Spectacle and Its Shards

On David Foster Wallace

/ by Srđan Srdić

It's been more than thirty years since Billy Milano, the fattest clown of the crossover scene, yelled out the following sarcastic lines:


 

Kill yourself, kill yourself,

Why don’t you kill yourself,

Don’t rely on no-one else,

End it all just kill yourself.


 

Not much of in the way of poetry, huh? Still, it functioned quite well in its intended field. It served as a primitive hammer which could be waved at all those who would wholeheartedly mythologize suicide, and spin philosophical yarns about it as one of their possible escapes. Acceptable escapes, but tragic in its endless pathos. Kill yourself, Milano clamored, spare us yourself and everything you imply. Kill yourself, just like that.


 

So, let’s say, David Foster Wallace listened to his advice and is long gone. David Foster Wallace, I often hear, the guy who killed himself, depression, treatment, such things. This is a nasty observation, it’s somehow incurable. Wallace went to the garage, Karen L. Green didn’t, she was reckless, I often hear. From the garage direct into myth, which doesn’t sound so bad. And then, everybody knows something about this, about the garage, about Karen, about electroshocks, about refusing medication, about voyeurism, affairs with students, about who gave a speech on the occasion of David Foster Wallace’s death, yes, DeLillo was also there, you see. The text of the death of David Foster Wallace became marketable, commercial, it’s a good death, industries trade most easily in spectacle and its shards. And I don’t seem to be saying anything new, I’m doing my share, repeating myself, repeating others.


 

What’s needed is a switch: what shall we do with what’s left beyond Wallace’s death? Let’s first raise a fence: Wallace is none of Wallace’s contemporaries, Zadie Smith said everything about this. David isn’t Zadie, David isn’t Jonathan, David does not manipulate any realistic premises in the manner of hysterical realists, David has different intentions. Wallace could, somehow, be Pynchon above all, when we talk about text beyond death, but Pynchon is much older, he is by far for himself. Both become a case, the first by refusing direct participation in the game, the latter by refusal as such, overall refusal. While Smith and Franzen have to take into account heaps of linear text, stories whose central narrative focus is the possibility of paraphrase, which depend on analogies with the referent, behind which is a longing for an intervention in a social organism sometimes called family, sometimes class or layer, sometimes differently, Wallace could be a text which writes itself. The text of a text. This thesis cancels the idea of Wallace the suicide, or Wallace with a biography, or a documentary Wallace, a depressive from the garage.


 

Now we come to reading. Reading against biography and American-type mythologized consumerism. Wallace this, Wallace that. Wallace killed himself. I don’t care. Many have killed themselves, Toole, numerous Russians (some of whom were cordially assisted to commit suicide), Mishima killed himself, in an insanely beautiful performance. Many others have killed themselves, whose suicide we don’t mention, since they didn’t write anything. So, what’s written is the key. Manuscripts don’t kill themselves. Kafka is my witness.


 

Constant reading destroys admiration. Admiration is a prejudice about ingeniousness and something that can hardly be achieved in any way. Infallibility, idolatry, misconceptions of them. Then time passes, no one is spared cynicism, malice that intensifies and evolves. Anti-pathos. I would say that Wallace stands at the end of the chain of admiration in my history as a reader. First I stumbled upon This is Water. Accidentally, romantically. It was an interruption: in order to keep learning, there’s a condition of discontinuity. This is the formula: this is something other. The starting point was in the statement, the man who wrote stated differently, which led him to state something other, not as content, but rather as a form that doesn’t have to come out of itself. But it can.


 

Wallace was a torrent, an unstoppable energetic surge. It seemed to me then, this man writes like an automaton, according to the never-achieved Kerouac-ian ideal, or an organized surrealist technique. Wallace looked like someone who had to write, to write a lot, writing looked like an emphasis, an act of self-liberation. Depression, anti-depressives, blah-blah-blah. Like a mania, controlled by something, most probably by formidable deposits of what was read and thought out. An impression that everything is cancelled, collapsing. Some masochistic urge to continually read an oversaturated text which multiplied itself, compounded, meandered, sank, marched, wiped everything before it and, indeed, behind it. The totality of writing as such spoke out of this and each Wallace text, everything speaks out about everything, there occur explosive crossovers, there’s Swift here, Stern, Becket, a new logic is established, commenting, attacking, ridiculing, influencing the stunted regions of the brain mass, ironizing, ironizing, ironizing, sounding like Barthelme, Barth, Coover, a metafictional fire on the edges of postmodernism. This is my man, I told myself, he writes exactly for me and whether I like the role he’s assigned me is of no concern to him. I could admire this one, at an old age. This is a genuine master. I cannot write like this. It hurt. But not much.


 

A search ensued, I’ve come across other texts by Wallace, most often his essays at first, Consider the Lobster, for instance, excerpts, I convinced myself of immense reaches of what Wallace managed to encompass, it was like a virus, this is how it’s supposed to be done, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. It had sense, my discovery. Then Oblivion, which a Serbian mastodon publisher leftover from socialism published in a crippled format, I’ve never realized how nor why, this Half-Oblivion which lacks half the stories. I tortured people with this book, phoning them at night, like Wallace’s depressive, you have to see this, you have to read this. A harsh comedy, a child singed with hot water, scatological sculpture, snoring that either happens or not, experiments all over the place, sad as much as funny, text utterly compressed, concentrated in its own essence.


 

And everything that followed, stories, novels, essays, failed screenings, memories and documents, myth, translations, comparison of the original with the existing Serbian translations (successful translations, totally), hopes out of taking positions, what could Wallace mean here, without remaining a suicidal membrane only, a flyer made in a garage. The man who collected discourses, any conceivable discourses, then left, perhaps just like that. Wallace the collector, in whom too much experience was compressed for one human being, too many voices, mathematics of spirit. Lonely Wallace, with his generation, but without it, not at all misunderstood, no, but without a real challenge in the contemporary written context, faster, smarter, more charming. More talented. The man who did more than he could, and left. I think this is how it’s supposed to be understood.


 

Suicide? What suicide. Departure. The man who wrote more than he could and left everything to us. A rather fair deal in the otherwise unfair world. Pure literary stuff.

....
Srđan Srdić

is a novelist, short-story writer, editor, essayist and creative reading/writing teacher. He has published two novels, two short story collections and a book of essays. From 2008 to 2011 he served as the editor of the international short story festival Kikinda Short. He returned to this position in September 2015.


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