Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Legacy of DFW

It's like this criticism was aimed directly at me along with every other keyboard pounder out here. There is a lot of truth in Another Thing to Sort of Pin on David Foster Wallace, an essay by Maud Newton in this week's New York Times Magazine, argues that Wallace's tone of aware detachment was just as manipulative as the other styles he often pilloried. Worse, the Wallace style is itself highly addictive and, when employed by us lesser thinkers and writers, rather annoying.

Newton argues that the Wallace style is the default mode of discourse on blogs and in much other commentary. This constant qualification serve to undermine our own arguments, and to wrap ourselves up in verbal clouds of possible deniability.
How we arrived at the notion that the postmodern era is the first ever to confront the tension between sincerity and irony despite millennia of evidence to the contrary is no mystery: every generation believes its insights are unprecedented, its struggles uniquely formidable, its solutions the balm for all that ails the world. Why so many of our critics are still, after all these years, making their arguments in this inherently self-undermining voice — still trying to ward off every possible rejoinder and pre-emptively rebut every possible criticism by mixing a weird rhetorical stew of equivocation, pessimism and Elysian prophecy — is another question entirely. Perhaps even now some Wallacites would argue that we simply have yet to reach that idyllic moment at which our discourse will naturally transform into a sincere yet knowing cry from the heart. I would put it differently.

Newton goes on to say that this is because in the era of Facebook and Twitter, we all just want to be liked. I am not yet convinced of that, but it is hard to disagree that "the best way to make an argument is to make it, straightforwardly, honestly, passionately, without regard to whether people will like you afterward."

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