Author Archives: sherlockelly

A new essay/book review of “This is Water” aka Kenyon speech

I thought this was a good read.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/26/books/review/Bissell-t.html

Infinite Jest Tour of Boston again!

In case it got lost in the bowels of the blog:

Infinite Jest Tour of Boston

A Series of Observations Entirely Not Related At All

1) The footnotes in “The Depressed Person” remind me very strongly of the conversations that the depressed person describes having with her Support System. She relays their conversations wherein she calls them repeatedly in one night, or rambles on, all the while with the fear that they have long since stopped listening and are thinking ahead to things that they might be doing when the phone call ends, or cold have been doing were it not for the phone call in the first place.

And here, we have these footnotes that interrupt this narrative and leads the reader on a several-page tangent, all the while taking the reader further from the story several pages back and in the reader’s head he hoping that he doesn’t forget what sentence he was in the middle of reading and he’s waiting for the footnote to conclude so he can get back to the main text, where he gets the impression that all of the real, actual development of the depressed person’s story is happening.

And maybe it’s just my short attention span, but I found myself toe-tapping through the page-after-page of a single footnote, thinking so much about the other words I could be reading in the real story, and hoping that I didn’t forget what I had been reading in the mean time and being so absorbed in not forgetting the interrupted body of the narrative that I was only skimming the surface of the footnote, nearly afraid to get into the meat of every word.

I want to connect with this depressed person, and I do, having in been in many of those types of situations and exhausting several of my own Support Systems during times of need or tragedy or just a particularly depressed-person-type of day, but perhaps the toe-tapping through the verbose footnotes is supposed to negate the reader’s connection with her (i.e. the depressed person) in an unconscious way. The depressed person is afraid that her Support System cannot bear to hear her ramble when they have their own lives to be getting to, and yet I am, despite all of my sympathies for the depressed person, doing the same thing.

It must be an awfully lonely existence for the depressed person when this “impossibility of sharing or articulating [her] pain” (37) goes beyond even what being inside of her head is able to convey, and goes so far as being unable to articulate that pain to a sympathetic reader.

2) The first piece of Wallace’s work that I read was a story from Brief Interviews with Hideous Men called “Forever Overhead.” It remains one of my absolute favorite stories, perhaps because I read it first, but also perhaps because of how strongly I feel connected to it.

I’ve never been a pubescent boy, but I can honestly say that I reading this might be the closest that I can ever come to understanding that awkward power and overwhelming fear and joy and numbness that comes with all of puberty. And here is this boy, on his thirteenth birthday, wanting to jump into his own version of his own adulthood, completely alone. And presumably he does, as it isn’t even written down.

Perhaps the metaphor is too obvious to really exist, the “diving into the unknown” and all, but it often times feels that way. Hell, I still feel that way when I wake up and am just a bit out of sorts.

This isn’t exactly the most academic of observations, but nonetheless, I couldn’t let this collection go by without a little acknowledgement of “Forever Overhead.”

The first time I heard a Helen Keller joke told by a professor: or Tales of Wallace’s humor

A Supposedly Fun Thing.. is, in my opinion, one of the better examples of the specific type of humor that Wallace used in much of his work, non-fiction in particular. For a man who’s fiction was often fantastical and only occasionally outside the realm of reality, approaching real life with that same seed of bitterness, heaped with several more tablespoons of ironic, tongue-in-cheek, witty observations (and believe me, the list of adjectives could go on and on) must have seemed either insanely easy (if he saw the world as nothing but a fantastical fiction) or ludicrously impossible (again, nothing but fantastical fiction).

How do you make readers experience something that is uniquely personal (for example a cruise) or something that they might no next to nothing about (David Lynch)? Humor is one of the more accessible tools that Wallace used to convey his essays.

His humor isn’t always bawdy (but a bodily-function joke or two is always funny, whether you’re 6 years old or you’ve got two PhDs), but it’s not all intellectual either (though there were things that I knew were supposed to be funny but yet they went right over my head, and by the time I looked up the punchline, all the humor was lost). What is it about his humor that makes it so accessible to every one? I mean, even though I didn’t get some of the jokes, I was still laughing hard enough that people had to come check on me.

I think the key to all of this is the fact that it’s all written as though you’re in the middle of a conversation with Wallace himself. I can hear each line in his voice, and though I know these essays were published for everyone, there’s still a part of me that feels like maybe they were just for me. It’s the familiarity of the tone, the calming way that he weaves these elaborate tales.

When Wallace goes into details about the his shipmates in “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” and he begins describing, almost softly, as though he is still afraid these people will overhear his written words, the “old people…travelling with really desperately old people who are pretty clearly the old people’s parents” (272), the tone is so casual, as though he’s making this joke under his breath for me to enjoy and me alone. But he does that line after line, essay after essay, and I’m not the only reader, as much as I would like to keep living in the world where I am the one and only person these stories were written for.

This connection that Wallace can make though his writing, his humor, I feel that this connection is the reason that his humor can connect with everyone. He wasn’t just an intellectual, and reading this collection in particular it is apparent that he enjoyed the bodily jokes now and again, and perhaps was even guilty of making a few himself (obviously).

But, really, what better way to connect with a reader on a personal level than to make them laugh out loud? And by implementing a thousand and one different types of jokes, some subtle and some hit-you-over-the-head hilarious, Wallace does just that, time and time again, which is why I feel that this collection of essays is one the most complete examples of the type of work that Wallace was capable of in all of his writing.

If you can keep them laughing, you can keep them reading.

The Infinite Jest Tour of Boston!

I know we aren’t there yet (I can hear some of the nail-biting from here), but I found this and thought that is definitely might be interesting when we do enter into the world of Infinite Jest.

The Infinite Jest Tour of Boston

A 41 photo series of all the sites mentioned in Infinite Jest! Most of the pictures’ descriptions feature the quote from the book where the location is mentioned.

Pretty neat!

And she is my morning. Say her name.

When looking at a piece as short as “Everything is Green,” the reader knows that not a word is wasted. Wallace is not one to waste words in something a thousand pages long, though, so it stands to the extreme that in something this short, each word is meant to exist and probably means more than what you thought it did the first time you read it.

The piece stands out in the collection due, one, to length, and two, to lexicographical reasons. Someone once told me in my own writing workshop, that when you are writing vocally, that is in the way that a character would speak out loud, but said character is not speaking out loud, you have to be careful not annoy the reader. We are automatically separated from the narrator when we have to decipher what he is saying because it takes us out of the narrative while we try to piece together what we have just read.

Lines like, “And I give you all I got to give you,” and “Every thing that is inside me I have gave you” will stop the reader in their tracks if they aren’t paying complete attention.

There are also distinct pauses in the reader when words like “anything” and “everything” are broken down into “any thing” and “every thing,” as these subtly change the meaning of the phrases. These involuntary pauses in my head while i was reading caused me to pay even closer attention to every tiny word. They are obviously broken apart for a reason, but what is that reason? Does Mitch feel that he has given every thing inside of him to Mayfly, or is this just a part of his lexicographical quirks that we’ve seen before, and he means to say everything. Everything Mitch says feels carefully placed in this conversation with Mayfly, but the way in which he says them don’t give the impression of much thought or expression.

As short as it is, and as different of style as it is, Mayfly’s insistence that everything outside as green, while Mitch is clearly noting that this is not the case, has a lot of similarities to the themes in earlier stories, interior and exterior (sometimes physical and sometimes internal). The rain that is outside has turned everything, perhaps, greener, and it’s cleaned the trailers windows letting the view of the outside in, as well as the sunlight. And while of this exterior is leaking into Mayfly and Mitch’s life, neither of them are able to externalize their interior thoughts. At least not enough that we can see anywhere near what the reader must sense is the root of their problem.

When Mitch can finally, in his own way, articulate well enough what he wants to say to Mayfly, she shuts him down, turning all of her focus to the exterior and wondering aloud how can he possibly have thoughts like that when there is an outside world existing.

This is when it seems that Mitch sees Mayfly as a person. “Mayfly has a body,” he says, seemingly seeing her for the first time(much like this outside, which if the windows were dirty enough before the rain, perhaps Mayfly is also seeing for the first time). “And she is my morning.” She is, now, to him, what the outside world is to Mayfly; finally visible. (“And she is my morning.”)

A few final thoughts that I’ve considered:
1) Why exactly is this piece so short? Could it have been longer? Are there perhaps necessary parts omitted?
2) What is the significance of its appearance immediately preceding the longest piece, or is there one?

Escaping the Cycle, only to Find Ourselves in Another One

Today is Superbowl Sunday, which has got me thinking about, for starters, football. But it’s also got me thinking about advertisements. Today might the only day each year where huge audiences look forward to being treated as a product; something to be bought and sold in a mass quantity to all sorts of corporations willing to pay enough to buy and sell them.

We may be addicted to television in the same way that we are addicted to junk food and alcohol or any type of drug that lets us feel good and/or forget our problems for the moment. Joe Briefcase watches TV in order to “check out” from the life that he sees as less than the ones he is watching. And, while he is smart enough to tell the difference between “Joe, Joe, there’s a world out there where…nobody spends six hours a day unwinding before a piece of furniture” and “Joe, Joe, your best and only access to this world is TV” (39), where do the advertisements fall?

Anyone who has watched TV is aware that the commercials are just as important as the program, more so if you are the head of a network. The source of the revenue for the networks is the money pulled in from the advertisers. The advertisers make their living telling Joe Briefcase that in the world where nobody is watching their daily six hours of furniture, they are still very unhappy. But it’s okay! They don’t need to be unhappy anymore because Product X is here to make life easier, faster, better and even happier than it was before. And you, Joe Briefcase, can be just as happy if you are willing to stop what you are doing and buy Product X for yourself. Joe, Joe, your best and only access to this world IN the TV is Product X.

The problem with the barrage of advertisements is the fact that even programs that break the mold, the metatelevision shows, the shows that are new and revolutionary and novel shows, they all need ad revenue to exist.

The cycle of programming might be broken, but we are still being reminded that we are not truly happy, no matter how happy we feel, our houses are not truly clean, our healthy is not truly good. We are lacking something that is even greater than the hole we are filling with our television.

With the invention of Tivo and the DVR and all those things that allow us to bypass advertisements, the Superbowl reminds me that we have not actually escaped this pattern. On this day, so many people regard being treated like a drone with a wallet as entertainment in the same way that sitting on the couch and eating chips and watching football (television) is an escape to a world where people do more than sit on the couch eating chips and watching television.

This is the cycle that I’m fascinated with, because to me it seems that even if we can break out of the cycle of comfort-TV and find a way to actually engage, we are still being told that there is something else, something more that can make us even more free from the cycle. And maybe make our house just a little bit cleaner as well.

Thoughts?