Tag Archives: anti-rebel

A literary fall from grace?

While reading hannahm’s post, the idea of “the self-referential loop leading only to, according to him, ‘Armageddon'” made me reconceive the loop using a familiar Christian theme, namely Adam and Eve’s fall from grace and how post-modernism represents a literary fall. The post-modern attitude of hyper-self-awareness, unrelenting irony, and overbearing cynicism seems to mirror Adam and Eve’s post-lapsarian self-consciousness and the Christian attitude about sin and salvation.

It seems that post-modernism, as a fall, was rooted in a desire for knowledge. In a sense, authors seem to have plucked a forbidden fruit of knowledge when they started to examine structure, form, and their own embededness in not only litearture, but language itself. “If realism called it like it saw it” (EUP, 34), those authors could frolick in the garden and un-selfconsciously write earnest prose. Now, all too aware of literary nakedness, they are “oglers” who also “tend to dislike being objects of people’s attention” (E Unibus Pluram, 21). We cannot escape the notion that we our embeded in language and (re)meditate our worlds through various lens. This knowledge makes us feel naked and vulnerable. It leads to “this very personal axiety about our prettiness” and so we clothe that nakedness in grogeous swaths of irony and intelligence. DFW says: “we all recognize the [pop] reference [but are] all a little uneasy about how we all recognize such a reference” (EUP, 42). In a way, we all make crude jokes about each other’s nakedness, but are uneasy about the fact that we even see that nakedness.

When DFW calls for Anti-Rebels to “risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs” (EUP, 81), etc., he is calling for them to appear completely naked in the public eye. However, it seems like we will never be able return to a time when we were unaware of our literary nakedness, and so maybe it’s impossible for these Anti-Rebels to truly expose themselves without any sort of discomfort and self-consciousness. DFW himself seems to try to bare himself, but ends up using irony anyway. He aches to expose his soul, but cannot bear the public eye.

Is true love possible in a world where our acute awareness of nakedness makes us distinguish between Self and Other?


Upon reading the class’s blog entries, and the assigned DFW readings thus far, I find myself struggling to produce a single original thought about Wallace’s writing.   Perhaps that’s part of his point, that his (arguably) Image-Fictional writing is stuck “in the aura” (EUP, 76), a “commercialized attempt at literary protest” (69) already appropriated by televisual culture.   Wallace’s writing’s commercialness shades it with familiarity, casting it in the light of the “ironic, irreverent, and rebellious…culture of today’s avant-garde,” which is really no more than television’s culture.   In defense of his writing’s commercialness, he has certainly sold enough copies to suggest having produced works with mass-reader appeal. Yet, there is no real way to tell whether DFW’s work was written with mass-readership in mind, and even if it could be told, it wouldn’t matter.   Wallace’s books sold, and Wallace’s books described his readers as being stuck within the aura of voyeuristic postmodern loneliness.   Or, to be more accurate, Wallace decribed Joe Briefcase as being stuck within that aura.   But I find it likely that with so many readers, Broom, Consider the Lobster, and the like have been thumbed through by at least a few Joe and Jane Briefcases.

That being said, critics of DFW suggest that he is anything but old hat.   Greg Carlisle’s Elegant Complexity: A Study of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, of which I’ve read the title, does not contend that Wallace’s writing is recycled, run-of-the-mill irony for irony’s sake. Or, if they do, they suggest that irony and hopelessness is not yet a jaded technique.   As John Marshall of the Seattle Post Intelligencer puts it, Wallace has become “probably the most ambitious and prodiguous liteary talent of his generation, an erupting Vesuvius of prose and ideas and intellect.”   I uncautiously assume here that praise of this kind would be reserved for someone doing something other remanufacturing the same cyncicism all the Image-Fiction writers (according to DFW, which I imagine to be a problem–I am using Wallace’s arguments and none others about the current generation of writers to argue about Wallace’s place within the current generation of writers) have been reproducing for the last 20 years.   However, in E Unibus Pluram Wallace points out that he is doing precisely that: writing Image-Fiction.   In a meta-commentary on his commentary on George Gilder’s Life After Television, DFW writes “My attitude, reading Gilder, has been sardonic, aloof depressed.   I have tried to make his book look ridiculous (which it is, but still).”   The parenthetical insistence is what interests me most in this passage.   Wallace is lamenting the fact that he, even in his critical writing about other “authors'” failures to overcome the impassé of post-postmodern irony, he is suffocating in his own post-postmodern quicksand.   The parenthetical insertion highlights this trap, as well as illuminates what I am beginning to believe to be Wallace’s metathesis: even if certainty is had, it cannot be expressed with ingenuity.   That is not to say that certainty cannot be expressed in a believable way, but that believable is only what is said in the “voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage” (67).

This has been Wallace’s lament (in the opinion of an unread, sophistophonic collegiate child) in every corner of Broom of the System.   I’ll just look in one corner. Norman Bombardini, ordering steaks, can easily be paralleled with Wallace’s emotive lament in Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky: “Is the real point of my life simply to undergo as little pain and as much pleasure as possible…? But isn’t this kind of a selfish way to live? Forget selfish–isn’t it awful lonely?” (Dostoevsky, 261) I don’t know where first to point out the image-fictional technique Wallace is trapped in.

Let’s go with Bombardini.   First, the Bombardini scene comes within the confines of a double-entendre story, or maybe a multi-entendre story (which by definition prevents the story from qualifying as an anti-rebellious scheme to overcome post-postmodernism).   There is Bombardini the wealthy hyperconsumer as a satire of contemporary American hyperconsumption, there is Bombardini the philosoph, reflecting postmodern America’s ability to sate all needs and desires with more.   And implicitly there is Bombardini telling Rick and Lenore and the waiter and the reader that he is selfish and lonely and trapped in angry selfish loneliness and cannot find his way out.   But just as much as Bombardini can’t find his way out, and must therefore eat “out,” Wallace balks on the opportunity to give the reader something new, something unauraesque.   Instead the reader gets satire and humor, and probably some irony too, all of which the reader is already mainlining 6+ hours per day.

Perhaps more unfortunately, the same lack of newness is on display in Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky, when Wallace humorously (albeit depressing humor), hopelessly admits that his lamentations about loneliness are tainted by the “ironic distance [he has kept] from deep convictions or desperate questions…sticking the really urgent stuff inside asterisks as part of some multivalent defamiliarization-flourish or some such shit”   (Dostoevsky, 271).   I lean towards arguing that DFW momentarily transcends into anti-rebellion in his straightforward admission that he is incapable of being straightforward.   But then I consider the satire over the satire, and how just because he admits that he’s writing image-fiction doesn’t mean that it’s any less image-fictional.   In fact, I find it depressingly moreso because of the extra layer of irony I have to peel back to get at the meaning of the piece.