Category Archives: reading response

Its Been Thoroughly Enjoyed

It’s over.

It’s over!

It’s over?

This is the last blog I’ll ever write, and I’ll admit, the timing couldn’t be better. At the same time, this blog has been an amazing platform for exploring personal questions Wallace has stirred up in my head, and it has considerably expanded my understanding.

At the start of the semester, we read the McCaffery interview. Throughout this course one quote has stuck with me. He claims that the distinguishing quality that separates good writing from bad writing lies in:

be[ing] willing to sort of die in order to move the reader, somehow”.

The first time I stumbled on this quote I took it to be a standard by which I could evaluate Wallace’s own writing. He writes after this:

“Even now I’m scared about how sappy this’ll look in print, saying this”

I can’t avoid the fact that Wallace’s death, the blow that it was, has undoubtedly affected my interpretation of his words. Though, when he mentions “be[ing] willing to sort of die in order to move the reader”, his death shouldn’t be thought of as a way of instilling his work with a sense of posthumous prowess. I think this quote has lasting significance in my mind because it communicates how much heart, mind, and soul Wallace strived to fill his work with.

Another memorable quote taken from the McCaffery interview, perhaps due to its thematic prevalence throughout Wallace’s work, is:

“The interesting thing is why we’re so desperate for this anesthetic against loneliness.”

This thought seems to become a fact after reading the loads of substance abuse and degrees of distance from reality present in his writings. What I find most compelling about Wallace’s body of work is how exactly frustrating it can be. This frustration likely comes from a combination of Wallace’s superior intellect and insight in respect to my own, and how his work can be either fiction or nonfiction, but no matter what, it always has room for philosophical meditation.

The feature of Wallace’s work that leaves me asking can be mind-blowing frustrating, but at the same time I know that this is one of the reasons why I like him so much. Most of the work that I currently read raises questions or offers areas of ambiguity, but in the end clarifies these areas and leaves me with a sense of satisfaction. This satisfaction though is so accurately described as an “anesthetic against loneliness” though, and that’s the problem. Wallace’s work, on the other hand, frequently leaves me unsatisfied and questioning and this seems to be the real point. In my opinion, Wallace’s work is most meaningful and provocative because of the questions it leaves unanswered. It fails to provide a quick fix, but leaves in its place a weird hung over feeling inside of you. There’s something uncomfortable about not knowing, and knowing that you might never know, but in the end it’s infinitely more gratifying knowing that something is there to be figured out.

While I’ve grumbled over my keyboard on several Sunday nights, this blog has really helped me begin to hack away at some of the questions I’ve gathered from Wallace’s work. Its been fun.

Gately’s Upbringing and the Origin of Addiction

Keeping it simple this time.  So, towards the end of Infinite Jest, DFW gives us a detailed look into Don Gately’s past and looks at the beginning of his substance abuse problems.  All this invites the reader to guess and check, trying to pin down the cause of Gately’s downfall, but there is so much wrong, that it becomes just a vague, futile game.  Why does Gately end up how he does?  

Gately, high school football star, could not handle the academic part of high school, relying for a while on compassionate teachers and one drug synthesizer/tutor named Trent Kite.  School had no real end or set of results in Gately’s mind, and neither did his outside life, given his broken family life and friend circle that focused on substance abuse.  All he had was football, and even then, “Quaaludes and Percocets were lethal in terms of homework, especially washed down with Heffenreffer, and extra-especially if you’re academically ambivalent and ADD-classified and already using every particle of your self-discipline protecting football from the Substances” (905).  He’s still in high school here, but having gotten such an early start, I think it said he started at nine, the addiction has already taken on a life of its own, deserving of it’s own capital “S,” Substances.  Once Gately’s Mom went to the mental institution he fell off completely, coping by trying newer and harder drugs and letting them take over his football career, a battle he lost unfortunately early.

Gately’s story’s a sad one, but brings up one final point about addiction: where does it come from? I mean exactly? Clearly we all don’t need such a tragic story like Gately’s to become addicts, but it would certainly push me down that road.  Is it something everyone is capable of?  Or is it more from a set of outside factors?  Some combination?  Would Gately still have been an addict had he not been in such a harsh school and home environment?  Or is it in him anyway?  Is it in everybody anyway?  God I don’t know.  Thanks everyone!

Faces and Floors, Beginnings and Endings

The end of Infinite Jest-abstruse and surreal-in a way brings the reader back to the beginning of the giant novel. Images from the first scenes of the novel float into the last scene, with Gately lying in the hospital room, feeling disembodied and gravitating his attention toward the floor.

Gately’s feeling and perception of disembodiment reminds us of Hal’s description of the cold room of the university administration office in the opening pages. The narrator informs us in the end that Gately experiences a physical sense of disembodiment:   “Gately felt less high than disembodied…his head left his shoulders” (981). Although Hal does not explicitly describe his own sense of disembodiment, the entire first scene deals with the university deans’ concern with “using a boy for just his body” (10) and the haunting disparity between Hal’s voice in his head and Hals’ voice-or “sounds” (14)-projected and heard by the people around him. Why is this sense of disembodiment present in both characters, and furthermore, in the bookends of the novel? How is Gately’s experience of disembodiment different from Hal’s, if at all?

Not only do Gately and Hal experience a sense of disembodiment themselves, but they also display a keen awareness of disembodied heads and faces around them. In the end, Gately perceives only faces (with the exception of the chinks and the Oriental-who are not exactly described, but just sort of thrown into the picture). The narrator, as if through Gately’s eyes, describes, “P.J.-J.’s face was gray and blue. The floor came up slowly. Bobby C’s squat face looked almost pretty, tragic, half lit by the window” (981). Thus, the concluding narration gravitates toward faces as opposed to whole bodies or whole people. The difference, between Gately’s perception of these faces and Hal’s, however, lies in that Gately describes these faces in vivid detail, as if they are close and familiar to him, while Hal describes what he sees as simply “heads and bodies…Three faces have resolved into place above summer-weight sportcoats and half-Windsors” (3). Hal seems to be far more detached and distant than Gately in relation to the faces they identify. What accounts for this difference in their perception of faces? Is Gately’s ability (or Gately’s narrator’s ability) to vividly express these faces indicative of a trajectory of progress or some kind of healing or convalescence by the end of the novel?

Another commonality between the first and final scenes of the novel is the recurring image of the animated floor and its relation to the two main characters. With respect to Gately, the floor moves upward. In fact, the floor’s upward movement coincides with and intercuts Gately’s description of faces (see quote above). The narrator explains that “the last thing Gately saw was an Oriental bearing down with the held square and he looked into the square and saw clearly a reflection of his own big square pale head with its eyes closing as the floor finally pounced” (981). Thus, a pouncing floor (and an Oriental) stand out as the last things Gately sees and as one of the last images we as readers receive. Meanwhile, the word “pounced” dictates a sense of violence and in particular an animalistic one, which can be traced back to metaphors comparing Gately to animals throughout the novel and to Hal’s animalistic tendencies in the beginning:   “This sort of awful reaching drumming wriggle. Waggling” (14). Hal, on the other hand, seems to talk at or even to the floor:   “‘There is nothing wrong,’ I say slowly to the floor. ‘I’m in here'”(13), and later in the novel, we discover that Hal has nightmares in which he sees faces in the floor. Does “I say slowly to the floor” suggest that Hal simply looks down when he speaks these words, or does Hal actually talk to the floor? Is there something-another world or a phenomenon-on the other sides of these floors that the novel consistently and insistently wonders about?

Bill Murray and the Wu-Tang Clan

“You know, before I gave [coffee] up, I used to drink it every night, every single night, up until it was time to go to sleep, just to make me dream faster. You know, like when they flash those cameras on those Indy 500 cars, and they just fwhoowishfwhoowishfwhoowishfwhoo. That’s how my dreams were, just whizzin’ by.” – GZA, from the “Delirium” section of Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes”

Last post. Man, too much pressure.

I picked the above line for several reasons. One, Jim Jarmusch is awesome, and the movie is doubly awesome, and GZA and RZA drinking caffeine-free herbal tea while Bill Murray drinks coffee straight from the pot is more awesome still. But anyway. The other reason is because I’m kind of feeling like it’s all just blurred together, like an endless stream of cars passing you on the track. Blink, gone.

Which isn’t to say I haven’t learned a lot. There’s something particularly valuable about getting people together and just talking about literature – something I’ve sorely missed having. Even coming back to works I’ve read (more or less) in the past opens up bold new prospects. DFW is particularly good for this. I’ve discovered themes, plot points, and details in IJ that I’d never dreamed of noticing the previous time, and all of his works have expanded my view. It would be a rare day that I would come back from DFW class without my hand covered in brainstorms, sketchy ideas, or revelations to incorporate elsewhere in writing and life, and that’s pretty damn impressive for a class I almost didn’t end up discovering or getting into. Pretty damn impressive indeed.

And I can at least say to myself that I came close to the real thing. Part of the reason I came to the Claremont Colleges was because DFW taught just down the street, but I never had the chance to share the campus with him. It’s kind of painful, actually, to hear recollections from former students, envying them their experience while sympathizing with them for their true loss. It’s like the universe, fractured into an endless framework of coincidences, circumstances, split decisions, random occurrences, and opportunities, all collapsing and coalescing. The world out of control… it’s hard to deal with, lost time. But I digress.

I don’t think there’s much to be said, honestly. Ironically, there really seems to be little uncovered, unturned. All that’s left is time to say

Narration and Tennis

This is my second time reading Infinite Jest, and my second time being relatively confused by the ending. I have to say that the second reading is much easier than the first, and that you really do pick up a lot more details and make more connections the second time around.

One thing I didn’t pay too much attention to on my first reading, but that I noticed this time (partly due to our class discussions) was the use of the first-person narrative throughout the course of Infinite Jest. Or rather, the lack thereof. As we discussed in class, most of the novel is written in the third person; in the first 700 or so pages, there are only a few spots where that breaks and the story is told in the first-person. In the last 200+ pages, however, Hal’s story begins to be told in the first-person, yielding some interesting thoughts and results. One particular insight that I found interesting was Hal’s acknowledgement that “I didn’t want to play [tennis] this afternoon, even if some sort of indoor exhibition-meet came off. Not even neutral, I realized. I would on the whole have preferred not to play” (954). Throughout the last few Hal-related scenes in the book, we start to see his destruction that becomes painfully evident in the first scene of the book, which is the last chronologically. My main question about this passage is, what do you do at a tennis academy when you no longer have the drive to play? It’s clear that Hal still plays tennis at the end (or really, the beginning) of the book, because he’s being recruited for college-level play. So this desire to not play appears to be a problem in Hal’s mind, not one that he actually physically goes through with.

In fact, Hal doesn’t want to play so badly that he contemplates injuring himself so he is taken out for the day. But he goes one step further in his mind, stating that he could “fall so carefully badly I’d take out all the ankle’s ligaments and never play again. Never have to, never get to. I could be the faultless victim of a freak accident and be knocked from the game while still on the ascendant. Becoming the object of compassionate sorrow rather than disappointed sorrow” (954-955).   The phrase “never have to, never get to” seems to be quite indicative of Hal’s state of mind: in one respect he feels almost compelled by some force to play (“have to”), but on the other hand it’s something he chooses to do on his own (“get to”). His fear of disappointment if he can’t compete at the top levels of play-which he worries about after almost being beaten in a match by Ortho Stice-is evident, but even Hal is confused about who he is afraid to disappoint: “I couldn’t stay with this fantastic line of thought long enough to parse out whose disappointment I was willing to cripple myself to avoid (or forgo)” (955). This line of thought is particularly interesting given that it comes in the middle of several paragraphs of Hal talking about both the Moms and Himself; yet the Moms is adamant about not being disappointed by anything her children do or don’t do, and Himself is dead. So who is Hal afraid of disappointing? My guess is, himself. I think that this apathy is so unlike Hal that his contemplations of self-injury seem frightening and disappointing to himself, but he is so out of sorts that he doesn’t notice that he might disappoint himself. Does anyone have any other ideas of who he might be afraid to disappoint? Or why he doesn’t want to play anymore? Is it just fear of losing, or is it something more-DMZ-related, perhaps?

On Hope and Cynicism

It seems important to recognize a few things about cynicism. Firstly, that cynicism needn’t necessarily be expressed humbly, or doubtfully. A good way to think about this distinction is to compare David Foster Wallace’s cynicism in Up Simba, to John Ziegler’s cynicism on his radio show. Ziegler is dogmatically cynical, self righteously cynical and what this dogmatism amounts to is the belief that there is no choice but to be cynical, that cynicism is reality. In fact of course we can choose, we can choose to believe OJ was innocent, and that McCain had only Chris Duren in mind during his phone call. In Up Simba, David Foster Wallace is at least partially pointing out that cynicism is interpretation, editorializing so to speak, and that what makes or breaks any Anti-candidate is whether he’s able to convince us to choose not to be cynical. But what exactly goes into this decision?

If John Ziegler’s case can be extrapolated, I think we can probably see cynicism as the product of a kind of embattled fatigue. Ziegler’s cyncism about the innerworkings of commercial talk radio seems totally justified by his experience there. You get the feeling from Ziegler’s professional narrative that those hosts who choose not to be cynical about the talk radio industry do not survive in it. Wallace seems to see Ziegler’s universal cynicism as an extension of his justified and pragmatic cynicism w/r/t talk radio. Wallace doesn’t see this extension as justified, and I think most of us would agree, I think most of us see the world and everybody in it as basically too big for any answer to the question ‘should I be cynical.’ Most of us figure that there’s at least a possibility that people are basically good, and that we just can never know enough not to doubt our cynicism w/r/t the world at large,

It is this doubt that must be capitalized on by the anti-candidate, and one of the things that made Obama so amazing earlier this year is that in the 2008 election we voters probably had less of this doubt than at any other point in US political history. Eight years of Bush has left most Americans feeling about Politics the way John Ziegler feels about the talk radio industry: totally, justifiably cynical. When people talk about Bush’s splitting america and intensifying partisanship, what they’re really saying Bush did is make Americans less doubtful of their cynicism, on both sides of the aisle. The Idea of the anti-candidate is to bypass people’s dogmatically ingrained political cynicism by appealing to their still hopeful belief in sincerity’s existence in the world at all, to present their candidate as a person before a politician because Americans feel they can still trust people even if they feel they can no longer trust politicians.

The danger of the anti-candidate is that by capitalizing on our doubt that we should be cynical about everything and everyone, it forces us, political cynics all, to be cynical about where such a feeling of doubt comes from. We become worried that this doubt is not justified by the vastness of the world but cultivated by strategists for political interests, and this worry is deeply, philosophically troubling. Cynicism about campaign slogans becomes a heavy heavy thing when the slogans in question are “hope” and “change.” What’s so problematic about the anti-candidate is that if we can’t believe in him, it seems like we can’t believe in anything, so we believe in him, fervently, even though we know we probably shouldn’t.

A Matter of Preference

Lobsters? Lobsters. David Wallace sure knows how to pick them. In the namesake essay “Consider The Lobster”, Wallace’s journalistic style drifts back to land after spending sometime away on the Nadir of “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”, and reaches the annual Maine Lobster Festival among feverish carnivores prepared to inhale upwards of 25,000 pounds of lobster flesh. The MLF understandably falls into opposition with PETA proponents, or those who find the ‘Being Boiled Hurts’ view of a higher ethicality. Like all of the other pieces of nonfiction Wallace has been recruited to write, “Consider The Lobster” focuses a great deal on the ethical implications of human consumption. In the end, Wallace’s journalistic endeavor turns into a discussion of personal ethics and presence/lack of thought that goes into eating another sentient life form. Though, I found “Consider The Lobster” to differ from Wallace’s previous topics. One way this piece differs is in the way he specifies his discussion. Instead of focusing solely on consumption or tourism, “Consider The Lobster” seeks to understand the ways in which awareness and thoughtfulness factor into the act of consumption.

One of the ways in which he specifies his discussion is in his choice to focus on the lobster as an instrument of consumption. Lobster is a delicacy, a product of the sea harvested for the human palette to enjoy. While Illinois fair junk food and cruise ship buffets are certainly interesting sites of people eating food, there’s something comparatively profounder about Wallace’s choice to focus on this particular gentrified crustacean. And so, Wallace’s personal preference in a lot of ways mirrors the preference that’s at the heart of the troubling questions that “arise amid all the laughter and saltation and community pride” at the MLF (253). Wallace writes, “the whole animal-cruelty-and-eating issue is not just complex, it’s uncomfortable. It is at any rate, uncomfortable for me, and for just about everyone I know who enjoys a variety of foods and yet does not want to see herself as cruel or unfeeling” (246). I found this passage to be really interesting because it not only acknowledges the discomfort that arises out of our preference over what we consume, but Wallace also lets us know that he himself is uncomfortable even talking about it.

Wallace continues to provide us with personal information as he talks about his approach when it comes to this whole ‘animal-cruelty-and-eating issue’. Wallace prefers to “avoid thinking about the whole unpleasant thing” (246). Moreover, he defends his own carnivorous behavior on the grounds that he has self interest in mind and has failed to work out “any sort of personal ethic system in which the belief is truly defensible instead of just selfishly convenient” (253). Wallace makes his personal preference and the reasoning behind it clear. I found that a lot of what Wallace chooses to expose complements the presence of the PETA proponents and in a way softens the details of the all the “other ways to kill your lobster on-site” (249).

The series of questions Wallace finishes with managed to summarize a lot of the questions I had in mind as I read “Consider The Lobster”. For me, he manages to turn a cultural gathering into a site of ethical debate into a platform for cerebral inquiry when he poses questions such as, “is your refusal to think about any of this the product of actual thought, or is it just that you don’t want to think about it?” (254). In the end, I felt as if Wallace manages to expose the connection between preference and the factors of conscious/unconscious thought. Though this connection isn’t one every really reconciled of fully understood, it boils down to matter of preference.

Sensitivity in Infinite Jest

A few of you have already written blog posts on Wallace’s style in Infinite Jest; nonetheless, the singularity of his style deserves yet another post. I just finished re-reading jtlax45’s post on the maximalist style of Wallace’s prose. I had not heard of the term maximalism in a literary context before (and I failed to find anything relevant when I googled the term), but if we take jtlax45’s definition of maximalism-“a deep and sometimes frivolous-feeling exploration of the minute details”-then that sounds about right in characterizing Wallace’s style in Infinite Jest (as well as his other works). In this post, I would like to expand on Wallace’s detail-driven style with special attention to the sensitivity and control Wallace exerts in his writing, focusing on this week’s segment of Infinite Jest.

One instance of the sensitivity ingrained Wallace’s writing occurs when the three White Flaggers visit Gately:   “The three all pause, and then Jack J. puts the back of his hand to his brow and flutters his lashes martyrishly at the drop-ceiling. They all three of them laugh. They have no clue that if Gately actually laughs he’ll tear his shoulder’s sutures” (844). The writing is sensitive because Wallace does not only depict what happens but also what does not happen-the non-events, the silence, the omissions, the what-might-have-happened-but-does-not-actually-happen-moments. In other words, the writing is sensitive in that it is aware of so much more than the plot that it describes; the writing notices even the elements that the plot excludes. In fact, the writing almost emphasizes the elements that the plot excludes by eliciting an awareness of these elements.

For example, by including the pause of the three visitors, the text draws attention to a moment of silence, which is in a way a moment of non-occurrence, non-plot. By informing the reader that “they have no clue that if Gately actually laughs he’ll tear his shoulder’s sutures,” the text gives the reader access to information apart from and outside of the plot. The text reveals its awareness of everything-the events that occur and those that do not. By including those details and elements of non-plot, Infinite Jest exudes a rare level of sensitivity-one often absent from other works of fiction.

Not only is the text itself sensitive to its milieu, almost every single character in the text displays an uncommon level of sensitivity. Earlier in the novel, we witness that even the despicable Randy Lenz is more sensitive than the average human being when he conducts an internal debate over how to tell Green to stop following him and “still have Green know he thinks he’s OK?” Lenz worries about every detail, from “where the fuck is he supposed to look when he says it” to the “voltage or energy there, hanging between you” (554-555). In this segment of the reading, we see Gately’s sensitivity, as an eight or nine year-old child. When Mrs. Waite brings a birthday cake, the narrator tells us, “Mrs. Waite had spared Gately the humiliation of putting just his name on the cake as if the cake was especially for him. But it was. Mrs. Waite had saved up for a long time to afford to make the cake, Gately knew” (848-849). These passages and many others imbue an unparalleled quality of sensitivity in the characters.

The passage about the M.P.’s fly-whacking style reminds me precisely of Wallace’s own style-not that Wallace’s style is as cruel as the fly-whacking style, but that Wallace’s style seems just as controlled and meticulous as the M.P.’s style. Wallace’s description of the manner in which the M.P. whacks flies creates an almost perfect mirror image of his own style. He expounds that the M.P. hits flies-

in a controlled way. Not hard enough to kill them. He was very controlled and intent about it. He’d whack them just hard enough to disable them. Then he’d pick them up real precisely and remove either a wing or like a leg, something important to the fly. He’d take the wing or leg over to the beige kitchen wastebasket and very deliberately hike the lid with the foot-pedal and deposit the tiny wing or leg in the wastebasket, bending at the waist. (842)

Like the way in which the M.P. smacks flies, Wallace’s writing peels apart each character carefully to his or her bare personality and inner sensitivity (in his non-fiction, Wallace’s writing peels apart issues such as the morality of cooking lobsters and the wars over usage in an equally exceptional and meticulous way). Every word and sentence and phrase in the text seems as deliberate and controlled and carefully selected and architected as this nasty, yet subtly similar scene of fly-parsing.


Two pieces of personal association on this one. Both will be brief.

First one: I love seafood, including lobster. My father’s family are all Northeaterners, and have given me a heritage of love for the sea and its delicacies. Second one: I acquired Consider the Lobster early September 2008, days after I arrived here. I had read IJ first, then ASFTINDA, which turned me on to his nonfiction. Obviously, this was pretty poor timing all things considered. So, when I finally got around to reading this essay in particular (on the recommendation of my next-door-neighbor, who’s a true literary junkie), I couldn’t avoid linking the two. This circumstance, combined with the power of DFW’s argument in Lobster, made me genuinely consider swearing off seafood. That’s how powerful the essay is.

This reading response is about lobster, in a tangential way. Specifically, relating DFW’s perceptions of the MLF and vacationing with lobster and its consumption. DFW believes that the tourism that the MLF epitomizes and capitalizes on is a rather dreary affair, in which those present have been brought to experience something. Obviously, there are several flaws with this conception of tourism. For one, there’s the fact that nothing is ever as beautiful as you might expect just by nature*; for the other, there’s the fact that tourism is corrosive to itself. As more people are drawn in by the allure of travel, the destination in question becomes increasingly more crowded, which in turn directs it ever further toward fulfilling the interests of the tourists, which makes it even more touristy. You can see how this becomes circular really fast. This is why DFW points out the problem with the perspective of the woman who reviewed the festival in previous years glowingly – not only was that perspective probably not representative of the true nature of the fair, it made it so such an abominable fate, an effectual “tourist overpopulation”, became inevitable, which is what is depicted by the scene in the Main Eating Tent, which is like hell’s cafeteria if hell’s cafeteria only served lobsters.

So why is lobster important? Well, it’s one of those examples of something attaining an exaggerated value to the point where one is consuming less the lobster than the inside of the idea. Lobsters are usually the main item of a major seafood chain, and for good reason. Why do you think it’s called Red Lobster? Because lobster, in the eyes of your average diner, is the, as DFW puts it, “seafood analog to steak” (238). Not even considering the fact that the lobster tank is frequently situated in the front of the restaurant as if daring children to order the dish to confront the mortality of food firsthand – to literally “meet the meat” – lobsters are idolized in dining. And this translates into exaggerated expectations. Lobsters aren’t my favorite kind of seafood, but my grandparents think I love it, in part because of this exaggerated status. Lobsters as a food are the equivalent of the MLF itself – a kind of ultra-delicacy. However, the consumer at either of these events isn’t consuming the item, but rather the concept of the item – an idealized lobster, or an idealized tourist attraction. Hence DFW’s criticism of the festival – it’s less something exciting than something to do because it’s exciting, or, worse, something to do because it’s depicted as exciting. This is why tourism is so caustic – because it’s removed from any kind of excitement at that point.

* My parents are fans of public television, which means I’ve watched a rather excessive amount of a program called “Rick Steves’ Travels in Europe”, which are a strange sight. At once, they’re really well-attuned to the beautiful things one can discover in travel, and Mr. Steves himself is quite good at getting his hands dirty, immersing himself in the local culture, etc. but at the same time, it’s almost too meta in its reflection of the travel experience. By attacking the conception of tourists-visiting-for-its-own-sake, programs like this that try to get the tourist to partake of the culture create their own layers of self-justification, in this case justification-of-the-culture-and-the-experience-of-such, which frequently is either hopelessly romanticized or itself an iteration of the tourist’s experience. This is getting convoluted. The point is that travel is a self-reinforcing process – as soon as one tries to get the best-of-both-worlds in travel by “acting like locals”, they reinforce the fact that travel is ultimately about going somewhere and doing something for no really good reason.

Freedom of Choice

After I read “Up Simba” I couldn’t help but think back on DFW’s thoughts on freedom in his Kenyon commencement speech.  

The crux of the commencement speech is that you have the freedom “to exercise some control over how and what you think.”    You can either rely on your brain’s hard-wired default setting: being “hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head,” or you can choose something else.  Something more empathetic, compassionate, mature.  To not revert to the automatic thoughts you have about a situation or a person, but actually take the time to think, to put yourself “in their shoes.”  It’s not easy, that’s for sure. But you have the choice between the two, and that’s for sure also.

In “Up Simba” there is a similar choice to be made.  Either we can dismiss McCain as another lying, conniving demagogue or we can believe that he is genuinely trying to inspire a nation to be the best it can be.  For the latter DFW makes a strong case, which primarily relies on McCain’s choice to follow POW code as testament to his selflessness.  It’s uncertain whether this fact is enough to push voters past their cynicism toward politics.  It’s certain, however, that you can choose whether it is enough.  

As DFW says in the closing lines of the essay, “whether [McCain’s] truly ‘for real’ now depends less on what is in his heart than on what might be in yours.”