Its Been Thoroughly Enjoyed

It’s over.

It’s over!

It’s over?

This is the last blog I’ll ever write, and I’ll admit, the timing couldn’t be better. At the same time, this blog has been an amazing platform for exploring personal questions Wallace has stirred up in my head, and it has considerably expanded my understanding.

At the start of the semester, we read the McCaffery interview. Throughout this course one quote has stuck with me. He claims that the distinguishing quality that separates good writing from bad writing lies in:

be[ing] willing to sort of die in order to move the reader, somehow”.

The first time I stumbled on this quote I took it to be a standard by which I could evaluate Wallace’s own writing. He writes after this:

“Even now I’m scared about how sappy this’ll look in print, saying this”

I can’t avoid the fact that Wallace’s death, the blow that it was, has undoubtedly affected my interpretation of his words. Though, when he mentions “be[ing] willing to sort of die in order to move the reader”, his death shouldn’t be thought of as a way of instilling his work with a sense of posthumous prowess. I think this quote has lasting significance in my mind because it communicates how much heart, mind, and soul Wallace strived to fill his work with.

Another memorable quote taken from the McCaffery interview, perhaps due to its thematic prevalence throughout Wallace’s work, is:

“The interesting thing is why we’re so desperate for this anesthetic against loneliness.”

This thought seems to become a fact after reading the loads of substance abuse and degrees of distance from reality present in his writings. What I find most compelling about Wallace’s body of work is how exactly frustrating it can be. This frustration likely comes from a combination of Wallace’s superior intellect and insight in respect to my own, and how his work can be either fiction or nonfiction, but no matter what, it always has room for philosophical meditation.

The feature of Wallace’s work that leaves me asking can be mind-blowing frustrating, but at the same time I know that this is one of the reasons why I like him so much. Most of the work that I currently read raises questions or offers areas of ambiguity, but in the end clarifies these areas and leaves me with a sense of satisfaction. This satisfaction though is so accurately described as an “anesthetic against loneliness” though, and that’s the problem. Wallace’s work, on the other hand, frequently leaves me unsatisfied and questioning and this seems to be the real point. In my opinion, Wallace’s work is most meaningful and provocative because of the questions it leaves unanswered. It fails to provide a quick fix, but leaves in its place a weird hung over feeling inside of you. There’s something uncomfortable about not knowing, and knowing that you might never know, but in the end it’s infinitely more gratifying knowing that something is there to be figured out.

While I’ve grumbled over my keyboard on several Sunday nights, this blog has really helped me begin to hack away at some of the questions I’ve gathered from Wallace’s work. Its been fun.

4 responses to “Its Been Thoroughly Enjoyed

  1. I completely agree that it is more gratifying to know that something is there to be figured out. I always want closure at the end of the books I read, some sort of ending that puts all the pieces together and lets you know how it really all ended, but whenever I do get that from a book I feel disappointed and its usually pretty lame (the epilogue to the seventh Harry Potter for instance). While it can certainly be more frustrating, I appreciate Wallace’s ambiguous endings a lot more. It asks for more from the reader, but then again everything he writes does that.

  2. This habit of refusing to wrap things up or move along conventionally is, to me, a pretty powerful indicator of Wallace’s refusal to compromise when it comes to his art. At the heart of this refusal to compromise is the near certainty that, in real life, things don’t end or get cleanly resolved. In real life, we don’t feel ourselves move, as characters. Though we love narratives that do pull together, we love them for the same reason we love entertainment (as distinct from art): it’s easy to absorb.

    Really, I’m just saying I agree with the above. You guys both have a nice angle on it.

  3. erinlikescupcakes

    I agree that we are often left with many unanswered questions, but I never feel quite alone in them. I think this is part of the power of Wallace’s questioning: I am examining these questions but I know that he is, too. We as humans are all to examine these questions and try to understand why we feel so lonely. Wallace is willing to stoop to our level, to get down to where we are so that we can explore these pressing questions.

  4. I really like your point about that satisfaction that we get from reading Wallace. We get it when we get to the end and find that Wallace hasn’t really given us an answer to a question, problem or idea he has raised. He has merely brought it up and caused the reader to pounder over it, which I think is one of his goals. Even if he doesn’t have an answer he brings up questions that he thinks we should try to find an answer to. This reminds me of an essay we read where he argued that in order for a writer to come out of the author’s loop, he has to write what he really thinks, not what the public wants him to write about. I think we can agree that’s what Wallace does, and in this way we do get satisfaction.