Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
David Foster Wallace Life & Work Appreciation, Week 159
(Previously "DFW Post-Death Watch")
"Our smallness, our insignificance and mortality, yours and mine, the thing that we all spend all our time not thinking about directly, that we are tiny and at the mercy of large forces and that time is always passing and that every day we've lost one more day that will never come back and our childhoods are over and our adolescence and the vigor of youth and soon our adulthood, that everything we see around us all the time is decaying and passing, it's all passing away, and so are we, so am I…"
- David Foster Wallace, The Pale King

A major aspect of my putting-life-aside-until-I-get-the-freaking-novel done austerity was: I didn't read The Pale King – the latest, and last, DFW novel.

Part of it was that I was on a steady (gluttonous, really) diet of research and other books relevant to what I was working on. Part of it was that, when reading DFW, I ineluctably start writing in the style of DFW – to an extent that I sound like a literary parodist on meth taking the piss. (Which, obviously, wouldn't do.) And much of it was a simple self-discipline crutch: another much-desired thing I'd only get to do after I finished the damned book.

Anyway, a lot of really totally fascinating DFWabilia has appeared on the web in this time (*) – dead, the man just goes from strength to strength – and here it is now, starting with a bit of a review of tPK if you're interested. If you're not a DFW fan (really, if you haven't read Infinite Jest), you can definitely stop reading three paragraphs ago.

David Foster Wallace's suicide in 2008 was a shock that will go on reverberating for as long as people remain interested in the novel. Even if you had mixed feelings about his work, there was no doubting his colossal talent and no mistaking his centrality to his generation of American writers. If anyone was going to become the Melville of the corporatised society, the post-natural environment, the pharmacologically altered human landscape we all now inhabit, he was the one…

For all his baroque plotting, Wallace was generally more interesting at the level of the part than the whole. You go to him for the self-contained, usually comic, often staggeringly grotesque riffs and routines at which he excelled, rather than some sustained Jamesian evolution of story out of character. The provisional nature of The Pale King adds to this montage-like effect. You move through it as if through some mildly phantasmagorical gallery, making your own connections as you wander along…

There is a section in double entry columns that consists of little more than a roomful of examiners silently turning the pages of tax returns – "Ed Shackleford turns a page. Elpidia Carter turns a page. Ken Wax attaches a Memo 20 to a file. Anand Singh turns a page . . . " On it goes, column after column – "Ken Wax turns a page. David Cusk turns a page. Lane Dean Jr rounds his lips and breathes deeply in and out like that and bends to a new file. Ken Wax turns a page . . . " It is one of the strangest, saddest, most haunting things I've ever read.

Now a little music and video! (Hat tip to SNaFu.) The band The Decemberists have recreated the entire Eschaton game from the Year of the Adult Depend Undergarment. This is quality. Connoisseurs will really appreciate the details. (Just getting to see Anne Kittenplan is worth the price of admission alone.) Darned catchy song, too.

We all know about Trekkies. Or those Star Wars super-fans who go to Comic Con dressed up like Boba Fett. But what about all those Infinite Jest worshipers out there? Who can they turn to for obscure references to David Foster Wallace's magnum opus? Well, The Decemberists, of course.


And what more, really, can be said about that? This started with movie posters for the extensive filmography of Himself, as exhaustively recounted in the IJ footnotes, and has branched out. Extremely clever and obsessive. (And IJ-insightful – the text of the entries is well worth reading.) Here are a couple of faves:

Wallace has said that the narrative structure of IJ is that of a Sierpinski Gasket, which is a kind of pyramidical fractal. It was never clear to me (or, rather, beyond my ability to comprehend) quite how a novel could take this form.

But now Ezra Kline, on A Supposedly Fun Blog, reaches the most horrifying and fascinating literary pronouncement I've ever seen: that Infinite Jest IS "Infinite Jest". The book IS The Entertainment – or functions a whole hell of a lot like it. Must… reel in… head…

A Supposedly Fun Blog

For most of the book, I didn't understand the phenomenon of IJ's rereaders. I do now. It's not because the book is so fun. It's because of the explosive carnage of the final sections. The destruction of beloved characters forces a frantic search for textual clues that signal a rebirth in their future, or at least create some meaning amidst their fall. I didn't want to reread IJ because I loved the book, but because I wanted a way out of what the book was telling me. And so I could flip back to page one and begin again. And when I didn't find the answer, do it again. And again. What does this sound like?

We knew of two scenes in the Entertainment. A beautiful woman telling you something horrible about the way the world works. A revolving door in which you never quite caught your target. James Incandenza didn't create something entertaining. The title was, as Himself told Joelle, a joke. He created something terrifying. The central theory was outlandish and awful. But people couldn't let go until they found the information that would put their world right again. And that information never came, and so they never left. They just kept running through that revolving door, being told those horrible things again and again, which made them run all the faster.

So too with the book, at least in a miniaturized form. The conclusion is outlandish and awful. And that keeps you from letting go. In a dystopically idealized world, you keep rereading this immense, absorbing book, always looking to explain away the horrifying events of the end, but on each read, your connection to the characters becomes stronger even as the end doesn't clarify. You discover just enough new details and new theories to keep the cycle going, but never enough to resolve it. And the time you spend in the book's world takes you further and further from the real world. You spin in that revolving door again and again, continually hearing these horrible things.

Honestly not sure whether I'm now more, or less, looking forward to my fourth reading of the beast… Although Klein ends on a lovely, hopeful note.

Reading this book should be a terribly lonely experience. It is so sweeping and detailed and consuming. No one outside the novel can possibly understand what you're talking about. And if you're reading it twice? Three times? Before the acceleration of the internet, how many similar obsessives was the average reader likely to run into?

Not here, though. Here, people can understand you… A book that is about loneliness and that creates isolation has been subverted into a communal activity. Instead of being turned into Hal, we enrolled in the Enfield Tennis Academy, sharing a fundamentally strange and obsessing experience, but sharing it nevertheless.

Here's a selection of not-quite-equally-mind-blowing,-but-pretty-mindblowing theories about what's really going on in the stories behind the story.

Finally, here's the long-awaited actual audio of the man himself delivering his celebrated commencement speech at Kenyon College, and which got turned into the book This Is Water. (It's 22 minutes. If you're only going to listen to half, listen to the 2nd half. Definitely listen to the 2nd half.)

Okay, finally finally, here's John Krasinski reading one of my very favourite bits (in a totally horrifying way) from Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. Damned funny. (And horrifying.)

That everything is on fire, slow fire, and we're all less than a million breaths away from an oblivion more total than we can even bring ourselves to even try to imagine.
- David Foster Wallace, The Pale King

  books     david foster wallace     existentialism  
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

You can reach him on .

THE MANUSCRIPT by Michael Stephen Fuchs
PANDORA'S SISTERS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
D-BOYS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
COUNTER-ASSAULT by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book One - Fortress Britain, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Two - Mogadishu of the Dead, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : Genesis, by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Three - Three Parts Dead, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Four - Maximum Violence, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Five - EXODUS, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Six - The Horizon, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Seven - Death of Empires, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Eight - Empire of the Dead by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : NEMESIS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Nine - Cataclysm by Michael Stephen Fuchs

ARISEN, Book Ten - The Flood by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Eleven - Deathmatch by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Twelve - Carnage by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Thirteen - The Siege by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Fourteen - Endgame by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : Fickisms
ARISEN : Odyssey
ARISEN : Last Stand
ARISEN : Raiders, Volume 1 - The Collapse
ARISEN : Raiders, Volume 2 - Tribes
Black Squadron
ARISEN : Raiders, Volume 3 - Dead Men Walking
ARISEN : Raiders, Volume 4 - Duty
ARISEN : Raiders, Volume 5 - The Last Raid
ARISEN : Fickisms ][ – This Time, It's Personal
ARISEN : Operators, Volume I - The Fall of the Third Temple
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