Tag Archives: Brief Interviews With Hideous Men

Wiki Test Run/Porousness Of Certain Borders/(Help Ad?)

I wanted to dedicate this week’s reading response to hashing out some of the ideas I plan to discuss on the Wiki. For starters, I’m immensely pleased that my group was assigned Brief Interviews With Hideous Men because despite Wallace’s extraordinary ability to write pages and pages, I’ve always tended to appreciate his work that’s comparatively concise. Besides discussing all of the stories, general themes, symbols, etc. of Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, I would also like to spend some significant time on the “Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders” series. Brief Interviews With Hideous Men includes three of these, though upon reading a little bit hear and researching a little bit there, I’ve come to find out that there are quite a few others that Wallace wrote which have gone on to be published in magazines and quarterlies including Esquire, McSweeney’s, and Harpers. Though, locating all of these, which number upwards of twenty, might be a difficult task I wanted to make it known that I want to do this, and ***if anyone knowledge of where I can find one that would be incredibly helpful****.

Apart from these logistics, when I compile all of the YAEPCB’s I’d like to examine the connections between the series as well as between Wallace’s other works. It’s hard for me to say exactly I want to look at considering it’s difficult discussing anything when you haven’t even found it, but I can at least begin with some of the YAEPCB’s found in Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. The first YAEPCB is number eleven of the series and like the others is labeled as an ‘example’, something indicated by its shortness. Number eleven is only a page and a half in length, but in that page and a half it manages to discuss a wide range of ideas surrounding issues of blindness, privilege, and lucidity. In this ‘example’, the reader is introduced to an unnamed narrator who describes a dream, “as in all those other[s]”, where he finds himself with someone he knows but is unsure of how exactly he knows this person — an explanation that might refer to the interconnectedness of human relations, or might be trying to discuss the nature of how our lives can follow similar trajectories as a matter of happenstance, with the origin being of little importance to us (35).

In this dream, the narrator is made aware by this other individual that he is blind though he seems confused as to how he knows this. This confusion brings two levels of lucidity into the mix because on one hand the narrator is distanced from reality in his dream, and on the other hand the narrator is puzzled by the reality inside his own dream. However, this distance closes up and illusion carries over to reality when the narrator becomes so psychologically distressed inside his dream that he wakes up still crying. This retreat from reality instills the narrator with an entirely new consciousness of human privilege. He spends the following day at work so “incredibly conscious” of his eye sight that he expresses an awareness of “how fragile it all is, the human eye mechanism and the ability to see, how easily it could be lost”(35). Though this awareness doesn’t completely penetrate the narrator’s discriminatory preconceptions, and this shines through as he describes viewing blind people on the street. The narrator communicates that this dream, or more appropriately nightmare, makes him conscious of blind people, “their canes and strange-looking faces”, their momentary appeal from a distanced perspective, and how it is a matter of luck that he isn’t one of the blind people that he sees in the subway. This nightmare awakens the narrator to the harsh reality of human biological privilege, but it only goes so far as to reinforce the narrator’s sense of his own privilege and results in a realization devoid of all humbling effects. All of this leaves the narrator exhausted, emotionally drained, and spurs him to retreat from work, barely able to keep his eyes open, only to return home and fall asleep in the early afternoon.

There are a considerable amount of conclusions that this piece can potentially lead to, but one theme I find pressing is the issue of reality and awareness. In this “Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders”, Wallace discusses the fragile nature of the human experience. This fragility is communicated in the way the narrator becomes overwhelmingly distraught, but its importance is disregarded after reality surfaces. Dreaming and it’s dislocation from reality is employed by Wallace in a way that seems to recognize that dreams succeed to offer a new perspective, one that is attainable only by limiting or being distant from reality. The acute awareness gained by the narrator goes to show that humans can gain a greater understanding of their identity and interconnectedness to one another, though the practice and continuation of this is seemingly infrequent. Considering this is just the start to something I’d like to pursue further in Wiki form, comments/questions would be much appreciated!

What type of man is Orin Incandenza?

In this week’s section of Infinite Jest, Wallace explores some new characters in more depth than he had been able to previously.   With these new scenes, new themes and ideas surface for discussion.   We’ve talked about addiction, escape,and consumption at length, but now we can shift if we so choose into ideas of personal dysfunction and anxieties that are born within.   DFW reveals some deep-rooted intimacy problems in Orin Incandenza’s life, which are reminiscent of several of the conversations from Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.

Pages 565-567 detail Orin’s encounter with a Swiss hand model, and we see his detachment from her, and need to refer to her as a “specimen” or more frequently a “Subject.”   Also, it is immediately clear that sex for Orin is all about Orin, not them both, as he says, “It feels to the punter to be about hope, an immense, wide-as-the-sky hope of finding a something in each Subject’s fluttering face, a something the same that will propriate hope, somehow, pay its tribute, the need to be assured that for a moment he has her, now has won her…” (Wallace 566).   Orin finds more satisfaction in achieving his own weird goals than anything else.   And forget about a connection, the sexual act brings him no closer to any of his Subjects than before.   The fact that each of his Subjects are nameless does not help either.   He desires to be the sole, all-encompassing object of desire for every woman he sleeps with, desires to be “the One.”   Wallace suggests, “This is why, maybe, one Subject is never enough…. For were there for him just one, now, special and only, the One would be not he or she but what was between them, the obliterating trinity of You and I and We. Orin felt this once and has never recovered, and will never again” (Wallace 566-567). Wallace here reveals some trauma in Orin’s past that causes his current dysfunction.   He also affords readers a lengthy and revealing interview with Orin in footnote 234, pages 1038-1043, which delves into Orin’s relationship with his parents and Hal’s episode with eating the mold.

The interview format from footnote 234 is identical to that of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.   The sexual problems are relevant as well, especially one interview from the beginning of the book, where one hideous man says, “The real fall-down of these wanna-be-Great type fellows is they think a lady is, when you come right down to it, dumb…. She wants to see herself as a Great Lover that can blow the top of a man’s head clean off in bed.   Let her… Then you truly got her” (Brief Interviews 33).   Orin clearly falls into the wanna-be-Great type, but are his problems deeper than that?   He may want more than just to please women; he seems to want to encompass their entire range of desire.   Does that mean he is still the fool spoken of in the interview, or does his exceptionally obsessive case make him, in fact, the hideous one?   I can’t make a definitive call on this right now, maybe in the later pages Wallace will reveal more aspects of Orin’s personality and dysfunction.  

The Problem of Pain

David Foster Wallace has made it clear that the purpose of his fiction is to capture what it means to be human.   Since “an ineluctable part of being a human self is suffering,”   naturally Wallace deals with this very subject in many of his stories (McCaffery Interview).

As I was reading Oblivion I was beginning to notice a pattern in the way Wallace’s characters deal with pain.   It seems that if one intellectually can separate oneself from pain itself, and examine it from an outside perspective, one may somehow come to terms with the pain in a way that’s not just simply denial or rationalization.

I’m specifically thinking of Brief Interviews, in B.I. #46 (the holocaust one), when the interviewee is talking about “how easy and powerful that was to do that, to think that, even while the violation’s going on, to just split yourself off and like float up to the ceiling and there you are looking down at this thing getting worse and worse things done to it and the thing is you and it doesn’t mean anything” (122).     The interviewee submits that for the rape victim, this de-personalization could have broadened “how she understood herself” (121).

Compare this with how the dying child “had learned to leave himself and watch the whole rest unfold from a point overhead” in Oblivion’s “Incarnations of Burned Children”   (116).   Eerily similar.   Clearly the scalded child won’t understand more about pain, but can the reader learn something from adopting an outside perspective?

Any other examples?   Thoughts?

On His Deathbed as a Sort of Present

It has become a habitual practice of mine to think of what I don’t understand and frame it in terms of experience so that I can better make sense of it. This is a practice that I’ve grown to acknowledge as necessary when reading any of Wallace’s work, and while it is a mechanism that helps to understand his writings it also allows a great deal of self reflexivity. While I tend to approach everything I read in this way, I found two pieces from Brief Interviews with Hideous Men to be so complementary that the questions that one generated were answered by another. And so, the overlaps that I found in ” On His Deathbed, Holding Your Hand, the New Young Off-Broadway Playwright’s Father Begs a Boon,” and “Suicide as a Sort of Present,” saved me (sort of) from resorting to this mode of understanding, which in turn brought to mind a couple of questions.

First, the placement of these two seemed to indicate that these two works were to be read one after another. If this was intended then possibly my understanding of these two works as complementary is correct. On the other hand these two stories could be next to one another as a result of happenstance- something that once one reads both works, appears as having little significance. Both works definitely struck me as having parallels, but what interests me more is how the fuzzy details and areas of ambiguity in “On His Deathbed, Holding Your Hand, the New Young Off-Broadway Playwright’s Father Begs a Boon,” were answered or at least explicated figuratively through “Suicide as a Sort of Present”.

As I was reading “On His Deathbed…,” I grew frustrated by the lack of details explaining why the father really hates his child. Throughout the work the narrator describes his hatred for his son, and though it goes on for about twenty-six pages, he doesn’t really explain what the child has done to warrant such hatred. I felt as if the first line, “Listen: I did despise him. Do.,” (256) adequately described everything he tries to convey. The father’s description of ordinarily childish or infantile traits and lines like “she had ceased to be the girl I’d — she was now The Mother, playing a part, a fairy story,”(272) show evidence for why he hates his son,(or wife?), but these aren’t especially different from the experience of any ordinary father or mother. However, the father does give a reason behind his resentment, but not to the extent of his described hatred. He states ” I despised him for forcing me to hide the fact that I despised him” (271). The socially constructed obligatory nature of a parent’s life seems to be the real reason for the father’s hatred. It’s as if he hates his child because he feels obliged/forced into loving him (‘love’ in no shape appears in the Oxford American Dictionary’s definition of father).

I felt relieved after having read “Suicide as a Sort of Present” because it appeared to me as if the mother-son relationship was the opposite of the father-son relationship in “On His Deathbed…”. While in “On His Deathbed…,” the son is hated for things outside his control, the son in “Suicide as a Sort of Present” is hated only as a result of the mother’s self hatred. In this way, I though that “Suicide as a Sort of Present” served to create possible explanations, and complementarily brings up additional questions pertaining to “On His Deathbed…”. One such question that I wondered about was if the father in “On His Deathbed” actually hates his son for the very reasons that he states, which seems irrational and unjustified, or if this hatred is a result of missing background information that’s supplied in “Suicide as a Sort of Present”. Also, I wondered whether the end of “Suicide as a Sort of Present”, where the son, unlike the son in “On His Deathbed, is seen as liberating his mother from this hatred in committing suicide is meant to seem better or more optimistic than the life long hatred as seen in “On His Deathbed”. In the end I was left questioning both works, and was unsure which I felt showed a ‘better’ or more ‘healthy’ relationship.

Another post comprised nearly completely of rhetorical questions

The last of the Hideous Men made me think the most and repelled me the least (funny how that works). In the end, I forgave him his ills because he comes to realization that he’s never loved someone and that his “entire sexuality and sexual history has less genuine connection or feeling than” listening to her tell her story of violation (313, 317). He recounts listening and empathizing and comes to a conclusion about himself and what’s not to like? what makes him Hideous?

For one thing, with the story of the girl’s story (can we really trust three levels of narrator?) he sort of proves the point of the Frankl narrative we’ve been talking about so much. So: if we read the story and empathize with everyone, we also agree with Frankl’s unconventional belief about the pros of assault. And that’s kind of twisted, to bring us around like that (even if we believed him in the beginning). Maybe it’s something else? (Come to think of it: Maybe I just like him because he doesn’t remain critical of the girl throughout the whole story. and talks about how beautiful she is with the moon and her hair all over her. Think of this possibility makes me feel like a sucker, so I’ll ignore it for the time being).

 

There’s a part in all of the narratives of these Hideous men where I pause to categorize them negatively. Regarding Mr. New Haven CT, the instance of judgment passing occurred when reading what he tells the girl when he’s picking her up: that he “had felt some mysterious but overwhelming sensual energy,” which is why he came over to her blanket (291). (I underlined this and wrote “Jerk” in the margin.) The seduce-ment tactic is so completely false and put on and faked. So does he redeem himself in the end?  And also, how do we feel about her? Is the story even real? Does that matter?

 

I liked the line “that a deep need for anything from other people makes us easy pickings” (292). It seems truthful. Simultaneously, it warns against vulnerability, which is basically what interpersonal relationships are all about (aren’t they? is that just a woman thing? I don’t think so?).

Q.

Reading the Brief Interviews, several questions came to my mind, questions I don’t necessarily know how to answer, despite wracking my brain.

The first of these questions is: why pick these men/traits? What makes it all so hideous?

While certainly some of these men have quite overt hideousness (for example, the “player” guy or the gentleman on the airplane), others need their hideousness teased out of them. For example, in class it was decided that the man who would yell “Victory for the forces of Democratic Freedom” was hideous for his self-consciousness, who “almost get[s] pissed off, the ones who say ‘I think I could love you anyway'” (18). That said, there is no common theme between the various hideous things about the men. Some are just prototypical examples of disgusting male behavior, as mentioned above. Others, again as previous mentioned, are in there because of their self-consciousness or embarrassment about something. Others are even less easy to categorize; for example, there seems to be nothing really hideous about the son of the restroom attendant, and the only thing I can think of that would be undeniably negative about him is his looking down upon his father’s profession and attempt to try to right it, stating “I tip. I never forget someone is there.” (90) and generally being somewhat self-righteous about it. Even then, I do not necessarily know that this is really “hideous” of him. There are still others, like the Victor Frankl man. This man is espousing a viewpoint, explaining his exact thinking when reaching his conclusion. He does not seem to be judgmental, and I can see what he is getting at. While this philosophy he puts forward could be twisted to some despicable ends, he seems to be very level-headed at it, and I am willing to take at face value his denials that he is trying to justify rape and such. I do not think that we could call him hideous, at least not for the reasons we call the other men hideous.

Second: Who is our interviewer?/Why is she conducting these interviews/how did she meet these men/Why are they so candid?

On the Victor Frankl interviewee, one response on his part makes it seem like the interviewer is pushing a viewpoint. After the interviewer asks a question or makes a statement, this interviewee responds with: “that’s the knee-jerk reaction, […] saying what I’m saying is Oh so the guys that gang-raped her did her a favor” (119). The interviewee is trying to explain something that he has clearly considered deeply, and from this reaction we seem to get that the interviewer is simplifying his words to make a hideous conclusion.

This behavior on the part of our silent interviewer makes me consider exactly why we have these interviews to start with. What caused the interviewer to tour the country over a few years to gather all of these? While clearly one or two of them the interviewer stumbled into (as in, in a relationship with the interviewee), most of these interviews seem not as if she just stumbled across these men. What is especially strange is how open and candid the men are. For example, the finger-flexing interviewee is very straightforward about something few would talk about in good company. Why is he giving this interview? It is this lack of context that made me ask the next question.

Third: Why drop the interviewer’s statements?

This pushed me more into the territory of wondering what kind of agenda the interviewer is pushing. In the Frankl interview, as well as a few others, we get a feeling that the interviewer is putting words in the interviewee’s mouth. At the same time, we can never really know what the interviewer is getting at, since she has almost been removed from the equation. This seems as if the interviewer is hiding something about her, perhaps an agenda that she is pushing with these interviews. Especially since she has gone out of her way to interview “hideous” men, I wonder if these interviews are not to be trusted as the balanced material they seem to be at face. When I first read them, I felt that the questions/prompts were removed to let the men speak for themselves. Now I wonder if, hidden behind those “Q”s are measured questions intended to portray the interviewee in a negative light, and were redacted to erase the evidence, to make the men seem more hideous than they are. If we follow this route, then we conclude that perhaps the interviewer is just as hideous, waging a sort of gender-war against men and trying to make them seem worse than they are. I don’t necessarily think that this is the road that we are meant to follow, but at many points, the little bits of the interviewer we get (the annotations about the finger-flexing, which seem increasingly annoyed about the interviewee’s trait, or a few direct responses to the prompts) make her seem a bit off-putting, at the very least.

Circumvention as a Sort of Art

Brief Interview #28,   K- and E-‘s discussion about what women want (WWW hereafter), is fascinating in the solution it proposes.   Of greater significance, however, is the boldness inherent in proposing a solution to such a charged problem.   In today’s political climate, it’s incredibly difficult to address the WWW issue without being accused of apologizing for some ideological camp – feminism, chauvanism, sexism, etc.

DFW skillfully dodges this in two ways – 1) the piece is priveleged by a   “hear-me-out” quality by virtue of the fact that writing is a one-way medium, i.e., you can’t just interrupt and cut the argument short, and 2) by employing E- as a devil’s advocate of sorts – he’s not stupid, but he embodies the type of erroneous thinking that most people are prone to. In the mouth of E-, DFW puts the anticipated the counterarguments and logical fallacies we are inclined toward regarding the WWW issue/solution .   K- then amends E-‘s (our) misconceptions, explaining why they are inaccurate without ever simplifying or reducing the issue.

By obviating charges of bias, DFW can then comprehensively diagnose WWW, and propose a solution.   This circumvention of minor issues in order to focus on the relevant one at hand is similar to what Wallace says Joseph Frank does for Dostoevsky w.r.t the IF (Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky), and what Bryan Garner does in A Dictionary of Modern American Usage w.r.t. prescriptive vs. descriptive grammar rules (Authority and American Usage).   K-, Frank, and Garner don’t pretend that there isn’t controversy – they just tackle the issue from an angle that makes most of the controversy irrelevant.   For me, this is what makes DFW feel like such a monolithic authority.   He knows what the important issues are, and addresses them critically and sincerely.

Identity/Self/Other

The final story in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, “Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders (XXIV),” is a lovely narrative that I’m not sure I fully understand. It is quite brief yet very descriptive, so that in the first sentence the reader already has the knowledge that “between a cold kitchen window gone opaque with the stove’s wet heat and the breath of us, an open drawer, and the gilt ferrotype of identical boys flanking a blind vested father which hung in a square recession above the wireless’s stand, my Mum stood and cut off my long hair in the uneven heat” (319). One of my favorite aspects of Wallace’s writing is his attention to detail; I can always picture his scenes very clearly in my head, which I think makes the stories much more realistic and human. Even though I would never notice the tiny minutia that Wallace writes about, his including it in his stories somehow makes them more realistic and visible.

The main action of this story (apart from the haircut) describes the “copying game,” which is particularly interesting in this case because the boys are twins and technically already have “the same” (in a manner of speaking) faces. The brother who is being copied admittedly hates the game, and “as I became more agitated at the copying and the agitation registered-I felt it-on my face, the face of my brother would mimic and lampoon that agitation” (320), creating a loop of agitation.  As this loop progresses, the boy sees “the distortion in which there is, tiny, at the center, something cruelly true about the we who leer and woggle at stick necks and concave skulls . . . as the mimicry ascended reflected levels to become finally the burlesque of a wet hysteria” (320-21). During this game, there seems to be a blurring between the Self and Other-as the boy looks into the mirror, he sees both his own face and his brother’s, which look the same not only due to genetics but also because of the game. I was not exactly sure what to make of this-what happens when it becomes impossible to distinguish between the face of the Self and the face of the Other? It seems like a twisted version of Rick Vigorous’s desire to have Lenore inside himself so that the two of them become one Self.

The end is where I become a little bit confused about the meaning of this story. The boy eventually realizes that his only refuge is “slackness, giving up the ghost completely for a blank slack gagged mask’s mindless stare-unseen and -seeing-into a mirror I could not know or feel myself without. No not ever again” (321). Here, the boy is clearly struggling with the separation between Self and Other-the first time I read the story, I took “mirror” to be the actual literal mirror; the second time, I took it to be his twin. I’m not sure which reading is correct, but if I assume it’s the last one, it certainly has interesting implications. If it is his brother, and he could “not know or feel myself” without him, what does that say about individuality and the relationship between twins? And if Wallace is actually referring to the mirror, I don’t have any idea what he means. I think that the ambiguity there is certainly for a purpose (isn’t everything?), but again, I am not sure what, exactly, Wallace is trying to accomplish

Also, I just have to add that I love the way that Wallace ends most of his stories with these short statements that usually are not full sentences (in this case, “no not ever again”). They always leave me with a feeling that something important has been said (although sometimes, as in this case, I don’t really know what the importance is).

Duality of Violence

I generally like Wallace’s candidness when it comes to titles and “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” doesn’t disappoint. While ‘hideousness’ is definitely something that fills its pages, it doesn’t seem to be entirely appropriate.   The men ‘interviewed’ succeed in presenting a picture of male chauvinism and manipulation; however, the Victor Frankl proponent, provides a break from this overarching theme, and this break seem as important, if not more, as the grotesque characterization of Wallace’s hideous men.

The worst part of Wallace’s fictional interviews with hideous men is the fact that while reading through them, you get the sense that you actually know one of these hideous men, and if not that, then you get the sense that there are people like this, somewhere. The clincher for this piece of Wallace’s nonfiction is that he manages to describe men who are all too scarily familiar. His selection of characters is poignantly representative of male stereotypes, and I’d bet that almost everyone knows a form of the pathetically exploitive ‘player’-type, or his counterpart the “played”. Fortunately the last interview takes a different direction and manages to discuss the degradation that covers the preceding pages.

The interview begins with a slightly weird defense of violence. The unnamed man uses Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning to show violence/degradation as character-building processes. This interview is definitely a divergence from previous interviews in that it goes on to defend women, pathetically targeted, “where it adds up to this very limited condescending thing of saying they’re fragile or breakable things” (116). A point of confusion arises in the disparity between the man’s several descriptions of ways violence can happen, and the “knee-jerk attitude” that so many people have towards any form of degradation (116). On one hand, I think the interviewee presents a worthwhile point in his attempt to convey the ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’-mindset, and yet I was a bit weary of the man’s intentions when he begins to describe the extent to which a woman could be raped with a Jack Daniel’s bottle. The man’s horrific description of violence and his recognition of the positive in it manages to put him at a distance that’s unlike the other interviewees, who seem pretty straightforward and justifiably despicable (save the bathroom attendant).

I think that my feelings of strangeness are in part a product of the sense of experience and proximity to violence that the interviewee has. The line, “to know that another human being, these guys, can look at you lying there in the totally deepest way understand you as a thing”(120) was one of those moments where I wasn’t entirely sure of what the man means. It seems clear that any obstacle, no matter violence’s part, is character building; however, when he describes the connection between the abused and the abuser on page 120, he makes a point of saying that the abuser “understand[s] you as a thing, not a person a thing” (120). The difference between ‘person’ and ‘thing’ in this paragraph seems really crucial, and yet I’m a bit unclear still. It seems to me that he’s trying to say that there is a deeper beneficial nature to being the subject of any type of degradation, and that objectification in particular, is something that helps constitute a sense of self. Throughout this interview, the man has an air of authority when it comes to all of this violence, and it’s as if his last line “you don’t know shit” is meant to imply that he’s somehow experienced degradation, objectification, or abuse, and that this knowledge is, in a way, both self identifying and freeing.  

The nihilism of the nth degree

The problem that postmodernists sought to solve by turns with recursive metafiction and minimalism was that of the mediated narrative consciousness. Pre-modernist texts are primarily premodern in the sense that they try to provide empirical insights about the real world by presenting that world in fiction. Writers of this kind of fiction tended to believe their insights were objectively true, and didn’t really have much of a sense of the limitations of what they could be legitimately insightful about. Modernists and postmodernists recognized that the real world cannot be presented in writing, only represented, and that representation is intrinsically mediated, theirs by linguistic medium and authorial consciousness. The minimalist attempt to resolve the issue is the most obvious workaround, but it rests on the same assumption of a describable world, and considers the mediated narrative consciousness to be a quality of style and not of language itself. The minimalists seek to minimize the narrative consciousness, and thus supposedly its mediation of their presentation of the world, by the reduction of its stylistic manifestations: sub-surface description, authorial judgement on characters etc… They wanted to create uninterpreted pictures of the world then give them to the reader for him/her to draw his/her own conclusions. The Meta-fictionists sought to solve the problem of mediated narrative consciousness by the application of a solipsistic Tractatus era Wittgensteinian understanding of language. If a linguistic consciousness both can’t be done away with and can only even hope to understand itself, than the only subject a mediated narrative consciousness’ can actually hope to be truthful about is its mediation of narrative, writing.

In Octet, Wallace takes the whole project a step further. In a way, it’s meta-metafiction. He first of all recognizes that any answer to the metafictional question of “what is writing” or “what’s the relationship of the reader to the author” will necessarily itself be mediated. The ongoing debate over the intentional fallacy and death of the author are evidence enough for metafictional inquiries non-objectivity. He sees traditional metafiction as the masking of this second order mediation in the same way the postmodern minimalist style can be seen as the masking of mediation in a single-order story.  

Pop quiz 9 is, on the surface, completely direct metafiction, it takes place entirely beyond the fourth wall, it deals directly with the specific question of whether a piece of metafiction can inspire that sense of urgent honesty a reader so often gets from single-order fiction (is the metafictional parable univocal with the straight parables). Its direct form, indeed, more resembles an ordinary belletristic parable on a metafictional subject than a piece of metafiction. Wallace chooses this style in order to highlight the mediated quality of the metafictional subject matter.  

He recognizes that in the post-postmodern US, the audience is always in on the joke, and is very quick to recognize the mediated quality of any single-order story. We evaluate movies for their content, to be sure, but we also evaluate them at least as much if not more on the efficacy of their mediation, the academy awards, except for best picture, all reward not greatness in content but in mediation, and we lay-viewers evaluate movies based on the same model. Thus by presenting his metafictional query in the form of a single-order narrative, he highlights for the marginally savvy post-postmodern reader the mediated quality of that metafictional inquiry.

Once you take for granted the mediated quality of metafiction itself, once you start writing and thinking meta-metafictionally, there are only two real directions you can go from there. 1: that all communication is mediated unto the nth degree, and all you can do is keep writing meta-meta-meta-metcetera fiction to expose that mediation; or 2: that mediation doesn’t necessarily invalidate message, but that it is dishonest to pretend your message is unmediated. The 1st option is basically solipsistic, if not nihilistic, and I think Wallace sees it as about the most terrible conclusion you can come to. The second option though is itself pretty scary, because it requires you to try to communicate something real and sets you up either for success or failure in that endeavor. Your success and failure are both twofold: you can fail either, 1. because you yourself are an ineffective communicator in a world where communication is possible, or 2. because you chose the wrong option in the first place and tried to communicate when communication itself is impossible; if you succeed though, you both 1. have said something, and 2. said that something can be said. Pop-quiz: Did he succeed?