Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sort of about David Foster Wallace

I'm not sure how to write this post, but I feel like I want to write something. I should warn you: this will be self-indulgent and personal. This isn't going to be some literary critical endeavor, or one that promises to evoke any sorts of insights into the life or work of the Author. No, it's going to be a post about the reader, and the reader who is me.

My Most Significant Ex (who I'm sure I gave a pseudonym at some point but I don't remember it, which may lead one to think he wasn't so significant after all, though he is the only Ex with whom I've ever lived) introduced me to DFW's work. (I've still got a soft spot in my heart for the Hometown that isn't Hometown that he created in Broom of the System, which seemed such an evocative link to my experience as a telephone operator for BP there in 1994.) Most significantly, MSE introduced me to Infinite Jest. See, the halcyon days of young love between us began with me loaning him a book with my marginalia. And this then progressed, once we were thoroughly together, to us reading aloud to one another in bed, reading, I should note, his favorite books. It began with High Fidelity. (Yes, this says something about him.) The next (and last) on the list (of two) was Infinite Jest. We read his books because all of my books were grad school books, and I was in the phase of comps/dissertating, and I didn't read for pleasure independently. Sure, I'd read him passages, but no, we didn't read my books. (This also says something about him, and probably about us.) So him reading to me (though I suppose I read a bit periodically) was a way of me experiencing books for pleasure at a time when all of the books with which I typically engaged were for work. So he began reading Infinite Jest to me. And sometimes I'd fall asleep while he was reading, and he'd have to backtrack. And somewhere around the half-way-through point, we were no longer in the throes of infatuation, and he stopped reading. Or I stopped wanting to be read to. Or something.

But it was a book I wanted to finish.

So jump to the May in which I Decided to Return to My Parents' House for Free Room and Board and Dissertating Support and in which I left MSE in Grad School City, unemployed. Looking back now, this is when we should have broken up. Anyway, we didn't. And I took his copy of Infinite Jest with me. Well, during that summer, when pretty much all I did was write and watch Law and Order (which explains the excessive use of the word "alibi" in the diss), I also finished Infinite Jest. It was different reading it on my own. I was irritated by the endnotes (why didn't they just make a separate volume for the notes? I get that they couldn't be footnotes, but how much easier would it have been if the notes were in another volume?) and I spent a lot of time wondering why this book, and this writer, were so significant to MSE. I saw the brilliance of the novel. And I did love it, though I suspect what I loved had nothing to do with what he loved in relation to it. I loved the play on metempsychosis with Madame Psychosis. I loved that on her radio show Madame Psychosis read Jean Rhys's Good Morning, Midnight. I loved the whole concept of the "infinite jest." I loved it especially because of what I myself was theorizing about pleasure and representation and experience. All of these things may have nothing to do with what is most important or interesting about this book. These things were important to me in a very self-centered way - and not as a literary critic.

But I finished it. And I loved it.

And then MSE moved to Hometown to be with me, and then the crappy apartment, and me temping, and my grandmother in the nursing home, and the job market, and then the job offer, and then the final end of the whole thing. He was gone. I've not spoken to him since. Things lost: one copy of Kant's Critique of Judgment, with marginalia. Things gained: one copy (without dust jacket) of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, signed by David Foster Wallace; one copy (without dust jacket) of a first edition of Underworld by Don DeLillo; one battered paperback of Infinite Jest.

I've bought a new copy of Kant's Critique of Judgment, though I'll admit I've not reread it in even a cursory way nor have I replaced any marginalia. As for the DeLillo, I know I should read it, and probably will, sometime. As for Brief Interviews and Infinite Jest....

I'm not sure what to say. I've been thinking a lot about MSE in the past few days, thinking about who I was with him, thinking about what went wrong, thinking about the fact that he left those books when he so easily could have taken them (as he did my annotated Kant). I've also been thinking about the fact that I'm glad he didn't take those books: that those books are, for whatever reason, important to me, and that I'm glad I have them.

My mom called me re: the power outage, but made a point of mentioning that she'd heard about DFW's death on NPR that day, asked me if I knew who he was, because as she heard what he wrote about, and about his influences, she thought it might relate to my work. She was utterly inarticulate about it, because at the end of the day my mom does not understand my work really. But the fact that she felt like she needed to check in with me about this news meant something, not because of me so much, but rather because it showed me how far DFW's influence reaches. The writing that he produced is not at all about me. But it is relevant, as literature, if only because my mom can make that connection, between what I work on and what he achieved.

I'm so sad because of his death. I'm so sad that there won't be a next book. I'm so sad that the books I have are the books of the past and not just part of a collection of books that I'll come to have.

But because I'm an ass, I'm really happy I've got that signed copy of Brief Interviews, even if it doesn't have a dust-jacket and won't ever be worth much. Why that makes me happy? Well, that's a good question.

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