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 impassÃ© 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.