Tuesday, June 15, 2004

I got my copy of David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again at my (now sadly defunct) favorite used bookstore. It's a large, bright sunny yellow paperback and won me over on the publishing information page (am I the only one who reads those?) with the comment, "The following essays have appeared previously (in somewhat different [and sometimes way shorter] forms)." Hee. Knowing DFW's penchant for excess verbiage (something in him brings out my thesaurus tendencies), I can only imagine the various magazine editors and their respective editing nightmares. There are only seven essays, and I'm going to comment on each one separately.

1) "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley"
This actually contains one of DFW's recurring themes: that of a precocious child or youth dealing with entering a larger world. It's impossible not to get flashbacks to Infinite Jest and its tennis games while reading this essay of growing up as a successful junior tennis player and the complex interaction between the players, the ball, the court, and the weather. Funniest moment: the story about getting caught by a tornado while practicing and being blown against a fence, leaving a cartoon shape in it.

2) "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction"
This is the centerpiece of the book and one that still has me thinking and wondering. His central argument is that irony is holding fiction (especially postmodernism and Image-Fiction) in the US captive and that television, while being fun to watch, has helped trap us in this self-reflective and meta state which makes everything ironic. He talks about how television feeds on irony at the same time as it exposes it. And how that knowledge and interaction affects fiction and fiction writers by permeating their styles and viewpoints. It's a fascinating connection to make and one that I think he pulls off rather well. He even discusses one possible solution and its merits (while admitting his own "aura" of irony after dissecting it) before concluding that it doesn't seem possible to escape this situation, but not knowing if that means he has a lack of vision and is too caught up in the irony himself to see a way out or if there is a true state of exhaustion in US fiction. Either way, it makes for a fascinating argument.

3) "Getting Away From Already Being Pretty Much Away From It All"
This is his essay for Harper's about the Illinois State Fair and it is the funniest of the bunch. He pokes fun equally at his adopted East Coast pretensions and the Midwest life he came from on display at the fair. It has some brilliant set-pieces like the baton twirling contest (a few paragraphs of which had me gasping for breath because I was laughing so hard), the viewing of the pigs, and the clogging competition that are interspersed with his running commentary on the events and his brief interviews with workers and fair attendees. Very, very funny stuff.

4) "Greatly Exaggerated"
This was written for the Harvard Book Review and is a review of a book that has to deal with poststructuralist theory, specifically the argument over the death of the concept of the author. It's a bit heavy on the litcrit terminology (and made me briefly glad I wasn't an English major in college), but I was still able to follow it. He has the ability to cut through traditional academese and to bring in the viewpoint of the average reader (basically, "For those of us civilians who know in our gut that writing is an act of communication between one human being and another, the whole question seems sort of arcane." Yeah) while still providing an astute and enthusiastic analysis and criticism of the work.

5) "David Lynch Keeps His Head"
This one concerns a visit he made to the set of "Lost Highway" but he goes beyond just another set puff piece (it was written for Premiere) into Lynch's entire oeuvre, discussing recurring themes and analyzing each movie and what works and doesn't and how Lynch, more than Tarantino, has influenced modern cinema. Despite not having seen "Lost Highway" (or, for that matter, most of his other movies) I still found it fascinating because the discussion of themes remains relevant when applied to "Mullholland Drive" which is one that I have not only seen but loved. The most interesting thing was his dismissal of the traditional critics' take on Lynch - that of surrealism and horror lying underneath the placid everyday existence - and instead proffering his own take: both exist within us all and Lynch makes us face that which is why we find it uncomfortable to watch his films. Of course, the essay is also very funny, especially when he rips into Balthazar Getty.

6) "Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness"
Yeah. It reads as a professional tennis primer and profile of Michael Joyce, with added insights into the nature of professional athletes in general and how we, as the audience, experience sports. This was the one I thought I would enjoy the least, but learning about the structure of the sport and reading about how in awe he was of these guys was actually really interesting.

7) "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again"
Similar to #3 in that we get a lot of DFW mixed in with his running commentary on an experience that is foreign to him - in this case going on a Caribbean cruise. Again, it is terrifically funny, particularly when he talks about the bathroom or his dinner table companions. And it wouldn't be a DFW essay without musings on what they're really offering (the directive to be pampered and have all your needs taken care of) and our nature as humans to adapt to luxury and still demand more.

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?