Author Archives: icantbelieveyoujustsaidthat

The Pale King: Boredom, the Tradition of Being Dull, and Originality

Boredom, the Tradition of Being Dull (or The Tradition of Boredom), and Originality

DFW’s novel about a group of IRS agents attempts to tackle the topic of boredom in perhaps what is perceived to be one of the most boring of professions: that of the tax accountant. I say “perceived to be” boring because it is the profession that Wallace chose as the center of his novel and being a right-brain person I perceive most left-brain activities to be innately boring when they don’t require the right brain’s functions.

Though in thinking about why DFW decided on accounting as a profession to analyze boredom, why he took classes in accounting as prep, I start with a theory I call the “Tradition of Being Dull.”

This tradition is one where an institution believes that being professional means being humorless, dry, tedious, by-the-book, repetitive, uninteresting, characterless, bland, bromidic, humdrum, lifeless, mundane, stodgy, unexciting, tame, wearisome, and generally un-creative.

An example from my personal experience is when I suggested books for the freshmen summer reading.

I recommended Jon Stewart’s “America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction” and Stephen Colbert’s “I Am America (And So Can You!).”

Both are public figures popular among the freshmen student population and both bring attention to news events that frosh most likely would not have heard about otherwise – the results of last year’s Pew Survey showed that watchers of their respective news shows are more aware of current events than viewers of “real” news channels.

Link: Report on Pew Survey on HuffPost

Poll results:

The Colbert Report 34%
The Daily Show 30%
News magazines 30%
O’Reilly Factor 28%
Lou Dobbs Tonight 27%
MSNBC 25%
C-SPAN 24%
Daily newspaper 22%
NBC News 21%
Letterman/Leno 20%
Larry King Live 19%
ABC News 19%
CNN 19%

(My summer reading was a book by Fareed Zakaria, and his network (CNN) ranked at least 15% below Stewart and Colbert, who broadcast for only an hour four days a week.)

Fox News 19%
CNBC 17%
Personality magazines 13%
Religious radio 12%
CBS News 10%
National Enquirer 9%

Considering it’s the last summer before college, providing relief with comedy would ease the transition better than some dry work that probably won’t get read by most students (and if the books aren’t read by the majority, hasn’t the school poorly invested money?)

And though there is data from a respected survey to back up making the decision to make the summer reading something that will more likely be read, the deans respond by saying “we need something more serious.” And thus the deans enforce the Tradition of Boredom even though it may be costing them money.

On the flipside, The Office acknowledges the Tradition of Boredom and changes one element: it makes the tedious humorous. There is nothing more bland or unfunny than paper products. The writers for the show acknowledge this and their success is the result of bringing jokes into a setting that is usually humorless — this element occurs within the show and in the general idea of why The Office would be entertaining: the audience sees a familiar place and reacts to the silliness of the familiar being broken, and within the show the other “offices” of the corporation are portrayed as being boring and less successful in comparison with the Scranton branch (the story’s main setting) — a story arc involved this analysis wherein the company’s executive (named David Wallace) asks the boss of the Scranton branch what he’s doing at his branch that makes it more success than the others. The punch-line is that the boss doesn’t know what he’s being asked, as his own silliness seems normal to him — it doesn’t occur that he is part of the element that breaks the Tradition of Boredom, and we, the audience find this hilarious and the show seems endlessly successful as a result.

This analysis thus leads me to think that The Office fulfills part of what Wallace wanted to do with his third novel: analyze how boredom breaks down within an IRS-like context.

It’s a bit like falling down a hole, if that helps?

(alternative title “Infinity minus one”)

Imagine walking down a street, minding your business, not a care in the world in your head, and then being thrown down a deep hole whose sides have no holds and whose depth you’ve decided has no end until you do indeed land with a dull “THUMP.” A fall whose pain you don’t feel immediately but in its place there is numbness.

And then imagine sitting up and looking for the top of the hole and seeing only a pinprick of a light over which shadows move about; shadows belonging to pedestrian traffic up above that seem to not have noticed your fall.

Those sides of the hole which have no holds to nudge and grope and climb your way your way up, you start clawing at them with your fingernails, crafting oval shaped handholds that become footholds as you get higher and higher and then stop and look down to see you’ve only managed to fill the hole to inches below your dangling feet with the dirt from the foot and hand holds you’ve carved and then you let go and land on your feet with a less pronounced “thump.”

And you look up and see the pinprick of light is no less of a pinprick and that the shadows are flowing more intensely and realize that it must be rush hour.

Then you decide to start screaming toward the hole your name, situation, and need of a significant length of rope until your voice goes out.

And then you sit on your pile of dirt and resign and wait for someone else to fall in to keep you company.

But no comes, and the sun sets and there’s no more light at the top of the hole.

And you, without a voice, broken hands, and broken feet sit at the bottom of this hole and at that exact moment when you stop caring about trying to get out, you realize the extent of your injury and suddenly the numbness rushes away and your whole body is taken over by a divine pain best described as being severely frost bitten on every surface in every pore and then thrust into an oven. And the sudden change in temperature cracks and shatters the shell of who you were, leaving only a pile of dirt, a cushion really, for the next person to fall on.

That’s kind of what its like.

If  you were wondering.

Like the standard Wikipedia entry, I’m wholly expecting this page to be an outstanding example of scholarship unparalleled by established writers and highly qualified academics (note the sarcasm)

Like the standard Wikipedia entry, I’m wholly expecting this page to be an outstanding example of scholarship unparalleled by established writers and highly qualified academics (note the sarcasm)

Your Essay, Translated

What You Write In Your Essay
What It Means
Etcetera I can’t think of any other examples but don’t want you to know that.
Thus… These two points have nothing to do with each other, so I’ll just connect them with a word I heard on Masterpiece Theater.
However… That thing I just said was bullsh*t.
In other words… I’m out of ideas but haven’t written 10 pages yet, so I’ll just start repeating what I already said.
Hamlet is a complex play. I did not understand Hamlet.
Hamlet is an extremely complex play. I did not read Hamlet.
The causes of the American Revolution are rather straightforward. How the hell do you expect me to write 2,000 words about this?
As Dr. Jason Steinberg discusses in his work… My professor can’t fail me if I cite his own book, right?
The central philosophical conflict of The Brothers Karamazov is the conflict between religious faith and doubt. Just because I’m in college now doesn’t mean I’m above using SparkNotes.
The oil crisis of the 1970s was very PENIS. My roommate is an assh*le who knows I don’t proofread.
Research on the subject remains limited. I didn’t feel like looking anywhere besides Wikipedia for information.
Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is a very important and relevant work. I need to prove to my dad that majoring in philosophy was a good decision.
THijs book susckeed ethrre ewre no boosb!!! I was lying when I said I write papers better when I’m drunk.
xiueyr984fowei I passed out on the keyboard about 10 minutes ago.

by Eddie Small, College Humor

http://www.collegehumor.com/article:1772553
Link to article

The worst of Wallace’s books


Though I didn’t know that Wallace was hired to write the book as part of a kickoff for a book series, that added knowledge helped me realize that not liking Everything and More was justified, that there was some underlying murkiness I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I sense that same murkiness when I go to a theater and see a film and walk out afterward feeling that I genuinely deserve a refund. That murkiness is best summed up as the use of a popular name to sale an unpopular perspective. And be it a terrible film idea or obscure math, this method inhibits the ability to enjoy the medium.

Because if a medium hopes to reach an audience, it needs to be made by someone that knows how to convey the medium’s key aspects. And if the medium is a story, the aspects that should be conveyed revolve around bringing closure to the reader — despite what the reader knows before the story starts[1]. Thus the “someone” that conveys a story’s key aspects is the storyteller. The storyteller, in this case a fiction writer, should know how to convey to me their story and bring a sense of closure to me after I’ve finished the last word of the last line of the last page. If that closure is not there, then the writer has failed their task and created someone that at best serves as a popular distraction.

The idea of popularism was brought up in class when prompted to answer the question of whether or not Wallace was a “pop writer.” My response was yes: (1) he was prompted to do the book not because of a background in math, but because he had a recognizable name and (2) the book was a part of a series meant to be significant not as a reliable source of expertise, but as a novel approach that could sell to book buyers that wouldn’t usually buy books on the topics covered in the series. Here Andy Warhol’s popism is most evident: he says that the height of culture is not what is of the highest quality, but what gains the most attention — despite its quality. The two can co-exist in a medium, but are not mutually exclusive — as is the case in Everything and More.


[1] Though it’s wholly acceptable to expect the reader to know how to read, as writing for people learning to read and writing for readers are two different arts.

Your author here is someone…who disliked and did poorly in every math course he ever took

A book talking about math doesn’t provide the most lucid of conversation material for an English class, though the text does help me raise the question of: what does DFW think of religion? That is: in referencing a text from St. Thomas of Aquinas, Wallace mentions a perspective on the existence of God and then moves on without comment.

The quote:

“Thomas’s [sic] basic move is to argue that since everything in the world has a cause, and those causes in turn have causes, and so on, there must at some point in that chain be an original uncaused Cause, namely God.”

And thus in his supposed “proof” that God exists, Thomas declares that infinity does not exist in the physical world, because if it did then there would be no beginning of time for a God to start up the universe. Though Wallace clearly believes that infinity does exist and thus by LEM Wallace does not believe in God.

For the sake of understanding my argument, my position on the existence of God is that God is a fairytale character that people are taught is real at a young an age when they lack the ability to form an educated perspective on the matter. When a person grows up, if they are fortunate, they learn how the physical world works, and that ideas like destiny and God contradict real life experience, or as DFW puts it:

“We ‘know’ a near-infinity of truths that contradict our immediate commonsense experience of the world (Wallace 22).

Ideas?

Youtube link: Elizabeth Gilbert discusses why artists sometimes disappear

Elizabeth Gilbert discusses why artists sometimes disappear

What exactly happened during Wallace’s age twenty mid-life crisis?

I feel I should first express explicitly that there’s no such thing as “latent talent,” as people aren’t magically good at things — in this area there are accurate explanations for why some have access to talents that others don’t. The exploration of the topic requires rational thought and an observation of given facts:

When Wallace mentioned losing the “click” he felt when he solved a math problem, I’d wager that he went through a transformation noted in other artists where your brain literally shifts from one mode to another. This shift is accompanied by a change in memory and thinking capacity where one day you go to sleep a chemist, and then wake up the next to find your ability to compute equations is gone, but discover an affinity for painting that didn’t exist before.

The process isn’t magical, but rather explained at length in a Scientific American article titled “Unleashing Creativity” where UC San Francisco neurologist Bruce L. Miller describes the changes in a research subject:

The last place he expected talent to bloom was in the brain of a person whose mental functions were deteriorating because of crumbling neurons. But it turned out that Chang was not an isolated case. Miller later identified other men and women whose latent creativity burst forth as frontotemporal dementia set in–even in patients who had little prior interest in artistic pursuits. One man, a stockbroker who had never before been touched by the muse, traded his conservative suits for the most radical styles he could find. He developed a passion for painting and went on to win several art prizes. Another person began to compose music even though he had no musical training. A third invented a sophisticated chemical detector at a stage when he could recall only one in 15 words on a memory test. [1]

And considering the revelations Wallace expressed about the winter where he took time off from his undergraduate studies, I’d wager that what Miller describes above happened to Wallace — while capable of mathematical reasoning, the sudden lack of fulfillment from it was more than boredom, and most likely a result in a change he had no control over. The change led him to shift from using “convergent thinking” to “divegent thinking,” described further by Kraft farther in the article:

Convergent thinking aims for a single, correct solution to a problem. When presented with a situation, we use logic to find an orthodox solution and to determine if it is unambiguously right or wrong. IQ tests primarily involve convergent thinking. But creative people can free themselves from conventional thought patterns and follow new pathways to unusual or distantly associated answers. This ability is known as divergent thinking, which generates many possible solutions. In solving a problem, an individual proceeds from different starting points and changes direction as required, which Guilford explained leads to multiple solutions, all of which could be correct and appropriate.[2]

When I read Wallace’s fractured writing structure, I see the extensive use of divergent thinking to lay down a problem and then swerve through a forked narrative to arrive at a final ambiguous conclusion. His characters are not separate entities the way characters are in typical stories, but rather multiple faces of the same insecure obsessive-compulsive mental patient that sometimes walks free and at other times is explicitly confined — a trait which seems autobiographical after the release of the article from The New Yorker chronicling his struggle with going back to school.

I’m primarily interested in Wallace’s work because I went through a similar change in perspective and ability: in my pre-Pomona undergraduate studies I went to a high school while attending three different colleges at the same time– Loyola University Chicago, DeVry University, and Westside Tech — a private school, a computer technical school, and a community college, respectively. I was most likely going to complete an Associates Degree in Computer Science, as I took mostly programming and computer science classes. I did fairly well, earning A’s in all of my computer-based classes.

And then I was given the chance to study at Pomona and moved from the Midwest to SoCal. Though somewhere in between, I drifted away from enjoying math-based logic to writing fiction and satire. And if I were to describe the change, I would say that CompSci no longer “clicks” the way it used to, like it emptied out of me (rather than for me)[3] — little peculiar widgets of a  mid-life crisis at twenty.[4]

Though regardless of what comes next, I suppose it’s helpful to seek an understanding of what makes a fiction writer tick — from both a physiological and psychological standpoint, ad infinitum.

Links:

Link to referenced article


[1] Kraft, Ulrich. “Unleashing Creativity: Scientific American.” 25 March 2005. Scientific American. 5 March 2009 <http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=unleashing-creativity&print=true>.

[2] (Kraft)

[3] Wallace states in the McCaffery interview that math “emptied out for me.”

[4] Again from McCaffery

Artificial ceilings: A++++++

The question was asked “why is self-actualization never achieved?” in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men?

My answer is that people create artificial ceilings, which provide artificial highs and skew any possibility of a genuine self-actualization. This process is the root of many First World problems, where even the privileged with every need met still have a 50% divorce rate, destroy the environment for the sake of glamour, and create cycles of consumption-rejection-destruction.

An early example of an artificial ceiling from Infinite Jest is the remark during the interview about the grade A+++.

It’s no secret that grade inflation occurs at Pomona College, and at all high ranked schools. The reasons are not simple, but grade inflation can be categorized as a symptom of a society obsessed with fake categories: most likely to succeed; best dog; or tastiest beer.

Beer tastes horrible. I don’t drink for other reasons, but I can tell that its success is more about its affect on the body rather than its contribution to a person’s tastes.

Dog breeding is society’s way of carrying out racist practices in public: the idea of a “purebred” is straight out of Germany’s World War II fascist movement — and yet strangely, it continues as if it’s acceptable.

And success is a subjective perspective, and methods of predicting success amount to nothing more than pseudoscience.

And yet America’s obsession with fake glory persists and creates a debilitating factor that pushes people toward dangerous extremes.

For college that extreme is the lost of valuing ideas to the race for higher, meaningless, grades.

And for David Foster Wallace, it was his urge to write his ideal story, ad infinitum.

[Short post version, Official post according to posintg rules to follow]

Postmodern…It’s a very useful catch-all term, cause you say it then we all nod as if we know what you’re talking about

“A lot of this is gonna get cut out, right?”

DFW Interview w/Charlie Rose: Talks about movies, “A Supposedly Fun…,” etc.

Click to view

Runtime: 32:27

When asked:

“What does postmodern mean, in literature?”

DFW responds:

“It’s a very useful catch-all term, cause you say it, then we all nod as if we know what you’re talking about.”

Is this an accurate description of how to respond to someone describing “postmodern?”

I think so, at least.

He also mentions that a lot of the essays are autobiographical, and was surprised some sold, and answers a lot of the questions asked today in class.

Perhaps the presenting group saw the video beforehad?

?_?

[This blog does not allow the coding for embed video, though the link should work.]