Author Archives: lrose

What is the “broom of the system”?

Ever since we began reading the novel, I was curious/anxious to try to “figure out” the significance of Wallace’s title. Though I haven’t finished the book yet (and realize that there will probably be more to add to this discussion once I do so), it is possible to piece together some indication of the importance of the title from what we’ve read so far.

Lenore’s father, Mr. Beadsman, is the first person to introduce the broom. He explains that when he was a child, Gramma Lenore would ask him, “which part of the broom was more elemental, more fundamental…the bristles or the handle” (149). When he answered the bristles, Gramma Lenore responds, “Aha, that because you want to sweep with the broom…if what we wanted a broom for was to break windows, then the handle was clearly the fundamental essence of the broom” (150). As illustrated in the story, Gramma Lenore’s message to her grandson (and to us) is that “something’s meaning is nothing more or less and its function” (149).

In applying this philosophy to young Lenore Beadsman’s life, it is possible to see why Lenore has such fears of a lack of identity and lack of control in her life. Lenore’s function in her life is not her own. She feels as though her life is being told for her, and she is rightly justified in that claim. Lenore’s father, Gramma Lenore, and Rick all assign Lenore a different function specific to their needs. For her father, Lenore is “the family” and also the “‘Company'” (249). She is the only one left of the family for her father to rely on and control, and so he does. Gramma Lenore also assigns Lenore her very own function: one of a disciple–someone to whom she can pass on her (somewhat debilitating) view of the world. Several times throughout the novel, Gramma Lenore is described as “indoctrinating” Lenore. But Rick is the one who needs and uses Lenore the most. For Rick, Lenore is used as a way to try to bring the absolute Other inside of his personal Self. Though he continually fails at this objective, Lenore continues to serve as a counterpoint to his Self.

In her relationship with all three characters, Lenore’s function clearly resides outside of her Self. She has produced no function self-consciously, so she allows others to ascribe her function for her. If “meaning is use” then Lenore’s meaning comes from outside of herself, as well. Just as Gramma Lenore in the nursing home “perceived loss of identity without function” (151), Lenore is subject to the same fate in her everyday life. Though a question does arise about whether Lenore has no identity, or if her identity is solely defined by others. Does one’s identity have to be self-defined?

In finally returning to the question of the title of the novel, Mr. Bloemker is helpful in introducing the idea of the system:

How to begin to come to some understanding of one’s place in a system, when one is a part of an area that exists in such a troubling relation to the rest of the world, a world that is itself stripped of any static, understandable character by the fact that it changes, radically, all the time? (143)

The changeability of the system is the key here. With Gramma Lenore’s broom, the broom was constantly given different meanings based on the constantly changing idea of its function. At any given point, the function of the broom could be different based on what one wanted to do with it. Lenore is the broom of the system. She is not able to understand her place in the system (in the world) because her function changes radically all the time. All of the Others in her life ascribe her different functions which change depending on which Other she is with. So, just as you give meaning to a broom based on whether you want to sweep with it or if you want to break a window with it, every person in Lenore’s life, in the system, gives Lenore a meaning based on what they want to do with her. She is, indeed, left with no self-control nor with any personal meaning.

Movies as bad as TV?

I’ve been thinking about this ever since reading EUP: Is there a difference between TV and movies? If so, what is it? Do movies also belong in the category of modern technology that perpetuate loneliness and isolation? Has something changed now that people can watch movies in the comfort of their own home versus the more social setting of a theater? Why are movies considered “higher” art than television? Just thought I would throw some of these questions out there…any thoughts?

The Intentional Necessity?

Last semester, in my English class we read and discussed Wimsatt and Beardsley’s, “The Intentional Fallacy.” From the very moment I finished the essay I was indignant. How could anyone possibly condone deliberate neglect of the author’s existence in a piece of writing?! So, needless to say, I was overjoyed after reading “Joseph Frank’s Dostoyevsky.” Finally there was someone responding to Wimsatt and Beardsley. But, in the interview with Larry McCaffery, Wallace’s position on the Intentional Fallacy becomes less transparent. So I ask, what does DFW really think about the Intentional Fallacy?

As Wimsatt and Beardsley explain, “the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work of literary art” (IF, 3). Wallace’s sincere praise for Joseph Frank’s work on Dostoyevsky (work which has not only committed, but has deliberately ignored the intentional fallacy), makes clear that Wallace condones and even commends a commitment of the intentional fallacy. Wallace argues the necessity of taking the author into account, for “a comprehensive reading of Dostoyevsky’s fiction is impossible without a detailed understanding of the cultural circumstances in which the books were conceived and to which they were meant to contribute” (JFD, 258). We simply can’t ignore the “external” (IF, 10) evidence of a work, for in doing so we are “[treating] and author’s books hermetically, ignoring facts about the author’s circumstances and beliefs that can help explain…what his work is about” (JFD, 260).

Though Wallace asserts his resistance to Wimsatt and Beardsley in “Joseph Frank’s Dostoyevsky,” while talking to Larry McCaffrey, Wallace seems to make a complete turn: “once I’m done with the thing   [the writing], I’m basically dead, and probably the text’s dead; it becomes simply language, and language lives not just in but through the reader” (McCaffrey, 141). Wallace now agrees with Wimsatt and Beardsley that a work of writing belongs neither to the critic nor the author, but it “belongs to the public” (IF, 5). What happened to understanding the author’s beliefs and circumstances in order to more fully comprehend a work?

In attempting to reconcile Wallace’s two seemingly opposing views, I began to think that the discrepancy might arise out of the difference between an older and more historical work, such as a Dostoyevsky novel, and a piece of fiction coming from the age of post (or post-post) modernism. In the McCaffrey interview, Wallace says, “I think it’s important for art-fiction to antagonize the reader’s sense that what she’s experiencing as she reads is mediated through a human consciousness, one with an agenda not necessarily coincident with her own (McCaffrey, 138). Wallace never wants the reader to forget that she’s receiving mediated text. Now, this sounds awfully like committing the intentional fallacy, to me.

I think that ultimately Wallace does truly condone and even might encourage commitment of the intentional fallacy. But, the key is that such a fallacy is different for works from different ages. A Dostoyevsky novel necessitates probing into Dostoyevsky’s life and historical time in order to gain the knowledge necessary to fully understand his work. On the other hand, in the age of self-referencing and meta-fiction, the intentional fallacy is essentially already committed by the authors themselves. The author has already done the probing for the reader, so the reader doesn’t necessarily have to do any extra work. Wallace wants us to commit the fallacy, he wants us to recognize the presence of the author and the author’s agenda in a work, and so he purposely antagonizes the reader in such a way that makes the mediation obvious. Whereas we have to go elsewhere to gain insight into Dostoyevsky’s work, the necessary fallacy is built right into Wallace’s own text.

Does this mean that in our present age of the self-referencing and self-conscious loop, the intentional fallacy is merely a moot point? Any thoughts?