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Syntax Nudniks of Our Time
July 24, 2012 2:16 PM   Subscribe

How David Foster Wallace Prompted a Scalia Book
posted by nevercalm (23 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
It surprises me that people use Elizabeth Wurtzel as a source "close" to DFW. I find her distracting from the rest of the article. Just finished reading "Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself" and I love anything Wallace related so thanks for posting.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 2:38 PM on July 24, 2012


I had a really hard time following that blog post. I still don't really know who had lunch with whom, and which admired the other, although the implication was that it was Wallace and Scalia (but maybe it was Scalia's coauthor?).
posted by OmieWise at 2:42 PM on July 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


People with differing ideologies can actually get along and appreciate some other kind of human qualities or traits! Wow! What a sad state our political system is in that this is news.

I am a huge DFW fan, but this is a pretty weak article & FPP. Wallace voiced his appreciation of Scalia's grammarian tendencies back in a 2005 forum with Rick Moody (one character in The Diviners was based on Scalia) and the Harper's essay came out in 2001, so some of this is just old news with a linkbaity headline. Trying to imply that DFW voted for Reagan, had lunch with Scalia, and wrote about McCain therefore he is a Republican is ridiculous, btw. I'd like to think that, even though I am a registered Democrat, I could enjoy talking to Antonin Scalia about grammar & usage. I mean, if you think there is too much polarization in contemporary US politics, stop writing "news" that is so polarizing.

And I agree that Wurtzel is not really a DFW expert. Seems like anyone who knew him even briefly is qualified as a quotable expert now (self included).

In other news, here is a picture of Justices Scalia & Ginsburg on an elephant.
posted by mattbucher at 2:44 PM on July 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


(He says he helped freshman grasp Mr. Wallace’s disjoined style by likening it to the edgy television cartoon, “Family Guy.”)

My gut reaction here was to assume the worst of young Professor Scalia, but the more I think about this, the more I think this has had to have been an interaction that involved Scalia giving the article's author -- Jess Bravin -- a quick two-minute overview of postmodernism, and saying that pastiche is one of its defining characteristics, and Bravin just staring back blankly.

"Pastiche," repeats Scalia, "like... uh... like they use in... uh... Family Guy?"

and then Bravin nodding slowly and writing "Infnitie Jest = Familly Guy" on a big yellow legal pad and circling it.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:45 PM on July 24, 2012 [17 favorites]


Side note: if you're remotely interested in language and were not yet aware of Bryan Garner's work, get thee to Garner's Modern American Usage immediately. I can (and have) read that book cover to cover, even it seems like it might be like reading a dictionary. Infinitely fascinating and an indispensable tool for those of us who work with language in the US.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:49 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Gosh, Lois, you're being more difficult than that time we hired James Incandenza to fix our microwave!"
*flashback*

"Peter, that reference was more complicated than the time we learned how to play Eschaton!"
*flashback*

"You think that's complicated, you should listen to Brian talk about the Madame Psychosis radio show sometime!"
*flashback*

okay actually wait this started off me making fun but now I kind of want it to happen
posted by Greg Nog at 2:49 PM on July 24, 2012 [34 favorites]


Ick.

The only thing worse than having to endure Justice Scalia as a Justice who can and actually has changed the law is having to endure his self-congratulatory pomposity about being a Brilliant Fellow.
posted by bearwife at 2:53 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Nevertheless, beyond their shared interest in rhetoric, Justice Scalia “is an incredible game player, using intellectual honesty as a trope, and that is the kind of thing that David Wallace would just love,” said Ms. Wurtzel, whose books include “Prozac Nation” and “Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women.”

Honesty cast as a "trope" is no surprise given other posts on the Blue about Wurtzel.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 3:11 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


That was one of the most confusing things I have ever read. Much more complicated than any of Wallace's writing - not out of ingenuity but poor use of pronouns.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:48 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just started "Infinite Jest". By page five I was laughing out loud. See you in a few months.
posted by Mojojojo at 4:01 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just spent 20 minutes trying to rewrite Scalia's Citizens United decision in DFW's voice, but it was simply too hard. Almost as hard as understanding the point of TFA, other than that the juxtaposition is supposed to be weird, or something, because of Wallace's supposedly "liberal" politics and Scalia's scorched-earth puppy-skinning politics, even though Wallace's politics1 don't actually admit such ready slotting into one of the political categories provided by the Total Noise media on which the formal features of some of his writing were calculated to comment2.

Anyway, because his writing was so ferociously empathetic and stylistically excellent, and because he wrote a useful-in-actual-meatspace owner's manual for the human mind, when DFW's name comes up, I say a little prayer forgiving Everything and More, and then pour some of my beverage out for the guy. My girlfriend doesn't let me have coffee near the bookshelf anymore.

And when Scalia is, as we all will eventually be, taken to Jesus, I will likewise pour out puppy blood at the mention of his name, to slake his3 insatiable thirst.

1. As evidenced by, say, the Marathe/Steeply Habitant soupe aux pois discussion, or almost anything in "Consider the Lobster".

2. Scalia's -- Scalia pere -- do seem to entail endorsement of wanton pillage and the skinning of puppies.

3. metaphorically, apparently-in-my-opinion4

4. Insinuating, without at least adding transparently ass-covering qualifications, that a man who lives by the lawsuit has a taste for puppy blood seems ill-advised.
posted by kengraham at 4:30 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Damn. "Opinion", not "decision". Shows how much small-a authority I have to criticise the guy.
posted by kengraham at 4:37 PM on July 24, 2012


I think this article uses phrases like "good friends", "big fan", and "interlocking mutual admirations " in ways that remind me of the worst name-droppers. Not in a good way, is what I mean.
posted by vidur at 4:43 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wurtzel is... not well-appreciated in mental health circles. But it's a genre, "young crazy girl", and it's been outdone in modesty, grace and frankness, at the cost of snark and film-abiity.
posted by syntaxfree at 5:44 PM on July 24, 2012


I used to be a left wing hippie who admired Scalia's writing but the quality of his prose has suffered as his legal reasoning has grown more and more specious. The Arizona immigration dissent read like a Washington Times editorial.
posted by moammargaret at 6:25 PM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Would you (either moammargaret or anyone else) prefer a justice with a mediocre style but closer to your main political positions, or someone with impeccable rhetoric and sparkling prose, but who stands for everything you have always fought against?

On one side, you shouldn't want a mediocre judge mirroring your viewpoints because a judge is supposed to be one of the better minds of society and react to the changing world accordingly. On the other hand, impeccable rhetoric and sparkling prose can always be subtly and smoothly tweaked into defending a patently false position, if only because it's hard to keep track of natural language's changes in extensional semantics.
posted by syntaxfree at 7:03 PM on July 24, 2012


Fox news talking points, which are what Scalia's dissents have become, by definition cannot be exemplars of high rhetoric.
posted by moammargaret at 7:16 PM on July 24, 2012


That's not the definition of "by definition".
posted by syntaxfree at 7:24 PM on July 24, 2012


I had a really hard time following that blog post.

Likewise. Couldn't make heads or tails of it. Is this by a WSJ reporter?
posted by neuron at 8:43 PM on July 24, 2012


That's some kind of tautological syllogism.
posted by rhizome at 8:51 PM on July 24, 2012


Elizabeth Wurtzel has a truly chilling ability to grab column inches wherever they are to be found.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:54 PM on July 24, 2012


mattbucher In other news, here is a picture of Justices Scalia & Ginsburg on an elephant.

Which one is Scalia?
posted by RavinDave at 5:10 AM on July 25, 2012


MeFi's own languagehat was not fond of Tense Present, to say the least. It took me years to get over my bad reaction to that essay before I could give Wallace a second chance. But, oh boy, Wallace sure could write. Tense Present aside, his essays were amazing.
posted by Kattullus at 3:37 PM on July 25, 2012


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