Entries from February 2009
25 February 2009 · 12.59 pm · by cgf02007 · Comments Off
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.
Tags: discussion · reading response
24 February 2009 · 2.19 pm · by rudy · 8 Comments
Because no one really seemed to want to answer in class yesterday, and I am honestly curious, I figured I should ask here.
I want to know what events people think Wallace either exaggerated or made up in his non-fiction essays.
23 February 2009 · 11.34 pm · by icantbelieveyoujustsaidthat · 2 Comments
“A lot of this is gonna get cut out, right?”
DFW Interview w/Charlie Rose: Talks about movies, “A Supposedly Fun…,” etc.
Click to view
“What does postmodern mean, in literature?”
“It’s a very useful catch-all term, cause you say it, then we all nod as if we know what you’re talking about.”
Is this an accurate description of how to respond to someone describing “postmodern?”
I think so, at least.
He also mentions that a lot of the essays are autobiographical, and was surprised some sold, and answers a lot of the questions asked today in class.
Perhaps the presenting group saw the video beforehad?
[This blog does not allow the coding for embed video, though the link should work.]
23 February 2009 · 7.53 pm · by hopscotch · 6 Comments
I couldn’t help but continue thinking about the discussions that we had in class today and have reached a conclusion: Does it really matter?
The thing that I have noticed about DFW thus far, keeping in mind that I hadn’t read any before the start of this class, is that reading a piece by Wallace is a completely unique reading experience. That is, none of the articles we read in A Supposedly Fun Thing… where really journalism, but I wouldn’t call them autobiography either, and it is that lack of categorization that makes it so unique.
Like I mentioned in class, I do feel there is a journalistic aspect to what Wallace offers us, but it is a completely different spin on it. Or, more aptly, it is a spin without the writer trying to deny it. When I am gearing up to go to a state fair, I am more interested in one person’s account of the fair than I am in who the administrative bits and pieces work, so in that sense, Wallace has done a fine bit of investigative reporting. On the other hand, it is those little tid bits about himself thrown in every once in a while that makes me feel like what he’s saying is accurate.
Though it seems counterintuitive, the fact that he toes the line between journalism and Dave’s Life Story makes me feel like his reporting is at least honest. Like it was mentioned in class today, every reporter has a spin, so now that it is at least mapped out for me, I don’t feel so much like I am being forced to think what they are.
In other words, DFW is a personal journalist. He goes into the world and reports things, perhaps not in a traditional way, but report he does. So, do I really need to worry about just how I can classify his specific style? Though interesting fodder for discussion, at the end of the day, the fact that I’m not really sure what type of writing I just read is really what keeps me coming back for more.
23 February 2009 · 7.30 pm · by elizabeth · 1 Comment
Thought you all might like to know that my suitemate is, at this very moment, shouting answers (“questions”) at the TV while watching Jeopardy in her room.
23 February 2009 · 4.12 pm · by Ryan · 2 Comments
The piece I tried unsuccessfully to acquire during class today, in reference to the Santa Ana Winds and their Lynchian nature:
“There was a desert wnd blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”
- Raymond Chandler, “Red Wind”, first words
Here’s a copy of the story: http://books.google.com/books?id=isdLzHBFz7gC&pg=PA235&dq=chandler+red+wind&client=firefox-a#PPA256,M1
23 February 2009 · 2.56 pm · by reidau · 2 Comments
Before starting Wallace’s essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” I was extremely excited and filled with anticipation. His other essay for Harpers, “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All”, made be appreciated his journalistic commentary and I enjoyed the opportunity to experience this new perspective. However, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” had me experience a sort of foreign animosity towards Wallace. Let me preface this: in no way is this a defense of cruise liners. I felt like this essay was saturated with hypocritical remarks, and characterizations that left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
I acknowledge the fact that Wallace’s characterization of cruise life is entirely satiric, humorous, and aimed to entertain (after all this was paid in full by Harpers). It isn’t the intent of Wallace, nor is it the platform on which Wallace extends his perspective that I find irritating. His characterization, rather, is what irks me. His descriptions of the Nadir itself and the culture surrounding it is very much in keeping with my one experience on a cruise ship, however he consistently describes these situations in a negative light that go well past touching upon condescension. This absurdity is more than possibly inherent in the nature of his journalistic observation, but I still think they are worth taking a look at for the sake of meta-observation.
In “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”, Wallace assumes the position of a journalist, constantly scanning his surroundings and succeeding in taking a significant amount of detail. The preceding sentence was what I was thinking prior to his description of the transformation of cruisers into tourists as they board the dock of Cozumel, Mexico. He writes, “As each person’s sandal hits the pier, a sociolinguistic transformation from cruiser to tourists is effected” (308). He then goes on show what seemed to me as feigned empathy, saying “Looking down from a great height at your countrymen waddling in expensive sandals into poverty-stricken ports is not one of the funner moments of a 7NC Luxury cruise.” (310). Ok, so he manages to point out the disgustingly exploitative relationship that is tourism, but still be is writing all of this as he participates within the system that he mocks. His negativity offers criticism that’s on point, but I felt that Wallace described all of this with an air of detachedness, as he metaphorically looks down on the sea of tourists.
He continues on to describe the interaction between the cruisers and Mexicans, saying, “I cannot help imagining us as we appear to them” (310). This line in particular, appears as if Wallace is actually being genuinely empathetic and denouncing the Americanness that he finds unpleasant. However, his consistently sardonic commentary tainted by perception of these moments where Wallace is actually breaking free past the faux-wood confines of the Nadir, and is seen touching upon significant problems in human relations. As he starts to empathize, I couldn’t help but think of how the relationship of tourism mirrors the job that paid Wallace to board this cruiser and led him to exploit his fellow participants. These participants who are actually paying their own way to give into a harmless act of self-indulgence. Both the tourists and Wallace share in the act of approaching an Other and using its resources in order to inform, and essentially further the Self. Though these end goals are different, Wallace and the tourists share in this exploitative practice. In the end though, Wallacet is seen as above it all.
Tags: reading response
23 February 2009 · 1.48 pm · by marram · 3 Comments
I wanted to go back to talking about the Death of the author essay and what I believe is David Foster Wallace’s attempts to try and insert the author in his works. Death of the authir basically argues that the reader must “kill” the author in order to be able to interpret a literary work correctly. In this case, the reader must “kill” David Foster Wallace and ignore his characteristics- such as the author’s personal experiences, cultural background, ethnicity, etc. He must be killed off in order to understand the works. But what happens where the literary works are essays, in this case, about the character DAVID FOSTER WALLACE?
Well what is necessary to do is to recognize that the David Foster Wallace THE AUTHOR and David Foster Wallace the speaker are two different entities. It is mandatory to accept that their no DWB THE AUTHOR and that all that we may know about him -his college career, his vacations, jobs- it all is not important or should matter when we are reading these works. Instead, we should focus on DFW THE CHARACTER and his role in these essays. Such as “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley” all we know about this DWB is what he tells us about himself such as his love of tennis and the accounts of what happened in the field, or in “Getting Away Already Being Pretty Much Awat from It All” and his accounts of the Illinois State fair.
Which reminds me of something a teacher once told me when reading works such as Othello. She said we can never assume anything happened before or after a work was written. Meaning that any assumptions about the work of events that happened before or after are not plausible because there is no “proof” to back it up. So for example in Othello, we get hints of an incestuous relationship between Othello and his mother but the reader would not be right to assume that this is a legit assumption since there is no before or after, just what is written in the play.
This brings me back to Wallace because in these essays, we cannot assume ideas in the works about the character DFW using the life of DFW the author. Even though we know the author and where he went to college, and where he was from, and interests, and countless other facts, these are unimportant, according to Barthes, in reading these works because they are not the same characteristics of the character. We can’t say that the character is the same as the person who went to Amherst and majored in philosophy, etc because DFW the character is just the one written about in the number of pages of each essay.
23 February 2009 · 1.40 pm · by will · No Comments
I’m probably convinced David Foster Wallace is obsessed with solipsism because I’m obsessed with solipsism. I’ve been searching for experiences and arguments to refute solipsism ever since the concept was introduced to me through Conrad; “We live as we dream, alone” was a terrible revelation for me junior year and one from which I’ve been reeling more or less ever since. Solipsism was always most obviously for me a question of communication, we live as we dream in that a dream is an experience that is essentially incommunicable, visceral. David Foster Wallace by no means ignores this aspect of solipsism, and I think its why he takes his interpretations of other artist’s work so seriously, he wants to believe he can understand it, to disprove solipsism by the validity of his insight into another’s art. But he also comes at solipsism from another, more unique angle, related necessarily to communication but not entirely the same issue, self consciousness.
Post-modernism has to a large extent been defined by intense self-consciousness, a writer’s writing about writing (let alone about writing about writing like DFW) is an essentially self-conscious act, its the awareness while your doing something, of what that thing really is that your doing. This kind of self-consciousness is the opposite of solipsistic, it rides very much on the assumption that the doing of anything can be understood and interpreted, it assumes a certain kind of communication of understanding is possible, a universality of experience that can be appealed to; you can’t write about writing unless there is something more universal to writing besides your individual experience of it. The most interesting about the David Lynch and Michael Joyce essays is that they portray self-consciousness as something of an obstacle to the actual doing of that thing your self-conscious about the doing of.
It seems David Lynch is able to make films like Blue Velvet and Lost Highway because he’s un self-conscious, David Foster Wallace several times marvels at how Lynch seems to literally not care what other people think of his art, whether it will be understood or not. David Lynch is concerned only with whether he’s realized, by his own estimation, his artistic vision, and it seems that for Lynch to see his artistic vision most clearly he needs not to step back self consciously from it, but immerse himself in it totally. He doesn’t care if the references in his film are lost on most of the audience, indeed he must expect it when they’re references to things like his personal life and obscure old movies. But popular misunderstanding of his work doesn’t seem to be of much concern to Lynch, any more than people who do understand him like Wallace, who apparently is little more to Lynch than a few more cigarettes in his ashtray. This is solipsistic, and it makes Wallace and everyone else a little uncomfortable, but if you can do the interpretive, communicative work as the audience, you realize that this solipsism may be the source of Lynch’s greatness.
Similarly, the Michael Joyce essay struck me as about the solipsistic greatness of a world class athlete. The reflexes required for tennis obviously offer little time to step back and play too much non-intuitive meta-tennis. But more than that Joyce seems to be so intensely wrapped up in what he’s doing that he’s almost unaware of his surroundings, he doesn’t play the meta-game ever, whether on the court or looking at billboards. Initially this seems like stupidity to Wallace, his own particular genius being manifest to a large extent in his ability to play the meta-game at all times. But Joyce is not stupid, and it takes Wallace a little while to realize Joyce’s genius is like Lynch’s; it’s about being so in tune with your natural talents, your vision, that you can just do, that the meta-do that most people fall back on in order to apply their logical intellect to what they’re doing is really an obstacle in the end.
The solipsism of Joyce is that for him living is like dreaming, he’s devoted his life to a pursuit that almost none of us really understand on the same level that he does. It’s why he can never quite explain why he does it to Wallace, the explanation is experiential, visceral, it’s what you feel when you’ve won a big match in front of several thousand people. There’s perhaps a few hundred people who’ve experienced this and I would put forward that even within this elite it’s not the same feeling for everyone, that when you devote your life to something in the complete and unselfconscious way of a Joyce or a Lynch the reasons for doing so become completely personal, solipsistic. I think David Foster Wallace is profoundly uncomfortable with this, because, in the end, it’s a lonely kind of greatness.
Tags: reading response
23 February 2009 · 1.05 pm · by erinlikescupcakes · 1 Comment
So I related quite personally to Supposedly Fun Thing. Last spring break I went on an all-expenses paid Royal Caribbean cruise to Mexico, expecting it to be the trip of my life. Cruises are supposed to be all luxury and fun and convenience. Instead, after spending days watching the same conga-lines and crazy cruise directors DFW describes, I felt this impending angst and unease. In all its luxury and splendor, the cruise ship screamed overconsumption and faux joy to me. Since someone else was paying for my trip, I felt guilty even thinking about this. I was, of course, grateful for the experience, but the whole cruise thing really was kind of disturbing. People I met in the hot tub proceeded to tell me about the nine other cruises they’d been on- they call themselves “cruisers.” There’s this whole kind of world of people who cruise around, having food and staff on hand at any hour of the day. DFW’s essay gave me much relief; finally, I had found someone who feels the same way I do.
I appreciated the way DFW made this a comical adventure, engaging his approachable yet intelligent sense of humor, while still managing to make cultural commentary. Or at least raise some questions about consumption that echo his views about tv and society. He recognizes this “unbearably sad” (261) feeling about the ship. Maybe that’s just a physical thing, explained by the huge vastness of the ship and the relative smallness of a person. He further expands on this feeling of smallness and selfishness, the “wanting to jump overboard,” the despair. I don’t think it’s a matter of size or the vastness of the ocean. The cruise ship is a manifestation of all of our culture’s desires- youth, convenience, luxury. Having literally everything provided for you.
It’s similar to the idea of television. You can literally go through a day on a cruise ship without cleaning up after yourself. The waiter at my dinner table continued serving all the desserts on the menu until we flat-out refused. Things are being shoved at you left and right, offers for activities and merchandise and drinks. Your interaction is completely your choice because there is no need to make an exchange (other than money.) It’s just instant satisfaction at your fingertips. I often wanted to be able to wander around the ports for longer, to be able to get lost and talk to locals and shop in the markets before having to rush back onto the ship.
Ok, so I probably sound like cruise ships are hell on the ocean. It’s just a vacation for a few days, an escape into relaxation and peace. Maybe it’s ok for it all to be artificial; at least the people are nice and everyone is having “fun.” But it just became apparent to me throughout my trip what an incredible, and sometimes frightening, little microcosm of overconsumption the cruise ship displays. Sometimes I really wanted to throw up or jump off. But now, at least, I know I’m not alone.
Tags: reading response