Tag Archives: love

Here and There

This collection of stories, like Broom deals a lot with relationships, how hard it is for people to connect and to communicate and how scary it is to give yourself over to another human being.   DFW shows us how, more often than not, it fails to work out and ends with sadness, heartbreak and emptiness.   Here and There deals mostly with the paralyzing fear Bruce has of connecting to others and the boundaries he creates (similar to Lenore’s) to protect himself from the vulnerability of human relationships, and I’m not so sure there’s a happy ending in this one either.


Like Lenore, he has a very thick, selective membrane.   His membrane is the distance he keeps from people — how hard it is for him to connect here, his tendency to stay far away   (there).   He also seems to be strangely fixated on cleanliness like Lenore.   I would go so far as to say he, too, is experiencing a bit of hygiene anxiety.   He talks about tidying things up, keeping them clean.   He is a poet who, “works all the time on well-formed formulas and poems and their rules” and admits that he, “enjoy[s] playing games with words in order to dodge the real meanings of things” (152,166).   He wants to change “clumsy and superfluous” poetry diluted with metaphor and flowery language to writing that is mathematical, technical, logical and “organized”; poetry whose “meaning will be clean” (155).  


He, like Lenore, refuses to allow his “interests be subordinate to those of another”, to take the opportunity to be “emotionally generous”, and instead only gives his girlfriend “distant affection” (153).   He also describes kissing, a form of human connection it seems he did not enjoy, as “sucking a long tube the other end of which is full of excrement” rather than a sensual, connective act (151).   In other words, for both Lenore and Bruce, connection is a messy, dirty, anxiety-attack-inducing thing.


Gray imagery is abundant (his world becoming “disordered, gray”, his grandmother’s gray hair) which I would suggest symbolizes black and white mixing, boundaries being crossed, connections being made and muddled.   At the same time he describes his world as such he begins “to be anxious about something [he] can neither locate or define” (164).   But as the story goes on we see that it is his fear of “feeling alone even when there’s somebody else there”, his inability to connect and communicate with other people.   We see that this is not an irrational fear when his girlfriend tells him, “all this time you’re communicating with no one” (another similarity between him and Lenore) (166).


This fear of human connection is displayed clearly when he is fixing his grandmother’s old stove.   Fixing the stove is literally about repairing connections: wires need to be rebound, they are unraveled and “stick out in different directions” and are “disordered” and it is his job to put them in correct bundles and connect them back together so his grandmother can “reblend” the chili (170,171,168).   The stove represents human relationships.   He says he is “deep in the bowels of the stove”, which takes us back to the image of kissing being connected to, well, bowel movement (169).   The stove can no longer heat things because its connections are broken (heat symbolizing love, or relationship).   Bruce states that he’s “never bound wire before”, and it obviously makes him very nervous (171).   “…Feeling like he loved somebody scared him” (171).   As he begins to repair the stove, repair his phobia of human connection, by “tidy[ing] things up” (this goes back to the hygiene anxiety, membrane stuff), he starts getting really scared, stops breathing, “almost begin[s] to cry” until it gets so bad that he finally admits to being afraid of “absolutely everything there is” (171, 172).      


Bruce finally breaks the technical language he uses to describe fixing the stove and inserts real feeling and emotion — allows himself to connect with the reader.   This is something he was once very against.   He seems to break down his boundary at the end by expressing his sadness and fear, but is he a changed person?   Or just finally admitting to himself that he has a problem?   In other words, on the road to recovery?


He is afraid of love and everything scary and intense that comes along with it.   Aren’t we all?   But does Wallace offer us a solution?   All these stories are about failed relationships, escaping connection, avoiding it, cheating on partners, sexual abuse, fetish, break ups, miscommunication… and at the end of Here and There, all we really get is that he is scared of connecting.   But what are we supposed to do with that?   Relate?   Learn from the characters’ mistakes?   Reflect, change our own detrimental habits?   Stop using (metaphorical) skin-firming, pore-tightening facial masks and allow our membranes to give and little, get a little?  



Close, But Yet, So Far

I think my favorite story so far as been “Here and There.” After “Girl with the Curious Hair” and “John Billy,” Wallace quickly takes us back down to earth with what is a basic, honest to goodness love story. Boy meets girl in high school, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl go to different colleges, boy and girl have a long-distance relationship that doesn’t work out, boy and girl break up. Yet, in playing with the complex idea of distances, Wallace turns this simple love story into an intricate tale of desires, dreams, and space.

From the very beginning of the story, the question of distance is manifest Bruce’s kissing of what is now his ex-girlfriend’s senior photo. It seems as though Bruce enjoys kissing the girl’s picture more than he enjoys kissing the actual girl. She even says, “He didn’t really like to kiss me” (151). But, from his description of the photo (“It’s cloudy from kisses” (152)), Bruce has obviously repeatedly kissed the picture. This strange situation arises because Bruce’s feelings of distance and closeness seem to be inverted. While kissing the girl (in person), Bruce describes that “at the time, with her, yes, I’d feel vaguely elsewhere” (151). It is in a moment of close physical contact that Bruce feels far away from the girl, hence his dislike for kissing her in person. But, it seems that it is only when he is away from the girl, when he only has her picture, that he is able to love her and feel a closeness and a connection.

The reason for Bruce’s inverted sense of connection seems to stem from the fact that Bruce was only able to love the girl because he made her, in his head, what he wanted her to be. And it was only when the girl was away from him that he could “invest” the girl with the qualities that he wanted her to have. The psychologist points this out, explaining how Bruce “never regards her as more than and independent from the feelings and qualities [Bruce] is disposed to invest her with from a distance” (156). When he was able to, essentially, “make her up” in his imagination he felt closest to her. But when they were together, he realized that “she is just plain different from whatever [he] might have decided to make her into for [himself]” (157). So, again it is only when they are apart, when he is free to dream, that he can feel a connection to the girl.

This also connects to why the girl had that impression that Bruce never likes to have, instead “he really likes to want” (159). If he has something, he has to take it for what it is, for how it presents itself, but, if he wants something and doesn’t have it yet, he is still free to dream about it. Bruce needs space, needs a distance between himself and an object in order to connect to it. The second that Bruce feels at home in Maine is the moment that he needs to leave: “Maine becomes another here instead of a there” (164). Bruce can’t have “here’s,” he can only handle “there’s.” He needs to feel that burn of desire, that want. We can only desire things that we don’t have, otherwise it would no longer be a desire. Bruce likes the desiring–the object doesn’t much matter.

Beyond the content, the very structure of the work suggests a play of and with distances. The story seems to be a therapy session between Bruce and a psychologist. But, the girl is present, too. Or is she? At first glance it might appear so: the conversation seems to flow and her responses do, for the most part, follow after Bruce’s comments. But, after re-reading the story, I’m pretty sure that, in fact, Bruce and the girl are in separate rooms, relating their accounts of their story at different times. Though this could definitely be up for interpretation and I would love to hear what other people think, I think there is an ever so subtle feeling that Bruce and the girl are talking just past each other. (Connection to Rick and Lenore, anyone?) In this one moment where both sides of their story finally come together, Bruce and the girl are actually apart, separated.

Ultimately, in this deceptively simple story, Wallace raises many important questions about the nature of human relationships. Do we all try to keep ourselves separated from the ones we love in fear of finding out that they’re not the people we thought them to be? Is the desire to want stronger than the desire to have?


Lenore pretty much sums up David Fosters Wallace’s idea that it is one of the hardest things in life to love someone else more than yourself, to let someone Inside, to be willing to go Outside yourself, to really connect to another person.   She doesn’t really let anyone inside (us as readers included) and also refuses to be taken inside anyone else (like Rick and Bombardini, who want to consume her).   She keeps herself very distant and separate from other people.

                      As readers, we never really get a good sense of Lenore’s character.   All of her narration is in third person or said by other characters (Rick, mostly).   We never hear her point of view.   Even in conversations most of her quotations are ellipses rather than thoughts.   Her character is, literally, made up of the stories other people tell about her (which, ironically, is her biggest fear).   She is nothing more than a character in stories, whose meaning is her use — Rick’s girlfriend, Norman Bombardini’s “Other”, the Antichrist’s sister, Walinda’s enemy, and, most importantly, Lenore Sr.’s great grandchild.   Each person’s version of Lenore is a bit different than the next.   As a result, we as readers have only the slightest idea of who she really is.   We are not let Inside her, and do not know her intimately at all.

                      Lenore does not let people get close, and as a result she becomes an enigma, a woman almost every man becomes infatuated with.   And yet, she picks Rick, a man who (anatomically speaking) cannot fill her who can barely enter her at all.   Rick “knows he can never validly permeate the membrane of another” and so “desires to bring the Other into him” (332).   She, however, is the opposite.   She stays emotionally disconnected to him, refusing to say the words “I love you” making it impossible for them to “unite”, keeping the “Screen Door of Union… unenterable” (286).   Lenore has what Jay refers to as “hygiene anxiety”.   This is an obsession with keeping her “membrane” clean and strong.   Making sure she is in control of what enters and what exits.   She wants a membrane that “chooses what to suck inside itself and lets the rest bounce dirtily off” (330).   Until she meets Lang she remains unwilling to “take an Other inside” (333).

                       There are many more symbols of this obsession with keeping the Inside in and the outside separate: her constant need to take a shower (dirt not belonging on her body), her complaints of people who don’t wear socks with shoes (and her wearing two pairs), her complaints of dirty socks, of ugly, overwhelming shadows, her “fixation on the proximity of the lake”, her inability to communicate (to get the words inside her head outside), the fact that she never cries in front of anyone.

                      It would be nice to say that by the end Lenore’s character had made a nice arc, a drastic change.   The symbolism toward the end of the novel would even suggest this: the repeated images of corners of mouths (a point where Inside and Outside meet, where communication comes from, and connection — kissing — happens), the repeated light imagery (light symbolizing openness, as opposed to the “ugly”, claustrophobic shadows seen in the rest of the novel), the mention of pimples symbolizing inside coming out (on page 374 a pimple is even seen on the corner of a mouth), Lenore crying in front of people for the first time, and of course, letting Lang fill her (physically and, we assume, emotionally).   The last scene is all about connectedness: all the characters together in the same room, pulsing toilet bowls representing hearts connected by a sewer system which then connects all houses, telephones working again (communication actually happening!), Lenore not seeing or caring that the ashes fall on her socks, and all story lines surrounding Lenore finally connecting.  

                      However, Lenore still remains inside her head, refusing to speak, looking “as if she was asleep” (456).   DFW keeps her character three-dimensional (haha) by not having her make a full recovery so quickly.   He does, however, leave us with a little hope: she is no longer chained to Rick (literally, Lang has broken their bond), she has potential for a filling relationship, and she’s slowly starting to communicating more, leading us to believe she is on her way to some sort of happy, better place.  Maybe she’ll allow herself to do what Wallace finds so hard: allow herself to be taken in, let someone else in and experience love.

DFW: beauty. in its purest form.

I’ve been trying to figure out why DFW is my favorite author.   Why he is everyone’s favorite author.   Why I feel like I have this unique, close, important, almost uncle-niece relationship with him.   Why everything I read by him leaves me in a place similar to one I’d be in if I’d just gone to a life coach or guidance counselor, like he understands everything so well and really, REALLY wants me to get it too — cares, DEEPLY that I understand and that I’m learning and wants to teach me everything he knows and maybe I can tell him my secrets too, even.

David Foster Wallace tried and (as far as I can tell) succeeded in escaping the postmodern trap; losing the “word play for the sake of word play”, the literary gags, the skepticism surrounding “narrative as a meaning providing structure”, the “opaque process of representation”, the self-referential loop leading only to, according to him, “Armageddon”, the overwhelming, counterproductive cynicism and irony, “singularly un-useful when it comes to constructing anything to replace the hypocrisies it debunks” (Post Modern Discontent).   He escaped all of that and was able to produce work that was extremely unique, unbelievably smart and, most importantly, truthful.

DFW viewed art as “a relationship between two people” and wanted his relationships with his readers to be honest — I’ll even go so far as to say loving.   I mean don’t you think?   This is really apparent in his work.   He makes it very clear to the reader that there is a consciousness behind the narrative; it is mediated and there is a point to him writing it.   He lets you see his self-consciousness, his worry, the battle with his ego, his insecurity.   It’s there, obviously, and he wants it out in the open.   And this lets the reader trust him.   He is a real person, just like me, with fear and loneliness and insecurity and a need to connect and to love.   He is a real person and we’re having a real conversation.  


* I think now might be an opportune moment to try a lil’ DFW tactic on for size and, in asterisks, point out my own insecurity, as a writer, here, on this blog.   It makes me nervous.   I don’t like it.   Not one bit.   And stop judging me.   Please.*


                      DFW would gains our trust as readers by proving to us that he knew how to be ironic, how to self-doubt, how to hate people worth hating, how to debunk things worth debunking, and do it with the largest vocabulary (without sounding pretentious or like he used a thesaurus) (I hate that) and the most syntactic energy you’ve ever seen.   And once the trust was there he was then able to slip in the more “serious”, sentimental stuff that postmodernists have been known to despise (fear?).

This seriousness was important to him.   He disliked the idea that fiction could no longer “advance ideologies” and instead just parody and ridicule them.   He cared about us more than that.   He wanted to offer solutions to the problems — the many problems — he so astutely wrote about.   He wanted to build something positive for his readers, help us find ways to be REAL HUMANS, which, he pointed out, is nearly impossible to do in the culture we live in.  

He believed that “good fiction comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable” so he empathizes with us, makes us feel less lonely, but at the same time “[agonizes our] sense of self and aloneness” and makes us work as readers (with the foot notes, the page long sentences, the quick scene changes, the digression, etc) so we can be an active partner in this beautiful, reciprocating relationship he creates.  

It is his honesty (albeit in asterisks), his truthfulness and willingness to connect that draws you into his writing and makes you love it, makes you feel like you know him and like you GET IT and like IT’S REAL.  And that is a beautiful feeling.