My season of David Foster Wallace continues with a dive into his collection of Essays and Arguments, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. As expected, each essay is packed with humor, philosophy, fabulous vocabulary and an undertone of loneliness and melancholy.
Foster’s essay on Television and its impact on fiction writers, E Unibus Pluram written in 1990, has insight and ideas that align with arguments we are having within the arts community today. In the piece he deals largely with the strange concept of watching others who cannot in turn watch you back, and the false behavior that we partake in when we try to act natural while we are aware of being watched.
“How human beings who absorb such high doses (of television) understand themselves will naturally change, become vastly more spectatorial, self-conscious. Because the practice of “watching” is expansive. Exponential. We spend enough time watching, pretty soon we start watching ourselves watching. Pretty soon we start to “feel” ourselves feeling, yearn to experience “experiences.”
Doesn’t that sound like commentary on social media? One can’t help but wonder how DFW would have responded to the ceaselessly thrumming, 24-hour onslaught of access to information and images of people around the world, in every social class, and from every lifestyle. In the essay he also ponders how one can make sense of the borage of images and messages coming from television.
“The novels of Pynchon and DeLillo revolve metaphorically off the concept of interference: the more connections, the more chaos, and the harder it is to cull any meaning from the seas of signal.”
The essay also contains a lengthy discussion about irony and how it ultimately terrorizes us because it is impossible to pin down the truth within the irony.
Wallace’s hilarious essay about the Illinois State Fair, Getting Away From Already Pretty Much Being Away From It All is sprinkled with unexpected insight and provides a glowing platform for his quick wit and self-effacing humor. He shares the anecdote of having to take notes in a Barney the dinosaur spiral-bound notebook. He describes his profuse sweat and shares that he overeats so grotesquely at the dessert competition that he finds himself hospitalized.
Perhaps the biggest revelation in the essay is the segment regarding politico-sexual conflicts and how the attitudes and reactions to such experiences might be, at least partially dependent on what region people hail from, and how strongly the individuals align with the region.
“In New York, a woman who’ been hung upside down and ogled would go get a whole lot of other women together and there’d be this frenzy of politico-sexual indignation. They’d confront the ogler. File an injunction. Management’d find itself litigating expensively – violation of a woman’s right to non harassed fun. I’m telling you. Personal and political merge somewhere just east of Cleveland, for woman.”
Sill to come in the book: an essay on David Lynch, the essay about DFW’s cruise experience which inspired the book’s title and a lengthy piece on the artistry of a professional tennis player.