This Week’s Article

In David Foster Wallace, Matt, Tuesday's Article on September 28, 2010 by Two Barbers Tagged: , , ,

-Helpful Disclaimer: certain passages below are in red font and struck out with a black line, which is a new attempt at a device meant to sidestep the narrative stalling asides that have up until now been encapsulated in basic parenthesis. The point is to, since I feel like they make the article all-in-all better being left in but realize they are not necessary and can be disruptive to the reader, make them as easy to pass over as possible for those who do not want to read them or find their disjointing to be unrectifiable. And since those who do want to read them will have to deal with the narrative flow problems anyway, they will not be missing out on anything. The  passages may, now, because of the red, stand out more than they deserve, but it was the best way to make it serve its purpose, which was to allow you to see the main text without interrupting the basic flow of your eye movement. DFW used IYI (If Your Interested) in his book Everything And More for basically the same purposes. Certain phrases are in the normal parenthesis because they are necessary asides or not too interrupting.

Thoughts on David Foster Wallace

-6th installment

“The Possible Hormonal Component of Writing, in a Non-Seventh Grade Girl Diary Writing Way”

The role of reinforcers in constructing meaning is probably major, but I don’t believe it is talked about objectively in pop-psych or general media. I would imagine the closest would be in discussions about education, and education strategies, right under the surface, like at an itch you can’t quite scratch level of depth below. But it probably never focuses, in carved out terms, on the idea I mean: that there is probably some built-in, hormonal setup of rewards, positive and negative reinforcers, and even punishments, that operates under our nervous system and is an agent in creating the Rubik’s cube-like linkage of knowledge and experience that I guess would roughly (feel free to cut and replace it with your own less cursory/utilitarian configuration) constitute meaning. It’s likely that there is some-to-extensive scientific/academic coverage on this concept but I don’t possess the time or chops to research that correctly, so will let it stand with the unlikely promise to myself to look it up later, even if it ultimately harpoons this article.

Reducing the rest of my following assumptions and logic, and avoiding an annoying and probably fruitless explanation to one simple, functional, yet somewhat flat [collateral damage that sometimes comes with making choices] statement writing is a way of constructing meaning and it has its rewards, reinforcers, and pains(e.g. of annoying/fruitless-explanation- this is not a definitive statement, since it is also a way of expressing and communicating thought, as well as influencing and directing the opinions of others (etc.).

There’s an obvious literary solution to the problem of constructing meaning, or how to make sense of Wallace’s suicide without the older brother aid of Wallace here to interpret it for us (‘us’ meaning those of us who see any worth in understanding this) and that is to use his life’s work before he died to fill in the empty space he left for definition after he killed himself. And depending on where you place it, it can either be pointlessly sentimental, like in the end, like and it is in Wallace’s own words that we find, time after time, what we seek in looking for a voice to explain his tragic end- the emotion ultimately expressed in his last human act, his final passage… as a conclusion to the original thought rather than the resorption of it, and is actually, when you think about it, pretty immature and insulting without meaning to be, or functional and predictable, like beginning, middle, and up to the end, which doesn’t lend itself to being condensed into a blanket statement. Or there’s always the option to eschew this effort entirely, peg it as building some sort of makeshift meaning out of the deeply personal, base-level, unexpressed thoughts and proclivities, to which I have, at best, distant and incomplete access, to which even family and friends with which I have no contact can not have complete access, of someone whom I (despite how much I like his work) do not know in a fundamental way (the way in which the most important factor in knowing someone involves give and take) and turn inward and put my own weird thoughts and proclivities (and possibly creepy interest) under the magnifying glass and try to construct meaning around what makes me want to commit this type of serious thought to someone I don’t know, what makes me feel connected, and all the ways in which it is fatuous and hope that I’m just not the only one and that it has some broader, social application.

Part of the reinforcement thing I was getting at above had to do with the difficulty of writing a piece that strings together different and, at times, competing thoughts, that draw from a wide range of sources and fragmented input, that are at times, incomplete (or [even scarier] in a way that you cannot even see and cannot see that you cannot see), and that does so with a beginning, middle, and an end so to actually make something of it that can be useful to yourself or somebody else. And that it involves a lot of psychic pain and unpleasantness, and hard fought momentum (e.g. how many people do you know who report hating to write papers in college with like, an emphasis that informs its incluson in a higher class of distaste) so that just to get through it there have to be some rewards along the way. And, in that case, you also have to learn somewhere along the way, most likely at an unconscious level, how much distress you can work with and when and how to reward yourself.

Wallace’s own construct of meaning, you could tell, was influenced by neurology, evidenced simply by the frequency at which references like “how” things “feel on your nerve endings” appear in interviews with him.

So, what are the rewards of constructing meaning around things like art and suicide? And are they enough to counter the stress over whether or not it will be something built to last? Or whether or not you end up constructing the wrong meaning altogether and, like, become guilty of the social crime of glorifying bad things? The stress over whether you are completely wasting your time, going about the wrong subject or in totally the wrong way? Does a well developed system troubleshoot enough so that you can basically rely on it? Is the whole process disrupted by anxiety or depression? If so, how? And how, if at all, can it be corrected?

-these and many more questions will be tackled in future installments of Thoughts on David Foster Wallace


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