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
The truth is that the heroism of your childhood entertainments was not true valor. It was theatre. The grand gesture, the moment of choice, the mortal danger, the external foe, the climactic battle whose outcome resolves all--all designed to appear heroic, to excite and gratify and audience. Gentlemen, welcome to the world of reality--there is no audience. No one to applaud, to admire. No one to see you. Do you understand? Here is the truth--actual heroism receives no ovation, entertains no one. No one queues up to see it. No one is interested.
There are secrets within secrets, though--always.
There's good self-consciousness, and then there's toxic, paralyzing, raped-by-psychic-Bedouins self-consciousness.
This is the kind of paradox, I think, of what it is to be a halfway intelligent American right now, and probably also a Western European, is that there are things we know are right, and good, and would be better for us to do, but constantly it's like Yeah, but, you know, it's so much funnier and nicer to go do something else. and Who cares? and It's all bullshit anyway.
To make someone an icon is to make him an abstraction, and abstractions are incapable of vital communication with living people. One has only to spend a term trying to teach college literature to realize that the quickest way to kill an author's vitality for potential readers is to present that author ahead of his time as great or classic. Because then the author becomes for the students like medicine or vegetables, something the authorities have declared good for them that they ought to like, at which point the students' nictitating membranes come down, and everyone just goes through the requisite motions of criticism and paper-writing without feeling one real or relevant thing. It's like removing all oxygen from the room before trying to start a fire.
TV and popular film and most kinds of 'low' art-- which just means art whose primary aim is to make money-- is lucrative precisely because it recognizes that audiences prefer 100 percent pleasure to the reality that tends to be 49 percent pleasure and 51 percent pain. Whereas 'serious' art, which is not primarily about getting money out of you, is more apt to make you uncomfortable, or to force you to work hard to access its pleasures, the same way that in real life true pleasure is usually a by-product of hard work and discomfort.
Weight Watchers holds as a descriptive axiom the transparently true fact that for each of us the universe is deeply and sharply and completely divided into for example in my case, me, on one side, and everything else, on the other. This for each of us exhaustively defines the whole universe... And then they hold by a prescriptive axiom the undoubtedly equally true and inarguable fact that we each ought to desire our own universe to be as full as possible, that the Great Horror consists in an empty, rattling personal universe, one where one finds oneself with Self, on one hand, and vastly empty lonely spaces before Others begin to enter the picture at all, on the other. A non-full universe... The emptier one?s universe is, the worse it is... Weight Watchers perceives the problem as one involving the need to have as much Other around as possible, so that the relation is one of minimum Self to maximum Other... We each need a full universe. Weight Watchers and their allies would have us systematically decrease the Self-component of the universe, so that the great Other-set will be physically attracted to the now more physically attractive Self, and rush in to fill the void caused by that diminution of Self. Certainly not incorrect, but just as certainly only half of the range of valid solutions to the full-universe problem... Is my drift getting palpable? Just as in genetic engineering... There is always more than one solution... An autonomously full universe... Rather than diminishing Self to entice Other to fill our universe, we may also of course obviously choose to fill the universe with Self... Yes. I plan to grow to infinite size... There will of course eventually cease to be room for anyone else in the universe at all.
What teachers and the administration in that era never seemed to see was that the mental work of what they called daydreaming often required more effort and concentration than it would have taken simply to listen in class. Laziness is not the issue. It is just not the work dictated by the administration.
The root of addict in Latin is the word addicere, which means religious devotion. It was an attribute of beginning monks. There is an element in the book [Infinite Jest] in which various people are living out something that I think is true, which is that we all worship. We all have a religious impulse. We can choose, to an extent, what we worship, but the myth that we worship nothing and give ourselves away to nothing, simply sets ourselves up to give ourselves away to something different. For instance, pleasure or drugs or the idea of having a lot of money, being able to buy nice stuff.
The truth is what makes you free. But only after you have finished with you.
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says Morning, boys. How's the water? And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes What the hell is water?... It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: This is water. This is water.
There's more to life than sitting there interfacing, it might be a newsflash to you.
This is what people call a view. And you knew that from below you wouldn't look nearly so high overhead. You see now how high overhead you are. You knew from down there no one could tell... There's been time this whole time. You can't kill time with your heart. Everything takes time. Bees have to move very fast to stay still.
To me, at least in retrospect, the really interesting question is why dullness proves to be such a powerful impediment to attention. Why we recoil from the dull. Maybe it's because dullness is intrinsically painful; maybe that's where phrases like 'deadly dull' or 'excruciatingly dull' come from. But there might be more to it. Maybe dullness is associated with psychic pain because something that's dull or opaque fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient low-level way, and which most of us spend nearly all our time and energy trying to distract ourselves from feeling, or at least from feeling directly or with our full attention. Admittedly, the whole thing's pretty confusing, and hard to talk about abstractly...but surely something must lie behind not just Muzak in dull or tedious places anymore but now also actual TV in waiting rooms, supermarkets' checkouts, airports' gates, SUVs' backseats. Walkmen, iPods, BlackBerries, cell phones that attach to your head. The terror of silence with nothing diverting to do. I can't think anyone really believes that today's so-called 'information society' is just about information. Everyone knows it's about something else, way down.
TV?s real agenda is to be liked, because if you like what you?re seeing, you?ll stay tuned. tv is completely unabashed about this; it?s its sole raison.
Well O. the thing's sick. It's even sicker than 4. Was it 4? The one you said that Loach inspired, where you'd supposedly just that very day dropped out of Jesuit seminary after umpteen years of disciplined celibacy because of carno-spiritual yearnings you hadn't even been quite in touch with as carno-spiritual in nature until you just now this very moment laid eyes on the Subject? With the breviary and rented collar?? 'That was 4, yes. 4's pretty much of a gynecopia also, but within a kind of narrower demographic psychological range of potential Subjects. Notice I never said 4 was no-miss.? 'Well you must be a very proud young man. This is even sicker. The fake ring and fictional spouse. It's like you're inventing somebody you love just to seduce somebody else into helping you betray her. What's it like. It's like suborning somebody into helping you desecrate a tomb they don't know is empty.? 'This is what I get for passing down priceless fruits of hard experience to somebody who still thinks it's exciting to shave.? 'I ought to go. I have a blackhead I have to see to.? 'You haven't asked why I called right back. Why I'm calling during high-toll hours.? 'Plus I feel some kind of toothache starting, and it's the weekend, and I want to see Schacht before Mrs. Clarke's confectionery day in the sun tomorrow. Plus I'm naked.
What the really great artists do is they're entirely themselves. They're entirely themselves. They've got their own vision, their own way of fracturing reality, and that if it's authentic and true, you will feel it in your nerve endings.
The severing of an established connection is exponentially more painful than the rejection of an attempted connection.
The truth is you already know what it's like. You already know the difference between the size and speed of everything that flashes through you and the tiny inadequate bit of it all you can ever let anyone know. As though inside you is this enormous room full of what seems like everything in the whole universe at one time or another and yet the only parts that get out have to somehow squeeze out through one of those tiny keyholes you see under the knob in older doors. As if we are all trying to see each other through these tiny keyholes. But it does have a knob, the door can open. But not in the way you think...The truth is you've already heard this. That this is what it's like. That it's what makes room for the universes inside you, all the endless in bent fractals of connection and symphonies of different voices, the infinities you can never show another soul. And you think it makes you a fraud, the tiny fraction anyone else ever sees? Of course you're a fraud, of course what people see is never you. And of course you know this, and of course you try to manage what part they see if you know it's only a part. Who wouldn't? It's called free will, Sherlock. But at the same time it's why it feels so good to break down and cry in front of others, or to laugh, or speak in tongues, or chant in Bengali--it's not English anymore, it's not getting squeezed through any hole. So cry all you want, I won't tell anybody.
There are very few innocent sentences in writing.
There's some sort of revealing lesson here in the beyond-short-term viability-curve of advances in consumer technology. The career of videophony conforms neatly to this curve's classically annular shape: First there's some sort of terrific, sci-fi-like advance in consumer tech ? like from aural to video phoning ? which advance always, however, has certain un- foreseen disadvantages for the consumer; and then but the market-niches created by those disadvantages ? like people's stressfully vain repulsion at their own videophonic appearance ? are ingeniously filled via sheer entrepreneurial verve; and yet the very advantages of these ingenious disadvantage-compensations seem all too often to undercut the original high-tech advance, resulting in consumer-recidivism and curve-closure and massive shirt-loss for precipitant investors. In the present case, the stress- and-vanity-compensations' own evolution saw video-callers rejecting first their own faces and then even their own heavily masked and enhanced physical likenesses and finally covering the video-cameras altogether and transmitting attractively stylized static Tableaux to one another's TPs. And, behind these lens-cap dioramas and transmitted Tableaux, callers of course found that they were once again stresslessly invisible, unvainly makeup- and toupeeless and baggy-eyed behind their celebrity-dioramas, once again free ? since once again unseen ? to doodle, blemish-scan, manicure, crease-check ? while on their screen, the attractive, intensely attentive face of the well-appointed celebrity on the other end's Tableau reassured them that they were the objects of a concentrated attention they themselves didn't have to exert.
This is why they started us here so young: to give ourselves away before the age when the questions 'why' and 'to what' grow real beaks and claws.
To really try to be informed and literate today is to feel stupid nearly all the time, and to need help.
Two hearted, a hypocrite to yourself either way.
We're a family that takes its home entertainment very seriously.