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
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.
What TV is extremely good at?and realize that this is all it does?is discerning what large numbers of people think they want, and supplying it.
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.
The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.
There are, apparently, persons who are deeply afraid of their own emotions, particularly the painful ones. Grief, regret, sadness. Sadness especially, perhaps. Dolores describes these persons as afraid of obliteration, emotional engulfment. As if something truly and thoroughly felt would have no end or bottom. Would become infinite and engulf them.? ?Engulf means obliterate.
These kids should be out drinking beer and seeing films and having panty raids and losing virginities and writhing to suggestive music, not making up long, sad, convoluted stories.
This story [The Depressed Person] was the most painful thing I ever wrote. It's about narcissism, which is a part of depression. The character has traits of myself. I really lost friends while writing on that story, I became ugly and unhappy and just yelled at people. The cruel thing with depression is that it's such a self-centered illness - Dostoevsky shows that pretty good in his Notes from Underground. The depression is painful, you're sapped/consumed by yourself; the worse the depression, the more you just think about yourself and the stranger and repellent you appear to others.
To repeat what I heard for years and years and suspect you?ve been hearing over and over, yourself, something?s meaning is nothing more or less than its function. Et cetera et cetera et cetera. Has she done the thing with the broom with you? No? What does she use now? No. What she did with me--I must have been eight, or twelve, who remembers--was to sit me down in the kitchen and take a straw broom and start furiously sweeping the floor, and she asked me which part of the broom was more elemental, more fundamental, in my opinion, the bristles or the handle. The bristles or the handle. And I hemmed and hawed, and she swept more and more violently, and I got nervous, and finally when I said I supposed the bristles, because you could after a fashion sweep without the handle, by just holding on to the bristles, but couldn?t sweep with just the handle, she tackled me, and knocked me out of my chair, and yelled into my ear something like, ?Aha, that?s because you want to sweep with the broom, isn?t it? It?s because of what you want the broom for, isn?t it?? Et cetera. And that if what we wanted a broom for was to break windows, then the handle was clearly the fundamental essence of the broom, and she illustrated with the kitchen window, and a crowd of the domestics gathered; but that if we wanted the broom to sweep with, see for example the broken glass, sweep sweep, the bristles were the thing?s essence. No? What now, then? With pencils? No matter. Meaning as fundamentalness. Fundamentalness as use. Meaning as use. Meaning as fundamentalness.