I wanted to talk about the last two stories that we didn’t get to discuss last Monday from Consider the Lobster which were “The View from Ms. Thompson’s” and “The Host.” These were some of my favorite stories in this collection because they have reoccurring themes that we have seen in Wallace’s works. Such as the nature of humans and what I think he might label as “lack of humanity.” I say this for one reason: I think Wallace is trying to tell us in his works how far society has destroyed man. Well not society per se but criticize how humans function now.
For example in the Broom of the System we were shown the degrees of manipulation one can go to in order to achieve what they want. We see Vick Rigorous and how he is able to, or at least attempts to, manipulate Leonore to become his object of affection; I think this shows a prominent human characteristic. That we want to be in control and when we don’t have what we want we will reach such negative extents in order to achieve our goals.
Furthermore, we see a comparison between a self and an other which I think Wallace presents in many of his works. That we cannot define ourselves and need someone, or something to show us what we aren’t, and in this way know what we are. Such as the example of the black dessert in Ohio and the representation it has for the population. This reminds me of a play by Jean-Paul Sartre called “No Exit” where the 3 main characters are stuck in a room together which the reader can assume is hell. The characters debate amongst themselves and compete for each other and we get examples of the lack of satisfaction one has when they cannot see themselves and instead need someone else to tell them who they are, what they look like, etc. This is a trait I see in many of Wallace’s works; the idea that we do have an inner debate with our selfs and our others.
Which brings me back to these last two essays of Consider the Lobster. What struck me in these essays was the images brought up and how inhumane they were talked about by the characters in the essays. In “The View from Ms. Thompson’s” we see the after effects of 9/11 in a small town and the sudden movement of patriotism shown by the American flags. It disturbed me that the show of patriotism came only after such a tragic event happened, the fact that it took something catastrophic like that to give people a sense of pride made me feel like this was flag showing was false pride.
In “The Host” one of the first images that horrified me was when John Ziegler was upset that the media was not willing to show the Berg videotape of the American soldiers beheadings. You would think that people wouldn’t want to see such images but the comment here is at how willing and anxious we become for watching something like that. It just reminds me of movies now a days like Saw and … [well I don’t watch scary movies so you can fill in the blank] and the acceptance that exists of watching such gory images. I felt Ziegler’s need to watch that tape was showing a lack of humanity and distance from being human if you can be okay watching the beheading of another human being.
I realize now that this post became more about general themes seen in Wallace’s works that stuck in my head rather than just those two essays I mentioned I was going to talk about. I guess this is okay since it is my last post and like many other posts before mine, I wanted to share a bit about what I learned this semester.
“Authority and American Usage” was to me, one of the funniest stories in Consider The Lobster. The snoot of a character that we are presented with was comical in the way he expressed his love for language. Statements such as his dislike for “people who use dialogue as a verb” made him look as a very nit-picky character who is obsessed with using language correctly. We get the sense that he is snobby, and even though he was funny, he was also an unlike able character because he made me feel like he was talking down to me. On the other hand, there was also a great respect for someone who cared so much about language, and using it properly.
The splurge David Foster Wallace gives in pages 108 and 109 about SWE (standard written/white language) was one of the best aspects of this essay. While giving a talk to students he states his purpose in his course and the need for good writing. Wallace says that “–it’s not that you’re a bad writers, it’s that you haven’t learned the special rules of the dialect they want you to write in.” Who is “they” though? Professors teaching English? Dictionary makers? The fact of the matter is that there is a Standard Written Way of writing, it’s why we have professors grade our papers and mark down it down for syntax, diction, etc. And if we do not follow the standards of swe then we fail (or at the very least get a 0 on a Spanish paper for 5 mistakes on accents).
I was outraged by some of the things he was saying, and I did think to myself how can he say that these are the way things are that we have to conform, especially when in past works we have read Wallace has said that in order to get out of the loop writers are in now they have to write about what they truly think, not what writers think the public will like. But right after that he says something that made me forgive Wallace.
“This reviewer’s own humble opinion is that some of the cultural and political realities of American life are themselves racially insensitive and elitist and offensive and unfair, and that pussyfooting around these realities with euphemistic doublespeak is not only hypocritical but toxic to the project of ever really changing them” (109).
This I think is his response to acknowledging the way English exists now a days. There is a standard way of writing and it may be bias and racist and whatever else you may choose to call it, but if we ever want to change the standard of writing then we first have to acknowledge it. Which does make sense, in order to solve a problem, you have to understand what is the problem before you can go about changing it. But what Wallace doesn’t answer is HOW exactly we are supposed to go about that change. Ideas?
It seems everyone is talking about Good Old Neon because of the obvious societal critiques it makes and i want to continue with that talk with another story, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Although, I am still somewhat confused about the overarching themes, I think we can agree that there is an obvious critique about external appearances. Much like in the first story, the women in this story (note: she is not the narrator) is obsessed with the appearance she portrays to the outside world and so she goes into a surgery to get the crow’s feet around her eyes fixed. Much to her dismay, the surgery leaves her in worse state of being and so she goes into another surgery to have that problem fixed, which only ends up leaving her with “a chronic mask of insane terror.” The mother is a clear example of the vanity that exists now a days and the need to want to fix every minuscule detail that we might consider inperfect, such as crow’s feet.
On the other hand, the narrator (a.k.a. the mother’s son) seems to disconnect from this vanity by labeling everyone and everything as specimens. He dehumanizes them and looks at them as just creatures, maybe in order to emphasize the point of vanity as an external factor. For example, the narrator describes his mother as “a decent-hearted if vain, bitter and timid female specimen but who is not of colossus of the roads of the human intellect” (185). This de-emphasis from humanity and effort to make her appear as just a malleable creature, through surgery, shows his distance from accepting that he is part of that vanity in society. The use of “specimen” emphasizes a distance from what he judges in society, yet the narrator never really seems to accept that he is part of it since at the end he labels himself as “her sematic accessory or escort, with my impossible size and goggles one can tell beneath the gaping rictus she believes I can protect her which is good” (189). It seems like he is placing himself as lower than these beings, just an “accessory” rather than a living being.
Is the narrator in denial about belonging in such a vain-infested society or has he gone one step farther than deny and actually disconnected himself from such a society? Ideas?
As I began reading the first story of Oblivion, I saw numbers and was right away put off. “Another book on math? Again? Ugh!” My first impression was that we would be going through another story about another subject I did not understand and was not happy to read about. That was my initial thought on this story until I got to the this line: “(talking about the Mister Squishy logo), the crude line-drawn face had become one of the most popular, recognizable, and demonstrably successful brans icons in American advertising” (Wallace 5). And I was happy again because I saw a returning to the Wallace writing we are used to of very detailed description, such as what the men in the board are wearing, and criticism on another issue, in this case consumerism.
Wallace does bring into his narrative many of statistics and says things like the “expressions of men around a conference table who are less than 100& sure what is going to be expected from them” (Wallace 4) or a line that makes me laugh out loud, “Of the 67% of the twelve true Focus Group Members who were still concentrating closely on listening to Terry Schmidt, two now wore the expressions of men who were trying to decide wether to be slightly offended; both of these men were over 40” (Wallace 24). Although at first I thought back to “Everything and more” and thought we would be getting a bunch of math statistics I was happy with the way that these statistics were just part of the narrative instead of Wallace trying to teac me something I wasn’t particularly caring about. I see the statistics that he use as another way to describe and very miniscule about what he is detailing to the reader. I don’t find them a distraction the way I found numbers and formulas in “Everything and more” and if anything I find them to be factious like in “Infinite Jest” where Wallace gives us “facts” about AA groups.
I want to revert back to our conversation on freedom and the role that AA has: is AA a form of freedom from the addiction or simply another form of addiction? And even more so, when did AA and other support groups become a solution? These support groups are supposed to be a haven for those with addiction, a way to break away from the constant abuse of something that makes one ill. Whether it’s alcohol, drugs, or whatever it may be, support groups, like AA, are portrayed in a way that makes them seem as the ultimate hope of curing these addictions.
But I feel like culturally, support systems such as AA have been stylized and propagated as more than they are meant to be. If it is stripped down, it is basically a group of people talking about their addictions and trying to overcome them by giving each other support, so how has AA become THE SOLUTION to the addiction? We see rehabs all over the media now. Like it has been mentioned in class Fight Club deals with support groups and how they can actually be abused. So if something that is supposed to be the cure to the abuse is abused, then maybe there is no cure for abuse. Other books like A Million Little Pieces also talk about rehab, this memoir was even endorsed by Oprah [and later found out it was a lie of a book]. Support groups have become such a popular icon in our culture that we not only like to read about them, we like to watch them work.
What’s more entertaining to watch then broken down celebrities try to combat their addictions? A popular television show, Celebrity Rehab, details celebrities trying to combat their addictions and detailing their journeys. I myself just finished watching an interview with the host of this show who talks about the premise of the show and how it was meant as a way to inform the general public on rehabs. And his optimism makes the rehab sound like the best place to be, with so many stories of success who wouldn’t want to get rid of their addiction through a support group?
I find that being able to watch a show like this shows how accepting we have become of support groups and accept that they work and are worth to even watch on television. Does anybody else see anything wrong with this? Have we become so numb to the fact that these are supposed to be group of support and not entertainment for the people. Because we can read so many books and watch so many television shows on or about AA but do we actually care to see the after effects of AA? We hardly see what happens to the individual after he/she quits AA, and if they don’t stop going then have they beat their addiction? Or simply replaced it with something new?
Math has never been one of my strong points in school and I guess it has to do with the lack of objectivity that I think exists within it. Now I’m not a math major and taking Calculus right now is probably the cause of my hair falling out, but from the way I see Math, I tend to see it as an un-objective subject. When you were young you were taught 2 plus 2 is 4. That is it. It’s not 3, it’s not 5, it’s not 4 1/2, it is 4 and that is final. You get to high school and learn that 2x plus 2 = 4 and that you can solve for x and get an answer. You will always get an answer that can be proven right (or wrong).
So when I learned that there was an “infinity” in math I was shocked. No answer? 2 plus 2 is four, how can you tell me that there is actually a question whose answer is infinity: an immeasurable number of an answers?
Now seeing that we would be reading a book on math, on the concept of infinity, I wondered how it would be possible for an author to take such a subject an write about it in a literary way. I did have more hope because since infinity is infinite and there is no one answer saw this concept as more literary than say a simple algebraic equation that has just one answer. I think by picking infinity Wallace tries to portray an item in math, that although is usually thought of as subjective for a lack of variety in answers, he chose to take the one item that is abstract because it can be an infinite amount of things.
I think Wallace was actually able to do do that right away in “Infinite More.” On page 13 he talks about the concept of abstraction and how it is an answer because there do exists things that we as humans do not really want to know. “The dreads and dangers of abstract thinking are a big reason why we now all like to stay so busy and bombarded with stimuli all the time.” Then come this whole idea about waking up too early and thinking that the floor might collapse comes up. And we get a feeling of paranoia, actual fear that “you know what? The speaker is right, how do I know that the floor won’t collapse on me?”
(As I just arrived last night from spring break and am now looking at my 48 lb suitcase on the floor and wondering if that extra weight might actually crack the floor, my personal paranoia is starting to increase.)
Maybe Wallace wants to show us how the abstractness in Math can be written about in a literary way?
Something I came across.
Apparently Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
has been made into a movie
Reading “Yet Another Example of The Porousness of Certain Borders (VI)” I could not help but burst out laughing hysterically. It just brought back so many scenes of movies, books where they child always has to debate about what parent he/she wants to be with after a divorce. Such as in Catch Me If You Can, where the young protagonist has to chose his mother or his father, and throughout the entire scene he has everybody telling him that everything will be okay, he is not to blame, and no one will get hurt if he choses. But seriously, it is impossible to believe that because even a young child can see that having to chose a parent to live with is not the nicest thing you can do.
So when we get this story, of the parents actually having to flip a coin for who gets to keep their child was so bizarre to me, I found it quite amusing. You wouldn’t expect that a father and mother would have to chose which of the two keeps the child, especially with such a disdain for the child. Equalizing him to the truck out front, the child is just another possession for the parents. But when you truly think about it, isn’t the child forced to do the same? Does he not also have to pick a parent and force himself to “harden” in order to chose one. I’m sure not all cases are like that and there might be some children who have an obvious decision when having to chose a parent, but normally in a divorce you wouldn’t expect either parent to be a bad choice.
I think Wallace brings a lot of comedy into a situation that would normally be very serious. But I think the excessive seriousness here, the situation of actually treating the child as a possession equal to a car, illuminates our love of possessions. And how great this need is that caring about a truck is equally as important as caring about a child.
Something else that stood out to me was the characters’ indecisiveness. There was a debate over the divorce, the truck, the child, even about who would flip the coin, almost like they were unwilling to make any of those decisions. They seemed willing to not act and would prefer if the other had made the decision. Ideas?
I wanted to go back to talking about the Death of the author essay and what I believe is David Foster Wallace’s attempts to try and insert the author in his works. Death of the authir basically argues that the reader must “kill” the author in order to be able to interpret a literary work correctly. In this case, the reader must “kill” David Foster Wallace and ignore his characteristics- such as the author’s personal experiences, cultural background, ethnicity, etc. He must be killed off in order to understand the works. But what happens where the literary works are essays, in this case, about the character DAVID FOSTER WALLACE?
Well what is necessary to do is to recognize that the David Foster Wallace THE AUTHOR and David Foster Wallace the speaker are two different entities. It is mandatory to accept that their no DWB THE AUTHOR and that all that we may know about him -his college career, his vacations, jobs- it all is not important or should matter when we are reading these works. Instead, we should focus on DFW THE CHARACTER and his role in these essays. Such as “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley” all we know about this DWB is what he tells us about himself such as his love of tennis and the accounts of what happened in the field, or in “Getting Away Already Being Pretty Much Awat from It All” and his accounts of the Illinois State fair.
Which reminds me of something a teacher once told me when reading works such as Othello. She said we can never assume anything happened before or after a work was written. Meaning that any assumptions about the work of events that happened before or after are not plausible because there is no “proof” to back it up. So for example in Othello, we get hints of an incestuous relationship between Othello and his mother but the reader would not be right to assume that this is a legit assumption since there is no before or after, just what is written in the play.
This brings me back to Wallace because in these essays, we cannot assume ideas in the works about the character DFW using the life of DFW the author. Even though we know the author and where he went to college, and where he was from, and interests, and countless other facts, these are unimportant, according to Barthes, in reading these works because they are not the same characteristics of the character. We can’t say that the character is the same as the person who went to Amherst and majored in philosophy, etc because DFW the character is just the one written about in the number of pages of each essay.
As I read “Westward The Course of Empire Takes Its Way” I can’t help but to think that I have reached point where I want to choke the narrator. Why you may ask? Simply, the frustration I have for all his narrator-reader interaction moments.
Unlike the past narrators of the other David Foster Wallace works we have read so far, the omniscient-third person narrator of this story chooses to interact with the reader. So as he narrates the story, he also chooses to stop and give the reader a comment about what he has just said. And the frustrating part? He keeps devaluating what he has just said. For example, after giving the reader background for how Drew-Lynn Eberhardt and Mark Nechtr came together he say, “OK true, that was all both too quick and too slow, for background–both intrusive and sketchy. But please, whether your imagination’s engaged or not, please just acknowledge the propositions, is all. Because time is severely limited, and whatever might be important lies ahead…” (Wallace 238). This makes the reader feel like what he just read was a waste of time and the frustration starts to grow. As the narration of their love affair continues, we get snippets of other facts. Such as point about people arriving to the civil affair trough different methods of transportation. “By the way, not too much of this is important either. But it’s true…” (245). Another moment where the reader feels maybe this is just a waste of time.
The narration of the story itself also feels a little more importunate than the typical narrator. It’s a lot more casual and lines like “to avoid misunderstanding or prejudice, J.D. is sad, but not usually this bitter” (246) which shows the reader that there is a significant closeness of the narrator to the characters of the story, almost as if he somehow involved with them. (I wish to add that I don’t refer to the narrator as “he” in the male sense since you can’t tell whom the narrator is up to this point.)
This made me think of the narration we spoke of in The Broom of the System and a point that was brought up about the narrator and his sneakiness. You get that sense of feeling from this narrator too because he seems so involved within the characters lives, and with the reader as well. In a way it works in getting the reader more involved in the story because you feel a casualness, like a friend is telling you a story. But the fact is, that the narrator seems fundamentally involved. Such as that last quote I mentioned, it seems that the narrator has opinions and biases about what is occurring in the story and these directs at the reader are his way of letting them out. Ideas?