14 April 2011

Wallaceblogging: Jonathan Franzen, "Farther Away"

Jonathan Franzen has a piece on (or rather discussing) David Foster Wallace in this week's New Yorker which you can read on Facebook by "liking" the New Yorker page. I like the New Yorker anyway so this didn't bother me, but it seems as though it has bothered some other people as a cheap gesture (as when Cee Lo Green did the same with the official "Fuck You" video last fall). I suppose it's worth pointing out that you can go back and "unlike" a page after you've finished, uh, enjoying its benefits. 

Much of the essay seems almost comical; deciding he needs a break from book tour, Franzen wakes up a long-held backpacking dream to go to the island of Masafuera (or Alexander Selkirk Island), near where the real-life inspiration for ROBINSON CRUSOE (that's Selkirk) was marooned for four years. Franzen wanted to be outdoorsy like his dad and older brother, but didn't have the knack; in a scene reminiscent of some of my camping trips of old, he endures a lonely 'solo' outing as a teenager by writing about himself. On his way to Masafuera he visits DFW's widow Karen Green, who gives him some ashes to scatter.

And then there's this:
"The curious thing about David’s fiction, though, is how recognized and comforted, how loved, his most devoted readers feel when reading it. To the extent that each of us is stranded on his or her own existential island—and I think it’s approximately correct to say that his most susceptible readers are ones familiar with the socially and spiritually isolating effects of addiction or compulsion or depression—we gratefully seized on each new dispatch from that farthest-away island which was David. At the level of content, he gave us the worst of himself: he laid out, with an intensity of self-scrutiny worthy of comparison to Kafka and Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky, the extremes of his own narcissism, misogyny, compulsiveness, self-deception, dehumanizing moralism and theologizing, doubt in the possibility of love, and entrapment in footnotes-within-footnotes self-consciousness. At the level of form and intention, however, this very cataloguing of despair about his own authentic goodness is received by the reader as a gift of authentic goodness: we feel the love in the fact of his art, and we love him for it."
The rest is difficult. It did make me want to read PAMELA, and allow me to continue to put off ROBINSON CRUSOE. What did you think? Is prompting a "like" fair for free content? Would you go on a camping trip with JFranz? Am I ducking the real questions prompted by this piece?


Marjorie said...

ROBINSON CRUSOE is perhaps the only book I feel okay about having read in abridged form. When I was in fourth grade.

Ellen said...

I think if I were actually stranded on a desert island... nah, I still probably wouldn't. I know the hazy outline though!

Marjorie said...

I pulled the unabridged off a shelf once and read one sentence, which took about ten minutes, and then I put it back. It really is a story where knowing the outline will get you through the majority of discussions and derivative works. (And there are some first-class derivative works!) Nobody holds symposia on its language, as far as I'm aware.

Elizabeth said...

I think you can safely skip ROBINSON CRUSOE.