Some themes this week from things I’ve read:
- David Foster Wallace
- reading about sex
- writing about sex
Finally got around to reading D. T. Max’s posthumous profile of David Foster Wallace.
This was my preparation for starting Infinite Summer, which is an internet community made up of people who pledge to read Infinite Jest over the next few months. I’m curious as to how this develops in practice, and how my commitment to the project will waver. I’ve got lots of ideas for it, such as designing my own covers for my book (I hate all the covers that are available), starting online groups for my friends who are also reading it, annotating it with star-stickers, that kind of thing. I’m interested to see what we make of the book with technology and a community to help us. (For instance: some nice bookmarks.)
My experiences with DFW so far are a book of short stories, most of a book of non-fiction, several essays, and several essays about him.
Things I know about DFW:
- - he is very well regarded, especially online.
- - his style involves lots of writing, and footnotes.
- - he liked/played tennis.
- - he struggled with depression.
- - he struggled with addictions.
- - his writing can be incredibly funny and incredibly smart and incredibly moving.
- - all at the same time.
- - he made a really good speech at a commencent ceremony advising undergraduates on how to live (this theme is why I love DFW even without having read his most important book and why I am very excited about reading it).
- - he set a good syllabus for his teaching that I want to read all of.
- - he seemed to be a good teacher, and his class instructions are witty and inspire me to be more inventive with teaching.
- - he wore a bandana.
- - and glasses.
- - I have seen photos of him with a dog.
I’m going to write about DFW and Infinite Jest as part of my thesis, in terms of American culture/art and exhaustion/maximalism.
I will probably write more about DFW in the next few months.
I also read: ‘Shock to the system‘ by Wallace Shawn in the Guardian Review from Saturday. This was broadly on the topic of writing about sex, which Shawn says he does a lot. Because he enjoys it. There were some interesting things that he said:
It can only be seen as funny that men buy magazines containing pictures of breasts, but not magazines with pictures of knees or forearms. It can only be seen as funny that demagogues give speeches denouncing men who insert their penises into other men’s anuses – and then go home to insert their own penises into their wives’ vaginas! (One might have thought it obvious that either both of these acts are completely outrageous, or neither of them is.)
Perhaps it is the power of sex that has taught us to love the meaningless and thereby turn it into the meaningful. Amazingly, the love of what is arbitrary (which one could alternatively describe as the love of reality) is something human beings are capable of feeling (and perhaps even what we call the love of the beautiful is simply a particular way of exercising this remarkable ability). So it might not be absurd to say that if you love the body of another person, if you love another person, if you love a meadow, if you love a horse, if you love a painting or a piece of music or the sky at night, then the power of sex is flowing through you.
I liked these because Shawn draws his argument, his ideas, into good generalisations about society and human nature that make sense to me. The phrases ‘love of what is arbitrary’ and ‘love of reality’ make me feel happy.
Wallace Shawn is William Shawn’s son.
William Shawn was the second editor of The New Yorker.
Wallace Shawn was the voice of Stewie’s unborn brother in Family Guy.
Wallace Shawn was a radio actor who was the voice of a superhero in Radio Days.
William Shawn was played by Bob Balaban in Capote.
Bob Balaban played Frank Buffay (Phoebe’s dad) in Friends.
Bob Balaban played a studio executive in Seinfeld.
Bob Balaban played a studio executive in The West Wing.
Bob Balaban was Orr in Catch 22.
I read Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille on the train yesterday. It was a quick read. It reminded me of Kathy Acker. I didn’t think of it as something to turn me on, though there was a lot of good sex in it. I thought about my classes on experimental prose fiction. I thought about the nature of language. I thought about words being simply words. I thought about the physiological effect of words. I thought about narrative and speed of reading. I thought about a rapid succession of events providing the effect of impelled motion.
I read more this week but these were the important things.