Monday, May 29, 2017

Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

I have learned over the past year that there is nothing quite like a David Foster Wallace essay. I read A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. He's so smart, so funny, and so not in tune with everyone else. They're good essays, but not as good as the collection in Consider the Lobster.

"Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley" - a story about how he played tennis as a teenager in Illinois, all about how he was not all that gifted but very good at the instant calculations needed to account for angle, wind, and the like. If you are not into tennis, and I am not, then the first 2/3 of the essay might bore you a bit, but he gets in stride with the last part, where he discusses tornadoes.

"E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction" - Wallace was addicted to TV and in this essay tries to connect it to fiction writing, arguing that fiction writers should take TV more seriously. This essay is more academia-ish, with unironic footnotes, so gets old after a while.

"Getting Away From Pretty Much Being Away From it All"- this sort of journalist-on-assignment thing is where Wallace is funniest, even though, as his biographer writes, he was "not particularly worried by veracity." It''s abundantly clear that he doesn't like pigs. Or rides. Or poultry. Or a bunch of things. I started to feel bad for him almost, with stream-of-consciousness writing born largely of sensory of overload, and then little nuggets like, "I ask a little kid to describe the taste of his Funnel Cake and he runs away."

"Greatly Exaggerated" - a Serious Essay of Literary Theory. Skim judiciously.

"David Lynch Keeps His Head" - he's on the set of Lynch's Lost Highway. He defines Lynchian as "a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former's perpetual containment in the latter." Fun essay to read, though very rooted in the 1990s.

"Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff About Choice, Freedom, Limitation, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness" - I have never heard of Michael Joyce, but it seems he was a tennis player and in 1995 he played in the Canadian Open.

"A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" - this reviews a week-long Caribbean cruise he took for Harper's. It is funny but you (or at least I did) have to get over his basic disgust with the entire idea of a cruise. As it goes on--and it's 100 pages--he gets more incisive and funny precisely about how he doesn't fit and basically laughs at himself. As a semi-agoraphobe, he scuttles out of his room for short periods of time, never leaving the ship when it docks, accumulates brief experiences, then runs back to his room to write about them in great detail. He makes a game effort to join in the fun, including doing crafts with old people, about which concludes, "I have absolutely no fucking idea what's going on," (p. 337) which made me laugh out loud. BTW, there are 137 footnotes in the story. That's a lot even for David Foster Wallace.

One last note is that his thought about being passively entertained and how empty it is makes you realize that Infinite Jest was rattling around in brain. At that time it was finished and in the process of editing.


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