PEN Center USA proudly presents:
THE PALE KING: monologues from the unfinished novel by David Foster Wallace
April 28, 2011, 7pm, at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills
Tickets are $65 with a first edition of The Pale King and preferred seating.
$25 for admission only.
For more information, visit our website.
Hey there fellow DFW fans in the Los Angeles area/Southern California, this might interest you.
maxistentialist strikes again.
By Sam Cooney
David Foster Wallace is a dead white male American writer who will become more and more famous and revered over the next few years.1 This is as close as a futurefact as you can get. Already you can refer to him as DFW and know that you will be okay: either people will know who you are talking about and nod their head (literally or inwardly) or they won’t know who you are talking about but will then ask Google and then nod their head. It’s a win-win for you! Of course a person could construct some sexy-looking mathematical equation that could better illustrate the future exponential growth of DFW’s inevitable fame and regard, a clever and concise equation with an x and a big curly f and maybe some brackets, a formula that if read aloud would have phrases like let x equaland such that, and if I was DFW instead of a cheap imitation—like a too-shiny wristwatch that says ‘Rollex’ or a overly-glossy ‘Burberri’ bag—if I had his mathematically-inclined brain that somehow enfant-terribly was also able to also conjure up literary sentences and philosophical wanderings and mesh just about every available intellectual and/or popular discipline together into stories that are as intertwiney and natural as tree roots (complex and enjoyable, what a thrill!) so that a commonly-used word to describe his work is ‘encyclopaedic’, then maybe I could jot down such an equation and it would fit better than a foot in a sock. But I’m not DFW or a shadow of his shadow, and for that I don’t apologise, but sort of do, too.
Is mimicry the highest form of admiration? Of adulation? Are either of these questions the accepted maxim? (I was going to say ‘truism’ but I won’t because the root of that word looks to be ‘true’ and nobody wants to read a writer who looks as if they don’t need their readers. Also, I have grown about 57836894 times more careful with words since reading DFW and seeing his unparalleled care with language and noticing all the sics in his footnotes and hearing about the wordgames he would play as a small boy around the dinner table with his family; it is as if he is—apologies for the religious imagery—looking down on me from the great desk in the sky, ready with a tsk or sharp intake of breath if I use the incorrect form of a word, let alone the wrong word entirely. This is a good thing.) Am I mimicking DFW, his style or tone or foci? Or is even that too hopeful, as if to say a cat ‘playing’ the piano is imitating Glenn Gould, when that scenario is most likely just a person hidden from sight with their fingers in the cat’s armpit, wiggling the cat’s stupefied arms, bringing about a visual amusement that gives life to the expression copycat, a fun thing, sure, but nothing more.
DFW is categorically, unquestionably, miraculously the best writer of the past twenty, fifty, one hundred, maybe forever years. According to me, that is, because I will not speak for anyone else, not about this. He is the first writer I’ve seriously considered the great full stop of my lifelong reading expedition, the ‘The End’ of my reading career: that I could never seek to read any other author after now because DFW writings unaccompanied could satiate me until I shuffle off this etc. But in saying this, of course, reading DFW is also the opposite of an ending, as the first experience of his work is a kind of new-seeing, a strain of becoming, some form of upheavally beginning, some type of newbornish opening up of the world. DFW grants me pleasure and fulfilment that I have not hit upon in other parts of my life—and my life is a very high-quality life—but he also inspires in me discontent and restlessness, so that I want to dash out and read every single word ever written about every single topic, ever. Furthermore, every subterranean answer he offers in his work is wrapped in layers of questions, like that children’s birthday party game Pass-the-Parcel whereby a prize is wrapped in layers of paper. Within DFW’s writing you can unwrap deep enough time and time again to find yourself another prize, a treat of some nuggetty nucleus of real truth, and during the unwrapping process you’ll glance just over there and see in other rooms of the party more games of Pass-the-Parcel are taking place, an almost-infinite amount of rooms and games really (a labyrinthine children’s birthday party, what a thought), where there are an almost-infinite number more truths to be uncovered. It’s a bind, alright, but the best class of bind, like feathered handcuffs.
I am not a person who cries, and DFW hasn’t actually made my tear ducts seep, but reading his words have sometimes given me that quaky stomach feeling that is a hallmark of the sad-emotional experience. He has for a few seconds—and does again, and again, and again—caused me to lose my ability to breathe, to focus on the text, to remember what anything is. How many writers trigger this feeling in you, really, really? Do you have a writer that makes you confused about who you are, all the way through? Such a reaction is more commonly associated with music, with film, with family, but to stumble upon a writer that can repeatedly over the course of a single page in a lengthy text affect you so much that a whole plethora of reactions feel appropriate—that to concurrently burn the book and to kiss the book and to copy the book word-for-word one hundred times all feel worthy and pitiable—this is everything.
And but so it’s common for pretty smart writers to be called clairvoyant, such is their imaginative ability to seemingly ‘predict’ how we will go about life in xmany years. In the past I have sort of believed this when I’ve heard this about other writers, but I know now that I also didn’t really believe it. Sure, George Orwell made some pretty far-gazing observations in Nineteen Eighty-Four/1984, and there are many other famous writers I could list who wrote other set-in-a-foreseeable-future novels, but none of them have proven to be really spot-on. Sure, they get the gist of things right sometimes, and this isn’t to be sneezed at, but you (well I do anyway) always put the book down and go back into the ‘real’ world. As I read DFW I feel that I am inside the real world, a world at least as real as the one zizzing past behind me, a world that is taking no notice of the back of my head. He predicted prophesised envisaged fuck, I don’t know how to explain this. Whether deliberating the merits of entertainment or the issue of addiction or foreseeing socio-political and neo-capitalist crumblings, DFW clambered inside every single one of our heads and looked through our minds’ eyes and then hopped out again and put what he saw into stories and essays. He came, he saw, and eventually he conked out.
DFW put a length of cord or rope or maybe a dog leash—he loved dogs and had two great big loves of his own, Bella and Warner—around his neck and strung himself from his patio rafter. (Nope, I was wrong, just found the official autopsy report and he used a belt. And Jesus, oh fuck, this: he bound his own wrists with duct tape prior to kicking away the chair.)
When DFW died he was forty-six years old. He killed himself instead of staying alive. There is no way to avoid this fact when discussing him and/or his work, and he would’ve known this in the years and seconds preceding his brain death. Sometimes people say, we shouldn’t look at the author, we should just look at the texts, and there is some merit in that sentiment, but it’s also completely lacking in sentiment. DFW is the thinkiest person I’ve ‘met’, and like I said in the previous paragraph, he was so intuitive to at least seem somewhat psychic, so to dismiss his suicide, to dispassionately set aside the fact that he as an able-bodied man strung himself up by his neck and waited through the red for the black (and realising that at some level this was a kind of ‘choice’, possibly), to refuse to appreciate that a suicide is not typically a great and sudden jump off the cliff of weakness but is actually a protracted and agonising slide down a bramble-covered slope of powerlessness: this is madness. No, this doesn’t mean that every letter and sentence and footnote of DFW’s writing should be read with an arm around each side of his suspended, creaking corpse with the text visible only when a breeze allows you to see past his slowly swinging body. No, don’t be daft, enjoy his words and allow yourself to forget for a while the distressing demise of this writer, forget even that the book was written by a person if you want. It’s not wrong to overlook things if it helps you to accomplish deeds or makes you feel better, but to do so all the time on purpose is a form of ignorance that, without trying to sound overemotional (ha!), is undeserving of DFW.
So, Oblivion is a collection of stories by DFW. It is one of the more difficult things I’ve ever read—I say difficult, not problematic or tricky or awkward—and every single word was as familiar as the taste of my fingernails. I could swear I wrote this book myself, somewhere, somehow, at some past time. For me, there is literally nothing wrong with this book. But, that’s wrong, right there, my description right there is. What a shit way to describe something you love. There’s nothing wrong with it? Bah. How was the Atlantic salmon, sir? Oh, there was nothing wrong with it. Malarkey. Hey man, heard you finally made it with Cherie last night, so spill. Oh, there was nothing wrong with it. Bullshit. So, tell me about your newborn baby. Oh, there’s nothing wrong with her. Bunk. And furthermore, isn’t it always the little glitches, the random freckle, the so-called ‘human’ flaws, that render something perfect (if that can make sense, at all)? But this doesn’t work either, because I can’t find any blemishes in this book. The humanness of Oblivion for me isn’t in a couple of adorable small mistakes: the humanness is the whole book, total. Like I said in the previous paragraph, DFW can sometimes be slotted into that category of ‘brainy’ writers, and he is the smartest and clued-in mind I’ve ever encountered, but he is also the biggest, deepest and most vulnerable this-is-me-on-the-page ‘heart’ writer I’ve ever read.
All the paragraphs above are filled with hyperbole, massive amounts of the stuff. It’s leaching out everywhere; it’d be embarrassing if I wasn’t going at such a train-wreck pace.
Read Oblivion if you haven’t already. Buy it, steal it, download it as a torrent. Choose to do so and you’ll become all woven up and with the characters in the stories, like in ‘The Soul Is Not a Smithy’. Pore/paw through ‘Good Old Neon’, looking for trace elements of something huge. Watch yourself re-re-re-reading the two-and-a-half pages of ‘Incarnations of Burned Children’, your mouth that tiny bit agape. And that’s only three of the eight stories in this collection! And he published two other story collections! And two (soon to be three) novels! And a handful of books full of peerless essays! And heaps and heaps of other essays and journalistic pieces that you can find if you look! Astonishing! Fuck!
Thanks for your time.
1 No, I’m not really going to litter this essay with footnotes. Here, right now, I simply don’t have the cajones.2
2 Really, I’m not.