Author Archives: hannahm


I have to admit.   The past two weeks worth of reading has left me feeling very sad and almost disturbed.   I know this is definitely intentionally fallacious, but it is hard to separate DFW’s work with his personal life knowing what we do about his goals as a writer (wanting his work to be a conversation, wanting it to be from a real-person-writer to a real-person-reader, wanting it to be honest and wanting to put himself in his work, making much of it autobiographical) and knowing how his life ended. It has been really hard to get through this stuff.   Not only does it seem like an invasion of his personal space, but I am also very uncomfortable reading something so truthful and autobiographical coming from an author whose painted such a clear picture of himself for me.   I do, in a way, feel like I know him, which makes it so much sadder.

Reading the footnote on page 993 is especially intense, and has impacted my view of the rest of his text.   David Foster Wallace wrote that James Incandenza died during post-production of the 5th remake of his movie Infinite Jest by committing suicide.   This makes it especially hard to not view this book as a sort of suicide note and has definitely made me notice all the allusions to suicide and depression in his work.

As we discussed in class, Kate Gompert and the Depressed Person in Brief Interviews are both severely depressed and in both cases the fact that they can’t articulate and communicate their feelings makes the depression even worse.   They both try to talk about it, Kate trying to describe the feeling as more ‘horror’ than ‘sadness’, and the Depressed Person resorting to situations that made her sad, the ‘Blame Game’, because it’s easier than explaining what the depression actually feels like.   You get the sense from the footnotes and revisions to what the Depressed Person says about it that DFW was having a really hard time communicating it as well, making the stories even more autobiographical.

These two characters’ take on depression (and, because they are so similar, I would guess DFW’s take on his own depression as well) really helps me read the scene in Infinite Jest on page 83-85.   As he describes tennis, the game quickly becomes a metaphor for life and depression.   Tennis is an “individual sport” with “boundaries” that “contain and direct its infinite expansion inward”.   “…The enfolding boundary is the player himself”, not his opponent.   The opponent is an “excuse or occasion for meeting the self” and upon this meeting the player “compete[s] with [his] own limits to transcend the self” and “disappear inside the game”.   DFW calls the game “tragic and sad and chaotic and lovely” and calls life the same; “all life is the same, as citizens of the human State: the animating limits are within, to be killed and mourned over and over”.   Then he calls it an “endless war against the self” and asks if “life is pro-death” and “what’s the difference between tennis and suicide, life and death, the game and its own end?”.

I read in an article that in DFW’s actual suicide note he made it very clear that his depression and suicide had nothing to do with anyone else, it was all contained inside himself.   When reading his work, especially Octet, we get a good sense of how “in his head” he was, and that he was constantly fighting with himself.   It seems that he viewed other people as a chance to get to himself: how did he react to them, relate to them, come across to them, how did they receive him, react to him, did they like him, do we like him, his writing, etc. (made clear, again, in Octet).   This is the “infinite expansion inward” he discusses; the obsession with the self and the paralyzing self-consciousness that seemed to be a constant battle.

I believe we can read DFW’s fiction as autobiographical.   This means that we are really going to get a really good sense of his depression and self-consciousness and maybe start putting the pieces together and figure out what lead him to commit suicide, how his depression felt, and how it felt to be him in the world.   And that is scary and creepy and hard but also an amazing opportunity to learn something heavy and really important and really true and probably a lot about ourselves.

Here and There

This collection of stories, like Broom deals a lot with relationships, how hard it is for people to connect and to communicate and how scary it is to give yourself over to another human being.   DFW shows us how, more often than not, it fails to work out and ends with sadness, heartbreak and emptiness.   Here and There deals mostly with the paralyzing fear Bruce has of connecting to others and the boundaries he creates (similar to Lenore’s) to protect himself from the vulnerability of human relationships, and I’m not so sure there’s a happy ending in this one either.


Like Lenore, he has a very thick, selective membrane.   His membrane is the distance he keeps from people — how hard it is for him to connect here, his tendency to stay far away   (there).   He also seems to be strangely fixated on cleanliness like Lenore.   I would go so far as to say he, too, is experiencing a bit of hygiene anxiety.   He talks about tidying things up, keeping them clean.   He is a poet who, “works all the time on well-formed formulas and poems and their rules” and admits that he, “enjoy[s] playing games with words in order to dodge the real meanings of things” (152,166).   He wants to change “clumsy and superfluous” poetry diluted with metaphor and flowery language to writing that is mathematical, technical, logical and “organized”; poetry whose “meaning will be clean” (155).  


He, like Lenore, refuses to allow his “interests be subordinate to those of another”, to take the opportunity to be “emotionally generous”, and instead only gives his girlfriend “distant affection” (153).   He also describes kissing, a form of human connection it seems he did not enjoy, as “sucking a long tube the other end of which is full of excrement” rather than a sensual, connective act (151).   In other words, for both Lenore and Bruce, connection is a messy, dirty, anxiety-attack-inducing thing.


Gray imagery is abundant (his world becoming “disordered, gray”, his grandmother’s gray hair) which I would suggest symbolizes black and white mixing, boundaries being crossed, connections being made and muddled.   At the same time he describes his world as such he begins “to be anxious about something [he] can neither locate or define” (164).   But as the story goes on we see that it is his fear of “feeling alone even when there’s somebody else there”, his inability to connect and communicate with other people.   We see that this is not an irrational fear when his girlfriend tells him, “all this time you’re communicating with no one” (another similarity between him and Lenore) (166).


This fear of human connection is displayed clearly when he is fixing his grandmother’s old stove.   Fixing the stove is literally about repairing connections: wires need to be rebound, they are unraveled and “stick out in different directions” and are “disordered” and it is his job to put them in correct bundles and connect them back together so his grandmother can “reblend” the chili (170,171,168).   The stove represents human relationships.   He says he is “deep in the bowels of the stove”, which takes us back to the image of kissing being connected to, well, bowel movement (169).   The stove can no longer heat things because its connections are broken (heat symbolizing love, or relationship).   Bruce states that he’s “never bound wire before”, and it obviously makes him very nervous (171).   “…Feeling like he loved somebody scared him” (171).   As he begins to repair the stove, repair his phobia of human connection, by “tidy[ing] things up” (this goes back to the hygiene anxiety, membrane stuff), he starts getting really scared, stops breathing, “almost begin[s] to cry” until it gets so bad that he finally admits to being afraid of “absolutely everything there is” (171, 172).      


Bruce finally breaks the technical language he uses to describe fixing the stove and inserts real feeling and emotion — allows himself to connect with the reader.   This is something he was once very against.   He seems to break down his boundary at the end by expressing his sadness and fear, but is he a changed person?   Or just finally admitting to himself that he has a problem?   In other words, on the road to recovery?


He is afraid of love and everything scary and intense that comes along with it.   Aren’t we all?   But does Wallace offer us a solution?   All these stories are about failed relationships, escaping connection, avoiding it, cheating on partners, sexual abuse, fetish, break ups, miscommunication… and at the end of Here and There, all we really get is that he is scared of connecting.   But what are we supposed to do with that?   Relate?   Learn from the characters’ mistakes?   Reflect, change our own detrimental habits?   Stop using (metaphorical) skin-firming, pore-tightening facial masks and allow our membranes to give and little, get a little?  



v-day events

come to the motley this sunday the 15th at 3pm for a vday fundraiser event!

music will be played, poetry will be read, art and cookies will be sold!

come support an AMAZING cause!  

ALSO you should come see vagina monologues saturday the 21st at 2pm or 8pm!  

(All proceeds from the show and fundraisers will be donated to the City of Hope project in the Democratic Republic of Congo and to House of Ruth!)

DFW commencement address at kenyon college

i thought this was really good.

if you want to read it here’s the link


Lenore pretty much sums up David Fosters Wallace’s idea that it is one of the hardest things in life to love someone else more than yourself, to let someone Inside, to be willing to go Outside yourself, to really connect to another person.   She doesn’t really let anyone inside (us as readers included) and also refuses to be taken inside anyone else (like Rick and Bombardini, who want to consume her).   She keeps herself very distant and separate from other people.

                      As readers, we never really get a good sense of Lenore’s character.   All of her narration is in third person or said by other characters (Rick, mostly).   We never hear her point of view.   Even in conversations most of her quotations are ellipses rather than thoughts.   Her character is, literally, made up of the stories other people tell about her (which, ironically, is her biggest fear).   She is nothing more than a character in stories, whose meaning is her use — Rick’s girlfriend, Norman Bombardini’s “Other”, the Antichrist’s sister, Walinda’s enemy, and, most importantly, Lenore Sr.’s great grandchild.   Each person’s version of Lenore is a bit different than the next.   As a result, we as readers have only the slightest idea of who she really is.   We are not let Inside her, and do not know her intimately at all.

                      Lenore does not let people get close, and as a result she becomes an enigma, a woman almost every man becomes infatuated with.   And yet, she picks Rick, a man who (anatomically speaking) cannot fill her who can barely enter her at all.   Rick “knows he can never validly permeate the membrane of another” and so “desires to bring the Other into him” (332).   She, however, is the opposite.   She stays emotionally disconnected to him, refusing to say the words “I love you” making it impossible for them to “unite”, keeping the “Screen Door of Union… unenterable” (286).   Lenore has what Jay refers to as “hygiene anxiety”.   This is an obsession with keeping her “membrane” clean and strong.   Making sure she is in control of what enters and what exits.   She wants a membrane that “chooses what to suck inside itself and lets the rest bounce dirtily off” (330).   Until she meets Lang she remains unwilling to “take an Other inside” (333).

                       There are many more symbols of this obsession with keeping the Inside in and the outside separate: her constant need to take a shower (dirt not belonging on her body), her complaints of people who don’t wear socks with shoes (and her wearing two pairs), her complaints of dirty socks, of ugly, overwhelming shadows, her “fixation on the proximity of the lake”, her inability to communicate (to get the words inside her head outside), the fact that she never cries in front of anyone.

                      It would be nice to say that by the end Lenore’s character had made a nice arc, a drastic change.   The symbolism toward the end of the novel would even suggest this: the repeated images of corners of mouths (a point where Inside and Outside meet, where communication comes from, and connection — kissing — happens), the repeated light imagery (light symbolizing openness, as opposed to the “ugly”, claustrophobic shadows seen in the rest of the novel), the mention of pimples symbolizing inside coming out (on page 374 a pimple is even seen on the corner of a mouth), Lenore crying in front of people for the first time, and of course, letting Lang fill her (physically and, we assume, emotionally).   The last scene is all about connectedness: all the characters together in the same room, pulsing toilet bowls representing hearts connected by a sewer system which then connects all houses, telephones working again (communication actually happening!), Lenore not seeing or caring that the ashes fall on her socks, and all story lines surrounding Lenore finally connecting.  

                      However, Lenore still remains inside her head, refusing to speak, looking “as if she was asleep” (456).   DFW keeps her character three-dimensional (haha) by not having her make a full recovery so quickly.   He does, however, leave us with a little hope: she is no longer chained to Rick (literally, Lang has broken their bond), she has potential for a filling relationship, and she’s slowly starting to communicating more, leading us to believe she is on her way to some sort of happy, better place.  Maybe she’ll allow herself to do what Wallace finds so hard: allow herself to be taken in, let someone else in and experience love.

extra copy of oblivion

i have a brand new copy of oblivion for sale


who wants it?

DFW: beauty. in its purest form.

I’ve been trying to figure out why DFW is my favorite author.   Why he is everyone’s favorite author.   Why I feel like I have this unique, close, important, almost uncle-niece relationship with him.   Why everything I read by him leaves me in a place similar to one I’d be in if I’d just gone to a life coach or guidance counselor, like he understands everything so well and really, REALLY wants me to get it too — cares, DEEPLY that I understand and that I’m learning and wants to teach me everything he knows and maybe I can tell him my secrets too, even.

David Foster Wallace tried and (as far as I can tell) succeeded in escaping the postmodern trap; losing the “word play for the sake of word play”, the literary gags, the skepticism surrounding “narrative as a meaning providing structure”, the “opaque process of representation”, the self-referential loop leading only to, according to him, “Armageddon”, the overwhelming, counterproductive cynicism and irony, “singularly un-useful when it comes to constructing anything to replace the hypocrisies it debunks” (Post Modern Discontent).   He escaped all of that and was able to produce work that was extremely unique, unbelievably smart and, most importantly, truthful.

DFW viewed art as “a relationship between two people” and wanted his relationships with his readers to be honest — I’ll even go so far as to say loving.   I mean don’t you think?   This is really apparent in his work.   He makes it very clear to the reader that there is a consciousness behind the narrative; it is mediated and there is a point to him writing it.   He lets you see his self-consciousness, his worry, the battle with his ego, his insecurity.   It’s there, obviously, and he wants it out in the open.   And this lets the reader trust him.   He is a real person, just like me, with fear and loneliness and insecurity and a need to connect and to love.   He is a real person and we’re having a real conversation.  


* I think now might be an opportune moment to try a lil’ DFW tactic on for size and, in asterisks, point out my own insecurity, as a writer, here, on this blog.   It makes me nervous.   I don’t like it.   Not one bit.   And stop judging me.   Please.*


                      DFW would gains our trust as readers by proving to us that he knew how to be ironic, how to self-doubt, how to hate people worth hating, how to debunk things worth debunking, and do it with the largest vocabulary (without sounding pretentious or like he used a thesaurus) (I hate that) and the most syntactic energy you’ve ever seen.   And once the trust was there he was then able to slip in the more “serious”, sentimental stuff that postmodernists have been known to despise (fear?).

This seriousness was important to him.   He disliked the idea that fiction could no longer “advance ideologies” and instead just parody and ridicule them.   He cared about us more than that.   He wanted to offer solutions to the problems — the many problems — he so astutely wrote about.   He wanted to build something positive for his readers, help us find ways to be REAL HUMANS, which, he pointed out, is nearly impossible to do in the culture we live in.  

He believed that “good fiction comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable” so he empathizes with us, makes us feel less lonely, but at the same time “[agonizes our] sense of self and aloneness” and makes us work as readers (with the foot notes, the page long sentences, the quick scene changes, the digression, etc) so we can be an active partner in this beautiful, reciprocating relationship he creates.  

It is his honesty (albeit in asterisks), his truthfulness and willingness to connect that draws you into his writing and makes you love it, makes you feel like you know him and like you GET IT and like IT’S REAL.  And that is a beautiful feeling.