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Tag Archives: David Foster Wallace

“One of the reasons I feel empty after watching a lot of TV, and one of the things that makes TV seductive, is that it gives the illusion of relationships with people. It’s a way to have people in the room talking and being entertaining, but it doesn’t require anything of me. They’re there for me and I can receive from the TV, I can receive entertainment and stimulation. Without having to give anything back but the most tangential kind of attention.

“The problem is it’s also very empty. Because one of the differences about having a real person there is that number one, I’ve gotta do some work. He pays attention to me, I gotta pay attention to him. I watch him, he watches me. The stress level goes up. But there’s also something nourishing about it, because as creatures, we’ve all got to figure out how to be together in the same room.

“What has happened to us – and I do this too – that I’m willing to derive enormous amounts of my sense of community and awareness of other people, from television? But I’m not willing to undergo the stress and awkwardness and potential shit of dealing with real people.”

– David Foster Wallace, Althought Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself


“What I’m talkin’ about is entertainment versus art, where the main job of entertainment is to separate you from your cash somehow. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It gives you a certain kind of pleasure that I would argue is fairly passive. There’s not a whole lot of thought involved, the thought is often fantasy, like ‘I am this guy, I’m having this adventure.’ And it’s a way to take a vacation from myself for a while. And that’s fine – I think the same way candy is fine.

“We’re absolutely dying to give ourselves away to something. To run, to escape, somehow. And there’s some kinds of escape – in a sort of Flannery O’Connorish way – that end up, in a twist, making you confront yourself even more. And then there are other kinds that say, ‘Give me seven dollars, and in return I will make you forget your name is David Wallace, that you have a pimple on your cheek, and that your gas bill is due.

“And that’s fine, in low doses. But there’s something about the machinery of our relationship to it that makes low doses – we don’t stop at low doses…

“This problem is not gonna go away. In ten or fifteen years, we’re gonna have virtual reality pornography. Now, if I don’t develop some machinery for being able to turn off pure unalloyed pleasure, and allow myself to go out and grocery shop and pay the rent? I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna have to leave the planet. The technology’s gonna get better and better at what it does, which is seduce us into being incredibly dependent on it, so that advertisers can be more confident that we will watch their advertisements. And as a technology system, it’s amoral.

“It doesn’t have a responsibility to care about us one whit more than it does: It’s got a job to do. The moral job is ours. Why am I watching five hours a day of this? Why am I getting 75 percent of my calories from candy? That’s something that a little child would do… Somewhere along the line, we’re supposed to have grown up.”

– David Foster Wallace, Althought Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

“We sit around and bitch about how TV has ruined the audience for reading – when really all it’s done is given us the really precious gift of making our job harder. The harder it is to make a reader feel like it’s worthwhile to read your stuff, the better a chance you’ve got of making real art. Because it’s only real art that does that.

“You teach the reader that he’s way smarter than he thought he was. I think one of the most insidious lessons about TV is the meta-lesson that you’re dumb. This is all you can do. This is easy, and you’re the sort of person who really just wants to sit in a chair and have it easy. When in fact there are parts of us that are a lot more ambitious than that. And what we need is seriously engaged art, that can teach again that we’re smart.

“Which is tricky, because you want to seduce the reader, but you don’t want to pander or manipulate them. A good book teaches the reader how to read it.”

– David Foster Wallace, Althought Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

“I think that the ultimate way you and I get lucky is if you have some success early in life, you get to find out early it doesn’t mean anything. Which means you get to start early the work of figuring out what does mean something… What I remember is the times when woring on that book was really hard. And I just gutted it out. And I finished something. And I did it for the book… I feel like I’ve built some muscles inside me that I can now use for the rest of my life. And I know now how to live in such a way that I’m doing it for the work itself.”

– David Foster Wallace, Althought Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

“There’s really really shitty avant-garde, that’s coy and hard for its own sake. As the texture, as the cognitive texture, of our lives changes. And as the different media by which our lives are represented change… it’s the avant-garde or experimental stuff that has the chance to move the stuff along . And that’s what’s precious about it.

“The reason I’m angry at how shitty most of it is, and how much it ignores the reader, is that I think it’s very very very very precious. Because it’s the stuff that’s about what it feels like to live. Instead of being a relief from what it feels like to live.

“My life and my self doesn’t feel anything like a unified developed character in a linear narrative. But my guess is, looking at things like MTV videos or new fashions in ads, with more and more flash cuts, or the use of computer metaphors… that I think a lot of people feel overwhelmed by the number of choices they have, and by the number of discrete different things that come at them. Whether that’s qualitatively different than the way life was for let’s say our parents our our grandparents, I’m not sure. But I think so. At least in terms of the way it feels on your nerve endings.

“I’m talking about what it feels like to be alive. And how formal and structural stuff in avant-garde things can vibrate, can represent on a page, what it feels like to be alive right now… If your life makes linear sense to you, then you’re either very strange, or you might be just a neurologically healthy person – who’s automatically able to decoct, organize, do triage on the amount of stuff that’s coming at you all the time.”

– David Foster Wallace, Althought Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

“We should keep in mind that vulgar has many dictionary definitions and that only a couple of these have to do w/ lewdness or bad taste. At root, vulgar just means popular on a mass scale. It is the semantic opposite of pretentious or snobby. It is humility with a combo-over. It is Nielsen ratings and Barnum’s axiom and the real bottom line. It is big, big business.”

– David Foster Wallace, “Big Red Son”

“An ad that pretends to be art is like somebody who smiles warmly at you only because he wants something from you. This is dishonest, but what’s sinister is the cumulative effect that such dishonesty has on us: since it offers a perfect facsimile or simulacrum of goodwilll without goodwill’s real spirit, it messes with our heads and eventually starts upping our defenses even in cases of genuine smiles and real art and true goodwill. It makes us feel confused and lonely and impotent and angry and scared. It causes despair.

[Footnote] This is related to the phenomenon of the Professional Smile, a national pandemic in the service industry… You know this smile – the strenuous contraction of circumoral fascia w/incomplete azygomatic involvement – the smile that doesn’t quite reach the smiler’s eyes and that signifies nothing more than a calculated attempt to advance the smiler’s own interests by pretneding to like the smilee. Why do employers and supervisors force professional service people to broadcast the Professional Smile? Am I the only consumer in whom high doses of such a smile produce despair? Am I the only person who’s sure that the growing number of cases in wihch totally average-looking people suddenly open up with automatic weapons in shopping malls and insurance offices and medical complexes and McDonaldses is somehow causally related to the fact that these venues are well-known dissemination-loci of the Professional Smile?

Who do they think is fooled by the Professional Smile?

And yet the Professional Smile’s absence now also causes despir… What a fucking mess.”

– David Foster Wallace, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”

“A theory: Megalopolitan East-Coasters’ summer vacationsare literally getaways, flights-from – from crowds, noise, heat, dirt, the neural wear of too many stimuli. Thus ecstatic escapes to mountains, glassy lakes, cabins, hikes in silent woods. Getting Away From it All. Most East-Coasters see more than enough stimulating people and sights M-F, thank you; they stand in enough lines, buy enough stuff, elbow enough crowds, see enough spectacles. The East-Coast existential treat is thus some escape from confines an stimuli – silence, rustic vistas that hold still, a turning inward: Away. not so in the rural Midwest. Here you’re pretty much Away all the time. The land here is big. Pool-table flat. Horizons in every direction. Thus the vacation-impulse in rural IL is manifested as a flight-toward. Thus the urge physically to commune, melt, become part of a crowd. To see something besides land and corn and satellite TV and your wife’s face. Crowds out here a a kind of adult nightlight. Hence the sacredness out here of Spectacle, Public Event.”

– David Foster Wallace, “Getting Away from Already Pretty Much Being Away from it All”

“I suspect that part of the self-conscious-community thing here has to do with space. Rural Midwesterners live surrounded by unpopulated land, marooned in a space whose emptiness tarts to become both physical and spiritual. You’re alienated from the very space around you, in a way, because out here the land’s less an environment than a commodity. The land’s basically a factory. You live in the same facotry you work in. You spend an enormous amount of time with the land, but you’re still alienated from it in some way. It’s probably hard to feel any sort of Romantic spiritual connection to nature when you have to make your living from it.”

– David Foster Wallace, “Getting Away from Already Pretty Much Being Away from it All”

“The surface of Stand-Out ads still presents a relatively unalloyed Buy This Thing, but the deep message of television w/r/t these ads looks to be that Joe Briefcase’s ontological status as just one in a reactive watching mass is at some basic level shaky, contingent, and that true actualization of self would ultimately consist in Joe’s becoming one of the images that are the objects of this great herd-like watching. That is, television’s real pitch in these commercials is that it’s better to be inside the TV than to be outside, watching.”

David Foster Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram”

“One of the things that makes the people on television fit to stand the Megagaze is that they are, by ordinary human standards, extremely pretty. I suspect that this, like most television conventions is set up with no motive more sinister than to appeal to the largest possible Audience – pretty people tend to be more appealing to look at than non-pretty people.

Because of the way human beings relate to narrative, we tend to identify with those characters we find appealing. We try to see ourselves in them. The same ID-relation, however, also means that we try to see them in ourselves. When everybody we seek to identify with for six hours a day is pretty, it naturally becomes more important to us to be pretty, to be viewed as pretty. Because prettiness becomes a priority for us, the pretty people on TV become all the more attractive, a cycle which is obviously great for TV. But it’s less great for us civilians, who tend to own mirrors, and who also tend not to be anywhere near as pretty as the TV-images we want to identify with.

Not only does this cause some angst personally, but he angst increases because, nationally, everybody else is absorbing six-hour doses and identifying with pretty people and valuing prettiness more, too. This very personal anxiety about our prettiness has become a national phenomenon with national consequences. The boom in diet aids, health and fitness clubs, neighborhod tanning parlors, cosmetic surgery, anorexia, bulimia, steroid-use among boys, girls throwing acid at each other because one girl’s hair looks more like Farah Fawcett’s than another… are these supposed to be unrelated to the apotheosis of prettiness in a televisual culture?”

David Foster Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram”

“[It is ironic] That products presented as helping you express individuality can afford to be advertised on television only because they sell to enormous numbers of people.”

– David Foster Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram”

“…lonely people are usually lonely not because of hideous deformity or odor or obnoxiousness… Lonely people tend, rather, to be lonely because they decline to bear the psychic costs of being around other humans. They are allergic to people. People affect them too strongly.”

David Foster Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram”

“It’s a matter of choice to be a human being with sacred rights instead of a thing or a rat and most people don’t even know it’s something you have to actually choose for yourself that only has meaning when all the props and stage-settings that let you just go around smugly assuming you’re not a thing are ripped away and broken because all of a sudden now the world understands you as a thing, everybody else thinks you’re a rat or a thing and now it’s up to you, you’re the only one that can decide if you’re more.”

– David Foster Wallace, Brief Interviews With Hideous Men