on July 5, 2011
David Foster Wallace, more so than any other person, makes me laugh and cry, in other words, feel deeply. Which is a good thing, I think--which is the other thing he makes me do--think. And all that is as he intended if I am interpreting his writing accurately--which is as he posits, not possible--to know how a reader will react to what it is you write; but writing, as Wallace says, is nothing but, " ... an act of communication between one human being and another ... " [From "Greatly Exaggerated" in the Harvard Book Review (1992) reprinted in A supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (1997). Essentially this is what troubled Wallace throughout his life--all these little contradictions that abound everywhere if you take the time and spend your attention looking. Which is what he did better than anyone I have ever read or listened to. He was an expert observer by his own criteria which is to be passionate about what you care about. And yet, his observations were often dispassionate, or better, more clear because he did not allow his passion to cloud what it was he saw. And then could he write? Better than anyone else I've read, because he had a mastery of words and language. He was a self acknowledged "SNOOT," or an extreme word usage fanatic (fn. pg. 69 in "Authority and American Usage.") Which is a book review of an American language usage dictionary, wrote in 1999, that had me laughing out loud, which is not an easy thing to do. A lot! So, besides dispassionate (mostly) he observes and writes objectively (as much as this is possible) in beautiful, unambiguous, extraordinarily detailed prose. If you are not curious and not open-minded, Wallace's writing will disturb you. And if you are curious and open-minded his writing will blow your mind and really, really disturb you. If you are the former, however, you don't have to read him and probably won't, and things will go on as they always have. But if you are the latter - you must read him - and then things might never be the same. So that is a general review of what you're in store for in Consider The Lobster.
Slightly more specifically. The non-fiction essays were written (except for one in 1994) from 1998 through 2005. The subjects are: Words, language, literature, teaching, writing, thinking, lying, entertainment, sports, celebrity, politics, food, small towns, Las Vegas, pornography, morality, talk radio; and of course the people and personalities that make up those places, industries, and things ... in other words: What it is to be human in America at the turn of this millennium. Do I always agree with him? No. For example, in "Up, Simba," about John McCain and the GOP primary of 2000 he writes about the decision to vote or not (something I have written about myself) and I agree with him--not voting is actually a vote for the status quo. And this, in the same essay, hits home:
" ... getting lied to sucks - that it diminishes you, denies you respect for yourself, for the liar, for the world. Especially if the lies are chronic, systemic, if experience seems to teach that everything you're supposed to believe in's really just a game based on lies." (pg. 189)
Yes, David; but just what game are you talking about? ( I was living just a few miles away from him when he killed himself. And before his death I had never heard of him. I feel - like I lost something, something that I'll never have the opportunity to experience ever again.) [If you're into the ins-n-outs of lying, check out my blog @ markjabbour.com (coming in mid July 2011). Lying is one of my favorite subjects.] So how does Wallace reconcile that with this: The senior ladies, his neighbors in Bloomington, Indiana, on September 11, 2001 were innocent. He says. Not stupid but innocent. I get his point, but I disagree. No adult in America is innocent. Children are innocent; but in a democracy that stands for freedom and equal rights, every citizen, especially the older you get and the more you benefit from that freedom - is not innocent but responsible. Ahhh, but these are the contradictions that drove Wallace, ultimately I think, to take his own life. He asked questions, the right questions, he studied the problems and asked more questions. And more than any other, he could put it all down on paper so as not to offended or rankle or make defensive - but to make people think. Which is, arguably (which he does) a good thing, right?