Posts Tagged ‘Infinity’


Tuesday’s Article (08-17-10)

In David Foster Wallace,Matt,Tuesday's Article on August 26, 2010 by Two Barbers Tagged: , , , , , ,

audio of DFW interviewed by Michael Silverblatt in 1996. It isn’t intrinsically linked to the content in the blog. But it does have him talking about his writing at his most sobering.

Tuesday’s Article

David Foster Wallace

2nd Installment


When to pull the plug on explanation, especially when you get into the maze of recursion, is the job of the writer to decide, on his own. Which also means it is his responsibility not to abdicate it to the reader.

It seems simple enough when you lay it out like that, but when you’re actually in charge of doing it, whether it’s something you took upon yourself or somebody else put you it to, it ends up being possibly one of the hardest things anyone could want to do. Or maybe it’s more astute to say it breaks some sort of hardness threshold (obviously, for a parent to deal with losing a child would be much harder, or lifting a car over your head, which would be impossible and, therefore, definitively, harder. But please, I’m asking for a little charity here. I couldn’t find another word that is more adequate. ‘Difficult’? But it falls in the same trap. ‘Tricky’ is too narrow. ‘Painstaking’: how’s it better?…) which, once past, by-passes all scaled comparison.

I would say, without much second thought, that it is the central task of writing.

In “Desiderization 2007-A Special Report”, an introductory essay to 2007 edition of The Best American Essays series, of which Wallace was the editor, he calls writing both scary and hard and compares it to a tightrope extended over two, divided abysses:

“Fiction’s abyss is silence, nada. Whereas nonfiction’s abyss is Total Noise, the seething static of every particular thing and experience, and one’s total freedom of infinite choice about what to choose to attend to and represent and connect, and how, and why, etc.”

(He is drawing a difference between fiction and non-fiction. I’ve extracted a part of the point for my own purpose, but you can decide if I am taking too much license with the essay here.)

It’s the same idea as the ‘middle-road’ or dividing a number to its smallest half. Writing is an impossible task.

Well, not exactly.

Infinity was a theme throughout Wallace’s work. The thing he’s most famous for, Infinite Jest, is not an arbitrary title. He was consummately concerned with how to cross the infinite distance between him and the reader.

Part of this task is to not allow yourself to be swallowed up by the “seething static of every particular thing and experience”, like every damn sidebar to any motion in each line of thought you follow. But on the other hand, it’s equally incumbent to make sure you’re not just floating lame ducks, which I guess would be akin to being silent, saying “nada”. And sometimes you can’t just will yourself to do this. Sometimes how you structure a piece, you can paint yourself into a corner this way. If I thought about it, I could probably point to handfuls of examples representative of both sides, enough to disqualify any proclamation tagging either as the ‘thing that’s wrong with the world today’.

Even just saying this doesn’t account for any of the work in actually doing it. And somehow, it’s awfully close to not saying anything at all. But it’s important as a start, like a marker, or the old carrot on a stick.

Wallace was the best, and most precise, at setting that mark and, to date, made it the farthest out on the tightrope.

to be continued…

-see also “How Everyone Feels”. Aug. 3, 2010