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A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments Paperback – February 1, 2010
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Brilliant. * MAXIM * Like sea air, David Foster Wallace is so bracing. * GLASGOW HERALD * Enviably good. * SUNDAY TIMES * It's the kind of book you can't even put down while brushing your teeth. He's damn good. I take my hat off to him. * GUARDIAN *
About the Author
David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) is the author of Infinite Jest, Girl with Curious Hair, Everything and More, The Broom of the System, and other fiction and nonfiction. Among his honors, he received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award, and a Whiting Writers' Award.
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Top customer reviews
Not a fun read, but a very interesting read.
Harold E. Holcombe
"Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley": DFW has the kind of self-effacing charm that allows him to forge an instant bond with readers. When he discusses relatable things like athletic ability, being a late bloomer, and the strange connection he feels (and then does not feel) toward his natural environs, the reader is instantly hooked. The fact that DFW resents nature for not endowing him with more physical strength & beauty is plenty interesting, but DFW also has another quality that is just the opposite of self-effacing and not nearly as charming, and that's his excessive brainyness. DFW often ruins perfectly good essays with excessive brainyness (apparently his revenge for not having enough brawn or beauty). The math babble threaded throughout the essay just reads like intellectual showboating. Luckily, in this essay, the brainyness doesn't spoil whats good, but in other essays it sometimes does. Some readers seem attracted to the brainyness, the learned references, the intellectual display (which becomes a kind of replacement sport for the tennis that he so loves), but to me those are not the qualities that make him worth reading.
"E Unibas Pluram: Television and US Fiction": If you are interested in answering the question of whether DFW was a postmodernist or not, this is an essential essay. This 60+ page essay is a ramble about alienation and irony. DFW admits that like many writers of fiction he is a compulsive watcher/observer and that this habit makes him feel alienated. TV, he says, seems to offer a release from alienation and so many alienated writers are tv addicts, but he decides that tv does nothing to alleviate the problem. He also contends that writers of his generation (the ones he mentions are all postmodernists) incorporate tv (and other pop references) into their work because its part of modern/postmodern life, but that this replicating of modern/postmodern life in fiction still offers no relief from the alienation that it explores/configures. DFW claims that irony/ironic detachment was a favorite writerly device/attitude for the early postmodern writers (a group that he sees as his forebears) but that irony which is also a favorite device/attitude of his generation of writers also offers no relief from alienation. Although he does make a Marx joke (in the State Fair essay), which may or may not indicate that he sees alienation as a universal condition, it would seem that his own alienation is due more to a personal than a sociological pathology. Reading between the lines (as well as the other essays in this collection), one gets the feeling that DFW is not particularly interested in connecting to any of the communities that he describes, nor that he is particularly interested in connecting to other alienated artists. Quite the contrary. It seems that DFW is rather fond of his alienated status as its the subject of virtually everything that he writes, and his trademark. Even though the essay eventually morphs into a call for a new kind of art that would deliver writers & presumably readers from their alienation, one wonders if relief from alienation (the very thing that provides the impetus for his writing) is really what he seeks. So is he a postmodernist? I think the answer is yes. Even though he often voices nostalgia for a time before the postmodern, this nostalgia is itself a key component of postmodern consciousness/writing. DFW is very good at mapping the impasse where postmodern writing leads, but the reason that he knows this impasse so well is because it is his own.
"Getting Away from Being Pretty Much Away from It All": Another extremely long 60+ page essay that is more consistently enjoyable than the previous essay, but so full of filler (endless descriptive passages of cows & horses & pigs) that one finds oneself wondering whether DFW ever cuts or deletes anything. This along with the cruise ship essay are the author at his most accessible, and his funniest. DFW is a reluctant traveler (some of the funniest bits are about his own discomfort) but he is very entertaining when summing up human types.
"Greatly Exaggerated": As in 'the rumors of my death have been...'. Despite that title, this is a humorless synopsis/review of H.L Hix's Morte d' Author: An Autopsy. The book & the book review summarize and assess the long battle over whether authorship as a concept is alive or dead. Hix is not on either side of the fence really, and believes that the argument revolves around a misuse of the word "author." Authors, Hix argues and DFW echoes, are not completely autonomous agents (no one ever really thought they were), but are influenced by culture, language, and even tv. So, as Hix explains it, there's no real side to be on. Ok, I went to grad school a few years ago and remain somewhat interested in this kind of grad school inquiry, but like many (not all) academic exercises/arguments this essay takes a very long time to say very little and certainly nothing new and most readers will do well to simply skip this one.
"David Lynch Keeps His Head": Premiere magazine asked DFW to visit the set of Lost Highway and although the author never says one word to David Lynch, he writes nearly 70 pages about him. Instead of talking to the director, DFW analyzes each and every one of his films. The interesting thing here is not the film criticism which is not particularly insightful but watching one alienated artist watch another albeit from a distance. DFW admires the work, but he is suspicious of the man behind the work who he describes as creepy. But what makes Lynch "creepy" is the same thing that makes many artists "creepy"--the strange distance they keep.
Accompany this essay with the earlier one about TV & US Fiction and you have two very interesting meditations on alienation. Again, I would say that this is DFW's main theme. Even in the travel pieces, its the author's alienation from his subject that gives the work its unique charm (we all love someone who feels even more alienated than we do) and force.
"Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry...": Tennis reportage that is really a meditation on the price paid for being obscenely good at one thing. Although DFW admires their art, he decides that Joyce and pros like him are "grotesques" ie., freakishly one-dimensional creatures.
"A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again": This near-100 page essay deserves its reputation as a masterpiece of travel literature, and is the reason most people buy this book. If these essays prove anything its that DFW is a masterful and witty observer of humans at their most absurd (I only wish that DFW had a sense of humor about some of the topics that he treats seriously because when he's funny he is sublime and when he's serious he sounds just like any other academic/critic). If you've never been on a cruise ship this will make you book a cruise just to see whether DFW is exaggerating or not. All of these essay will appeal to the DFW fan, but this is the only "must read" for the general reader.
"A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again"
"Getting Away from Being Pretty Much Away from It All"
and the essay on Michael Joyce.
Its extremely sad to see such a talented writer die young. This is a good book but not great only because there are a few doozies in here. Definitely, definitely read the three chapters above for a hilarious look at cruise lines, an anthropological study of "white trash" at the Illinois State Fair, and a behind the scenes look at tennis stars who never hit the spotlight. Dead on.