Thursday, February 5, 2015

If I posted daily, what would it avail?  Something, I'm sure.

I'm rereading Infinite Jest, which gains significantly on a second pass-through.  Wish I could talk it over with another serious reader--especially the relation between the opening vignette (Hal in Arizona, interviewing for a tennis scholarship at ASU--but wigged out, unable to speak, and making intriguing allusions, in his ((incommunicable)) thoughts to the activities that have occurred between the start of this vignette and the end of the actions detailed in the remaining 1000 pages).

Specifically, what I wonder about--a lot--are the references to a) Gately helping Hal dig up the grave of his father (presumably to search for the "Entertainment"--at the armed behest of the Wheelchair Terrorists) b) the fate of Pemulis and c) the fate of Orin (who, seemingly, at the end of the main action of the novel, is being tortured to death by the Wheelchair guys).

At least ten other questions that I've now forgotten. I don't know what to make of it all, this book.  I mean...that's unsatisfactory.  And you know what really slows down my blogging?  How terribly responsive this keyboard is, I mean the keyboard at my desktop.  It's just typo after typo, b/c I tend to like to, you know, really slam away at these keys.  And with this thing, it's like, you breathe on it, and there's nine lines of type.  GRR.

 My sort of tentative conclusion--which is sadly empty in many ways--is that DFW, while a man of great and preternatural intelligence, was a man of only mediocre (to sub-mediocre) wisdom.  On the axis of which difference I may locate my entire aesthetic biases, philosophy, and interest.

And thinking too of King Lear, which I saw a BBC doc on last night (narrated by the intellectually unimpressive Christopher Plummer).  The great line--which I won't look up and so will probably slightly misquote--"thou should'st have been wise before thou was old."  This sometimes absent (often absent?) relationship between age and wisdom... this is a key thing, for me.

Who are the great artists of old age? Beckett and Yeats are the first two I think of--and of course the Shakespeare of Lear.  Impossible not to find similarities between Lear and the fool, ranting at each other on the heath, and the Beckett of, say, Endgame.


JMW said...

I read Infinite Jest about 20 years ago (yikes), so I'm of no help. But I'm curious. I've thought about dipping back in to extended passages, but I'm not sure I could read the whole thing, footnotes and all, again. I've never thought Wallace was a particularly gifted fiction writer, though there are obviously stretches where he does all kinds of great things.

I've been meaning to say for a long time that I enjoyed the post previous to this one. Which is just to say: keep writing. For me.

ANCIANT said...

Thanks Johnny!

I would actually say rereading I Jest may be worth your time. He's not a great fiction writer, no, but there are enough moments of genuine pleasure and humor--enough flights of fancy, as it were--to make up for it.

The footnotes, in particular, are chock full of greatness.

Cartooniste said...

I'm a grump, I guess, but I've always found DFW to be a trick. Like a lot of sparklers being lit all at once and danced around with on the lawn right after dusk, which is fun and sparkly and smoky and there are great smells and the grass is damp and cool, but ultimately, it's just a kid horsing around. And it's hard not for me also to return to a point I've made elsewhere, which is that I doubt so much would be made of the horsing around if the author were named Courtney Wallace. DFW has always struck me as the pinnacle example of the literary young man trope. A character himself, rather than a body of work, right down to the head scarf and depression. That's harsh. I'm sorry. I don't mean to make light of the depression. But can we really separate out these things. Could Courtney really get away with all those long explanatory emails about her youth to her editor?

I join JMW in want you to write more. We're greedy and selfish.

ANCIANT said...

Well this makes me want to write a much longer post about DFW. But...I don't think you're entirely fair, Cartooniste, and I'm not sure I agree that gender even plays in. DFW has his flaws, of course, but he also his strengths and those strengths are, I would submit, unique to him--no one else that I've ever read writes the kind of writing he writes as well as he writes.

Which may be a tautology, eh?

But, for example, if you reread "A Supposedly Fun Thing..." (which, I maintain, is the high mark of his writing career), those essays, to a one, overflow with insights of real and unique power. His analysis of the relationships between television shows and fiction writing, for example, is excellent throughout. So too his thoughts on David Lynch.

And even in Infinite Jest, which undoubtedly has many failings, there are dozens on dozens of great great moments. The idea of the phrase "hearing the squeak" as synonymous with the awareness of an impending death (b/c of the speaking noise made by the wheelchair assassin terrorist group)...the whole game of Eschaton, a large percentage of the invented movies made by "Himself"--brilliantly inventive, in a way I can't imagine any contemporary of his coming close to.

Cartooniste said...

Yep. Nobody writes like DFW as well as DFW. Not even poor Courtney, because she's too busy being a stringer for Gawker and dodging her mother's calls. I have almost no memory of A Supposedly Fun Thing, beyond it strengthening my resolve to never go on a cruise. And I gave Infinite Jest exactly 150 pages, which is the length of Nausea. I flipped through the first few pages of footnotes, then I said "Come on!" aloud.
It's just.... ANCIANT, it is so VACANT. It's so absorbed with its own creativity and linguistic fireworks that it forgets that the major responsibility of fiction is empathy.
Last night L and I played a weird card game called Killer Bunnies. It is a surreal, humorous, complicated time-passer that someone sat down and invented at some point, and which you can probably buy in bookstores. The creation of the game isn't the achievement. The feeling is the achievement. DFW doesn't make me feel.

ANCIANT said...

I am thinking on your words, Cartooniste, and will respond in my time.