Moving past postmodernism’s self-reflexivity is a task that Wallace seems to wrestle with throughout his body of work. Girl with Curious Hair’s “Appearance” continues this theme by parodying Late Night with David Letterman. Wallace does this in a manner that attempts to rip apart the notion that the absurdity and irony of metafiction is a simple means of examining and exposing reality. Moreover, “Appearance” dismisses this notion as naive, and works to solve deeper underlying issues of anxiety and connectedness.
Edilyn’s constant urges to take Xanax, Rudy’s tendency to micromanage, and the build up before Edilyns’ appearance on David Letterman’s talk show is enough to establish a story full of anxiety. As a man well versed in the ways of entertainment industry politics, it’s not shocking to see Rudy nervous as he is about to watch his wife be interviewed by Letterman, who’s hokey appreciation for the postmodern game and freckles seem to only further his image as a ‘savage misogynist’. The irony is clear as we see Edilyn seeking to escape her profession as an actress by asserting herself free of illusions, while all the while Edilyn’s husband tries to coach and alter her behavior to effectively play the postmodernism’s game. The only actress in “Appearance” is paradoxically also the only character that is concerned with sincerity and fighting to break past appearance.
This anxiety is clearly seen literally, but it is in the figurative symbolism that its true extent is experienced. As Edilyn sits backstage, light imagery works to intensify the atmosphere. After Rudy lights a cigarette, a patch of sunlight falls on the couch with the smoke trailing upwards in a way that makes the light seem distantly “bright and cold”(182). The cigarette is seen as “gushing smoke into the lit air”. The bright and cold light paired with the adjective ‘lit’, bring to mind both literal and figurative meanings, however it is the figurative that captures the tenseness of the story. Describing the air as ‘lit’ also has the connotation of having the potential for explosive destruction. Inside this same room sits Ron, whose distinctively small mouth is mentioned several times. The significance of Ron’s mouth provides a humorous break from the text in which his small mouth and small drinks match his equally small advice. Size is a quality later mentioned in Letterman’s interview in which he discusses salary and Edilyn’s work as an actress. In this scene, “Big dollars” are mentioned as the sort of thing that one discusses only in “low tones”. This statement has a range of symbolic meanings, one of which could be to introduce shame as an underlying theme. Another possible intent of Wallace was to show support of Edilyn’s concern with genuine reality, highlighting appearance and it’s relation to the superficial.
Wallace’s “Appearance” brings to question where we locate the root of our own personal anxiety. Is it a product of trying to combine the two opposing worlds of appearance and reality? Or does it come about in our struggle to find a distinction, if any, between the two?