30 June 2011

David Foster Wallace: Nothing Shining?

Their discussion of David Foster Wallace seems to contradict most of what authors Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly go on to establish in the remainder of their book ALL THINGS SHINING (continued from yesterday's post). Is it because DFW resists their definition of finding all things shining, or that his work is presented as incomplete, and thus the argument can't find an ending? Rather than try to reason myself into a position on this, I'm just going to write straight for the thicket and then acknowledge how I got there.

Dreyfus and Kelly make two points about DFW's work as a salve on the conscience of a person who has lately not been able to see the "all things shining," or fight through the secular modern world to find some sort of ethical base or guidance to act:

One, that THE PALE KING advocates a sort of sublime boredom through which to numb the conscious mind and through that attain a sort of haloriffic euphoria in the repetition and dullness of completing a necessary task. (But they didn't use haloriffic.) I already have my problems with this interpretation of THE PALE KING, as stated.

The other, that the same kind of studied monotony can be applied in stressful situations to achieve a deep caring, based on his Kenyon College graduation speech "This Is Water." What's not clearly differentiated is that these are startlingly different approaches to the same problem. The passages of THE PALE KING and INFINITE JEST emphasize the numbness specifically, the kind of emotional white-noise-making that takes place. (Don Gately is held up as a hero in this department... and that's all I'm going to say about that in case people who haven't finished INFINITE JEST have followed me thus far.) "This Is Water" is about acknowledging that unconsciousness in which we are all swimming, which emotionally feels like the opposite of numbness. Maybe it was just the passages used?

What piece am I missing here? And then I really start to lose them when they compare that numbness to Elizabeth Gilbert at the beginning of EAT, PRAY, LOVE and Gilbert's idea that a writer shouldn't have to be "personally and individually responsible for [her] work," which the authors deem "Renaissance" and I deem -- well, who else is going to be responsible for it, if not for you? I could have used another chapter on that just to virulently disagree with it. And the authors don't make the logical back-contrast from that statement (uncited... can't remember if it was from EAT, PRAY, LOVE or not) to the idea of whether James Incandenza was ultimately responsible for the effects of The Entertainment, or if it was out of his hands once he created it, which if not crucial to the plot of INFINITE JEST is not really handled in the book as far as I can remember. Certainly no one gets as far as blaming him for the tape because no one who knows what it does comes back from that brink. Which doesn't make him blameless. (I can't even conjecture where DFW would stand on that. I just bring it up as a logical point of return.)

Also, and not that I'm Maxwellina Perkins all of a sudden, but when most of ALL THINGS SHINING runs chronologically through Western literature it's a bizarre (and obviously deliberate) choice to put this chapter up front, when it would better fit after MOBY-DICK... but then it kind of destroys that chapter's transition into the glorification of communal experience at the end, which is fodder for a whole other post (or rant) and hence here I shall stop.

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