Citations from A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

“A problem with so many of us fiction writers under forty using television as a substitute for true espial, however, is that TV “voyeurism” involves a whole gorgeous orgy of illusions for the pseudo-spy, when we watch. Illusion (1) is that we’re voyeurs here at all: the voyees behind the screen’s glass are only pretending ignorance. They know perfectly well we’re out there. And that we’re there is also very much on the minds of those behind the second layer of glass, the lenses and monitors via which technicians and arrangers apply no small ingenuity to hurl the visible images at us. What we see is far from stolen; it’s proffered − illusion (2). And, illusion (3), what we’re seeing through the framed pane isn’t people in real situations that do or even could go on without consciousness of Audience. What young writers are scanning for data on some reality to fictionalize is already composed of fictional characters in highly ritualized narratives. Plus, (4), we’re not really even seeing “characters” at all: it’s not Major Frank Burns, pathetic self-important putz from Fort Wayne, Indiana; it’s Larry Linville of Ojai, California, actor stoic enough to endure thousands of letters (still coming in, even in syndication) from pseudo-voyeurs mistakenly berating him for being a putz. And, if (5) isn’t too out-there for you, it’s ultimately of course not even actors we’re espying, not even people: it’s EM-propelled analog waves and ionized streams and rear-screen chemical reactions throwing off phosphenes in grids of dots not much more lifelike than Seurat’s own impressionistic “statements” on perceptual illusion. Good lord and (6) the dots are coming out of our furniture, all we’re spying on is our own furniture; and our very own chairs and lamps and bookspines sit visible but unseen at our gaze’s frame as we contemplate “Korea” or are “taken live to Amman, Jordan,” or regard the plusher chairs and classier spines of the Huxtable “home” as illusory cues that this is some domestic interior whose membrane we have, slyly, unnoticed, violated. (7) and (8) and illusions ad inf.”
From E Unibus Pluram, television and U.S. fiction, page 24
“So then how have irony, irreverence, and rebellion come to be not liberating but enfeebling in the culture today’s avant-garde tries to write about? One clue’s to be found in the fact that irony is still around, bigger than ever after thirty long years as the dominant mode of hip expression. It’s not a mode that wears especially well. As Hyde puts it, “Irony has only emergency use. Carried over time, it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage.” This is because irony, entertaining as it is, serves an exclusively negative function. It’s critical and destructive, a ground-clearing. Surely this is the way our postmodern fathers saw it. But irony’s singularly unuseful when it comes to constructing anything to replace the hypocrisies it debunks. This is why Hyde seems right about persistent irony being tiresome. It is unmeaty. Even gifted ironists work best in sound bites. I find them sort of wickedly fun to listen to at parties, but I always walk away feeling like I’ve had several radical surgical procedures. And as for actually driving cross-country with a gifted ironist, or sitting through a 300-page novel full of nothing but trendy sardonic exhaustion, one ends up feeling not only empty but somehow … oppressed.”
From E Unibus Pluram, television and U.S. fiction, page 66
“I’m going to claim that evil is what David Lynch’s movies are essentially about, and that Lynch’s explorations of human beings’ various relationships to evil are, if idiosynchratic and Expressionistic, nevertheless sensitive and insightful and true. I’m going to submit that the real “moral problem” a lot of us cinéastes have with Lynch is that we find his truths morally uncomfortable, and that we do not like, when watching movies, to be made uncomfortable. (Unless, of course our discomfort is used to set up some kind of commercial catharsis—the retribution, the bloodbath, the romantic victory of the misunderstood heroine, etc.—i.e. unless the discomfort serves a conclusion that flatters the same comfortable moral certainties we came into the theater with.)”
From David Lynch Keeps his Head, page 203
“[…] And if these villains are, at their worst moments, riveting for both the camera and the audience, it’s not because Lynch i “endorsing” or “romanticizing” evil but because he’s diagnosing it—diagnosing it without the comfortable carapace of disapproval and with an open acknowledgment of the fact that one reason why evil is so powerful is that it’s hideously vital and robust and usually impossible to look away from.”
From David Lynch Keeps his Head, page 204
“Because we Americans like our art’s moral world to be cleanly limned and clearly demarcated, neat and tidy. In many respects it seems we need our art to be morally comfortable, and the intellectual gymnastics we’ll go through to extract a black-and-white ethics from a piece of art we like are shocking if you stop and look closely at them.”
From David Lynch Keeps his Head, page 205

I submit that Laura Palmer’s exhaustively revealed “sins” required, by the moral logic of American mass entertainment, that the circumstances of her death turn out to be causally related to thos sincs. We as an audience have certain core certainties about sowing and reaping, and these certainties need to be affirmed and massaged.[1]

[1] This is inarguable, axiomatic. In fact what’s striking about most U.S. mystery and suspense and crime and horror films isn’t these films’ escalating violence but their enduring and fanatical allegiance to moral verities that come right out of the nursery: the virtuous heroine will not be serial-killed; the honest cop, who will not know his partner is corrupt until it’s too late to keep the partner from getting the drop on him, will nevertheless somehow turn the tables and kill the partner in a wrenching confrontation; the predator stalking the hero/hero’s family will, no matter how rational and ingenious he’s been in his stalking tactics throughout the film, nevertheless turn into a raging lunatic at the end and will mount a suicidal frontal assault; etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. The truth is that a major component of the felt suspense in contemporary U.S. suspense movies concerns how the filmmaker is going to manipulate various plot and character elements in order to engineer the required massage of our moral certainties. This is why the discomfort we feel at “suspense” movies is perceived as a pleasant discomfort. And this is why, when a filmmaker fails to wrap his product up in the appropriate verity-confirming fashion, we feel not confusion or even offense but anger, a sense of betrayal—we feel that an unspoken but very important covenant has been violated.
From David Lynch Keeps his Head, page 209