One of the things I found most interesting in the “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” essay was DFW’s almost neurotic attention to his own appearance as it is seen by the crew and his fellow cruisers on the cruise ship. It’s something we touched on in class for a moment but didn’t really discuss in detail.
The most obvious example of DFW’s concern over his own appearance is when he calls for room service in his cabin. He writes:
Usually what I do is spread out my notebooks and Fielding’s Guide to Worldwide Cruising 1995 and pens and various materials all over the bed, so when the Cabin Service guy appears at the door he’ll see all this belletristic material and figure I’m working really hard on something belletristic right here in the cabin and have doubtless been too busy to have hit all the public meals and am thus legitimately entitled to the indulgence of Cabin Service. (296)
DFW essentially creates a false image of himself in order to justify, to whoever will bring him his food, his need to order Cabin Service when there are so many other eating options available on the ship. He seems to have a fear of being judged. In this particular case, his need to create an outward appearance also stems from the guilt that he feels from indulging in such extravagant pampering. (This is connected to what we were talking about in class w/r/t DFW’s self-conscious hypocrisy of questioning the excessive pampering, but at the same time, indulging in it himself.) But, he ultimately creates a faÃ§ade of himself in order to escape judgment or criticism from whomever he comes across.
Another example of DFW trying to control others’ judgment of him is in his relation to Captain Video: “Captain Video’s the only passenger besides me who I know for a fact is cruising without a relative or companion, and certain additional similarities between C.V. and me…tend to make me uncomfortable, and I try to avoid him as much as possible” (308). He deliberately avoids C.V. because he doesn’t want to be connected in any way to one of the ship’s “eccentrics.” He doesn’t want to be seen as weird or eccentric himself.
I have a feeling that both of these instances of DFW’s self-consciousness stem from his own dissection of everything and everyone around him. In his militant attention to detail, DFW makes very pointed and sometimes unflattering (though usually wonderfully funny) descriptions and critiques of those around him. And though all of the descriptions are truthful and probably unembellished, a lot of them are not particularly complimentary. When he first arrives at the pier and sees all the cruisers in their cruise-wear, he points out that “men after a certain age simply should not wear shorts…they legs are hairless in a way that’s creepy” (272). And when playing ping-pong with Winston, he also notes that “Winston also sometimes seemed to suffer from the verbal delusion that he was an urban black male…” (329). Now, both of theses comments aren’t necessarily mean or untrue, but they are delivered in a fairly critical way.
Because DFW notices and reports on all of the minute eccentricities and oddities of everyone around him, his own self-consciousness must stem from the fact that he doesn’t want to fall victim to any criticism himself. He seems to have a slight fear of being that person that he makes fun of or judges. So when he can, he tries to make himself seem as he wants others to see him, in order to avoid putting himself in a position that might allow others to scrutinize him in the same way he analyzes others. I don’t really think this means that DFW feels much guilt for his unflattering descriptions of people, for his descriptions are all truthful. But maybe this causes him to feel some pangs of self-reproach? I’m not sure.
In realizing that on the ship DFW creates appearances of himself, it makes more sense now to assume that the DFW-narrator that we get in the essay is also somewhat of an appearance, some type of persona. Not that the DFW-narrator is completely different from who DFW the author was, but what we see in the story is probably just a slight alteration of his actual character. Just as he does on the ship, in the essay he creates himself to be how he wants us to see him: funny, affable, insightful. And he is wildly successful.