Friday, September 14, 2012

David Foster Wallace's grand failure

David Foster Wallace was brilliant, verbose, depressed and stressed, having made it his writer's mission to contain  the multitudes that swarm within him and without him; this was a quixotic task to notice everything about the universe he's chosen to parse, and in turn parse his own thinking about the characters he is giving a close inspection for. His was a virtuosity that couldn't end, as one item led to another item, a distracted description before a circuitous return to the scenario at hand , usually by way of another  round of  qualifications and self-doubt mongering about his chosen occupation of  being a writer , the one who creates a document readers far decades from now will refer to garner something of the verve of the moment in which he lived.

We realize , to,that DFW tried to contain these things in  sentences, long sentences, many long, serpentine sentences that stretched , coiled, curled and eventually untied themselves by the time the author had exhausted, or more likely quit ,the tangent he was on. This was his problem in the longer books, the distractions, the digressions, Although I enjoyed large chunks of Infinite Jest ,, there was simply, plainly too much padding between the good parts; there have been especially intelligent discussion in many places of what traditions DFW falls in line with, and that his is a legacy t

hat adds to the sprawling, decenter ed universe Thomas Pynchon has eviscerated   so splendidly. But even Pynchon had some control and was not prone to introduce himself as the self-doubting author attempting to inject a trace of irony with bloated  indecisiveness. Pynchon lectured at times, yes, gave us bounds of information about unexpected things and their history, but he trusted the scenes he created--his ruminations , his research, were the texture and color light in the crowded universes he chose to inspect. DFW , much of the time, was merely chattering all the while in his long novels , Infinite Jest and Broom of the System, and was, as often as not, tone deaf, not unlike one of those extended ,  unaccompanied Keith Jarrett piano impromptus where there is the inevitable and sad drift into artless noodling. DFW often made me think of the guy in back of you at a movie theater who kept talking during the movie; you had to deal with two soundtracks at the same time.

That, of course, might have been what he was attempting, something like a Robert Altman movie where the camera takes it all in and dwells on how inaction resonates among the furniture in is frame and where dialogues ,and city noise overlapped. It might be that Wallace's writing was an attempt to capture his own thought processes in action, as the notions occurred to him, in that proverbial stream of language and instinct where thinking about things are restless and fluid and nearly erotic in their intensity which can never quite be recorded in their abundance. Trying to get that on paper, in between book covers, obsessively , would be doomed to failure, with each book and short story judged by the author as inadequate to the mission. That would depress anyone, some much more severely than others.