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“Found this Russian, this chick like nineteen, can’t speak a word of English,"
June 27, 2006 6:19 AM   Subscribe

It is difficult to describe how it feels to gaze at living human beings whom you’ve seen perform in hard-core porn. To shake the hand of a man whose precise erectile size, angle, and vasculature are known to you. That strange I-think-we’ve-met-before sensation one feels upon seeing any celebrity in the flesh is here both intensified and twisted. It feels intensely twisted to see reigning industry queen Jenna Jameson chilling out at the Vivid booth in Jordaches and a latex bustier and to know already that she has a tattoo of a sundered valentine with the tagline HEART BREAKER on her right buttock and a tiny hairless mole just left of her anus. To watch Peter North try to get a cigar lit and to have that sight backlit by memories of his artilleryesque ejaculations.
David Foster Wallace on the adult film industry
posted by PenguinBukkake (121 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
[older DFW post]
posted by PenguinBukkake at 6:21 AM on June 27, 2006


It is difficult to describe how it feels to gaze at living human beings whom you’ve seen perform in hard-core porn.

Not as weird as the opposite: seeing people you know in regular life turn up in porn. It's happened to me once or twice, and with the internet, it's prolly happening more and more.
posted by jonmc at 6:29 AM on June 27, 2006


Isn't this just a vestige of our culture of invisible sexuality?

Should we just get over it?
posted by ewkpates at 6:30 AM on June 27, 2006


Isn't this just a vestige of our culture of invisible sexuality?

invisible sexuality? I don't know what culture you live in, but sexuality is very visible most places.
posted by jonmc at 6:33 AM on June 27, 2006


This is the article he wrote for Premiere magazine under the psuedonyms Willem DeGroot & the other one I don't remember, about 4 years ago. I rue the fact that I lent my copy of the magazine to George Stady(1), who then read it then chucked it away.
Damn good stuff anyway (I did just buy this book on saturday, since half of the essays I've not seen before)



1. Who'd originally got me hooked on DFW when I borrowed his Infinite Jest
posted by Flashman at 6:37 AM on June 27, 2006


This essay can be found in Consider the Lobster, which came out at the end of last year. I have it in hardcover. It's well worth the read, believe me, as is his other collected nonfiction book.
posted by spiderwire at 6:49 AM on June 27, 2006


It is difficult to describe how it feels to gaze at living human beings whom you’ve seen perform in hard-core porn.

Call me naive, but I fail to see how this is any different than, say, gazing at a human being you once had a torrid one-night stand with. You know about the same amount about them -- their names, the location of moles and tatoos -- except, of course, in a more visceral and (ahem) personal way.

methinks the writer is just star struck.
posted by anastasiav at 6:51 AM on June 27, 2006


Call me naive, but I fail to see how this is any different than, say, gazing at a human being you once had a torrid one-night stand with.

Well, that sensation is kind of weird, too. Like that chick in Say Anything said, once you've slep with someone, it dosen't matter if it's 90 years later, your first thought will be, "I fucked this person."
posted by jonmc at 6:56 AM on June 27, 2006


This is a very good essay.

Considered in the aggregate, however, Consider the Lobster just isn't nearly as strong as his previous collection, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. While the essays continue to be well-written and have that special OCD quality that I know and love, the writing seems lazier. It's the writing of an author who no longer needs to prove himself... an author who ain't hungry no more.

I'm not saying that he's fallen off completely, just that his glory days appear to have ended.
posted by rachelpapers at 7:04 AM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


But if you've had a torrid one-night stand with someone, or even a long term sexual relationship with someone, you probably haven't fetishized their every orifice. Also, those relationships were experienced by both of you, so if you run into a former lover in a restaurant and think "I've seen her naked" she's probably thinking the same thing about you. When you see a porm star in the flesh, however, they have no knowledge of you, while you possess an almost gynacological knowledge of them. You've seen them orgasm, and they don't even know who you are. And yet, they maintain the power in the encounter, according to the article.
posted by Biblio at 7:08 AM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


When you see a porm star in the flesh, however, they have no knowledge of you, while you possess an almost gynacological knowledge of them. You've seen them orgasm, and they don't even know who you are.

I think it was the chick from the Bangles (of all people) who said that the fundamental nature of fame is bizarre, in that there's a huge population of people who 'know' you, but you don't know them. Porn just takes that to the absolute extreme.
posted by jonmc at 7:10 AM on June 27, 2006


I'm with rachelpapers. And the ew factor of the FPP was pretty high for 7 am, in my book. *goes to get coffee*
posted by squirrel at 7:10 AM on June 27, 2006


I'm not saying that he's fallen off completely, just that his glory days appear to have ended.

I tend to disagree; I thought that Lobster did drag in places, but it covered a much broader range of topics (c'mon, a dictionary review?), and the McCain 2000 essay alone is worth the price of admission; it's far and away the most insightful / topical piece of writing I've come across regarding the state of modern politics.
posted by spiderwire at 7:10 AM on June 27, 2006


silly squirrel, it's never too early for porn.
posted by jonmc at 7:12 AM on June 27, 2006


Metafilter: a tiny hairless mole just left of your anus.
posted by NewBornHippy at 7:18 AM on June 27, 2006


"This facility... is an enormous windowless all-cement space that during show hours manages to induce both agoraphobia and claustrophobia."

Beautiful.
posted by Homeskillet Freshy Fresh at 7:18 AM on June 27, 2006


Reading a heretofore-undiscovered piece of DFW nonfiction is one of the finest periodic aesthetic/intellectual experiences to be had in this otherwise more or less totally shit-ridden century. I'm with spiderwire: the new collection doesn't have the gee-whiz vibe of A Supposedly Fun Thing... (that Michael Joyce essay is my favourite essay by anyone, on any topic), but Wallace's writing is better than ever and his generosity/criticism ratio far more precisely tuned. 'Host', the Atlantic Monthly article on the right-wing radio commentator, is a beautiful piece of reportage, and Wallace's anger comes through in carefully-modulated (but impossible to miss) ways.

Is Lobster out in paperback?
posted by waxbanks at 7:31 AM on June 27, 2006


I think most Lobsters have hard backs. They're crustaceans you know.
posted by jonmc at 7:33 AM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


Is Lobster out in paperback?

Not yet, gol-darnnit.
posted by COBRA! at 7:38 AM on June 27, 2006


PenguinBukkake

It is difficult to describe how it feels to gaze at living penguins.....
posted by three blind mice at 7:57 AM on June 27, 2006


I've pretty much run out of praise for Wallace. While there are always one or two clunkers in his fiction collections, some of his essays take up probably five or six spots in my Top 10 Essays list, and some - like the one linked as well as "Up, Simba!" and "ASFTINDA" are so engrossing that I was literally unable to put it down, going so far as to read while trying to make dinner (a bad idea around 500 degree cast iron, for what it's worth).

Thinking about it, I may have posted a comment very much like this already, so refer to the first sentence of the previous paragraph.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:22 AM on June 27, 2006


I haven't read any other writing by DFW. Is he always this annoying?

echolalic
synecdoche
hypersucrotic

I know the meanings of these words, I can imagine how annoying it must be for someone who has to look up a three-dollar word every couple of paragraphs.

(And hypersucrotic is not even a real word - he made that shit up)
posted by bashos_frog at 8:23 AM on June 27, 2006


Is he always this annoying

Imagine how annoying it would be if instead of describing someone as a "homodont" he had to use a whole sentence to point out that he had all of the same type of teeth. You either love it or hate it, I guess.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:27 AM on June 27, 2006


Is Lobster out in paperback?

I just bought it in paperback this weekend - it was odd really, since I'd walked into a bookstore (the Oxford Borders I'm afraid) just to see if DFW had written anything new recently, and there it was.
Maybe it's just in the UK though - they probably skipped the hardcover edition entirely owing to his relative obscurity on the Emerald Isle.
posted by Flashman at 8:31 AM on June 27, 2006


And that Pynchon guy, whooee, does he bug the everlovin' crap outta me. It's like I have to have a third bookmark for the dictionary, right? Am I right?

Seriously, the longest essay in Lobster is a book review of a dictionary. I'm with OC -- the guy likes words, it's part of his style. I find it pretty fun, but that's just my thing. If it's not yours, take it somewhere besides the DFW thread, jack.

(Also, 'sucrotic' is a word, and even if attaching 'hyper-' to it isn't canonical, it's at least a legitimate construction. DFW also substitutes 'w/r/t' for 'with regards to' all over his novels, and that doesn't bother me either. Regardless, I'm gonna go with the guy who writes reviews of books on correct English usage, thanks.)
posted by spiderwire at 8:35 AM on June 27, 2006


Upon further research into DFW's oeuvre (which in retrospect, I should have done before posting) I see that such cleverness and gimmickry are his - to use a Yiddish1 expression - shtick.
posted by bashos_frog at 8:35 AM on June 27, 2006


That must have been an intense 12 minutes of research. Isn't it 'schtick'? Oh no wait, I'm gonna go look it up on dictionary.com.

not really, i'm just being a dick
posted by spiderwire at 8:37 AM on June 27, 2006


Yeah, he's always that annoying. That's pretty much his schtick. Most people read books because all they really care about is themselves. They love to see their shit made pretty. Normally, this isn't such a bad thing but, as I've pointed out before, the 80s were a huge fucking disaster.
posted by nixerman at 8:38 AM on June 27, 2006


Well, when reading Pynchon I never really get the feeling that the author was standing next to me going "look at me! look at me!"
It's not so much the vocabulary (and other contrivances) as it is the fact that they seem to be more noise than signal.
posted by bashos_frog at 8:40 AM on June 27, 2006


DFW also substitutes 'w/r/t' for 'with regards to' all over his novels, and that doesn't bother me either.

PedanticFilter: I think w/r/t is actually short for "with respect to" -- at least, that's what it's short for in mathematical prose, and DFW is a well-known math buff.
posted by escabeche at 8:42 AM on June 27, 2006


Having read Infinite Jest by DFW, and the collection in which this essay appears, I conclude that yes, he is always this annoying. For me he represents just about the most annoying thing going on in fiction these days -- authors so caught up in their own unique "voice" that they end up not really having anything to say. The focus is all on the literary gymnastics. I mean, this guy has the gall to throw in a footnote that is longer than a full page, and then include footnotes inside that footnote. Who does that? Jerks. That's who. The look-at-me-I'm-pushing-the-limits-of-writing jerks. Even when its entertaining, it still pisses me off.
posted by cubby at 8:42 AM on June 27, 2006


(was -> is)
posted by bashos_frog at 8:42 AM on June 27, 2006


the 80s were a huge fucking disaster

?
posted by Flashman at 8:44 AM on June 27, 2006


Metafiler: Even when its entertaining, it still pisses me off.

[sic]
posted by Flashman at 8:46 AM on June 27, 2006


t
posted by Flashman at 8:46 AM on June 27, 2006


OK, I guess I'm not alone on this one, but I will have to read more of his work. He does seem like a bright guy, and he has a good eye for interesting detail.

I'm just not a big fan of the literary gymnastics. I like the feeling of being absorbed in something, and I hate writers who are constantly pulling you out of the flow to exclaim "I made this!"
posted by bashos_frog at 8:47 AM on June 27, 2006


You know those guys who dress up on weekends and go out and film their own star trek scenarios and like name their kids after obscure deep space nine characters? I am like that for David Foster Wallace.
posted by mattbucher at 8:49 AM on June 27, 2006


You have kids named Poor Tony and Randy Lenz and have a head in your microwave, that kinda thing?
posted by jonmc at 8:50 AM on June 27, 2006


Am I missing something, or did they not include the footnotes with the excerpt?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:53 AM on June 27, 2006


Man, this is long. Everything DFW writes is so, so long.

I was going to read this and then I realized I was only a quarter of the way through, and I'm at work.
posted by blacklite at 8:57 AM on June 27, 2006


You have kids named Poor Tony and Randy Lenz and have a head in your microwave, that kinda thing?

Yes.
posted by mattbucher at 8:59 AM on June 27, 2006


I have his autograph on my old fatigue jacket (along with a buncha other favorite celebs. His is right under the Metallica logo and reads "David Foster Wallace..on zither."

I win.
posted by jonmc at 9:03 AM on June 27, 2006


escabeche:

PedanticFilter: I think w/r/t is actually short for "with respect to" -- at least, that's what it's short for in mathematical prose, and DFW is a well-known math buff.

Thanks! I love DFW and it never occured to me that it did not mean "with regard to."
posted by callmejay at 9:06 AM on June 27, 2006


Everything DFW writes is so, so long.

No, the Tracy Austin essay was pretty short - I read it on the way home from the bookstore, and it took almost exactly one pint of 'Select' bitter.
posted by Flashman at 9:07 AM on June 27, 2006


Most people read books because all they really care about is themselves.

Hahahahahahahha!

.....wait what?
posted by lumpenprole at 9:08 AM on June 27, 2006


I win.

Actually, you won with the Rachael Ray autograph.
posted by Cyrano at 9:10 AM on June 27, 2006


Hilarity ensues.
posted by xod at 9:15 AM on June 27, 2006


I, personally, really like David Foster Wallace, but I can easily see how he gets on others' nerves. Other showy or quirky writers do that to me. Hell, Michael Chabon annoys me. All the same, I'd rather there were writers that flourished their own self-consciously strange and off-putting styles, and annoyed half their readers, and seized the imaginations of a few, than every writer hunker down and plod along with the sort of focus-grouped Hemingway-derived Keep It Simple Stupid everyone seems to favor when you ask them about it in internet forums or whatever.
posted by furiousthought at 9:18 AM on June 27, 2006


I read Umberto Eco when I was in high school and some of his footnotes were more than a whole page and included their own footnotes. At the time, I thought "Wow, this guy must be really smart to write like that." I guess it's a good thing I didn't read any David Foster Wallace when I was an impressionable kid.
posted by Loudmax at 9:23 AM on June 27, 2006


Martin Amis already did this. And better.
posted by bardic at 9:27 AM on June 27, 2006


Ive always thought him brilliant, and like Optimus Chyme, can never put his essays down. I've always loved his decadent descriptions and how he demystifies everything in nonplussed absolutions:

>>Mr. John “Buttman” Stagliano [...] not only has publicly announced testing positive for HIV but has identified the infection’s vector as a transsexual prostitute in São Paulo with whom Stagliano had unprotected anal intercourse in 1995. He’s anxious that people not get the wrong idea: “I am not particularly interested in guys, but I am interested in dicks [...].
posted by naxosaxur at 9:28 AM on June 27, 2006


I find DFW sometimes annoying, sometimes amusing, sometimes boring and sometimes mildly interesting. But I always find the fact that he has such an intensely loyal and passionate following to be immensely puzzling. Has anyone, including the author himself, attempted to explain this phenomenon?
posted by psmealey at 9:44 AM on June 27, 2006


furiousthought: i'm all for complexity, nuance, gymnastics, etc in writing. but i hate when it becomes the major focus of the writing. dfw's essays are often just that to me -- exercises in strange and overly constructed writing. half the time, though, he just doesn't seem to have anything worth saying -- but he goes ahead and says nothing with great style, and at great length. I prefer writing where the substance is more important than the structure. Folks like Yann Martel manage this balance well - a highly unique voice and style with something substantive to ground it all.
posted by cubby at 9:45 AM on June 27, 2006


Oh no! Words I don't recognize and can't be bothered to look up!

I hate him.
posted by waxbanks at 9:58 AM on June 27, 2006


Words I don't recognize and can't be bothered to look up!

FireFox extension
posted by matteo at 10:04 AM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


cubby:
half the time, though, he just doesn't seem to have anything worth saying -- but he goes ahead and says nothing with great style, and at great length.
Incorrect.

Wallace always has something and something else and yet something else going on his essays. Always. You're just not getting it yet. I'm genuinely sorry that this sounds condescending, but I don't know how else to put it. You're missing the abundance of heart and soul in his work by focusing on the goddamn vocabulary.

The subtle circling-back to autobiography is a clue to how to read DFW: Wallace is a very passionate, very in-the-middle-of-it writer, and his mode of indirection (pleasurable in its own right) is a tool for preparing the reader to arrive at moments of more sustained emotional confrontation. His David Lynch piece in A Supposedly Fun Thing is a good example: the personal (and moving) recollection of his viewing of Blue Velvet is the linchpin of the most high-toned part of the essay (about Expressionism), grounding the writing just when it gets most academic. That kind of juxtaposition happens often in his essays. (Same in his moving Kenyon commencement speech, actually.)

His short fiction in Oblivion works the same way, for what it's worth.
posted by waxbanks at 10:07 AM on June 27, 2006


OK, I like DFW a lot. And I like writers who experiment with structure. I may or may not like the result but I think it's a great thing to do. Oh yeah & I like words, though maybe that falls under liking DFW.

On the other hand, after reading Infinite Jest I decided that he could, like an high school speech star, produce great prose about any subject whatsoever. And I think sometimes he does. But that's fine with me. I don't need to be grounded all the time. Let a thousand flowers bloom.
posted by Wood at 10:08 AM on June 27, 2006


The way waxbanks just described it, DFW sounds like the supergenius post modern lovechild of a threeway between Joyce, Proust and Garcia Marquez.
posted by psmealey at 10:16 AM on June 27, 2006


Having worked in a porn store (coincidentally, at the same time that this article is set), I can appreciate the description of the male fans.

We used to have porn stars come in for signings every couple of months. Shane came in for a signing, and the store was PACKED. There were about 10 times the amount of customers that we would normally see - only they were all acting as though they'd just stopped by to pick up a rental, and would stay on the opposite end of the store, stealing glances but never approaching Shane.

At one point, Shane took off all her clothes and turned to the other clerk and I and said: "Watch this."

Shane slowly walked around the store, and as she did, the crowd of men would move in unison to maintain their opposite-side-of-the-store distance. Her herding the men around the store like this was probably one of the funniest things I witnessed at that store.
posted by fizz-ed at 10:18 AM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


I win.
posted by jonmc at 12:03 PM EST on June 27 [+fave] [!]

You lose. I have a Christmas card sent as a thank you note for the CD I sent him (my band named a song "Incandenza USA). HA!

Cubby and all you other people who can't be arsed to give DFW the serious read he deserves - you go to hell and you die.
posted by DenOfSizer at 10:27 AM on June 27, 2006


And isn't it interesting that he goes to church? (DFW, not Cubby, I mean.)

(PS I was just KIDDING, Cubby. You can live with your lack of literary generosity if you want. It was a South Park quote - now THAT'S an annoying literary tick, I concede. But THIS is mefi.)
posted by DenOfSizer at 10:29 AM on June 27, 2006


Also, footnotes are at the foot of the page. Endnotes are at the end of the piece. Jest, then, had very few footnotes, and Lobster has no endnotes.
posted by DenOfSizer at 10:31 AM on June 27, 2006


"Rob Black’s Miscreants keeps getting nominated in category after category, and time and again there’s a frantic caucus at the podium about the correct pronunciation of miscreant, complete with a couple of presenters audibly whispering what in the fuck is the word even supposed to mean."

Nice
posted by Spacelegoman at 10:42 AM on June 27, 2006


waxbanks writes: You're missing the abundance of heart and soul in his work by focusing on the goddamn vocabulary.

I think DFW would wretch to see such an empty cliche used to describe his work. A Romantic he is not, which is an esthetic attitude I admire. As for the work itself? Meh. I just don't feel the need to read him copiously when his essay about taking a cruise will do (and this could be said about many, many authors, but personally I just don't get too excited about him. Writing an essay about porn hasn't been provocative since Andrew Ross did it, what, 20 years ago? Even Amis seems to know he's grasping at straws, and that was five years ago. Simply put, porn just ain't porn anymore--it's part of the mainstream. Consider me an unshocked member of the bourgeoisie.).
posted by bardic at 10:47 AM on June 27, 2006


Biblio, nicely said.

While the essays continue to be well-written and have that special OCD quality that I know and love, the writing seems lazier. It's the writing of an author who no longer needs to prove himself... an author who ain't hungry no more.

rachelpapers, Interesting observation.

I'm fond of AS Byatt's Possession for that intensity and OCD details which make reality pop when I finally close the book's covers.

Such an interesting post and thread. Stimulating, intriguing. Makes me want to read more DFW writing, including the piece everybody's referring to, A Supposedly Fun Thing. Any good links to it? I enjoy writing that shows me the illusory nature of knowing, or knowing illusions, like Oliver Sacks' books.

A neighbor of mine for about 6 years had Jack Russell puppies, I used to puppysit on occasion. One day I reached for a toy on the desk and down came a splash of magazines. When I kneeled to pick them up, there was a full page spread of my neighbor, Greg, who I always thought of as a Southern hayseed, in all his oversized glory. Apparently he is a well-known porn stud in the gay scene. Never would have known it in a million years.

It made me realize that Greg struggled in his computer repair biz and his hoped-for singing career more than I knew about and he resorted to something that did bring in the bucks. (oops, pun unintended)

Online communicating may, of course, also be a sort of false intimacy; writing giving the impression of creating a holographically entire person.

Offline or online recovery meetings can be like that too, revelations about growing up in a dysfunctional family. Secrets aren't intimacy but may feel like that in the momentary but penetrating exchange of similar stories. The sharing of secrets can create a kind of emotional promiscuity.

The illusion of intimacy may play out in life any number of ways.
posted by nickyskye at 11:11 AM on June 27, 2006


good gawd, this is so horribly written, I feel like my brain has gotten fogged just reading the first three pages. Maybe there is something interesting in there but the prose is just so bad.
posted by bluesky43 at 11:23 AM on June 27, 2006


Your favorite band writer sucks.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:28 AM on June 27, 2006


damn, folks. this is the kind of annoying that i'm talking about: writing that is based in and that breeds pretention. i've read dfw with seriousness and thouroughness. i see what he's doing. in some ways, for example, i appreciate that infinite jest, a book about addiction (drugs, media, etc), is so intensely long and convoluted as to produce in the reader (at least this reader) a fairly visceral feeling of what it might be like to be addicted to a piece of media. i realize that his writing has a great deal of depth to it, that there are layers and layers of meaning. but those layers are constructed in a voice that is constantly reveling in its own depth and layeredness. its like listening to celine dion sing.

this is not an argument in favor of simplistic or dumbed down writing. i like complex. i am more than willing to spend a long time digging into a rich text for more meaning. but i will not read literary masterbation. why does david foster wallace need three names? because reading a book by david foster wallace is primarily about reading david foster wallace's signature style and voice. why does shakespeare only need one name? well, he's way more famous. but also -- shakespeare's signature style and voice is, i would argue, less important than the content of his works (witness the many successful modern adaptations of his plays).

so, to revise a previous statement. even when its entertaining, or smart, or brilliant, or witty, or complex, it still pisses me off. that's right - its not enough for me. the best writing has soul. not that everything must be the best writing -- but if i'm going to read something that isn't magnificent, i'd prefer that half of it not be printed in an 8 point footnote font.
posted by cubby at 11:29 AM on June 27, 2006


His short fiction in Oblivion works the same way, for what it's worth.

Did he write the Dark Brotherhood quest line? Because that one kicks ass.
posted by thanotopsis at 11:38 AM on June 27, 2006


Thanotopsis, may the Night Mother wrap you in her cold, loving embrace.
posted by Spacelegoman at 12:00 PM on June 27, 2006


damn, folks. this is the kind of annoying that i'm talking about: writing that is based in and that breeds pretention.

I assume you mean "pretension," and this sort of attitude does, I think, point to what it is that you don't "get" about DFW. Look, it's not difficult to use big words or to be introspective while you're writing, but what Wallace does is extremely difficult to do well, and he does it better than just about anybody. The self-reflective "schtick" is his way of deflecting all the sorts of meaningless, tail-biting litcrit nonsense that he no doubt encounters daily in his job as a literature and writing professor. He has an extraordinary degree of control over his tone and vernacular (as waxbanks points out w/r/t that excellent essay on Lynch), and he uses colloquialisms, unique words, and self-reference to invest himself in the writing. It's just the way he thinks, and he doesn't dumb it down or distill it, which some of us find refreshing.

(For example, the longest footnote in Infinite Jest is, I believe, Pemulis' essay on the Canadian train-jumping cult, which is direct exposition of the origins of the assassin group in the book -- it's awesome, entertaining exposition and directly relevant to the plot at the point it falls in. The filmography of the father elsewhere in the footnotes is a condensed and time-linear analogy to the plot of the book that's intended to help the reader make sense of the otherwise nonlinear plotline. But you wouldn't have cared about any of that, since you're obviously more of the Da Vinci Code type who'd rather have the plot tied up neatly in a bow, huh?)

(And while we're on the subject, just what the fuck is wrong with having a long footnote? It's just another silly, meaningless literary convention. And he generally uses them for funny interludes to break up the action. It's not like he threw in a pie fight between biplanes or an extended montage of a character dressed up as a superhero searching the countryside for a hamster.)

What you don't seem to understand is that for some people, DFW among them, this sort of writing isn't pretension -- that would imply that he's speaking above his level, which he's not. For pete's sake, the guy can write competent reviews of usage guides, then turn around and do an 1100 po-mo retake on Hamlet, a few brilliant short stories, and then an utterly unique take on the world of not-quite-pro tennis (the true highlight of A Supposedly Fun Thing). He's got a MacArthur under his belt. If anything, he's talking down to you when he starts popping out the vocabularly words -- and you'll notice that he uses them in ways that create meaning rather than obscure it, which is what really marks the bad, overworded writing, not the words themselves.

No, the problem is that you're clearly not a bright enough reader to tell the difference, so, please, by all means, stick to the Danielle Steele and the Tom Clancy novels.
posted by spiderwire at 12:03 PM on June 27, 2006


Also:

shakespeare's signature style and voice is, i would argue, less important than the content of his works (witness the many successful modern adaptations of his plays).

Like, for example, Infinite Jest?
posted by spiderwire at 12:05 PM on June 27, 2006


I actually like DFW if I didn't make that clear. However, as spiderwire makes abundantly clear, his fans are complete dicks.

Honestly, I was with you up to a point--but then you go and say that anyone who doesn't suck DFW's cock has to be into airport lit?

I have to assume you don't read much contemporary fiction, because there are plenty of "deep" authors out there who can do something brilliant in 300 pages, while DFW needs 800.
posted by bardic at 12:07 PM on June 27, 2006


why does david foster wallace need three names? because reading a book by david foster wallace is primarily about reading david foster wallace's signature style and voice. why does shakespeare only need one name?

what
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:13 PM on June 27, 2006


Well, for what it's worth, I like DFW a lot. While it often does come off as pretentious, I've never really had a problem with his particular pretensions - as he really is as bright as he appears to be. Others here are right to point out that his works have many layers of meanings, that often the subject of his thoughts are much deeper than content of his essays. Here is a writer with ideas - and a way to present them. If you don't like his wordiness, well, who cares? He hasn't had much trouble selling books.

Oh, and why does he have such a following? Because he writes what he wants to write, how he wants to write it. In today's literary marketplace, between the over-blown memoirs, the psuedo-historical and psuedo-scientific thrillers, the self-help, the only eating beige food cookbooks, the quirky 'aren't I funny like an SNL skit' tear-jerkers, he comes off as something different and something aspiring to be better.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:19 PM on June 27, 2006


If anything, his use of extended footnotes, endnotes, and recursive parenthesis is informed by 1. a long history of modern (i.e. 20th C. onwards) lit’s attempt to describe the reality of the stream of consciousness of thought and experience. But unlike, say, Faulkner’s use of different fonts to depict different characters, or Woolf’s time-shifting, he tries – and succeeds – to organize all that experience for the reader. And 2. his study of mathematics, which, in its own way, has a language of narrative, or at least a lexigraphical framework (I mean, what else is an equation?) And it’s really brave and pretty damn original to put compress all of that and put into a tidy bow.

Love, DFW's biggest Red Son
(which is how all this got started anyway. Honestly, I can't tell who mifi hates more - Fred Phelps or DFW.)
posted by DenOfSizer at 12:23 PM on June 27, 2006


cubby writes "shakespeare's signature style and voice is, i would argue, less important than the content of his works (witness the many successful modern adaptations of his plays). "

Well, I'm not sure what you mean by "content", as style and voice are certainly part of the content of a work, but you seem to be indicating that the more important aspects of Shakespeare's work are plot and character. I'd have to disagree with you vehemently. Most of Shakespeare's narratives are derivative and implausible, sometimes abruptly turning on absurd devices. His characters often undergo apparently unmotivated epiphanies that strain credibility. Shakespeare is remembered precisely because of his style and his voice: his inventive, clever use of language and his innovative vocabulary. I mean, seriously: you're complaining about DFW making up words? No one, and I mean no one, made up as many words as Shakespeare.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:31 PM on June 27, 2006


Honestly, I was with you up to a point--but then you go and say that anyone who doesn't suck DFW's cock has to be into airport lit?

Because he doesn't understand the distinction between pretension and using big words, and he's using the fundamental beauty of Shakespeare as a counterpoint to a book that's a retelling of Hamlet, that's why.

I don't think it's being a dick to call a spade a spade. You're saying that I was making a generalization that I didn't make. I have no problem with Tom Clancy novels, I'm saying that if cubby can't handle words with more than one syllable, maybe he should stick to the potboilers.

(Also, anyone who thinks that he's going downhill or doesn't have anything useful to say, I was sorta in agreement until I read the McCain essay in Lobster -- far and away the most insightful piece about politics I've read in years, and that's saying a lot considering how much time I've wasted reading about politics. YMMV, of course.)
posted by spiderwire at 12:32 PM on June 27, 2006


(The dangling 'he' referring to Wallace, of course, and yes, I know that "words with more than one syllable" is more cumbersome than "monosyllabic," but it seemed like a funny way to make the point at the time, OK?)
posted by spiderwire at 12:34 PM on June 27, 2006


even when its entertaining, or smart, or brilliant, or witty, or complex, it still pisses me off. that's right - its not enough for me. the best writing has soul.

anyone who doesn't suck DFW's cock has to be into airport lit

souless fellatio ensues...

And speaking of, nickyskye, here is a short piece from Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, "B.I. #31 03-97".
posted by xod at 12:34 PM on June 27, 2006


Whoops; sorry, it was bashos_frog who was talking about the invented word. My mistake.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:35 PM on June 27, 2006


He's got a MacArthur under his belt. If anything, he's talking down to you when he starts popping out the vocabularly words -- and you'll notice that he uses them in ways that create meaning rather than obscure it.

I'll say it again. I'm not arguing in favor of simplistic writing. I'm arguing against the kind of writing that talks down to its readers. It's possible to be complex and deep and use big words without also being a jerk about it. Am I supposed to like an author who talks down to his readers? I don't care how much control and brilliance he has -- I'm not saying the guy doesn't have it. But he uses it gracelessly. Brilliantly, but gracelessly.

As a martial artist, I encounter two kinds of talent. The people who know that they can kick ass, and who take every possible opportunity to make that fact known (jerks). Then there are the people who have just as much ability, but who are content to use only as much as is necessary in any given situation. In my experience, the latter are far more dangerous and are almost always underestimated.

DFW is one of the former -- he has an extraordinary amount of talent, and he slings it around with jerkish abandon. Its a matter of taste if you choose to enjoy the display or find it repugnant. I understand what the guy is doing; as a writer and a student of literature I recognize the difficulty and the impressiveness of what he is doing -- but it still pisses me off.
posted by cubby at 12:37 PM on June 27, 2006


Ok, I have to ask, cubby, how much DFW have you read?
posted by xod at 12:38 PM on June 27, 2006


errr, polysyllabic, but you get the point
posted by spiderwire at 12:40 PM on June 27, 2006


why does shakespeare only need one name?

Reserve footballer for the Brazilian team, and "Ronaldinho" was taken?
posted by fet at 12:40 PM on June 27, 2006


As a martial artist, I encounter two kinds of talent. The people who know that they can kick ass, and who take every possible opportunity to make that fact known (jerks). Then there are the people who have just as much ability, but who are content to use only as much as is necessary in any given situation. In my experience, the latter are far more dangerous and are almost always underestimated.

And which category to you fall into if you bring up martial arts training in an unrelated discussion about literature on the internet?

I, also, would like to hear the answer to xod's question.
posted by spiderwire at 12:47 PM on June 27, 2006


shorter spiderwire: "Look, I'm not saying everyone should like DFW. It's just that if they don't, they're obviously mongoloids, and should stick to drooling in their sippy cups."

Know what I do like about DFW? While a bit arch and overly meta for some, he definitely has a sense of humor. He's droll, unlike many of his fans. I'm pretty sure he'd be able to "call a spade a spade" here--as mentioned, yr a dick.
posted by bardic at 12:49 PM on June 27, 2006


imma make this thread explode

DAVE EGGERS
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:07 PM on June 27, 2006


Huh. I’ve wondered what mook meant since I saw Mean Streets:

“We’re not payin’ ‘Cause this guy (points)....this guy’s a fuckin’ mook.”
“Mook? What's a mook.. ‘body know what a mook is? ...You can't call me a mook.”
“I can’t?”
“Naw.”
“...I’ll show ya mook!”
*punch*
posted by Smedleyman at 1:12 PM on June 27, 2006


Metafilter: It's possible to be complex and deep and use big words without also being a jerk about it.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:14 PM on June 27, 2006


i read both infinite jest and consider the lobster, and after that had had enough.

also, for the record, i don't care much for tom clancy.

i mention martial arts as a metaphor, which is a common literary device used to compare ideas that may not seem immediately similar.

to continue with that metaphor -- i can fully appreciate and understand a great martial artist's talent, but if that person is also a jerk i will not spar with them. reading dfw is, for me, the equivalent of sparring with someone who chooses to stop the fight every time they land a blow in order to explain the circumstances that resulted in me getting hit.
posted by cubby at 1:20 PM on June 27, 2006


Eggers!? Why you son of
posted by xod at 1:20 PM on June 27, 2006


Shakespeare sucked.
posted by hackly_fracture at 1:39 PM on June 27, 2006


monju_bosatsu writes "Am I missing something, or did they not include the footnotes with the excerpt?"

Yeah, I just started trying to read it, and not having the footnotes is driving me nuts. Seriously, it makes me anxious; I feel like I'm going to miss something important.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:54 PM on June 27, 2006


Can't we all just agree to logomachize?

cubby: please name some authors you love so that we can tell you how bad they are. You will have fun thinking of witty ways to defend them!
posted by mattbucher at 1:57 PM on June 27, 2006


The next real literary "rebels" in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, ananchronistic. Maybe that'll be the point. Maybe that's why they'll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today's risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the "Oh how banal." To risk accusation of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law.

"E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction," in A Supposedly Fun I'll Never Do Again. [via]

posted by xod at 1:58 PM on June 27, 2006


Went to high school with DFW. We hung out a little bit, and he was an alright guy, if a little flighty. But it was high school, and just about everyone was off balance, if we're honest about it.

He strings words together like a soloist, and can get away with it most of the time because he is very good at it. But his insights in his essays are what I find intriguing, mostly because they tend to be so funny, often times when he is attempting to be very serious. He just can't resist the humorous.
posted by dglynn at 2:11 PM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


Well, I'm not sure what you mean by "content", as style and voice are certainly part of the content of a work, but you seem to be indicating that the more important aspects of Shakespeare's work are plot and character. I'd have to disagree with you vehemently.

Okay. Plot, no. The Bard stole that shit right and left. Character, yes, absolutely. That is exactly what makes Shakespeare's plays so enduring.

The dogpiling of cubby here is a little strange, because you have to admit even as a fan that DFW has an extremely ungainly style that is (as he himself put it) highly prone to reader-annoyance; the question is whether you think he pulls it off. What I was getting at is that there are a number of authors for which this is true. For example I find Updike's showiness very grating and reading Tom Robbins is like: "wow, that's a great sentence! Wow, that's another great sentence! Aw god stop that was really painful" over and over and over again or at least that's how I feel about it. I'm sure many DFW fans have similar authors that drive them up the wall. What I'm saying is, that may be so, but I'm still glad Updike and Robbins and others exist, because some people like them very much.
posted by furiousthought at 2:22 PM on June 27, 2006


Hackly: to wit -
Wife to thy Edward, to thy big red son,
Stabb'd by the selfsame hand that made these wounds!
Corelianus
Act I. Scene VIII.

Racy, no? Sucking indeed.

Like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence. I'm just guessing it's in the cubbyhole, but anyway, Optimus Chyme clearly has it out for me. Eggers.
posted by DenOfSizer at 2:23 PM on June 27, 2006


Heh. Meanwhile, dglynn won.
posted by hackly_fracture at 2:47 PM on June 27, 2006


dglynn, at first I thought your name was Doony Glynn. I bet DFW named Doony Glynn after you. Did you read Good Old Neon? Did you go to Aurora West HS?
posted by mattbucher at 3:33 PM on June 27, 2006


shorter spiderwire: "Look, I'm not saying everyone should like DFW. It's just that if they don't, they're obviously mongoloids, and should stick to drooling in their sippy cups."

There's plenty of valid criticisms of DFW -- many covered in this thread -- I just don't think that cubby's is among them. I'm still not sure where you're getting the notion that I think everyone has to loooove Infinite Jest -- I'm simply saying that "oh noes he uses big words and tries to show off" is not a useful insight, especially without backing or context.

I hardly think that it's fair to accuse me of elitism or unfairness here. I tried to come up with a couple of places in Infinite Jest where the footnotes and asides are used artfully, and also tried to draw attention to the fact that, if Shakespeare's content is noteworthy, then it's also worth pointing out that Infinite Jest is based on Hamlet ("infinite jest" is a line in the play), and in response all I got was a bunch of gibberish about martial arts.

Case in point, and moving on:

i mention martial arts as a metaphor, which is a common literary device used to compare ideas that may not seem immediately similar.

I was pointing out that it was silly to bring up the topic of martial arts from nowhere and proceed to criticize people who like to brag about martial arts. But, OK, whatever.

For a "student of literature," cubby, you sure don't seem to have any idea what you're talking about. What you were doing was making what's called an "analogy" -- that's when you use a supposed correspondence between two different things to make an example or an argument.

A "metaphor" is in fact a literary device, yes -- a figure of speech where one thing is substituted for another.

OK? OK. You can of course look this up if you're interested.

Now, this thing here is a flashlight, which I'm going to toss you so you can see what you're doing in that hole you're digging yourself.

See? That was a metaphor.
posted by spiderwire at 3:54 PM on June 27, 2006


Some good pastiche from the Onion

posted by verisimilitude at 3:59 PM on June 27, 2006


^funny.

"And then there are all the footnotes. I always felt he overused those in his valentines, too."
posted by xod at 4:07 PM on June 27, 2006


Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today's risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the "Oh how banal." To risk accusation of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law.

Food for thought.

xod, Thanks for the links, much appreciated. Been enjoying your posts too.
posted by nickyskye at 4:31 PM on June 27, 2006


I like a lot of DFW, but I've yet to read a better demolition of one of his works than languagehat's (scroll down a bit).
posted by bonaldi at 4:32 PM on June 27, 2006


nickyskye, that passage is what I try to live by. Thanks for posting it.
posted by jonmc at 4:46 PM on June 27, 2006


I stopped reading this piece about 60% of the way through because I realized I was no longer interested. Looks like I'm not alone - Girlfriend Stops Reading David Foster Wallace Breakup Letter at Page 20.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:23 PM on June 27, 2006


[D'oh! versimilitude beat me to it.]
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:25 PM on June 27, 2006


sorry kids.
All you haters who don't like DFW, think he's a narcissist, caught up in his own voice.... wait for it... You Just Don't Get It.

His books are ABOUT empathy, getting out of your own skin, and FEELING what it is like to be someone else. Sure, he's comfortable and happy and CELEBRATORY about his writing style. Why the fuck not? But it's short-sighted and naive and dismissive to think that his books are pretentious and self-involved any more than any other novel. A lot of his work, both novels and essays, seem to have a very obvious buddhist-oriented take on humanity and 'what is right'. Hardly vacuous, I'd say.

And, quite frankly, Infinite Jest saved my life because it DID have soul, it did have 'a point' and it does have a deep, human meaning. It's not just about drugs/media/sports/addiction. The length , and ending, are all about that INFINITENESS, life without a resolution, without a quick fix, without a quickly digestable meaning. It's about NOW. Enjoying life NOW, accepting life NOW, for whatever it is.

Think about it like this: you are reading a book... not to get to the end, but to READ A FUCKING BOOK. So who cares if you have to turn back to your 2nd bookmark in the footnotes every couple of pages? Read the book and enjoy it, IN THE MOMENT. You'll get to the end eventually. Just like your life. Which, to me, is what Infinite Jest is a metaphor for: your life.
posted by Espoo2 at 5:38 PM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


Like him or loathe him, you gotta admit that coining "artilleryesque" w/r/t the money shot is pretty damn good.

And I continue to maintain that DFW is responsible for the single finest character name in all of fiction*.
*That I've read, that is.
posted by rob511 at 5:48 PM on June 27, 2006


Because a book (be it for entertainment or life enrichment) should not have to be ENDURED. Reading DFW (and I have) makes me feel a bit like I am that hapless soul made to study a hairless mole to the left of DFW's anus.

Better than Dave Eggers, though.
posted by applemeat at 5:53 PM on June 27, 2006


"Consider the Lobster" [pdf] from the August 2004 issue of Gourmet Magazine. Via Lobster Liberation!
posted by xod at 5:57 PM on June 27, 2006


Hey, thanks xod! Hard to find, that!
posted by DenOfSizer at 6:15 PM on June 27, 2006


jonmc, The credit for quoting that excellent passage goes to xod. I think he was being his usual humble self using a small font. He quoted it more fully too. Thanks once again xod for the additional "Consider the Lobster" pdf link.

grapefruitmoon, omg, That long goodbye was hilariously narcissistic but somehow mesmerising too. It held me in its Pynchonesque excesses. Cannot imagine having to endure such pompous justification for invading boundaries and snooping. It reminds me a bit of the 17 million word diary. Logorrhea and hypersyntony, interesting combo.
posted by nickyskye at 6:52 PM on June 27, 2006


Wow, that was a large number of comments to cover not a hell of a lot of ground. Excelsior!

Did someone mention Eggers? Exceptional writer, that one.
posted by waxbanks at 7:44 PM on June 27, 2006


I read that book (Consider The Lobster). The titular essay was pretty good, but the rest was just well structured wankery. It was my first, and will be my last, DFW book.
posted by intermod at 8:16 PM on June 27, 2006


That languagehat piece is a pretty convincing indictment of DFW's bonafides w/r/t modern usage. I hereby withdraw that portion of my praise for him.

Infinite Jest is still a pretty stellar book, however. Of everyone who's mentioned Consider the Lobster, why no mention of the McCain piece? Aside from its asinine name, I thought it was pretty good.
posted by spiderwire at 10:48 PM on June 27, 2006


I never would have thought so many people would have such strong feelings about the Dallas Fort Worth airport.
posted by Pliskie at 3:34 AM on June 28, 2006


I'm pretty sure he'd be able to "call a spade a spade" here--as mentioned, yr a dick.

Nice, bardic. Those were my thoughts exactly. NB: telling someone they don't "get" something on metafilter because of professed in-thread distaste is pretty stupid. Not liking DFW does not a troglydite make.

I'm a DFW fan as well. My favorite work of his is Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. Icy and dazzling, that.

I liked this essay, too, although I love the Amis piece bardic mentioned upthread (and its subsequent rendering in his not-his-best-work-but-still-compelling novel Yellow Dog. Which you should read.).
posted by kosem at 9:22 PM on June 28, 2006


A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again is maybe my favorite book ever. Consider the Lobster I didn't enjoy quite as much, but the porn essay, the dictionary essay, the lobster essay and one other that escapes me were all top notch. How does DFW capture so much detail? I love how his tics and neuroses translate to the page.
posted by jcruelty at 6:41 PM on June 29, 2006


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