Thursday, September 02, 2010

An Easier Task?

Should I give establishment-oriented readers of this blog-- fans of David Foster Wallace-- an easier assignment? Is explaining his Harpers story too difficult? How 'bout instead we look at the first chapter of his fairly recent novel, Oblivion? Could you handle that? Or is not the story after all easier? In fact, isn't the first chapter of that novel-- chosen by myself at random-- a better example of DFW's humongous flaws?

A CLUE: DFW's main flaw as a writer is basic basic basic. It's obvious. It's right in front of you. Two pages into most of his work you should know it.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oblivion is not a novel.

King said...

How can you tell?

Anonymous said...

Because he read it?

King said...

Really? Let him/her explain it then.

King said...

You see, "reading it" is the crux of the problem.
Why do you think that is?
*******************
Uh oh, I sense a snide putdown approaching. The problem is this:
Literary people don't get it.
As the reader, it's not my job to climb to you. You the writer (or DFW) need to come to me. With SOMETHING, in an accessible way.
DFW's style is an insult to the reader. It's solipsistic in a couple ways;
A.) it's either obsessivley self-conscious, whether about riding in an elevator or standing on a diving board, or like the Harpers story standing outside on a work break, or
B.) it's pathologically self-indulgent.
He doesn't try to understand the art of narrative-- the task of the writer, which in this noisy A.D.D. society is a more difficult task than ever. He's indulging himself.
"Mr. Squishy" is a classic example of this. Trying to read it is like having a tooth pulled. It's excruciating. We have pathological description, an inability to discriminate, a kind of literary vomitry where he gives you all, more than you could ever want. Despite this, more is less. The reader doesn't feel the setting or characters-- except maybe their sterility and their soulnessness, which could be the point, but this isn't art. It's wallpainting more than art. Go on, splash it on.
Contrast what he does with a story by George Simenon, who with a phrase or two conveys an atmosphere, even the taste and smellof a bistro or boat or office. Simenon allows you the reader to participate in the setting and characters, yourself. He brings to play the reader's memory and imagination.
David Foster Wallace creates a wall-- a wall constructed of words.
You might consider it a wall of virtuosity.
I consider it a wall of stupidity.

Anonymous said...

Oblivion is not a novel because it is presented as a collection of short stories. The word "Stories" is on the cover of the American edition.

While you make some fair points about Wallace's rhetorical posture, you're not doing yourself any favors by mistaking a collection of short stories for a novel. This sort of basic error suggests you aren't taking your subject seriously; why, in turn, should we take your post seriously?

King said...

Oh, please. Is that the best you can do? It shows your ticky-tack mindset.
The problem with DFW, is that he was obsessed with trivialities.
The distinction between novel and a story collection has long been in a state of flux-- at least since Maugham's Ashenden. I was at a bookstore. I grabbed a DFW book off the shelves and read what I thought was the first chapter. "Mr. Squishy." If that was a short story it could be considered even more of a failure-- because there's no hope of it getting better.
As there's no hope for you. Your mind is trapped within a box of this rule or that one, unable to think your way out, but seemingly knowing only what's accepted-- only what you're told. Intellectually you're a programmed mechanism; a robot.
I've seen no evidence to the contrary.
"But look!" the robot says. "It says right here! Right on the cover. 'Stories.' Stories!" Whirr click. "It says, right here. It says, right here. It says, right here. . . ."

King said...

Of course, the truly stupid person here is me, for wasting time talking about a hopelessly dead art with-- a robot!

King said...

(I should add: Why is it demanded that I take David Foster Wallace seriously? Because the literary system which backs his art insists?
What you're taking seriously-- Jonathan Franzen, for instance-- isn't deserving of it. Those who do are either brainwashed, or have a stake in the system. Time, for instance, feeling compelled to name SOMEONE the Great American Novelist, then finding a stooge who matches their own narrow tops-down point of view. I don't take any of it "seriously." Though I have an image of all the very serious boozhie people involved with a constipated art putting very oh-so serious expressions on their faces as they read the officially approved literary works, which are all terrible, if truth be told, whether from Lethem or Lorrie Moore or Mr. Squishy or Mr. Franzen. It's all dull bourgie trash only slightly related to the real America. It looks as if in two months the intellectual class which tries to cram their tastes and shopworn ideas down the public's throats will receive a large shock. I fear it won't be enough of a shock.
The ULA, that failed project, was formed almost ten years ago to wake up these same folks. One of our first actions was when we crashed a very "serious" literary reading at KGB. I'll always remember it-- had seen many like it of course-- people listening as if in church to utter literary junk about ennui in Tuscany read in a monotone. I and my compatriots looked around ourselves at the audience and couldn't help but laughing. Were they hypnotized? They stared at the reader, who had not one microgram of performance skill was staring down at the page intensely serious as serious as the intent audience it was like having dropped into a bubble world an entirely different universe a bizarro world and of course this was the make-believe let's-pretend-this-is-art universe in which these people live. The same principle is at work with DFW. Yes! Let's be "serious"! This is "serious" business! Let's pretend this book of insanity is "art"! But you see, it's not. Only the incurably indoctrinated could take "Mr. Squishy" seriously for a moment. The whole thing, the entire charade between "author" and "serious reader" is make believe, beginning on page one.)