my final, highly personal interpretation of DFW

March 29, 2009

I believe David Foster Wallace tried to say everything out of fear he had nothing to say. One gets the impression that if he could have broken down the anticipation of a lover’s kiss into Planck units and built it back up again, he would have done it. He was the purest expression of the American masculine mind failing in its struggle to reassert control. He believed himself capable of perfection. As a result, he couldn’t just DO anything. He couldn’t BE. He had to show us he knew everything – the physics of swinging of a tennis racket; the construction of an electoral campaign; the mind of the lobster. But his nonfiction digressions were only breaks – pauses – in his overarching project of tearing himself apart to find the thing that made him feel unfit to achieve perfection. It was his quest to find God; and the fear that he might never find her finally broke him. He flayed himself alive for us. And it was tragic precisely because many of us knew how he felt. We’re left to find the lesson in his suffering, and it’s not that hard to find. He was a writer’s writer, after all. He knew the point was not to tell, it was to show.

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3 Responses to “my final, highly personal interpretation of DFW”

  1. John Pavlus Says:

    I don’t know if he thought himself capable of perfection. Everything I’ve read about him seems to indicate he gave up delusions of grandeur soon after his first novel was published. What he couldn’t give up was the self-conscious feeling of never being good enough– of being inchoately AWARE of certain truths but unable to transmute them in a pure enough form on the page to match that inner languageless feeling of rightness, trueness. That’s what made his fiction excerpt about boredom so poignant — knowing what he was TRYING to do with the project and feeling that even his prodigious gifts might not be up to the task, but still knowing/feeling that if he could touch/experience that truth in his own head, it must be possible to get it out. I think any writer struggles with this same thing sometimes, only several orders of magnitude less-so… 🙂 … trying to disprove that “incompleteness theorem” that states that you will experience or “know” certain truths which you will never be able to fully/completely express.

    Having a debilitating mental illness will also get in the way too…

  2. JR Says:

    Genetics notwithstanding – and well taken, that – I think we’re saying much the same thing.

  3. JR Says:

    Translation: I’ll have to ponder that.


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