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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.

-Matt

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This Week’s Article

In Guest Writers,Stephen Faig on November 23, 2010 by Two Barbers Tagged: , , , , ,

Limited Cyberspace

I read in the news a couple weeks ago that a mother in Florida pleaded guilty to shaking her baby to death for crying and interrupting her game of FarmVille on Facebook.

For those of you unfamiliar with FarmVille, it is a free game where you can harvest plants and milk cows with your friends on Facebook. Sound boring? As of February 2010, FarmVille surpassed 80 million users worldwide. Go virtual farming.

To be fair, I’ve never played it. But I witnessed my roommates spend hours on it last year. It looked like a good way to kill time if you have absolutely nothing better to do, after counting the cars that pass by and picking fuzz off of all your sweaters, but certainly nothing to write home about or shake a baby over. Not that there’s any acceptable reason for that.

Neither Facebook nor FarmVille have commented on the incident, nor should they. If the game allowed you to invade other farms and attack their owners with pitch forks, you could bet the mother’s defense lawyer would have been lamenting the effects of violence in the media. But FarmVille offers bored people the experience of watching grass grow.

This experience takes place within a social forum, Facebook. In fact, Zynga, the company behind FarmVille, states on its Web site that its mission is to connect people through games that are free and accessible for everyone to play.

No one can argue that people use the Internet to socialize. Facebook currently has over 500,000 million users spending a combined total time of over 800 billion minutes a month on its Web site. To put that in perspective, every month, the combined time of Facebook users spans the evolution of Homo erectus to present day.

But as much as sites like Facebook allow us to connect far and wide through cyber-space, in many ways this connection is at a distance. It is a watered-down form of human interaction. The “self” or “individual” is not present, but behind a computer. You are represented instead by the “bite-sized” information you choose, or, in some cases, other people choose, to share about you online. This information can be very personal, but the interaction itself is piece-meal and impersonal. So what is the appeal?

These types of social networking sites give everyone a voice to express their ideas and share themselves in a vast public forum. In fact, modern technology is enabling our generation to communicate and collaborate on a mass scale of which the world has never seen before. This is changing the way we live and work.

Unfortunately, in many cases, the Internet and social networking sites have also turned into an alternative reality for people who are either bored or disillusioned with their own reality, whether that be dating, making friends at high school, succeeding at work, or even raising a child.

The distance and perceived anonymity of the Internet creates the illusion that it is a place of no ‘real’ consequences. You can lower your inhibitions and act differently than you would in real life. You could be a completely different person. You could start a new ‘virtual’ life in FarmVille.

You can call it cyber-slacking or cyber-escapism. This problem is there’s a real world out there waiting for you.

-Steve

This is Steve’s second article for Two Barbers and he did not commit a single spelling error!

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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. (http://www.electricliterature.com/index.html)

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…)

-Matt

P.S.

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.

P.P.S.

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

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Technical Difficulties

In Matt,Technical Difficulties on November 2, 2010 by Two Barbers Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

Sorry for the inconvenience. But as a very modest consolation (with our deepest regret and hopes you will not be forever disinclined to visiting our blog) we will refrain from referring to you as “folks”.

Due to Technical Difficulties (let’s just leave it at that), we do not have an article for our This Week’s Article that is posted on Tuesdays. And hence, it would not be a very good This Week’s Article without it.

We should get our shit together and our asses in gear soon enough to have the article finished and posted before the lights go down on the city (congrats to the San Fran Giants, their fans, and, of course, Steve Perry…As for Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, however- Here’s to hoping it wasn’t everything you expected so that you can, by the Grace of God, wake up to confront the emptiness at the heart of your niche-obsessed career, and finally begin to address, with whatever capabilities for self-nourishment you have left that have not withered and become atrophied, the existential needs that have plagued your soul and from which you’ve been running like the hounds of hell.).

Again, we apologize for any additional difficulties ours may have caused for you.

-Matt; With special thanks to the animators of The Simpsons circa, some time in the 90s when it was still funny instead of just kinda funny.

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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