Monday 27 February 2017

David Foster Wallace's frenzy

At the beginning of Pop Quiz 9, last section of Octet, in David Foster Wallace's Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, his frighteningly extensive language turns abruptly on the reader.
How exactly the cycle's short pieces are supposed to work is hard to describe. Maybe say they're supposed to compose a certain sort of 'interrogation' of the person reading them, somehow—i.e. palpitations, feelers, into the interstices of something, etc... though what that 'something' is remains maddeningly hard to pin down, even just for yourself as you're working on the pieces.
There we are, readers, with all our interstices suddenly exposed. It's uncomfortable and pleasurable. His excesses are never far from pain. His writerly frenzy is almost sacrificial: he could torture for ever the least rustle of human life. He's writing but also doing something else less clear, something exhaustive. His words will never say it all, but they might insinuate themselves into the reader's equilibrium. There's no redemption unless we readers are redemptive, not just chewing on David Foster Wallace's frenzy but meeting it with a freshly minted frenzy of our own.

You have to read him while holding your breath, in order to stay clear, until after you stop reading, of this interrogation he's holding. How much of this can you, the reader, bear at one sitting? I like to imagine being on a train with only this book to read, maybe a stopped train on a branch line in the middle of Ireland for half a day or more, and how I'd stay with all the footnotes, which, as with Oliver Sacks, sometimes occupy more pages than the text itself, unspool all the possibilities to emerge eventually at my destination a fully interrogated, fully exposed human being.

In fact I am at home, a somewhat exposed human being listening to Shostakovich and watching a stormy sunset, reading David Foster Wallace, badly. As he fears he wrote, badly. Pop Quiz 9 doubts what any of the Pop Quizzes have managed to communicate.
At any rate it's not going to make you look wise or secure or accomplished or any of the things readers usually want to pretend they believe the literary artist who wrote what they're reading is when they sit down to try and escape the insoluble flux of themselves and enter a world of prearranged meaning. Rather it's going to make you look fundamentally lost and confused and frightened about whether to trust even your fundamental intuitions about urgency and sameness and whether other people deep inside experience things in anything like the same way you do.
Like a thirteen year-old on the high diving board for the first time.

Friday 17 February 2017

Philip K. Dick, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

I dreamed I went to prison, sans crime, sans trial, sans anything. In a communal room I leafed quickly through layers of magazines in a large bowl. The last layer was all porn, and the circle sitting around me were all men. Everything calm. No guards around. Was I there as an experiment and I'd be out in a month or so? Who would plant the tomatoes this year? That was a worry.

And this was before I started reading Philip K. Dick, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. 

Back from our travels I read such a glut of New Yorkers and NYRBs, to say nothing of Triple Canopy emails, that even without listening to the news I feel saturated with the geist of the zeit. Philip K. Dick, in overprinted smudgy black print, is about right.

At first I'm impatient with the technicalities, like how someone called Jason Taverner, a TV celebrity with his own show, can slip into a parallel zone where he no longer exists, and all his data has vanished. No one knows him any more. The hit records he has made are now blank. Halfway through the book all these spiky, separate people who exist thanks to remote decisions on the part of some techie chemist with a world view, become fragile. We, reading, become fragile too, unseated, unhappy. We are so obscurely constructed. So hollow. A handmade blue vase is the carrier of most emotion in the novel. How many time zones do you have to cross to feel grief?

The policeman does not cry until Chapter Twenty-four.
He felt something on his face; putting up his hand, he found that his chin was wet. 
By Chapter Twenty-seven, he's in free fall.
His tears became each moment denser and faster and deeper. I'm going the wrong way, he thought ... All I can do now is witness something I can no longer control. I am painted on, like a fresco. Dwelling in only two dimensions, I and Jason Taverner are figures in an old child's drawing. Lost in dust.
Looking through other Philip K. Dick titles, I'm tempted by The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike and Puttering About in a Small Land.

Saturday 11 February 2017

Middle C by William Gass, Tenerife, La Gomera

I began Middle C by William Gass on the plane, at thirty-eight thousand feet.
... it repented Jehovah that he had made man... 
I continued on a rooftop in Garachico on the north coast of Teneriffa, under the volcano. Lava flow & sea vapours, backlit yuccas and birdsong, the least murmur of human life. Church bell somewhere short of twelve. I was ready to embrace uncertainty in that back and forth, jewish/not jewish way. The part of jewishness that is also not jewishness, as part of identity is having none. Wrestling with William Gass wrestling with how to phrase the human race.
The fear that the human race might not survive has been replaced by the fear that it will endure.
I read William Gass with the greatest pleasure in the sun, his shifts and his emphases, his tries and retries, fitted my disponibilité. This is someone I know.
First Skizzen felt mankind must perish, then he feared it might not.
He had a feeling of great relief before he wondered what he might do with his wayward thoughts if he had no sentence to focus on.
And then the music.
Olive Fremstad and her sound—CalvĂ©'s, Caruso's sound—sounds—hollow, odd, remote,—that created a past from which ghosts could not only speak to admonish and astound, they could sing again almost as they once sang, sang as singing would never be heard sung again, songs and a singing from somewhere outside the earth where not an outstretched arm, not a single finger, could reach or beckon, request or threaten or connive.
Anywhere this would stop me in my tracks; in the sun on a rooftop in Garachico, it was glorious.

Later, on a beach in La Gomera, putting Middle C down after a few chapters, it seemed possible that all reading, as well as all hopes and fears and curiosity, could come together between two covers. Then I closed my eyes.