Why not more on Westward?
Among the countless metaphors for fiction’s movement from metafiction to “real” fiction (for lack of a better term, as well as for lack of not wanting to repeat the same terms DFW/our class/I has/have been using to describe the type of fiction to which Wallace aspires) it’s difficult to sift other concepts out of Westward. But they are there, and the consumption of roses represents one large concept: the interplay of fear and desire.
The origin of roses in Westward is the origin of JD Steelritter. A wealthy woman driving her huge touring car through rural Illinois crashes into and kills a farmer riding a tractor, the guilt of which causes the woman to refuse to leave her car as well as to gift anybody who provides her with anything. A town is built on the premise of guilt alleviated. She is finally persuaded to leave her car by a rose-pedaling East-coaster who is, in a nonconventional way, Westward bound. They fall in love, make JD, rose bushes bloom in excess. [257-259]
Six decades later JD Steelritter is on the cusp of turning advertisement into reality through offering 44,000 people an endless supply of fried roses. But why are roses given such efficacy? Because they allow the eater to “take what you fear most and turn it into wishes” . They are “wrong” in the same way killing your father, betraying your lover, and lying are all wrong . “You don’t put what’s beautiful inside you, as fuel, when the whole reason it’s beautiful is that it’s outside you” . But where does fear enter the equation? It seems more like repulsion is what at first keeps Tom Sternberg from ingesting roses when Mark first produces them in the airport. There also seems to be no fear on DeHaven’s part; roses are an entirely routine element of his diet. The fear comes, as Steelritter explains to Sternberg, from an unknown and preconditioned place within each of us: “You think how you appear, how you feel, are your adman’s…only source of fear?”  The idea of consuming the beautiful, using it as nutritive, is a fear each of us hold regardless of our awareness of it. And because it is a fear it must also be a desire, in Westward at least. The efficacy of Steelritter’s plan to wed advertisement and reality hinges on the belief that humanity is driven by the desire for what it fears. To achieve contentment we want only to realize our greatest fears.
Magda calls the truth in Steelritter’s rose-consumption theory into question. To paraphrase, she says that JD wants peace more than anything else, so he eats countless amounts of roses, yet spends every waking moment worrying, collecting data, interpreting, adjusting . Because, to Magda, rose-eating is “superfluous, we already ache with desire for what we fear” . That suggests that fried roses only fill us with more desire, as opposed to satisfying our desire, as Steelritter suggests they do and will for the 44,000 guests crammed into Collision, Ill. Mark’s behavior reinforces Magda’s argument–he eats the fried roses when uncertain about his direction, yet he remains uncertain about his direction. Significantly, it is finally writing a (true) story that gives Mark some sense of direction, not eating his fears. This brings us, rather unavoidably and extremely frustratingly, back to Wallace’s constant commentary on fiction, in which fear and desire interact in a way in which it is not enough to consume our fears. Instead, they must be realized as inevitable reality.