Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Review: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

I'm on a serious David Foster Wallace binge. I want to read some of his fiction next, but his essays are just so good. His style and point of view compliment each other so well. I easily relate to Wallace's over-educated self reflection, matter of fact insight, and honesty about his own worse impulses.

is a collection of essays and arguments originally published in various magazines in the early/mid 1990s. The essays are longish, but each fully develops an idea in a way that makes you appreciate the depth of engagement that is lacking from shorter pieces. The seven essays are:

Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley Here, Wallace recounts his childhood experiences playing tennis in the rural midwest.

E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction In this essay, Wallace gives forth his opinion of the impact of TV on serious fiction writing. This is the most difficult essay in the collection. Wallace's argument builds up about irony, and how the use/conditioning of irony on TV colors what is possible in fiction writing. Wallace sums up his thesis succinctly (pg 49, in a section appropriately titled "I do have a thesis"):
I want to persuade you that irony, poker-faced silence, and fear of ridicule are distinctive of those features of contemporary U.S. cultuer (of which cutting-edge fiction is a part) that enjoy any significant relation to the television whose weird pretty hand has my generation by the throat. I'm going to argue that irony and ridicule are entertaining and effective, and that at the tame time they are agents of a great despair and stasis in U.S. culture, and that for aspiring fiction writers they pose especially terrible problems.

As someone who got rid of my own TV over a year ago, I am not sure how relate to this essay (which as written in 1990). I think that Wallace's basic point holds, but the rise of internet culture, and the popular satire of shows such as the Daily Show seem to have raised the stakes.

Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All This piece recounts Wallace's experiences at the 1993 Illinois State Fair. Wonderful for anyone who has ever attended and reflected upon the such events. I have no idea how a person who has never attended such a fair would react to this essay.

Greatly Exaggerated This short essay (just 8 pages) offers some thoughts on various schools of literary criticism and the nature of the Author. As a person who is not really conversant in this language I found it surprisingly approachable.

David Lynch Keeps His Head Here, Wallace visits the set of Lost Highway, and offers insight and commentary on the movie business and the nature of director David Lynch.

Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness The tittle pretty much says it all.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again The final piece is Wallace's reflections on and about a 7 night Caribbean Cruise. One could seriously argue that this is the Platonic Ideal of what nonfiction writing should achieve. Read it.

After devouring this collection of essays I'm left with three overwhelming feelings: (1) intrigue and curiosity about some of the ideas and interpretations Wallace argues for, (2) great appreciation for the quality and style of his writing, (3) a very real sense of loss that Wallace will never again go off on same strange or ordinary trip and use it as a vehicle for his amazing writing and insight.

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