The thing about laying around, the result, is that the more I do it the more I want to do it.
And yet the more I lay around, the more I rest, the tireder I become.
It’s a strange, inexplicable phenomena, one extreme linked to another extreme, its exact opposite, like becoming sleepy right after eating a good meal: immediately upon filling my tank I often feel a surge of inertia when I should be feeling the opposite; having just eaten I should be feeling perky new energy, ready to do anything. Instead I lie down and take a rest.
And so, exhausted after eating a half pound salmon fillet and a spinach salad, I lied down on the couch the other night and read David Foster Wallace for the first time, a book of essays he’d written in the 1990s, packaged with the amusing title, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.
I don’t like the writing immediately, it wears me out from the very beginning, reading it is like looking at something really shiny and bright but without sunglasses. When I read DFWallace, the writer, I close my eyes and open them to read a little more, and close my eyes again and keep them closed most of the time I’m reading. As I read I’m pretty sure I don’t like the writing, but I do like the person writing it, so smart, so opinionated, so interested in everything. What Henry James said of Trollope, that “he noticed everything,” might be said of DWF, with the added benefit that DWF genuinely likes sports and television as much or more than I do. He’s open, experiential, on the road in his own way, a true American from the great midwest, the ideal writer for for the era of climate change, right on the cusp of global warming, wearing the reader out as his readers are wearing the earth out.
DFW writes like he knows global warming is happening in the early 90s, and knows no one will believe him when he says it’s happening. DFW’s valiant like a knight, there’s a dream of nobility in him, so I often keep reading his essays, hoping that I’ll find something I have or haven’t found before.
But there’s much too much writing, the writing is overwhelming, it must have been the writing that overwhelmed DWF as a writer: being, the writer. His writing is a form of asphyxiation. The writer overwhelmed by the statistics of facts, over prone to making connections, bringing up one topic after another and, furthermore, having insights about them. The writer as obsessed with his obsessions and others, meeting deadlines and the expectations of his readers. Reading DFW I can feel the legal contracts, travel schedules, personal appearances, bookstore readings, university students raising their hands, plus the ever-present temptation of bloviation, caused no doubt by the sheer numbers of the audience he believed himself to be writing for and their regard for him as a genius.
All these things and more (DFW’s a writer with three names) consumed his intelligence as a writer and caused him to leave as legacy, at least to me who is laying on a plush green couch as I write, writing so diffuse, writing so full of itself and the information it hopes to impart to its readers that I have to lie down to make sense of what I’m reading.
Though his writing tires me to the degree that I want to lie down, I do wish I’d known David Foster Wallace before he wore himself out: he seems like a really decent, hardworking person, a person with a passion to write, and a pulpit and adherents. If I’d known DFW when he was living I would have turned him toward minimalism as a literary technique; it might have saved his life.