Man of a Thousand Digressions

Ohmigod, you cooked Larry! You bastard!Title: “Consider the Lobster and Other Essays”

Author: David Foster Wallace

Rank: 8,414

Blurb: “His topics are various — this new collection treats porn, sports autobiographies and the vagaries of English usage, among others — his perspective always slightly askew and his observations on point.”

Review: “My nephew who is 15 really liked this book. My niece who is 17 suggested it to him.”

Customers Also Bought: “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,” by Ludwig Wittgenstein

Footnote: “Key Phrases: political talk radio, adult industry, porn starlets, Rolling Stone, Dick Filth, South Carolina (more…).” We can think of no better way to start off today’s monthly Stinque Book Chat.

Consider the Lobster [Amazon]

Buy or Die [Stinque@Amazon kickback link]


@SanFranLefty: Uhhhh…

::whispers:: I’m still kind of reading it. I’ll get off this idiot box and knock it out in a few hours. If you guys want to carry on without me, please do. Otherwise, maybe this can be an evening thing? Please?

@JNOV: I’m still reading, too, because I’ve done nothing but proofread a 250 page catalogue for the past three weeks. So far, I love his writing and he hasn’t gotten annoyingly obscure yet (I feared something Pynchon-like). I’ve never actually seen footnotes to footnotes before, even in legal briefs. Impressive. Wish the type didn’t get so damned small I can’t read them.

@Mistress Cynica: Haha! I know! And I’d say that his footnotes aren’t really digressions — they’re mini-stories that are quite related to the main story, but they can’t really stand on their own. But he just. had. to. get. them. out.

Glad you like it so far!

I love every essay in here. Who knew there were political wars over the use of the English language and dictionaries?

“Host” is my favorite, because you can trace John Ziegler’s path from minor name in the talk show muck to his current starburst-state love of Caribou Barbie. But honestly, that essay is better read online because the footnotes become hyperlinks.

@JNOV: I d/l’d it to my iphone through the kindle app, and can only share that I felt slightly skeevy reading his first piece about the pron industry on the metro. I love his writing, and the footnotes are less cumbersome when you can click the number and zoom straight to the text. But I still haven’t finished the second essay, a review of Updike’s then-latest book. After only a couple of screenspages, at least I now understand why so many of my cohorts and fellow Stinquettes hate Updike: it’s not for his writing, which was wonderful, but for his awful self-promotion.

I’ll read the final piece next, on MellBell’s advice. I should be ready to fully discuss by, say, December.

@Just Nabisco: I tried reading the Rabbit books a long time ago, but they bored me to tears. I did like Updike’s art essays in the NYRB, however.

@nojo: all Updike’s characters are, unfortunately, him. he can’t write in any other voice, and that voice is kind of pervy and creepy.

I’ve watched the movie version of The Witches of Eastwick several times but I can’t get through the book, and it’s because of his prose.

@nojo: I cannot stand Updike. Almost as irritating as Roth.

@JNOV: I ordered the book too late. It arrived on Thursday, and I left it at my office. Whoops.

@SanFranLefty: No worries to all, and apologies to Signal to Noise who seems to be the only one of us who actually read the whole thing. We can revisit this page whenever.

@Just Nabisco: Then definitely read the title piece next.

@nojo: We were forced to read “Rabbit, Run” in high school, and what made an impression on my Classics Illustrated mind was how effusive our teacher was about “Angstrom” being the smallest unit of measurement. Plus, I had a neighbor who was a fallen college baller and coach and he was Harry: he’d stride onto our driveway court and drain three pointers in his business shoes and slacks, then patiently walk me through perfectingimproving my jump shot. Oh, and the car salesman from central Pennsyltucky meme fit my “we gotta get outta here” mentality.

@JNOV: I will. I just picked up an Ondotje novel about Sri Lanka from the library that may reveal much about my near-term future, but the kindle-phone is always there. I rather like the idea of interrupting an otherwise heady thread with comments about this month’s selection.

I admire Updike. Lovely writing on art. And a fine hand at fiction. He wrote his shelf of books, bought a house and put his children through school. Did his business, didn’t give in to despair or dye his hair. No mean feat for a writer of fiction who kept the chronicle of what he saw through his own eyes and held true to that. Till he became fanciful in his later years. And if the early stories are a bit overworked it was only his ambition getting ahead of his hand.

DFW’s digressions, and digressions within digressions, are not digressions, he writes a formalized stream of consciousness, he is writing his thought processes as he experiences them, but he uses a formal manner, instead of endless, meaningless sentences, as the first experimenters with stream of consciousness did. He instead uses parentheticals and footnotes, so that the sentences don’t become grammatical monstrosities, but what he is putting on the page is his thoughts as they occurred as he was writing. I am sorry, I hope not to sound like I am trying to jump his genius train, but I simply love reading him, more than anyone I have read since college, because he writes the way I think. And, as I am told constantly by the very few people with whom I speak with no self-consciousness or embarrassment, my closest, I speak that way, looping back after minutes of talking to finally connnect some observation at the beginning to something that appeared at first to be an irrelevant observation.

I am genuinely, still, heartbroken that DFW took his life, so young. He had not yet gotten to the point of writing the masterpiece I think he had in him. Infinite Jest was a tour de force by a young genius, still playing with and exploring, the amazing way of setting forth narrative that he had found in himself. But he had not yet found the coherent story of sufficient weight to allow his style to illustrate it to the greatest extent his style could have, with a great theme to give it coherence, to tie it all together.

He suffered severe, severe depression, yet it seems to me, that his depression was not an illness, it was the result of his sensitivity, his awareness, his good kind loving soul, and his inability to screen out and ignore the pain and injustice of the world.

He could not screen out anything, everything was always at one time on his mind, and thats what he wrote, thats why the parentheticals and footnotes, no matter what he was talking about, writing about, he was also perceiving and feeling so much more, and he found a way to include it all, and as I have said, he will be telling a story, and telling the story of himself as a writer telling the story, and telling every argument against his points while telling you his points, and telling the story of how he became aware of the issue he is discussing, another story, and its all incredible, he lets you into an amazing mind, his mind, someone incredibly bright, incredibly clear and precise in his expression of his thoughts and stories, someone with ADD, I am certain of that, someone who is kind, and filled with love and thirsty for justice, and overwhelmed, because he is intensely aware and intelligent and knowledgeable, and sees and feels the pain and injustice, always, all the time, even as he, as an artist, is trying to convey his artistic vision of what there is that might somehow be higher and greater and somehow transcend the pain and injustice, but still, even he does not ever beleive that he can transcend it. The worst are filled with a terrible intensity, is that what Yeats said, while the best lack all conviction? That is DFW, the best, lacking all conviction in his own goodness, because he sees, allways, that all his goodness is nothing in the face of the shitstorm of pain that is existence.

Thats DFW to me, the greatest writer I have ever read, a completely honest writer, who never pretends to certainty, a bare, naked soul, filled with pain, throwing it out there.

He was obviously infinitely sensitive, very

@Benedick: It seems to me you admire him from the standpoint of a fellow artist, and not as the reader, so much, anyway, perhaps?

We readers, we are hopelessly romantic about our artists, we want them to be superhuman, to transcend the common workaday reality of life. You as an artist know it is a craft, equally as much as it is a mystical act of creation, and your words bespeak a respect for his craft.

He bored me too, unfortunately. I am living that suburban life, I don’t want to read about it, I think, is the problem.

@Promnight: Wallace’s writing is very clear, coherent and even economical in the first piece from “Lobster”. I even found the footnotes an enjoyable plus, although I did wonder if it would get tiresome and gimmicky which it kind of does by the second essay. I kind of like the writer who finds that he or she has so much to say that they send me down little rabbit holes, I’m the guy who reads all the endnotes in historical non-fiction. Kind of like drinking the milk at the end of a good bowl of cereal, a second breakfast!

@Promnight: I don’t know. Updike took as his subject the day to day trivia that most male writers overlook because they don’t understand how it works. I’m not a devotee but I do admire him. The thought of putting quite so many novels through the typewriter makes one want to stand up and shout some kind of bravo. Even if its quite faint and stinks of martinis.

I haven’t read DFW. I haven’t been able to read much recently. I will read him. I have to say that I’ve only seen footnotes made to work twice: Pale Fire (be still my heart) and Les liasons dangereuse. I like form. I like rigor. I like patterns. I don’t like first drafts and I don’t like mess. As before stated I am a puritan. But I’m touched by your appreciation of DFW and I will read him with as much of an open mind as I’m capable of these days. I have a lot of work related reading to get through over the next couple of weeks as well as the work I’m doing. Not a complaint. I’m having a grand time. But my last big leisure read was Les Miserables and I can’t give in to demon fiction yet again.

@Just Nabisco: This is what he has done with his decision to use the very formal method of footnotes and parentheticals to put forth what I beleive is the best example of true stream of consciousness ever achieved. He is able to maintain that clarity and precision and economy in setting forth the primary narrative, while still getting out there the stream of consciousness, the thought processes he went through, in composing the primary narrative. It might only appeal to those very confortable with academic writing, I don’t know, but it appeals so strongly to me, because to me, it is, as I said, the way I think, and here I am seeing someone doing something I could never do, set forth, completely, not just his thoughts, but the thought processes and personal anecdotes and everything else that went into his process of coming to the thoughts he has decided to present.

And there is a humility to it, I think.

I may just greatly empathize with the display of the ADD I also suffer from, and the depression I also suffer from.

@Promnight: you’ve pretty much summed up why I love reading Wallace.

I know it is sport, but DFW also wrote about it, particularly tennis, and did so well. If you like this collection, then you’ll like A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, particularly the essays on Michael Joyce (unknown pro tennis player) and David Lynch.

I just have to add one thing about DFW. I speak about him almost as if I know him, and I do not. I have never read anything about him, about his personal life, except the tales of his depression that were included in the news stories and articles about his death.

And I just went and read his wiki biography, not much there.

But I do have to say, and it may just be ignorance, may be I am not aware, but I note he was unmarried, and I have never read anywhere any note of a love interest. I don’t know if he was gay or straight, not that there is any difference, anyway. And I know that in what I have read of his works, there is to my recollection no mention of “romance,” of love, romantic love, love between man and woman or man and man, in that sense of complete, sexual and emotional bonding, of that struggle at the heart of “love,” the desire, need, for the soul, the being, to find some complete communion with someone at least one, one person, that communion that is marriage, romantic love, that drive to establish a bond of complete honesty and trust with one other soul, to find real connection, impossible connection, between two beings bound so completely by their own consciousness and feeling, that desire to combine and somehow transcend the ultimate loneliness of consciousness, and bind together with another soul with a bond of commitment, promise, trust, honesty, to create a bond which, no matter how imperfect, is greater than any other connection we have with another soul, and find in that bond, that communication, that trust, that love, that sex, some real connection with another,

Thats not in anything he wrote.

And I wonder, did he love, was his makeup such that he could not find that, would not find that,

was that why he killed himself?

Because I know, that no matter how bad the world gets, no matter how painful the pain and shit of the world gets, no matter how bad the news of wars and famine and death and injustice, what gives me, and I think all of us, the desire to live on, is the love we have, for someone, the love that gives us the strength to stand up to the shit in the world, if not for ourself, than for our loved ones, for me, its for my wife, for my son, that I endure the world, not so much for me, but for them, to be strong for them and help them endure the shit I find it so infintely painful to endure. I do it for my wife, for my child, for the love we have, for the deep deep passionate desire to spare them from pain, to protect them from pain, and thats why I will never give up as he did, beecause I will never hurt my wife and my child that way, living andf enduring for them is for me a better reason than living just for myself.

and I wonder, was that what he missed, what he was incapable of, did he not ever have a love, a true love, a love that could take him out of his own teeming mind? Thats what does it for me, my mind teems with constant thoughts and feelings and emotions, and its ovwerwhelming, and you can get down, cause the world really is a pile of shit, but then, you wife, your son, they are their, and you realize, that you are something important in their life, that being cheerful and happy and affectionate, these things are thingss other people need for their happiness, and you realize, its selfish to wallow in my sensitivity, and feel always morose and angry, you realize, that you hold it in your hand to make another person happy, simply by being cheerful and happy and kind and loving, and even though there is nothing else in the world cheerful and happy, its enough to be cheerful and happy because you know that that child before you, his view of the world will be shaped by whether you were cheerful and happy when you talked to him, because to him, you are the most important thing in the world.

And I am a selfish, childish, depressive, morose human being, and I am not happy, a lot of the time, but I have come to realize, that there are people who love me, and such a simple thing as my affect can make or break their day, and I have become determined that my son will not have to be seeing a therapist, as I do, to get over his dad’s lashing anger, I realize that love for those around you, and I suppose if I evolve further, I will also extend this to all persons I interact with, but the fact is that love for those around you is the greatest thing you can do, just simply be loving and kind to all people.

I don’t know, but I think DFW died because he never learned that simply loving everyone is actually reason enough to live.

And he didn’t seem to start with having one single person to love, you know what I mean?

@Promnight: he was married. in fact, his wife (a painter) found him when he hanged himself.

i’m with benedick here. i like updike, i thoroughly enjoyed the rabbit series. it was refreshing to read the quiet desperation of a simple man, and the workings of his thought process.
i did not do my homework. my nose got stuck in “nothing”
a philosophy book written by a physicist who claims we all came from…nothing. a comforting tale for the chronically hopeless.

@Signal to Noise: Oh. Never mind. Anyone remember Emily Litella? Rosanna Rosannadana?

Updike never got on my nerves the way the other GMNs do, maybe because I do admire his writing style. I actually liked Witches of Eastwick. I didn’t read a lot of his books, because his subject matter didn’t interest me that much. Roth I can’t read, and Mailer I HATE.

@Mistress Cynica: Updike didn’t get on my nerves, he bored me. Roth, Portnoy’s complaint titillated as an adult, with all the masturbation, but LIVER? Shock fiction. The next best example from a supposedly good writer is the Blowjob Dick-biting off scene in, what was it, Garp? Mailer, was an asshole, but The Naked and the Dead was great, and so was Harlot’s Ghost, I was so hoping he would do the sequel and reveal who assasinated Kennedy.

I am just going to throw out a writer I adore completely, have read every word, John LeCarre, genre writer, gets no respect. Some of the best characters ever.

Reading “The Survivor’s Club” by Bem Sherwood. A reporter looks at who makes it and who doesn’t in a life-threatening situation and how to maximize your chances on making it out. I told Mrs RML that I need to carry a book in my hunting pack to read in case I’m stuck out for the night. She said it would be useful for starting a fires.

@redmanlaw: Funny thing. I am a dithering idiot most of the time. Truly, afraid to make a bold decision. I am nervous by disposition, I am under treatment for social anxiety disorder, I cannot face conflicts or even making uncomfortable phone calls, when I have time to think.

But on a half dozen occasions, I have been in real danger, physical danger, remember the pictures of the tornado? That was one. Two others involved serious storm circumstances on my boat. One a near car wreck.

In all those circumstanes, I had almost out of body experiences. Time slowed down for me, I was calmly watching myself from somewhere else. I thought rationally and clearly, and quickly, made decisions, and took action, all the while completely calm, on that beach while that tornado threatened, a group of a dozen gathered around me, and looked to me, and I mapped out what to do if it came our way.

One time, our boat was swept onto a lee shore during a nasty squall, wind and waves and lightening, and we called for a tow boat, it came up, to rescue us, and it ran over a crab trap and fouled its prop with the rope tying the trap to its bouy, and the rescue boat was thrown by the wind and waves up into our boat, and I jumped into the water, chest deep, and grabbed that boat and held it off, and then held it for 20 minutes while the captain dove under the boat and cut the line off. I rescued the rescue boat.

I am not crowing over my macho manliness, I am not macho and manly, I am a dweeb, a frightful rabbit of a man. But I have read of this thing that happens to some when the shit hits the fan, and I have seen it happen to me, and as I said, I watched my actions as from a distance, amazed at what I was doing, and I had time to think about this, even, because time slowed down. Its strange, to watch yourself being calm in a crisis, when ordering lunch is normally something thats a crisis for you. But I figure I have that going for me, when the cannibal anarchy time comes.

It’s not a bad thing to have. Many people I know tend to freeze like a deer in headlights. I’m not a twitchy sort, but I tend to get excitable and I’m a worrier, but I tend to thrive under pressure even at work.

I’ve had several moments. Worst was when I lost control of my car in a sharp turn that ended at a bridge. Made the instinctual split second decision to atttempt to aim my car at the bridge instead of freezing and thus flying into the creek which would have killed me.

Plus I’m not prone to panic. Case in point, the last three weeks I have had a bit of a health crisis. About 3+ weeks ago, I pissed a small amount of blood after strenuous exercise. Not exactly normal for a guy my age. Instead of freaking out, I spent time reading up on what causes urine in blood besides prostate cancer. It took me about 2 1/2 weeks to go to a doctor because I was fighting myself about whether or not this was serious as I didn’t have any other symptoms (no frequent pissing, no erectile dysfunction, etc.) No kidney issues. No testicular cancer. I thought I am relatively young and in okay health, why bother? Then I remembered that anything was possible. Did the uncomfortable prostate exam and didn’t feel anything painful (it is true, the doc and I never looked at each other in the eye after that.)

I got the results from my PSA today and no big C. Whew. Turns out I have a bladder infection (how the hell I got it, I’m not sure.)

@ManchuCandidate: See, health issues are the opposite with me, when I have something go haywire, not do what its supposed to, get a manly rash, I am a quivering wreck. Every blemish is skin cancer, every time I get tired, its the end. No, it takes imminent catastrophe for me to rise to the occasion.

I honestly believe that the prevalence of nueroses and mental illness is a by-product of a life thats far too easy, compared to life in the wild before civilization. Back then, just getting some calories into you was enough to absorb all your mental efforts, and once you have had a good meal, all was right with the world. Now we have the luxury of contemplating our navels far too much than is good for us.

@Promnight: I think you have a point there. The hyper-vigilant types would be most likely to have survived and perpetuated their genes, ergo the modern neurotic is all wired up but with no wolves to defend against.

@Mistress Cynica: I am convinced its why I am happiest sleeping outdoors, in a tent, in a boat, I am happiest out as far as I can get from civilization, I love camping, hiking, knowing that I have to be sufficient in all the things we take for granted, food, water, shelter, when you are hiking, all these things take all your attention. You feel useful. I rarely feel useful. Except when there is a tornado or the boat is sinking, then I know I am useful.

Add a Comment
Please log in to post a comment