If David Foster Wallace’s literary frenemy, Jonathan Franzen, had the “literary moment of the year” in 2010, then it is pretty clear that 2011 will be the literary year for the late DFW. Before eliminating his own map (1) in 2008, Wallace left behind an unfinished novel, The Pale King. A story of IRS tax collectors, it is set for release, suitably, on April 15.
With the date approaching, the tidal wave of hype is just starting crank up. Witness the touching 45-min BBC radio program Endnotes on D.F. Wallace, or the NYO piece of the rise of the DFW ‘industry’, among others. Pretty soon the reviews of TPK will come barreling in, too (2).
With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about all the upcoming reviews (3), and specifically, how the content will shape up in aggregate. There are probably some broad predictions that can be made as we eye the April 15 date in terms of what previous DFW stories/novels will be referenced by the reviewer in light of The Pale King. Consider this a form literary bracketology from someone who who cannot name a single team in the entire basketball tournament (4).
34% of reviews will reference his 2005 Kenyon commencement speech colloquially known as This is Water.
The highest likelihood of all oeuvre name-checking, I believe. In terms of recent works that concatenate his ideas into a palatable, brief form (read: hurried reviewer friendly) look no further. Specifically the “really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness...” and the “awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight around us, all the time,” passages.
Based on excerpts published in The New Yorker and other publications, we know that TPK deals with the tedious work of IRS agents, whose job is so perineum-tightenly boring that the agents receive anti-boredom training upon arrival as new employees. While the soul killing work seems, well, soul killing, you can imagine that it does allow a person the type of introspection, or freedom, that is not available with the distractions of Facebook, Gchat, or the placations of capital-e Entertainment to numb us.
In other words, boredom as part of the endaemonic quest to self-actualization.
19% of reviews will reference The Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House (sic) fact-diarrhea passage from Infinite Jest.
Specifically the statements, “that boring activities become, perversely much less boring if you concentrate on them,” and “that concentrating intently on anything is very hard work.”
Seems to dovetail nicely with the loose plot-line referenced above, though given that the passage is relatively buried among such gems as “that there is a certain type of person who carries a picture of their therapist in their wallet,” (4) in the 1,000+ page novel it lowers the probability of appearing in reviews.
12% (equal chance) of reviews drilling into the work monotony passages from the stories The Soul is Not a Smithy or Mister Squishy.
For someone who never saw much action sliding down that firehouse pole to put out fires with the rest the paper pushers of Corporate America, DFW certainly had a knack for corporate-speak. From Mr. Squishy:
“Schmidt knew full well that Reesemeyer Shannon Belt Adv. had lost the US Brands/Ericson account to D.D.B. Needham’s spectacular pitch for a full-out Shadow strategy, and thus that the videotape of his remarks here would raise at least three eyebrows among R.S.B.’s MROP team...”
Now will this specific passage be referenced? Absolutely not. Though, I use it illustratively because I figure a number of reviewers (approx. 12%) will think to themselves all like, “Oh yeah, I totes remember in graduate school I read that story of his where he’s slinging around all kinds of acronyms and the main character gets so disgruntled he fantasizes about injecting poison into the company’s soft confection products just so he can be the one to lead the crisis communications effort in response to the poisonous confectionary cakes (ala 1982 Tylenol’s successful recall in 1982 that’s taught to like EVERY person who has darkened the door of a MBA classroom) and wouldn’t that be be a good tie up with how the organizations for which we work for can both change how we communicate in addition to perverting our overall motivations and sense of morality?”
From The Soul is Not a Smithy:
The narrator’s dream sequence.
“...tableau of a bright, utterly silent room full of men immersed in rote work. It was the type of nightmare whose terror is less about what you see than about the feeling you have in your lower chest about what you’re seeing.”
Pretty self explanatory.
2% chance of referencing the Narrator of “Good Old Neon” from Oblivion.
Like TPK, Good Old Neon features a character/narrator named David Foster Wallace that breaks the fourth wall. Seems like a small detail, so I doubt it will be referenced much.
0% chance of people referencing his “Fiction’s about what is is to be a fucking human being,” quote.
I just happen to like it and wanted a find a way to work it in here.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Now, of course that I’ve outlined various possible references in this article, will that increase the likelihood of them appearing in the subsequent reviews, completely messing up my predictions via some sort of literary Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle? Worth thinking about. At least I can point to that if my predictions don’t pan out.
(1) DFW’s own reference for suicide in Infinite Jest, qq.v James O. Incadenza and Kate Gompert. I don’t mean to use the the term facetiously for a human act that is grave in its implications and a burdensome to those the suicide left behind. It’s just that there is a 100% certainty that EVERY single review will somehow mention the s-word, the proliferation of which (the s-word) will geld the painful implications of the act itself. I’m also employing it, the eliminating your own map phrase, as a psuedo-homage to DFW too -- as his use of ten-spot words and quirky phrases in his prose, to me, was not an instance of gee-whiz vocabulary braggadocio but rather an attempt to connect genuinely with the reader by avoiding lazy cliches (1a). See, for instance, his use of the word ‘picayune’ instead of ‘petty’ on his essay re: David Lynch in Premiere.
(2) Personally, I’m pretty eager to see what Michiko Kakutani at the Times has to say, given her tepid review his last fiction work, Oblivion.
(3) This reflection is partly selfish, since I’m slated to review the book for a NY publication, and I’m starting to get my head around the structure of how the review will shape up.
(4) College Lacrosse is an entirely separate story. My tournament, best flow, and all-name-team bracket will beat yours any day, brah.
(5) Carrying a picture, now that I think about, of your therapist seems very, very reasonable. Logical, even.
(1a) I’ve also considered that the vocab thing was an attempt to rescue and preserve the full continuum of the English language, given his self-proclaimed status as a SNOOT (Sprachgefühl Necessitates Our Ongoing Tendance" or "Syntax Nudniks of Our Time")