Posts Tagged ‘Literature’


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”.



This Week’s Article

In David Foster Wallace,Matt,Tuesday's Article on November 30, 2010 by Two Barbers Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Thoughts on David Foster Wallace

-8th Installment

Discussing Suicide: Part 2

I don’t know what most people’s experience is, but I’ve repeatedly found that the topic of suicide rarely, if ever, leads anywhere past its own introduction into a conversation. (And if I’ve understood this with any irony stemming from the definition of suicide, it’s been little other than that kind of dead irony, straight out of Hamlet’s Alas! Poor Yorick.) The catalogue of responses which includes, in a nutshell, ‘Such a shame’, ‘It’s a selfish act’, ‘It’s cowardice”, the more promising but ultimately just as ineffectual and disconcerting, ‘How could someone ever take their own life?’, and (not to be overlooked for lack of conformity) seconds of blanket silence, is pretty small and tentative, and about as complete as Hollywood’s depiction of love or Hallmark’s treatment of significance. Then there are people who will get angry nine times out of ten, simply by suicide’s entry into the discussion, and will become surprisingly authoritative (and on other more basic levels, just simply surprising) in the other 10%. But this seems to suggest something like difficulty beyond what we’re accustomed to dealing with, in the normal patterns of our daily interactions and engagement in the world, rather than some unbridgeable gap of meaning.

This last sentence may come off as a little obvious and trite; and it may even be that most people feel the two statements in it really shouldn’t be juxtaposed, but more like one conjugates the other (most likely though not limited to, the people who tend to get angry when suicide is brought up). I just want to make it known that I’m aware of this and what I want to do (what I think there is an opportunity to do in this format) is try to rehash the question of whether or not we actually could go a little further to refine our assumptions and language regarding suicide, in a way that’s ultimately positive and useful, or helpful, to people.

Right off the bat there are trap doors to Wallacean grade paradoxes in this, such as the notion that whatever ways in which we try to discuss suicide must be predetermined as helpful or positive may undermine the earnestness with which the attempt is supposed to be made in order to really qualify as an honest-to-goodness attempt and that, furthermore, the recognition of crevasses like this puts the attempter, again, in no better position to deal with them than all the past attempts from which he is trying to separate himself, but possibly worse. It’s this sort of room filled with mouse traps you automatically enter when talking about it that partially explains the hypersensitivity that seems dream-like or Greek in its ability to fold the tent from the get-go on the whole endeavor. The rest is probably explained by a collection of personal issues, pressure from a Catholic-like sense of responsibility to give the right answers and anxiety over extreme, guilty notions that wrong answers could somehow be extended to personal culpability for past, future, or current suicides happening in the world, outside the realm of what anyone would rationally regard as control, and, finally, the prescient recognition of far off conclusions that feel both inevitable and unacceptable.

In Although Of Course…, Lipsky wrote, in what I imagine is one of the more memorable, quotable, passages of the book, “Suicide is such a powerful end, it reaches back and scrambles the beginning. It has an event gravity: Eventually, every memory and impression gets tugged in its direction.”

That may be true, but it may not be the whole case. You certainly can’t talk about David Foster Wallace now without getting to, or having to put in effort (possibly the amount that would take up six or seven long blogs) to avoid, the subject of suicide. But, still, and this is an unabashedly fan-boy statement to make, there is so much more to talk about in his writing and interviews, and even his apparent approach to living (of which those of us reading and writing about him have had little access except for what has come out since his death. For instance, I did not know he had MD. And I don’t think it’s totally fair when people look back on his writing and say ‘that makes sense’.), that is completely insulated from his suicide; that is life-affirming (which is a term I had used regularly when trying to describe Wallace’s writing before his death, and still do after). Like Galileo’s Paradox about infinity (Wallace’s favorite subject, other than loneliness, but I suspect they were interchangeable), the whole seems to be equal to the part.



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.



Monday’s Suggestion

In Matt,Monday's Suggestion,Periodicals on November 15, 2010 by Two Barbers Tagged: , , , , , ,

Electric Literature

Art from an ad campaign run by Electric Literature and a nod to what has long been deemed, in the literature world, the essence of the commercialization beast and tackled in various ways

…is a quarterly literary magazine founded in 2009 that is distributed mainly through the internet; the first to take the plunge into the silent noise abyss. (

Prices for single copies range from about $5 on eBook, Kindle, and Sony Reader, to about $10 in print (which they produce per request); And yearly subscriptions cost $16 in electric formats including PDF and $32 in print, unless you don’t reside in one of our United States. Then it’ll cost you 56 US dollars.

The exciting feature is the iPhone app which I believe costs $16 as well, but then it seems as though you can get old issues for free, so I might be missing some subtlety.

On the “About” page, the Editors, Andy Hunter and Scott Lindenbaum, describe their cause for founding the company with a noticeable touch of survivor’s guilt:

“People of our generation—with one foot in the past and one in the future—must make sure that the media gap is bridged in a way that preserves and honors literature. We don’t want to be sentimental old folks in a world where literary fiction is only read by an esoteric few.”

And a creed:

“Electric Literature’s mission is to use new media and innovative distribution to return the short story to a place of prominence in popular culture.”

But they’re probably correct about reading being more accessible than conventional wisdom holds:

“We’re tired of hearing that literary fiction is doomed. Everywhere we look, people are reading—whether it be paperbooks, eBooks, blogs, tweets, or text messages…”

…cause if you pay attention, you’ll notice that everybody does read. It can surprise you in a way that subsequently makes you feel a little dumb or delinquent for having been surprised, the same way seeing someone eat carrots as an actual snack might surprise you and then sudden feelings that you’re maybe not normal, just unhealthy, spill in.

There were probably a few generations of stuffy old stone tablet snobs or crabby sentimentalists periodically declaring with finality and arrogance ‘the death of cuneiform as we know it’ before papyrus became the common method for record keeping, mass communication, and information sharing. Or there was probably a constituency of open minded urbanites who were yet sentimental about the way hand written calligraphy felt on the page and so treated the printing press like it was a moral conundrum. (That’s really not a knock on people’s right to think about what they feel is important to think about, or what they just want to think about. There really are legitimate moral considerations when it comes to technology that could revolutionize the way something important functions. It’s a joke, and more of an expression of frustration at the difficulty without guarantee of success, inherent to such problems, as well as the not-necesarily obtainable circumstances that are, never-the-less, necessary to facilitate said success, of which blogging does not provide.) Calligraphy is still thriving.

Four issues have be published so far (if published is even the right word anymore…)



They get creative and combine other popular viral art media with the literature at the center, an example of which is below; Although, I have to point out that the animation and music overtakes the quote, which is a somewhat ironic example of why literature is considered a dangered species of art.


This is the first installment of our magazine series that we will run periodically.


Tuesday’s Article (08-03-10)

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

-David Lipsky reading from his book about David Foster Wallace. We apologize for the audio as well as the abrupt ending.  However, it’s meant to complement the content of the blog and so you don’t have to listen to the whole thing to get the point.


A Precursory Interjection: What we’re trying to do here is blend the formats for articles and blogs into a hybrid with an outcome being, if successful, something that is both functional when taken in parts and coherent when taken as a whole. Ideally, we’d take a completed article and cut it up into suitable chunks. However, we are starting from the opposing side (for this initial one anyway), with the single blogs that we plan to fuse together as we go along, which I could claim to be for the sake of experimentation, but the plain truth is I’m an awful procrastinator.  In fairness, though, it does kind of feel more true to form.

David Foster Wallace

1st Installment

‘How Everyone Feels’

David Lipsky is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone.  He has written a novel, a book of short stories, and two NY Times best-selling works of non-fiction.  He also contributes essays to the NPR broadcast All Things Considered.  A story of his was included in the 1987 edition of The Best American Short Stories.

Despite disregarding a few additional specifics, this is his professional bio.

In the afterword to one of his non-fiction books, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself (published 4/13/2010 by Broadway Books), which is basically a transcript of a 5-day interview with David Foster Wallace, he wrote this:

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

Put another way, reading David Foster Wallace is like being a young kid and discovering that someone else has noticed something you had noticed, on a play ground or in a class, in the teacher or in the other students.  And it had been terrifying because it was large and incomplete, but seemed to indicate a flaw in the way the world was presented to you (not that you would be able to articulate it, even this crudely) and especially because you had pretty much assumed you were the only one who noticed it, which made you feel isolated and vulnerable to rejection.  And not only did someone else notice it, but that person interpreted it the same way, had the same feelings about it, and was just as excited to find out about your awareness of it as you were to find out about his/hers.

And then you both go on to find out that it’s not just the two of you, but a third person was having the same experience. And, furthermore, that actually the majority of people notice the same things and process them in roughly the same ways and are basically in the same boat.

Wallace does more than recreate this for you.  It’s like he holds the portal open, through the grit of his tour de force prose, giving you a chance to examine it in addition to just feeling it.

In this instance, it was David Lipsky, who nailed down exactly how I feel about David Foster Wallace’s writing.

-2nd installment, which will be considerably less disclaimer-laden, will come sometime over the next few weeks.  Please bear with us.