Posts Tagged ‘DFW’


This Week’s Article

In David Foster Wallace,Matt,Tuesday's Article on January 4, 2011 by Two Barbers Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

Thoughts on David Foster Wallace-10th Installment

Discussing Suicide Part 3

I wouldn’t venture into the forest of trying to synthesize some meaning for suicide (or Wallace’s suicide, in particular, either) out of Wallace’s fiction and essays (we’ll leave interviews out of this for now, for reasons that will become more obvious in a bit) if it didn’t seem like a necessary, albeit trapdoor fraught, step, and won’t do so without first establishing caveats. Both concerns, fortunately, can be handled nicely by this quote from an episode of Charlie Rose, from May 17th, 1996.

“I think part of the fun for me was being part of some kind of exchange between consciousnesses; a way for human beings to talk to each other about stuff that we normally can’t talk about…like we’re sure not going to be able to talk about this stuff here…” 

Which also should reveal why interviews will be disregarded. Wallace said it in during the show’s second half segment, that was a panel discussion on the purpose of fiction among which included two other authors, Mark Leyner and Jonathan Franzen.

Now despite the overall attempt to view suicide with a new, less sanctimonious and horrified lens, the word ‘fun’ is not a word that’s ever going to come anywhere near it. But if you can isolate the idea of fun from the rest of the quote (it may even be a good idea to go one step further and treat ‘fun’ here as a circumstantial term, exchangeable with words like ‘rewarding’, ‘cathartic’, or even ‘satiating’, or ‘invigorating’, none of which really fit well with suicide either, but are at least more thoughtful than ‘fun’…perhaps ‘moving’ or ‘compelling’ would be closer…) and focus on ‘a way for human beings to talk to each other about stuff that we normally can’t talk about’, you should be able to understand why it’s more than just a good idea but practically necessary to look at DFW’s fiction, as well as, to a lesser, more discriminating extent, his essays (Wallace claimed he was a little foggy on the definition of this writing form in his Introduction to The Best American Essays: 2007Deciderization 2007-a Special Report, stating “I think I personally prefer the term ‘literary nonfiction’). In order to fully understand why you have to be somewhat familiar with Wallace’s life (which, since you’re reading this, you most likely are), important details of which will be included, or somehow or other gotten to, further on. For right now, its important to make sure, as we go ahead and look into his writing, to be aware of the influence of his major depressive disorder and suicide, with which he had his first serous struggle in college (at least in a way that can be attributed to a time line), before any of his fiction was published.

It feels as though I’m now actually beginning to talk about suicide.



Here’s a video of the entire May 17th episode of Charlie Rose in 1996, in case you’re interested in getting a better feel for the conversation and time.

Read past blogs on David Foster Wallace here which you can also get by scrolling to the bottom, where all of our recurring topics are listed and linked.


This Week’s Article

In David Foster Wallace,Matt,Tuesday's Article on December 29, 2010 by Two Barbers Tagged: , , , , ,

Thoughts on David Foster Wallace-9th Installment

St. George

Yeah, so the idea of rifling back through Wallace’s stories, essays, and interviews for a kind of composite, total expression of his experience with suicide and then, out of which, some complete explanation of suicide itself, is just a little too sentimental. It fits too easily into this narrative template that, stripped down, goes more or less like ‘all that exists of a person after he/she is gone are what he/she left behind’, which is useful in its own right and could work in many circumstances, but in this case is just too small and simple, and the opposite of robust. Applied here, it would be like being given the answer to a riddle or like an android version of true meaning.

Here’s relevant a quote from Everything & More, in which the specifics are not carbon copies of DFW’s, but it is obvious how they correspond-

“The cases of great mathematicians with mental illness have enormous resonance for modern pop writers and filmmakers. This has to do mostly with the writers’/directors’ own prejudices and receptivities, which in turn are functions of what you could call our era’s particular archetypal template. It goes without saying that these templates change over time. The Mentally Ill Mathematician seems now in some ways to be what the Knight Errant, Mortified Saint, Tortured Artist, and Mad Scientist have been for other eras: sort of our Prometheus, the one who goes to forbidden places and returns with gifts we all can use but he alone pays for. That’s probably a bit overblown, at least in most cases.”

And there’s a footnote that comes later in the paragraph that is not attached to anything in this quote, but expands on the concept and is essential to the point I want to make-

“In modern medical terms, it’s fairly clear that G.F.L.P. Cantor [who is the ‘mathematician’ of concern in the quote above and whom Everything & More is about] suffered from manic-depressive illness at a time when nobody knew what this was, and that his polar cycles were aggravated by professional stresses and disappointments, of which Cantor had more than his share. Of course, this makes for less interesting flap copy than Genius Driven Mad By Attempts To Grapple With ∞…Saying that ∞ drove Cantor mad is sort of like mourning St. George’s loss to the dragon: it’s not only wrong but insulting.”

This is taken out of context, somewhat, since the statement was tangential to the text, included for the sake of setting boundaries for the reader. The point was about how a to look carefully at a person’s biography and what the reader is able and unable to learn from it; how, embedded in this vehicle, are untruths married to truths like conjoined twins. But if I’m wrong about what DFW meant by it, or have myself twisted its meaning, you at least now know without having to have read the book. To say that Wallace is the sum of what you can quote from him is not only wrong…it’s insulting.

(aside: Can you insult someone who is not present to receive the insult and be affected by it, and could never possibly be in a position to receive or be affected by it? is a metaphysical question so I’ll just leave it at, it certainly feels like it will insult someone; and wrongly too.)


Read previous blogs on David Foster Wallace here.


Monday’s Suggestion

In David Foster Wallace,Matt,Monday's Suggestion on December 13, 2010 by Two Barbers Tagged: , , , , , ,

The David Foster Wallace Audio Project (title is also link to title’s subject)

Picture, and the only one, that is used for the minimalist design of the webpage.

This is debatable, and possibly something that would have bothered him to hear, but David Foster Wallace may have been a better talker than a writer.

(Now, this is hopefully only to make a point about his conversational faculties and not just because I want to tell my little story about seeing him in person.) My first encounter with David Foster Wallace, past his name and contemporary fame, was at a reading in San Fransisco (and I’ll leave it at that as a token of good faith and continue on with the sentence, sort of cramming as much into as few streams of thought as syntax will allow so as to undercut as much suspect self-absorbed mood as is reasonable to expect), during which he dug, and described in his positively lucid phraseology, a basic furrow of differences between reading something and hearing it read. Mainly along the lines of experience: How he experiences them: how they feel; how they impress on him; the finer points of a more complicated engagement with the two different types of perception. I don’t remember him using this phrase at the time, but “how it feels on your nerve endings” is pretty much one of his ways of describing basically the same idea.

I forget most of what he said at that reading, or at least have lost access to a coherent order of the memories of the things he said that would make it possible for me to retrieve or reconstruct the vaguer ones, but I remember this having a huge impact on me that I didn’t fully appreciate until much later on when I became, what is, admittedly, a devoted follower (pathetic, also admittedly), not just of his work but of him.

So, blah, blah, blah, (severing this now in order to just leap fully back into my promise to not become absolutely indulgent in personalizing this blog post) a good place to start with DFW is in hearing him talk about writing, literature, and life. And DFW is someone totally worth getting into. And if you already consider yourself a howling fantod (which, if you do then you know what that phrase means) and do not already know this website, then you will find plenty of new ground to trod.

This is the second week in a row where it seems I’ve given a suggestion that has been lite on the description and heavy on the instruction, drifted even farther toward the instruction. I can’t say that I’m just noticing it now and it was wholly unintentional, but I can add a little adjunct description here on the end. The website basically just comprises a collection of audio recordings divided in four sections: 1. “Interviews & Profiles” 2. “Readings” 3. “Eulogies & Remembrances” 4.”Brief Interviews Staged Readings”.



Impromptu Post

In Imrpomptu Post,Matt on November 26, 2010 by Two Barbers Tagged: , , , , ,

Thoughts on David Foster Wallace-Connected Reblog

DFW Forever is a blog dedicated to David Foster Wallace, who is the writer, to limit myself to saying ONE thing about him, addressed the discord between literature and the experience literature is supposed to represent that just kind of always bugged people on a level that never really had an opportunity to express and so most likely contributed to our relinquishing of much of our attention to literature in general. (adjunct to this one thing…) Wallace was maybe the first to create a way to express it…perhaps more on this another time.

Here is a recent post of theirs:



David Foster Wallace memories

The largest collection of DFW memories on the web. It is perhaps the most touching thing I have ever read.



This Week’s Article

In David Foster Wallace,Matt,Tuesday's Article on August 31, 2010 by Two Barbers Tagged: , , , , ,

Thoughts on David Foster Wallace (amended title)

3rd Installment (previously simply David Foster Wallace)

“Commencement in the Midst of…”

One of the ways Wallace described infinite space between individual conscious beings, and what I posit can be applied in the same way to literature i.e., the separation between the author and reader (or readers, since it’s not clear cut whether the supposed connection achieved in what Wallace denoted more than once as the “magic” of writing/fiction is two-way or more broad and manifold) was with the metaphor, water.

It was in a speech he gave at the commencement of the 2005 graduation ceremony for Kenyon College. The speech is now famous, was famous, viral inasmuch as an academic address can be viral, revered before his suicide, and since published posthumously.

In it, he draws from a part meta-, part didactic joke:

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?””

I should point out, for the sake of maintaining trust, that it’s not really a funny joke. But apparently not all jokes have to be.

The blunt implication is that the water is the reality that we, like the fish, move through and don’t recognize because it engulfs us. But more important for our question of what it says about how Wallace was able to write the way he did, as David Lipsky described it

“…with eyes and a voice that seemed to be a condensed form of everyone’s lives…the stuff you semi thought, the background action you blinked through at super markets and commutes…”

it implies an answer that is practical rather than philosophical, but seems to nullify any significant difference between the two denotations. That not only is it something we constantly move through, but that, as we do, we breathe it. That writing, communication, is a fourth-dimensional skill and understanding, or communion, has everything to do with constant motion (which, aside, can also be reminiscent of an oppressive creed rashly dictated by fathers to their sons).

Further in the speech, Wallace evokes common experience battling frustration and boredom at supermarkets that set us up to be “hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head” and concludes that clichés and “banal platitudes” are not necessarily true but “can have a life or death importance” by reminding us, prodding us, to become engaged with “what we choose to pay attention to” and, fuck it, commence quotes…

“Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master”.”

“And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation.”

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”

“That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.”

You get the idea.

Wallace comes off like the father who teaches you how to ride a bike by running behind you, holding it up, helping you balance, then lets go without telling you.

He leaves us, consistent with its message, with questions out of which we can continue to construct meaning. Not the least pertinent of which is How on earth can Wallace explain his suicide?

-Keep tuning in for future installments of Thoughts on David Foster Wallace

-This is a video of a graduate of Kenyon College (I assume who actually heard the speech live, but without real reason). It’s only half of the speech, but “part 2” is linked. I like the running scroll of instant messages next to him as he reads. I think it goes along nicely.

-Here’s another, apparently produced by Kenyon College, or an affiliated group designated vaguely as “videos by students”. You can see the speech being used as a commercial. But it is Wallace’s own voice.