Archive for September, 2009
Regular readers of Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun understand that it’s my fervent belief that the love between Dan and Serena transcends reality. Now that it appears that that relationship has gone the way of Bubble Tape and the other two Cinnamon Toast Crunch mascots, I’ve had to get used to Chuck and Blair as the premier Gossip Girl relationship. To quote Mr. Horse, no sir, I don’t like it.
However, comma, I had a conversation with a dear and treasured friend (who SHOULD be a dear and treasured reader, although I doubt she is, but she can allay all suspicion by leaving a comment) last night, and she took me to the mat pretty good over Dan and Serena being a sham relationship and Chuck and Blair being the real deal. So, in the interest of being a mature and open-minded adult, I’ll be viewing at least the next few episode through the lens of “Maybe Chuck and Blair Aren’t So Bad.” We’ll see what happens.
9:02 “Serena to Georgina? Quite a fall, even for you,” Blair goes. Sick burn!
Georgina is SO up to something. Why can’t Dan see that!
Does Dan shave his chest? That’s taking me right out of the narrative.
This scene with Vanessa, Serena, and Dan is sooooooo ridiculous! Teasing him without judgment? They should judge the &*#$ out of him!
There’s actually slime coming out of Vanessa’s phone when she talks to Scott. And what is it with these people and their fathers? Serena can’t admit that she wants to meet her dad. Neither can Scott. It’s like they’re conscious that they have to advance Gossip Girl plots.
9:06 “Carter isn’t like Chuck any more,” Serena goes. Neither is Chuck!
9:07 “You know I take my scotch neat,” Carter goes. What a jerk. I can watch 100 straight scenes of him getting slapped in the face. Please please please continue to be a jerk, Carter!
9:11 I do NOT like those shorts blair is wearing.
“An endless font of do-overs,” Blair goes. I love puns!
9:14 That’s not a joke that Serena just made. She would NEVER be in on any sort of secret society.
9:15 Timestamped! Timestamped! Timestamped! !his secretary is in big trouble.
9:17 Hey, the Nate subplot. If Nate isn’t involved with one of the real GG characters, he’s completely unmoored. He’s like Pluto.
This is why I don’t like the Chuck-Blair relationship. It’s based on gimmickry. Oh look, they have to bid against each other in the auction. How wacky! I bet they’ll figure out a way for Carter to have to bid on that dopey photo or something.
9:20 So, Ellen Page is reprising the Juno role in Juno on Rollerskates. That should be fun.
9:22 Tyra is using short puns with the petite models? I know earlier I said I love puns, but not like this!
9:25 Eeeew. Scott’s parents recycled the story of their actual dead son to get Lily and Rufus off the path? They’re giving Boston a bad name.
9:26 Serena would make a terrible poker player. And Carter would make a terrible boyfriend. Just watch.
I know that Blair is a high roller, but she’s 18. How does she have a favorite vintage of champagne?
And of course Chuck has a proxy bidder at this auction. You’re tossing lollipops, GG.
Why would Vanessa tell Dan that Scott is lying? Does she have any intention of telling Dan the second half of Scott’s lie? If so, party foul…
9:28 … Because OF COURSE Georgina is going to want to snoop around.
9:34 Ugh. Of course Nate would think kissing Bri in front of the photographers was a good idea. How tacky can you get?
Speaking of such things, what is that Mylar goody bag that Blair is wearing?
9:37 Good thing the photo that Chuck and Blair want is the first one on the block, so we can get this part of the plot over with.
9:40 Why, Scott! Why! Why! If they’re not gonna have him admit that he’s Rufus’s son, why not drag out the “Scott is skulking around weirdly” plot a little more? It’s the third damn episode, and now we’ve got some convoluted farce hanging over the rest of the season. I mean, MORE convoluted farce.
9:45 See what happens when we weave webs of deception, Serena? Our friends are compelled to destroy our boyfriend’s credibility to protect us. It’s like you’ve never wove a web of deception before. Good thing you’re so pretty.
9:49 Don’t think I’ll ever get tired of a Georgina v. the gang spat.
9:54 So is Scott gone? Does this mean the hope of having a GG ep in Boston is kiboshed?
“When it comes to an eye for an eye, Chuck is a man of the cloth.” Great line!
9:56 This whole “everyone on the show is related” thing is getting wearisome AND creepy.
9:58 Hellooooooo Bri Buckley.
And helloooooooooooooooo Georgina coming to the Hub of the Universe. Ding ding ding ding! Although calling Amtrak for information about trains? I know this is TV and we have to like, exposit things in a way we wouldn’t normally in real life. But the train? It combines the price of an airline ticket with the travel time of the bus. It’s the worst of both worlds!
You’ll have to forgive me for doing my best to make the David Foster Wallace Fortnight the most unaptly named event in Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun’s history. It’s been a busy week!
If we’re going to talk about Infinite Jest, we should probably talk about what the book is about in the first place. The thing is, as with many so-called postmodern novels, the plot is sort of besides the point. It’s not really what’s driving the book. And in fact, it’s so all over the place, I’m not even sure what to tell you the plot is.
Basically, Infinite Jest is a book, set in what in 1996 was the near future but today is sort of kind of the present, about a tennis academy in the fictional town of Enfield, Massachusetts. The academy’s founder, James Incandenza, deceased during the contemporary action of book, was an apres garde, anticonfluential filmmaker whose final, unreleased film, also called “Infinite Jest” (we’ll go with quotes around the movie so as not to confuse anyone), is said to be so compelling, so entertaining, so much fun, that anyone who watches it basically becomes a vegetable with no desire to do anything but continue to watch the movie. Consequently, the master tape of the film, alternately known as the Entertainment or the samizdat in the book, is an object much-coveted by the super-violent Quebecois separatist cell Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents (or Wheelchair Assassins), who hope to use it to terrorize the Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N.; basically, an interdependent Canada, United States, and Mexico). The star of the Entertainment, Joelle Van Dyne, is a recovering cocaine addict in residence at Ennett House, a halfway house down the hill from the Enfield Tennis Academy. The novel follows (in the most non-linear way possible) the travails of the residents of the academy (notably James Incandenza’s son Hal), the residents of Ennett House (notably JVD and alum-cum-staffer Don Gately), and sundry other random characters.
What with all the non-linearity and, ahem, anticonfluentialism, one can be forgiven for thinking that there might be more at work here than baseline lobs and AA meetings and squeaky wheelchairs. So what IS Infinite Jest actually about? This is the part of the blog where I defer to people who are much smarter than me. Matthew Baldwin over at the Infinite Summer blog thinks that IJ is a novel about sincerity, and I’m apt to agree. Looked at the other way, it’s an assault on the sense of ironic, postmodern aloofness and detachment that, at least in Wallace’s eyes, gives us a means to not confront what is actually, and sometimes inconveniently, real. Baldwin points to this passage, written from the perspective of Hal Incandenza’s older brother Mario, from about 600ish pages in:
The older Mario gets, the more confused he gets about the fact that everyone at E.T.A. over the age of about Kent Blott finds stuff that’s really real uncomfortable and they get embarrassed. It’s like there’s some rule that real stuff can only get mentioned if everybody rolls their eyes or laughs in a way that isn’t happy. The worst-feeling thing that happened today was at lunch when Michael Pemulis told Mario he had an idea for setting up a Dial-a-Prayer telephone service for atheists in which the atheist dials the number and the line just rings and rings and no one answers. It was a joke and a good one, and Mario got it; what was unpleasant was that Mario was the only one at the big table whose laugh was a happy laugh; everybody else sort of looked down like they were laughing at somebody with a disability. The whole issue was far above Mario’s head… And Hal was for once no help, because Hal seemed even more uncomfortable and embarrassed than the fellows at lunch, and when Mario brought up real stuff Hal called him Booboo and acted like he’d wet himself and Hal was going to be very patient about helping him change.
I’ll go ahead and pick out my own passage, one of many in the book that addresses our inability to directly and honestly engage what’s true and important. From pp 694–5:
Hal, who’s empty but not dumb, theorizes privately that what passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human (at least as he conceptualizes it) is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naive and goo-prone and generally pathetic, is to be in some basic interior way forever infantile, some sort of not-quite-right-looking infant dragging itself anaclitically around the map, with big wet eyes and froggy-soft skin, huge skull, gooey drool. One of the really American things about Hal, probably, is the way he despises what it is he’s really lonely for: this hideous internal self, incontinent of sentiment and need, that pules and writhes just under the hip empty mask, anhedonia.
Read enough of Infinite Jest, and it’s painfully apparent that Wallace believes that the ironic dismissal of sentiment and emotion that’s become second nature in the postmodern age is actually a denial of our first nature. But in a book so big (physically) and vast (thematically), how can I be so certain that sincerity/anti-irony is the aboutness of the whole thing?
Because the guy wouldn’t shut up about it!
I’m drawing a lot on an interview that DFW gave to Larry McCaffery in a 1993 issue of Review of Contemporary Fiction. (Which you really MUST read. Please click through. I’ll wait.) Even though, when confronted with some quotes a decade later, Wallace admitted he sounded “dated,” the undercurrent of much of his oeuvre, from start to finish, is the perniciousness of irony. In the interview, Wallace talks about the legacy of the great postmodernists, and how today’s writers are forced to wrestle with it.
If I have a real enemy, a patriarch for my patricide, it’s probably Barth and Coover and Burroughs, even Nabokov and Pynchon. Because, even though their self-consciousness and irony and anarchism served valuable purposes, were indispensable for their times, their aesthetic’s absorption by the U.S. commercial culture has had appalling consequences for writers and everyone else.
It’s not necessarily the postmodernists that Wallace has a bone to pick with. Rather, it’s the commodification of their movement by Hollywood and Madison Avenue (that’s just shorthand for the wider culture, guys. I know there are movies and ads made in other places). There was a time when irony and iconoclasm were powerful and necessary tools. DFW continues:
Irony and cynicism were just what the U.S. hypocrisy of the fifties and sixties called for. That’s what made the early postmodernists great artists. The great thing about irony is that it splits things apart, gets up above them so we can see the flaws and hypocrisies and duplicates. . . . Sarcasm, parody, absurdism and irony are great ways to strip off stuff’s mask and show the unpleasant reality behind it. The problem is that once the rules of art are debunked, and once the unpleasant realities the irony diagnoses are revealed and diagnosed, then what do we do? Irony’s useful for debunking illusions, but most of the illusion-debunking in the U.S. has now been done and redone. Once everybody knows that equality of opportunity is bunk and Mike Brady’s bunk and Just Say No is bunk, now what do we do? All we seem to want to do is keep ridiculing the stuff. Postmodern irony and cynicism’s become an end in itself, a measure of hip sophistication and literary savvy. Few artists dare to try to talk about ways of working toward redeeming what’s wrong, because they’ll look sentimental and naive to all the weary ironists. Irony’s gone from liberating to enslaving. There’s some great essay somewhere that has a line about irony being the song of the prisoner who’s come to love his cage.
Does this sort of thing sound familiar? I’ll now refer you to the scene from The Dark Knight, where the Joker is talking to Harvey Dent in the hospital after he’s been disfigured. The Joker says
Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it. You know, I just… do things. The mob has plans, the cops have plans, Gordon’s got plans. You know, they’re schemers. Schemers trying to control their little worlds. I’m not a schemer. I try to show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are.
Now, I’m not saying that Jacques Derrida is the Joker or anything like that. Not in the least. But the postmodern writers and philosophers who in their day were doing important and world-changing work have sort of left us holding the bag. The binaries have been deconstructed. The authority figures have been undermined. The car has stopped. And what are we stuck with? Wallace says
The problem is that, however misprised it’s been, what’s been passed down from the postmodern heyday is sarcasm, cynicism, a manic ennui, suspicion of all authority, suspicion of all constraints on conduct, and a terrible penchant for ironic diagnosis of unpleasantness instead of an ambition not just to diagnose and ridicule but to redeem. You’ve got to understand that this stuff has permeated the culture. It’s become our language; we’re so in it we don’t even see that it’s one perspective, one among many possible ways of seeing. Postmodern irony’s become our environment.
I had a professor in college that used to say “we’re all babies of post-structuralism.” (And of course, there’s video of me at a party drunkenly reminding the camera that the center is a function, not a locus. Take that, future as a respectable thinker!) It’s true. In his interview, Wallace cited guys like David Letterman and Gary Shandling as practitioners of trendy, sardonic wit (it was the early 90s), and Rush Limbaugh as a peddler of “postmodern irony, hip cynicism, a hatred that winks and nudges you and pretends it’s just kidding.” (I think the only thing that changed is he stopped winking.) A decade later in an NPR interview, Wallace expressed his regard for The Simpsons as important art. However, comma, “It’s also, in my opinion, relentlessly corrosive to the soul. Everything is parodied, and everything is ridiculous. Maybe I’m old, but for my part, I can be steeped in about an hour of it, and then I have to walk away and look at a flower or something.” I’m not necessarily in agreement about the “corrosive to the soul” bit, but it’s undeniable that much of what passes for funny and entertaining these days is sarcastic lampoon and parody. Some of the more critically acclaimed comedies of the past few years (I’m thinking of Knocked Up and Superbad and Adventureland here) have been lauded for their forthright approach to genuine emotion. Whether this is the exception proving the rule or the start of a new trend is yet to be seen.
Even in your real life, think about how many times you’ve said something you didn’t really mean. Or not said something that you wish you did. How many times have you un-self-consciously told your mom or your brother or your best friend that you loved them? How many times have you felt like weeping but held it in to keep from looking lame? How many times have you sarcastically laughed off something you were really scared of? Think about how many situations where your first reaction is to make a snarky joke. I know it’s a sweeping generalization, but if Infinite Jest taught me anything, it’s that sometimes the sweeping generalizations are true. Back in that NPR interview, Wallace echoed his character Hal Incandenza when he spoke about the struggle that exists within all of us. “If there’s something to be talked about, that thing is this weird conflict between what my girlfriend calls the inner sap, the part of us that can really wholeheartedly weep, and the part of us that has to live in a world of smart, jaded, sophisticated people, and wants very much to be taken seriously by those people.”
From the perspective of the novel, things look pretty bleak. Infinite Jest is packed to the gills with addicts, alcoholics, degenerates, emotionally neutered head cases, freaks, psychopaths, and terrorists. It takes a lot of digging to find anyone that’s happy or living a life that has genuine meaning and fulfillment. So how do we proceed from here? Stay tuned!
The Red Socks beat the Yankees eight times in a row earlier in the season, and it was the biggest thing in history up here. It was unparalleled dominance! The Socks owned the Yanks! Could they sweep the season series? Sure, it wasn’t even the All Star break, but the Yankees were buried!
All the Yankees have done since is cruise through their schedule, and beat the Red Socks 7 out of the last 8 times. No big shakes, though. Sure, the Yankees have the division sewed up. Sure, the Red Socks haven’t really shown any sort of ability to beat the Yankees when they’re playing well, even with the newly acquired slugger Victor Martinez. But it doesn’t matter, you know, because the Red Socks will probably make the playoffs, so these late games against the Yanks aren’t important.
So I was heartened to see the Village Voice’s Crazy Yankee Chick address this issue:
It would be inordinately helpful if Boston could collectively delineate their parameters for “Which Games Count.” If I understand it correctly, the current guidelines dictate that:
1. Any World Series won before 2000 is not relevant and should not be considered in arguments debating the historical success of franchises
2. Steroid use only voids the validity of a title in years outside of 2004 and 2007
3. A division title does not enable fans of title holder to assume superiority
4. Wild Cards and Division Champions possess equal levels of significance
5. In the event of a loss, Boston retains the right to default to inflated payroll accusations and/or invalidating loss on basis of team’s injuries
6. Any close and late hit from Alex Rodriguez shall automatically be stricken from the record in accordance with “ARod sucks in the clutch” bylaws
7. In the event of a save at the hands of Mariano Rivera, the current game’s outcome shall be eclipsed by past blown save incidences
8. In extreme situations, Boston fans may choose to redistribute vested interests, by taking an early withdrawal from the Red Sox 2009 Season account and re-allocating interests into Patriots 2009-2010 Season account
9. Substantiated support is not a prerequisite for “Yankees Suck” contentions
10. These guidelines are subject to change on the sole discretion of Boston advocates
Did you wake up this morning and feel like life was a little more worth living? Like existence had a little bit more meaning? Like you had a purpose that, for once, you felt like you could fulfill?
You should have. Brand New released a new album today, Daisy. Almost three years ago, upon the release of the last Brand New album, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, the guys from Straylight Run said that Brand New is the band that will save us all. It’s as true today as it was when it was written.
Regular readers of Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun will recognize that during the formative years of DD&U’s development, when all sorts of trivial-in-retrospect-but-vitally-important-at-the-time things were happening, Br& Nizzy was the band that spoke with the greatest clarity and meaning. And they’ve only gotten better. Listen to the new album’s first single, “At the Bottom.”
So Infinite Summer is over. It actually feels like only yesterday when I read a short bit in the Phoenix while I was riding on the C line and, on a whim, hopped off at Coolidge Corner and picked up a copy at Brookline Booksmith. It’s incredibly fortuitous, actually, that there was one copy left; the way these whims work, I probably never would have bothered picking it up if the first store I went to didn’t have it.
The goal was to read ±75 pages a week for the summer. I was far outstripping that pace for a while, to the point that I would read the weekly commentary on the Infinite Summer blog and think, cripes, that happened weeks ago. But after a while, I found myself reading less and less. And eventually, a few weeks ago, I was right there at the spoiler line. And even lagging a few pages behind! Now, I can point to any of a number of reasons for that that make a lot of sense. But I’m also fairly certain that if the depths of my unconscious were delveable, we’d find out that there might have been some intention there. Because with every page, I wondered “Will I ever read a book this good again?”
I’m still not sure.
Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to write a bunch of posts this week about how tremendous and great and brilliant a book this is. But I’ll start with recollecting this post I read earlier in the summer from Freddie at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen. It reads wonkily English-majory at first, but I recommend getting through the whole thing, because the payoff at the end is important (pardon the lengthy block quote, folks).
[David Foster Wallace], like all authors today, wrote in the knowledge that the literary world would be filled with exactly those kinds of readers and critics who would dismiss his work out of hand for its artiness and pretension. And yet Foster Wallace wrote on, like a lot of writers do, in the stubborn belief in the good faith of his audience. . . . Julian Sanchez, commenting on the controversial footnotes, says “having notes at all announces ‘behold, I am a quirky, convoluted pomo novel .’” Again, I can’t blame him for feeling that way. But no book announces any such thing. Rather, it has that announced for it by the “fuming, unwanted ambassadors” that Ben Marcus rightly derided, the antique gatekeepers who unasked and unwanted try to save readers from books. This novel, faults and all, is a work of faith, and when read with trust and courage, will reward both.
It got me thinking about faith. It’s one of the most enigmatic, slippery concepts, and yet for so many people, so much hinges on faith. In a lot of ways, its enigmaticness and slipperiness are the point. But I think reading a book, in general, is an exercise in faith. (I’m NOT implying that reading A book is the same as believing in THE book. There are degrees here, folks.)
I mean, a movie, a TV show, a play; just like books, these are things that you can walk out on if they’re horrible. But even if you didn’t, movies and shows last a very finite and manageable amount of time. But a book, especially one as long and involved as Infinite Jest, is begging you to trust it. To have faith that things are actually going to work out, that things are going to make sense, or, barring that, not make sense in a way that is consistent and tolerable. A book is an investment, of time and actual like, mental engagement.
For this reason, an unsatisfying book is much worse than a lame movie or show. You see a bad movie, and it’s like, eh. You roll the dice and you takes your chances. But a bad book is like a betrayal. We open its pages with faith that the journey an author is taking us on is worth what we’re sacrificing. Unlike religious faith, the consequences aren’t as steep (thankfully). But that feeling of giving up something to the unknown and (for the moment) the unknowable, that’s what happens when you start a book. And when the book is 1000+ pages long, and as tough and demanding as Infinite Jest, you’re really hoping that things work out, for the characters in the book and for yourself.
It did! Stay tuned, everybody.
# From the annals of grudging respect: I never want to admit that the Red Socks do anything worthwhile, but this is a good project they’re engaging in. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a real thing, but there are still a lot of people, in the military and outside of it, who don’t treat it with the gravity it deserves. Good for the Red Socks. In this one instance, I wish them luck.
# In honor of my younger self who, like every 6-year-old boy, was CONVINCED he was going to be a paleontologist, here’s a wacky story about a tiny tyrannosaurus they just discovered in China. It’s the size of a man!
To commemorate the jam session I had with my friend Meg’s boyfriend last night, and in honor of all the would-be punk rockers who can’t bring themselves to actually learn how to play the bass beyond the most rudimentary of riffs, listen to “U-Mass” by the Pixies. Two notes, though:
1) This, clearly, isn’t a real video for this song. But I think it’s just terrific anyway.
2) I’ve come across more than a few kids (and genuinely grown-up adults) that went to the University of Massachusetts, and I always ask the same thing: “You guys play that Pixies song like, all the time, right?” And the reaction is always the same: “What Pixies song?”
The one about your school! How are these people not blasting this at every hockey game? The Dropkick Murphys do an awesome cover of Boston College’s fight song, and you can’t go a day without hearing it on campus. Get your act together, Minutemen!
As a professional word-using guy, it would be a sincere dereliction to be caught speechless, or without the faculty to describe something as simple and graspable as my own state of mind. And yet here we are. Gossip Girl is back, and I’m completely unable to convey to you the profound joy that’s bursting from my heart. If a puppy, carrying a kitten-filled basket around his neck, scampered into my living room with a six pack and a bag of jelly beans, to the tune of the Loving Spoonful’s “What a Day for a Daydream,” it wouldn’t make me one tenth as happy as this TV show. How about a running diary?
9:00 This is me, trembling.
9:02 “Chuck Bass doesn’t do girlfriends.” This blonde girl is on B’s payroll, for sure.
Dan has a Serena Van der Woodsen Google Alert. That’s sad. I would never do that if I had a famous-ish ex girlfriend. Never.
9:06 Yes! Gossip Girl tackles partisan politics! And Nate is (ostensibly) a liberal. There’s hope for him yet.
9:09 Serena WOULD use getting swept up in a book like Eat, Pray, Love as an excuse to hide her escapades, and Dan WOULD be condescending enough as to believe it.
9:12 Dan, on breakfast in Lily’s apartment: It makes the Four Seasons look like one season. I bet nobody else actually laughed at that but me.
9:15 “Sleeping with the enemy is fun. Why do you think I had the whole Ivanka thing? Sweet holy Moses, did I miss Chuck Bass
9:18 This is me, watching Serena give that little smirk to the photographers.
V, flirting with Scott, the mysterious half brother of Dan and S: on the list of things that no one could have predicted, where does this rank? In the low millions?
9:22 Something tells me that I’m subconsciously looking forward to more Carter Baizen
9:23 Especially because IMDB tells me that the actor playing him is named Sebastian Stan, keeping up the GG tradition of casting young actors with ridiculous names (Blake Lively? Taylor Momsen? Leighton Meester? Chace Crawford? There’s not a Joe or a Kate in the bunch!)
9:28 Here’s an idea, Vanessa. Call your friend’s dad and invite yourself and a stranger to a polo match that’s not his gig to invite people to. This won’t raise any red flags.
9:30 Is it bad that when Eric says “The last time Serena went off the deep end, it got really messed up,” I don’t really remember what he’s exactly referring to?
I like how “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” has morphed into “what happens in this room/city/continent/season, stays in this room/city/continent/season,” a catch-all excuse for dismissing anything shameful that you don’t want to talk about. Thanks, Las Vegas tourism board.
9:38 Dan, button your shirt!
9:39 Carter, button your shirt! You guys look like idiots!
Serena has never lied to Blair or Dan about matters of grave importance, so it’s completely understandable that they would immediately call the cops on Carter and arrange for a restraining order after S said she was being stalked. Why do I know S better than her best friend?
9:46 Bri Buckley: typical Republican. Willing to let mommy and daddy’s politics get in the way of true love.
“I know secrecy is a lot to ask for,” she goes. Like the secret wiretaps and secret detention facilities you no doubt cheerleaded during the Bush administration?
9:48 I didn’t want more Carter THIS way. I was hoping he was going to more of like, a conniving slimeball.
9:50 Like Grandpa Vanderbilt
9:54 In thirty seconds, I went from “Vanessa is on the ball, rich people suck” to “what a judgmental shrew Vanessa is” to “wow, Vanessa is right on.” Bravo, GG writers.
9:56 Vanessa, Vanessa, Vanessa. That’s Dan’s BROTHER! Are the writers on a quest to get everyone on this show related?
Eew. Weird waiter role playing has no place on network television.
Maybe Serena’s dad is dodging her because he’s pissed that his spin-off didn’t get picked up. Don’t think I forgot about that.
9:58 So Serena’s plan is to be photographed in wacky situations in the hopes that her father overseas will see the pictures and, what? Be mortified out of hiding? Seems far-fetched to me.
Matt and Kim had a song in this ep! They sing the delightful song in that Mojito commercial I love!
You all know how it is, when you hear a song and it just catches on with you, and you wind up listening to it a jillion times before it settles into the regular rotation of tunes that you cycle through. I had at least two of those songs this summer, that I came across randomly (one by means of a flukey Pandora station, the other from a mixtape a pal of mine made for a weekend trip to the Cape): “Coast to Coast,” by Elliott Smith, and “Change,” by Blind Melon. They’ve quite frankly been burning a hole in my iPod. They aren’t your prototypical boppin’ summer jams, but oh well. We don’t have a ton of control over the compelling things that come at us out of nowhere.
I mention this because it was a year ago yesterday that David Foster Wallace hanged himself, a sad event that set the stage for the renewed interest in his opus Infinite Jest, which regular readers of Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun will recall I just wrapped up. I didn’t realize this until a few days ago, but “Coast to Coast” and “Change,” songs that inexorably forced themselves onto my summer playlist, have the unfortunate coincidence of being recorded by artists who, like DFW, cut their own lives short: Smith from an apparently self-inflicted stab wound to the chest, and Blind Melon’s Shannon Hoon from a cocaine overdose.
I can’t lie, I was a little perturbed when this all became apparent to me. It’s a coincidence, but it’s a really weird one, and it got me thinking about how we deal when our favorite artists make a decision that they can’t take back. I’ll preface all this by saying that I’ve never had to deal with suicide personally; I can’t really even imagine what that would be like, and I kind of choose not to.
But the question of coping when the life of someone whose art we admire and love is cut short is one that I think a lot of us are familiar with. Any fan of Wallace or Smith or Cobain or Phoenix or Ledger knows what I’m talking about. Over at the Infinite Summer blog, guest writer John Moe, whose own brother committed suicide, discussed why he couldn’t bring himself to read IJ this summer. He brings up a few points that I wanted to address. Firstly is the issue of resentment. Moe writes:
I’m still upset at the author for being a thief. Ever been robbed? Like had your house burglarized and your stuff rummaged through and stolen? There’s this period right after it happens when you can’t believe that someone got into where you live, the space where you sleep and bathe and eat, and just took stuff you had bought and taken care of. David Foster Wallace hanged himself and robbed us of all the work he would have produced in the future. Our homes were stocked floor to ceiling with the promise of the best goddamn writing people could make and Wallace fucking ripped it off. I’m still walking around wanting to punch someone. Don’t bother calling the goddamn cops, they won’t do anything.
I promised not to write about the actual content of the book until the summer is over, so I’ll just say that the moment I finished Infinite Jest, I had the same reaction as John Moe. The specter hanging over the entire process of reading the book was “This is it. This is all there is.” Naturally, at the end, I became very conscious of the fact that David Foster Wallace wouldn’t be doing any more writing, and I felt cheated.
But I pretty quickly came to the conclusion that this is a pretty not healthy way to proceed. It’s clear that David Foster Wallace had a troubled inner life, and it may not mean anything at all for the dual reasons that 1) I didn’t know him and b) he’s dead, but it just didn’t feel right to pile on with my own enmity. And besides that, there’s no guarantee that Wallace would write anything worthwhile for the rest of his career, or anything at all.
I understand that argument is weak tea in the face of any given artist’s near-limitless potential, but you do what you can, especially when the even more uncomfortable truth is that David Foster Wallace, or any human that chooses to create or perform or compete in public for a living, doesn’t owe us a damn thing. As adoring fans, it’s a hard idea to come to grips with, but any individual’s motivations are his own. The sooner we accept that what our favorite artists produce are gifts and not entitlements, the better off, I think, we’ll be.
Something else Moe wrote caught my eye.
The thing is, when someone decides not to go to work one day and instead puts a bullet in their head, everything else they do is a prologue to that act. So every camping trip anecdote, every story told by a trucking company co-worker about Rick’s penchant for adopting injured animals, every joke shared by a fellow volunteer at the sobriety hotline where he dedicated his time, it all leads up to what he did and that’s how you understand it. Their lives read like a suicide note. The howl Kurt Cobain produces on “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” from the Unplugged in New York album is terrifying to me, or would be if I could listen to Nirvana anymore. I picture every Wallace book I see on a shelf as being soaked in tears.
This is another tendency that I completely understand. I remember reading a piece about Cobain, where the writer said pretty much the same thing, that he was compelled to sift through Nirvana’s entire catalog, looking for clues that maybe someone could have picked up on, so that we could have known and maybe prevented what happened! Like I said, it’s a completely understandable compulsion, but in the end, I think it’s misguided.
Maira Kalman, in an illustrated post about Thomas Jefferson that I linked to a few months back, said this about Jefferson-as-slave-owner: “It’s a miserable part of the story, but it is not the whole story.” I think this is important to keep in mind in the case of DFW, especially since we have an inclination to interpret a narrative, or a life, through the lens of its ending. The completion of a story makes us feel that we can now look back and cobble together the various disparate pieces, to figure out how those pieces point toward the now-apparent conclusion.
But if David Foster Wallace the writer, and Infinite Jest the novel, taught us anything, it’s about the insufficiency of traditional narrative forms. Endings are important, but they don’t always tell us what we think they tell us, or what we want them to tell us. I personally refuse to look at his oeuvre as a chronicle of a depressed person’s descent, not only because I don’t think that was his intent, but also because it takes away from everything else we can get out of his work. The man himself once said “Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.” Or, in coarser but no less true words, “Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being.” Wrapping ourselves up in what Wallace’s fiction says about what he chose/was driven to do handcuffs us into a really uninteresting and unilluminating pursuit. His suicide is tragic, and sad, and disappointing for many different reasons. It’s a miserable part of the story. But it isn’t the whole story.
Dangerous, Dirty, and Updated: I probably should have read A.O. Scott’s remembrance of Wallace from the Times Week in Review section shortly after his death, which he led off thusly:
Reviewing a biography of Jorge Luis Borges in The New York Times Book Review a few years back, David Foster Wallace attacked the standard biographical procedure of mining the lives of writers for clues to their work, and vice versa. Borges’s stories, he insisted, “so completely transcend their motive cause that the biographical facts become, in the deepest and most literal way, irrelevant.”
I kinda sorta said the same thing. Without the like, research. Oh well.
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