Read a bit more of David Foster Wallace, this round a Fresh Air Interview with Terry Gross. It also contains quotes from End of The Tour.
Foster Wallace fascinates me because he discusses mindfulness in his work, or being mindful of what we are doing and how we live, and not allowing ourselves to become lost in the ironic metanarrative that our popular culture has become. I can't quite decide if he is right.
The interview is HERE
in cas you are interested. Foster Wallace like many contemporary literary writers was more interested in philosophizing than story-telling. He tended towards personal essays and personal narratives, famously or infamously writing about a cruise trip in Harpers, entitled "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again". And in the novel "Infinite Jest" he writes about an independent film that is so entertaining that people want to do nothing else after they see it.
Has the quest for pleasure, constant though it may be, robbed of us of our ability to seek the pleasure in small everyday things, as opposed to on the television screen? I'm not sure he's saying that exactly.
GROSS: One of your essays in your new collection is about irony and how it's become the common language of TV and a lot of contemporary fiction. You talk about how television has institutionalized hip irony. Can I ask you to explain what you mean by that?
WALLACE: What sort of time limit is there?
WALLACE: No, I mean, the essay is really about the relation between TV and fiction and what it's like to be a fiction writer who watches a lot of TV. And I guess the basic point is that a lot of the tools that were used by literary fiction writers in, I guess, particularly the '60s, to help - I don't know if there was a social agenda. I think it was probably to debunk certain kind of hypocritical Ward Cleaver-ish assumptions that the culture was making about itself. Those techniques, including meta-discursive stuff, self-reference, irony, black humor, cynicism, grotesquerie and shock, that what's interesting now is - now that, really, television - I think it would be safe to say that television or televisual values rule the culture. Television is now successfully using a lot of those same techniques but using them for a very different agenda, which is to sort of create an ethos and please people and to sell products to consumers. So that - the essay is supposed to be a setup for sort of what is the literary rebel or the writer who wants to be engaged somehow with the culture do now? You know, how do you be a rebel when Burger King, you know, for two years their slogan was you got to break the rules? How do you rebel against anarchy or a kind of weird crafted anarchy?
And from End of the Tour:
SEGEL: (As David Foster Wallace) You know what I would love to do, man? I would love to do a profile on one of you guys who's doing a profile on me.
EISENBERG: (As David Lipsky) That is interesting.
SEGEL: (As David Foster Wallace) Is that too pomo and cute? I don't know.
EISENBERG: (As David Lipsky) Maybe for Rolling Stone.
SEGEL: (As David Foster Wallace) It would be interesting, though.
EISENBERG: (As David Lipsky) You think?
SEGEL: (As David Foster Wallace) I'm sorry, man.
EISENBERG: (As David Lipsky) What's wrong?
SEGEL: (As David Foster Wallace) It's just, you're going to go back to New York and, like, sit at your desk and shape this thing however you want. And that - I mean, to me, it's just extremely disturbing.
EISENBERG: (As David Lipsky) (Laughter) Why is it disturbing?
SEGEL: (As David Foster Wallace) 'Cause I think I would like to shape the impression of me that's coming across. Yeah, I don't even know if I like you yet. So nervous about whether you like me.
Wouldn't it be nice if we could shape others impressions of us? I've had situations in which someone has been really mad at me, but not told me why. I'm left to guess. Okay, what did I say or do? I find myself running over the dialogue and past conversations in my head, and of course without an actual tape recorder or video recorder, there's no way of knowing, on either side. It would be nice if the other person would tell you. Instead of being all passive aggressive about it. That way you could clear up the misunderstanding. Assuming such a thing is possible.
The problem with impressions, first, last, whatever...is the other guy is looking at you through his or her lense. They see what they want to see, and if you happen to have done something that reminds them of someone who pissed them off on the train that morning or their last girlfriend or boyfriend, than well, there's not a heck of a lot you can do.
In End of the Tour, much like The Great Gatsby or any story in which we see all the action through the narrator's lense...we learn more about the narrator. Foster Wallace is a supporting character in David Lipsky's story. Part literary hero, part cautionary tale, and to Lipsky, somewhat disappointing.
Small wonder that Foster Wallace was reluctant to be the subject of Lipsky's article and worse, hero worship. Both flattered and disturbed, Wallace allows it, to a degree. Realizing that what Lipsky really wants is to be Foster Wallace, somehow convinced that he could do it better.
I think the reason I find this all rather haunting, is it makes me a bit self-conscious of my own writing right now. I'm not an essayist. I know, I know, you would most likely disagree with me on that point. But you don't get a say in the matter. Because what I mean by that -- is I have no interest in publishing essays under my name for the world to see. It feels too much like dancing around in Times Square naked with a big sign stating my name, address, and telephone number. It's for the same reason that I've no interest in getting up on the stage of the Moth and telling folks, a crowd of 150 people, maybe more, in a packed room, a story about my personal life.
Here? It's different. There's a level of anonymity that does not exist at the Moth or publishing a personal essay. And it's safer somehow. I can delete negative responses, screen them, even the post.
Fiction feels safer to me and more comfortable. Like a warm snuggly blanket on a cold bitter day. I can coat myself in the metaphors. Also, I always have a story in my head, aching to break free. It's not the writing of it that has ever been the problem, so much as the sharing. And I'm no erstwhile philosopher, nor do I really enjoy reading them...the story, to me at least, is king.
It doesn't matter either way. Which I write. My chances of publishing personal essays are rather dim. Although I did publish two journalistic articles on racism in small publications, which sort of count.
While surfing the net for articles on Wallace, I also found this essay in Salon:
David Foster Wallace was Right Irony is Ruining Our Culture
Curious. I like irony. Use it a lot in my own writing. Dramatic irony, I find rather hilarious.
Irony is now fashionable and a widely embraced default setting for social interaction, writing and the visual arts. Irony fosters an affected nihilistic attitude that is no more edgy than a syndicated episode of “Seinfeld.” Today, pop characters directly address the television-watching audience with a wink and nudge. (Shows like “30 Rock” deliver a kind of meta-television-irony irony; the protagonist is a writer for a show that satirizes television, and the character is played by a woman who actually used to write for a show that satirizes television. Each scene comes with an all-inclusive tongue-in-cheek.) And, of course, reality television as a concept is irony incarnate.
For the generation that came of age during Vietnam, irony was the response to a growing distrust toward anything and everything. In the 1980s, academics such as Mark Jefferson attacked sentimentality, and Neo-Expressionists gave sincerity a bad name through their sophomoric attempts at heroic paintings. Irony was becoming a protective carapace, as Wallace pointed out, a defense mechanism against the possibility of seeming naïve. By the 1990s, television had co-opted irony, and the networks were inundated with commercials using “rebel” in the tagline. Take Andre Agassi’s Canon camera endorsement from that period. In the commercial, the hard-hitting, wiseass Agassi smashed tennis balls loaded with paint to advertise Canon’s “Rebel” brand camera. The ad wraps with Agassi standing in front of a Pollockesque canvas saying “Image is everything.” For all the world, it seemed rebellion had been usurped by commercialism.
This environment gave artists few choices: sentimentality, nihilism, or irony. Or, put another way, critical ridicule as experienced by the Neo-Expressionist (see Sandro Chia), critical acceptance through nihilism like Gerhard Richter, or critical abdication through ironic Pop Art such as Jeff Koons. For a while, it seemed no new ideas were possible, progress was an illusion, and success could be measured only by popularity. Hot trends such as painted pornography; fluorescent paint; sculpture with mirrors, spray foam, and yarn were mistaken for art because artists believed blind pleasure-seeking could be made to seem insightful when described ironically.
Wallace called for art that redeems rather than simply ridicules, but he didn’t look widely enough. Mostly, he fixed his gaze within a limited tradition of white, male novelists. Indeed, no matter how cynical and nihilistic the times, we have always had artists who make work that invokes meaning, hope and mystery. But they might not have been the heirs to Thomas Pynchon or Don Delillo. So, to be more nuanced about what’s at stake: In the present moment, where does art rise above ironic ridicule and aspire to greatness, in terms of challenging convention and elevating the human spirit? Where does art build on the best of human creation and also open possibilities for the future? What does inspired art-making look like?
Finally ending with...
Artists must take responsibility for finding the form to make our dreams real. They must assess a work as honestly as possible, seeking integrity. At one time, irony served to challenge the establishment; now it is the establishment. The art of irony has turned into ironic art. Irony for irony’s sake. A smart aleck making bomb noises in front of a city in ruins. But irony without a purpose enables cynicism. It stops at disavowal and destruction, fearing strong conviction is a mark of simplicity and delusion. But we can remake the world. In poetry, in music, in painting, we can reimagine and plot coordinates into the unknown. We can take an honest look, rework and try again. The work will tell us if it has arrived or not. We have to listen closely. What do we see? What do we hear?
From that, I gather irony is not bad in of itself, it is when it has no focus and is irony for irony's sake...that we become lost. Falling a quagmire of cynical disillusionment. Jim Carry famously stated after 9/11, that this was the end of ironic comedy, yet it was actually just the start.
Comedy in of itself is cruel and often cynical, with a biting edge to it. Wounding with a laugh.
We make fun of that which is distinctly foreign to us, and all too familiar. The prat full, the ethnic joke, the snarky one liner, the rejoinder, the clown tripping over a banana peel that he himself dropped while juggling those bananas.
The world has become snide. Practicing irony for irony's sake. Our elections have become satires, with cartoonish candidates ripping each other apart with snarky comments scripted off reality shows.
Everything is a joke in a world where television is a 24/7 operation. It's funny (okay not ha ha funny) that I remember a time when television was on maybe 12 hours a day, if that. At midnight the screen went to fuzz, after the National Anthem or the famous sign-off. If you rent the movie Poltergeist, you can witness it for yourself. It wasn't until the 1990s that stopped. We only had three networks. News was on maybe four or five times a day, not 24 hours. Cable was subscription only and only one Channel, HBO. We spent most of our time outdoors in the summer. Oh, I watched television, way too much, or so I thought, but not nearly as much as people do now. Oddly, I've been watching less. Each show that I see feels familiar somehow, as if it is a repeat of another one.
And each joke, wink, wink, nudge, nudge...I find myself reading and writing more. Odd considering how much I read and write for work. But there it is.
I don't know the answers, and I don't pretend to be a philosopher, found the subject deathly dull in college, actually. Did date a few of them, though. Rock singers and philosophers are deadly combinations, just saying. But I can't read philosophy without falling asleep, even if it is wrapped inside the guise of fiction. (I'm looking at you Roger Zelzany, Phillip K. Dick, and David Foster Wallace.) But, I do think there is happiness in small things. And watching a television show here or there after a tough day at the office is well, no nevermind. Any more than occasionally binging over a weekend.
It's when you let it or anything else for that matter take over. You die slowly. That's what continues to haunt me from the film, End of the Tour, when you just watch tv, stay home, do nothing else, maybe surf the net, discuss it on forums...you die slowly. I should know, it almost happened to me...once or twice. Now, I watch less, and write more. And try to let myself live in the world, to be mindful of it. As it drifts and whirls around me, rarely making sense, but always different and often interesting.