Sunday, August 22, 2010

Into the Wild

Some advice, courtesy of the late David Foster Wallace, regarding possible encounters with wild hamsters:

It's a herd of feral hamsters, a major herd, thundering across the yellow plains of the southern reaches of the Great Concavity in what used to be Vermont, raising dust that forms a uremic-hued cloud with somatic shapes interpretable from as far away as Boston and Montreal. The herd is descended from two domestic hamsters set free by a Watertown NY boy at the beginning of the Experialist migration in the subsidized Year of the Whopper. The boy now attends college in Champaign IL and has forgotten that his hamsters were named Ward and June.

The noise of the herd is tornadic, locomotival. The expression on the hamsters' whiskered faces is businesslike and implacable — it's that implacable-herd expression. They thunder eastward across pedalferrous terrain that today is fallow, denuded. To the east, dimmed by the fulvous cloud the hamsters send up, is the vivid verdant ragged outline of the annularly overfertilized forests of what used to be central Maine.

All these territories are now property of Canada.

With respect to a herd of this size, please exercise the sort of common sense that come to think of it would keep your thinking man out of the southwest Concavity anyway. Feral hamsters are not pets. They mean business. Wide berth advised.
--Infinite Jest

Sometimes you find an author and he or she burrows into your heart and doesn't really leave.  I've got a couple of those - F. Scott Fitzgerald (beautiful lyricism makes me weak in the knees) and the poet Mark Doty (whose poems are sensuous and sublime).  This summer I added DFW to the list and I haven't been able to shake him. 

Like when you find a good band and start rummaging through their back catalog in hopes of finding a couple of gems that inform their later work, I've been mining the internet the past couple weeks of anything DFW-related.  Criticism, remembrances, interviews.

Parts of his interview with Charlie Rose are below. 




In the third part of the video, David basically explains post modern lit in a devastatingly concise way over the course of 90 seconds.  I wish I had his Cliffs Notes for all academic jargon - I'd feel a lot less adrift. 



You can't help but to sit back oogle his written sentences, ones that are best characterized by the words "riff," "stratospheric," and "dexterous."  It's both incredible and humbling to watch him spin.
 
Though, the real palm-applied-to-head disbelief comes when you realize that however post-modern and wunderkid-ish David's writing seemed, he had great big dollops of Big Heartedness that cut through the cynicism that marked a lot of his peers and influences. 

Though its trips around the internet number somewhere between the Ally McBeal Dancing Baby and the Crank That dance by Soulja Boy, it's still worth pointing out DFW's commencement address to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College.  I find myself reading it all the time, and I might just go to one of those teacher supply stores so I can use their giant lamination machine and turn it into a placemat for my breakfast so I can read it every morning.  It's that good. 

I wonder a lot if that speech, which he kept at a nice cruising altitude of comprehension, marked a shift or a "maturing"(1) of his voice that we'll see a bit more when his unfinished novel, The Pale King, gets published in Q1/Q2 2011.  As much as I'm enamored with his work now, it's a change I'd be happy to see.


(1) I realize the word maturing seems inappropriate for someone who used his senior year of Amherst to write a well received novel AND a philosophical thesis that overturned a philosophical idea or whatever Major Important Things are called by philosophers, but it's the best I have to offer.

4 comments:

  1. I'll assume you've read "Although of course you end up becoming yourself" - if not, do. It's quick and humanizing. (And yes, you're on my google reader.)

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  2. I've read excerpts of it, but not the whole thing. Yeah - that will probably be next I guess. DFW gets upset at the guy towards the end, right?

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  3. Since it's just transcripts and minimal additions of hindsight by "the guy" (how I plan to refer to him from now on) it's tough to discern how DFW really felt about him. I know, through the course of it, I got upset at "the guy" - but I kind of felt like DFW kept trying to like him.

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  4. really great, his pomo definition is so soothing sad I hadn't already seen this but very glad you put it up, the place mat quip got me to read the his speech, wizow

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