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
True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care?with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world.
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. The U.S. arts are our guide to inclusion. A how-to. We are shown how to fashion masks of ennui and jaded irony at a young age where the face is fictile enough to assume the shape of whatever it wears. And then it?s stuck there, the weary cynicism that saves us from gooey sentiment and unsophisticated na?vet?. Sentiment equals na?vet? on this continent. You burn with hunger for food that does not exist. A U. S. of modern A. where the State is not a team or a code, but a sort of sloppy intersection of desires and fears, where the only public consensus a boy must surrender to is the acknowledged primacy of straight-line pursuing this flat and short-sighted idea of personal happiness.
What if I told you it was my own sister that was raped? What if I told you a little story about a sixteen-year-old girl who went to the wrong party with the wrong guy and four of his buddies that ended up doing to her just about everything four guys could do to you in terms of violation? But if you could ask her if she could go into her head and forget it or like erase the tape of it happening in her memory, what do you think she?d say? Are you so sure what she?d say? What if she said that even after that totally negative as what happened was, at least now she understood it was possible. People can. Can see you as a thing. That people can see you as a thing, do you know what that means? Because if you really can see someone as a thing you can do anything to him. What would it be like to be able to be like that? You see, you think you can imagine it but you can?t. But she can. And now she knows something. I mean she really, really knows. This is what you wanted to hear, you wanted to hear about four drunk guys who knee-jerk you in the balls and make you bend over that you didn?t even know, that you never saw before, that you never did anything to, that don?t even know your name, they don?t even know your name to find out you have to choose to have a fucking name, you have no fucking idea, and what if I said that happened to ME? Would that make a difference?
The really desolate areas can get pretty crowded, of course, sometimes, so it's good to get there early, get as much wandering as you can in before noon.
The trees' bony fingers make spell-casting gestures in the wind as they pass.
Then you're in serious trouble, very serious trouble, and you know it, finally, deadly serious trouble, because this Substance you thought was your one true friend, that you gave up all for, gladly, that for so long gave you relief from the pain of the Losses your love of that relief caused, your mother and lover and god and compadre, has finally removed its smily-face mask to reveal centerless eyes and a ravening maw, and canines down to here, it's the Face In The Floor, the grinning root-white face of your worst nightmares, and the face is your own face in the mirror, now, it's you, the Substance has devoured or replaced and become you, and the puke-, drool- and Substance-crusted T-shirt you've both worn for weeks now gets torn off and you stand there looking and in the root-white chest where your heart (given away to It) should be beating, in its exposed chest's center and centerless eyes is just a lightless hole, more teeth, and a beckoning taloned hand dangling something irresistible, and now you see you've been had, screwed royal, stripped and fucked and tossed to the side like some stuffed toy to lie for all time in the posture you land in. You see now that It's your enemy and your worst personal nightmare and the trouble It's gotten you into is undeniable and you still can't stop. Doing the Substance now is like attending Black Mass but you still can't stop, even though the Substance no longer gets you high. You are, as they say, Finished. You cannot get drunk and you cannot get sober; you cannot get high and you cannot get straight. You are behind bars; you are in a cage and can see only bars in every direction. You are in the kind of a hell of a mess that either ends lives or turns them around.
There?s a certain amount of stuff about writing that?s like music or math or certain kinds of sports. Some people really have a knack for this... One of the exciting things about teaching college is you see a couple of them every semester. They?re not always the best writers in the room because the other part of it is it takes a heck of a lot of practice. Gifted, really really gifted writers pick stuff up quicker, but they also usually have a great deal more ego invested in what they write and tend to be more difficult to teach.
This is apparently a little promotional where we?re supposed to explain how and why we came to the subject of our GD series book (the stuff in quotations is the editor?s words). The overall idea is to humanize the series and make the books and their subjects seem warmer and more accessible. So that people will be more apt to buy the books. I?m pretty sure this is how it works. The obvious objection to such promotional is that, if the books are any good at all, then the writers? interest and investment in their subjects will be so resoundingly obvious in the texts themselves that these little pseudo-intimate Why I Cared Enough About Transfinite Math and Where It Came From to Spend a Year Writing a Book About It blurblets are unnecessary; whereas, if the books aren?t any good, it?s hard to see how my telling somebody that as a child I used to cook up what amounted to simplistic versions of Zeno?s Dichotomy and ruminate on them until I literally made myself sick, or that I once almost flunked a basic calc course and have seethed with dislike for conventional higher-math education ever since, or that the ontology and grammar of abstractions have always struck me as one of the most breathtaking problems in human consciousness?how any such stuff will help. The logic of this objection seems airtight to me. In fact, the only way the objection doesn?t apply is if these are really nothing more than disguised ad copy, in which case I don?t see why anyone reading them should even necessarily believe that the books? authors actually wrote them?I mean, maybe somebody in the ad-copy department wrote them and all we did was sort of sign off on them. There?d be a kind of twisted integrity about that, though?at least no one would be pretending to pretend.
To be a mass tourist, for me,...is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.
Truly decent, innocent people can be taxing to be around.
We live in an era of terrible preoccupation with presentation and interpretation, one in which relations between who someone is and what he believes and how he expresses himself have been thrown into big time flux.
What if sometimes there is no choice about what to love? What if the temple comes to Mohammed? What if you just love? Without deciding? You just do: you see her and in that instant are lost to sober account-keeping and cannot choose but to love? Marath's sniff held disdain: Then in such a case your temple is self and sentiment. Then in such an instance you are a fanatic of desire, a slave to your individual subjective narrow self's sentiments; a citizen of nothing. You become a citizen of nothing. You are by yourself and alone, kneeling to yourself. In a case such as this you become the slave who believes he is free. The most pathetic of bondage. Not tragic. No songs. You believe you would die twice for another but in truth would die only for your alone self, its sentiment.
Real leaders are people who help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better, harder things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.
She says that she's finding it especially hard to take when these earnest ravaged folks at the lectern say they're `Here But For the Grace of God,' except that's not the strange thing she says, because when Gately nods hard and starts to interject about `It was the same for--' and wants to launch into a fairly standard Boston AA agnostic-soothing riff about the `God' in the slogan being just shorthand for a totally subjective and up-to-you `Higher Power' and AA being merely spiritual instead of dogmatically religious, a sort of benign anarchy of subjective spirit, Joelle cuts off his interjection and says that but that her trouble with it is that `But For the Grace of God' is a subjunctive, a counterfactual, she says, and can make sense only when introducing a conditional clause, like e.g. `But For the Grace of God I would have died on Molly Notkin's bathroom floor,' so that an indicative transposition like `I'm here But For the Grace of God' is, she says, literally senseless, and regardless of whether she hears it or not it's meaningless, and that the foamy enthusiasm with which these folks can say what in fact means nothing at all makes her want to put her head in a Radarange at the thought that Substances have brought her to the sort of pass where this is the sort of language she has to have Blind Faith in.
Some persons can give themselves away to an ambitious pursuit and have that be all the giving-themselves-away-to-something they need to do. Though sometimes this changes as the players get older and the pursuit more stress-fraught. American experience seems to suggest that people are virtually unlimited in their need to give themselves away, on various levels. Some just prefer to do it in secret.
That 99 of compulsive thinkers? thinking is about themselves that 99 of this self-directed thinking consists of imagining and then getting ready for things that are going to happen to them and then weirdly that if they stop to think about it that 100 of the things they spend 99 of their time and energy imagining and trying to prepare for all the contingencies and consequences are never good. Then that this connects interestingly with the early-sobriety urge to pray for the literal loss of one?s mind. In short that 99 of the head?s thinking activity consists of trying to scare the ever-living shit out of itself.
That sometimes human beings have to just sit in one place and, like, hurt. That you will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do. That there is such a thing as raw, unalloyed, agendaless kindness. That it is possible to fall asleep during an anxiety attack. That concentrating on anything is very hard work.
The Crocodiles say they can't even begin to say how many new guys they've seen Come In and then get sucked back Out There, Come In to AA for a while and Hang In and put together a little sober time and have things start to get better, head-wise and life-quality-wise, and after a while the new guys get cocky, they decide they've gotten `Well,' and they get really busy at the new job sobriety's allowed them to get, or maybe they buy season Celtics tickets, or they rediscover pussy and start chasing pussy (these withered gnarled toothless totally post-sexual old fuckers actually say pussy), but one way or another these poor cocky clueless new bastards start gradually drifting away from rabid Activity In The Group, and then away from their Group itself, and then little by little gradually drift away from any AA meetings at all, and then, without the protection of meetings or a Group, in time--oh there's always plenty of time, the Disease is fiendishly patient--how in time they forget what it was like, the ones that've cockily drifted, they forget who and what they are, they forget about the Disease, until like one day they're at like maybe a Celtics-Sixers game, and the good old Fleet/First Interstate Center's hot, and they think what could just one cold foamer hurt, after all this sober time, now that they've gotten `Well.' Just one cold one. What could it hurt. And after that one it's like they'd never stopped, if they've got the Disease. And how in a month or six months or a year they have to Come Back In, back to the Boston AA halls and their old Group, tottering, D.T.ing, with their faces hanging down around their knees all over again, or maybe it's five or ten years before they can get it up to get back In, beaten to shit again, or else their system isn't ready for the recurred abuse again after some sober time and they die Out There--the Crocodiles are always talking in hushed, 'Nam-like tones about Out There--or else, worse, maybe they kill somebody in a blackout and spend the rest of their lives in MCI-Walpole drinking raisin jack fermented in the seatless toilet and trying to recall what they did to get in there, Out There; or else, worst of all, these cocky new guys drift back Out There and have nothing sufficiently horrible to Finish them happen at all, just go back to drinking 24/7/365, to not-living, behind bars, undead, back in the Disease's cage all over again. The Crocodiles talk about how they can't count the number of guys that've Come In for a while and drifted away and gone back Out There and died, or not gotten to die.
The individual's right to pursue his own vision of the best ration of pleasure to pain: utterly sacrosanct.
The other half is to dramatize that we still 'are' human beings, now. Or can be.
Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today?s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the Oh how banal. To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of over-credulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows.
She smelled of talcum powder and Big Red.
Some things just cannot be taught, but can be delayed by other things which can be taught.
That as people age, accumulate more and more private experiences, their sense of history tightens, narrows, becomes more personal? So that to the extent that they remember events of social importance, they remember only for example 'where they were' when such-and-such occurred. Et cetera et cetera. Objective events and data become naturally more and more subjectively colored.
?That the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home.