could possibly give a rat's ass.
A dad standing up near the stands' top with a Toshiba viewfinder to his eye takes a tomahawking baton directly in the groin and falls forward onto somebody eating a Funnel Cake, and they take out good bits of several rows below them, and there's an extended halt to the action, during which I decamp--steering clear of the sixteen-year-olds on the basketball court--and as I clear the last row yet another baton comes wharp-wharping cruelly over my shoulder, caroming viciously off big R.'s inflated thigh.
Almost nothing important that ever happens to you happens because you engineer it. Destiny has no beeper; destiny always leans trenchcoated out of an alley with some sort of 'psst' that you usually can't even hear because you're in such a rush to or from something important you've tried to engineer.
And Lo, for the Earth was empty of Form, and void. And Darkness was all over the Face of the Deep. And We said: 'Look at that fucker Dance.
Atwater knew ? as did everyone at Style, though by some strange unspoken consensus it was never said aloud ? that this was the single great informing conflict of the American psyche. The management of insignificance. It was the great syncretic bond of US monoculture.
A kiss with Lenore is a scenario in which I skate with buttered soles over the moist rink of lower lip, sheltered from weathers by the wet warm overhang of upper, finally to crawl between lip and gum and pull the lip to me like a child?s blanket and stare over it with beady, unfriendly eyes out at the world external to Lenore, of which I no longer wish to be part. That I must in the final analysis remain part of the world that is external to and other from Lenore Beadsman is to me a source of profound grief. That others may dwell deep, deep within the ones they love, drink from the soft cup at the creamy lake at the center of the Object of Passion, while I am fated forever only to intuit the presence of deep recesses while I poke my nose, as it were, merely into the foyer of the Great House of Love, agitate briefly, and make a small mess on the doormat, pisses me off to no small degree. But that Lenore finds such tiny frenzies, such conversations just inside the Screen Door of Union, to be not only pleasant and briefly diverting but somehow apparently right, fulfilling, significant, in some sense wonderful, quite simply and not at all surprisingly makes me feel the same way, enlarges my sense of it and me, sends me hurrying up the walk to that Screen Door in my best sport-jacket and flower in lapel as excited as any schoolboy, time after time, brings me charging to the cave entrance in leopardskin shirt, avec club, bellowing for admittance and promising general kickings of ass if I am impeded in any way.
Aloft, intoned the damaged man.
And so but anyway?
Authors are monkeys who mean.