A Visit With David Foster Wallace.
A package of materials, including a fraudulent Facebook Page created at blogger by New Jersey's Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) under my name and bearing a poor elderly stranger's photo as well as other strangers' photos (drawn from police files) attached to my name, also posted online by the OAE, will be sent to the U.S. Attorney's Office and to the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., as well as to others.
These OAE "postings" constitute very serious computer crimes affecting many persons besides myself. Evidently, such frauds and lies are examples of New Jersey's legal ethics or at least of the behavior of persons affiliated with the state Supreme Court's Office of Attorney Ethics.
I recently saw police officers at a Berkeley protest where so-called "White Nationalists" offering the Nazi salute physically attacked student protesters and shouted pro-Trump slogans.
A young woman was punched viciously in the face by a skin-head in the presence of apathetic police officers who took no action to arrest any of the violent young men nor to restore order. The scene was reminiscent of films of the Nazi atrocities in the thirties.
I understand what the injured students must feel.
I can no longer recognize a society where such incidents occur almost on a daily basis while the news coverage on television focuses on the "Easter Bunny" at the White House.
As of April, 2017 no response to my communications has been received from American police, prosecutors, media sources, members of the federal or state judiciaries.
David Foster Wallace, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (New York: Little & Brown, 1997).
David Foster Wallace, Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay On Free Will (Columbia U. Press, 2011).
I can never be certain that these same, evidently, sanctioned methods of computer crime will not be used in the future.
This type of censorship is not a new experience for me, as I say, nor is the encounter with the sadistic and repulsive fascistic mentality that seeks to answer criticisms (or to hide many crimes) by hurting and silencing others. Plagiarism is always to be expected. ("'Brideshead Revisited': A Movie Review" and "What is it like to be plagiarized?")
I associate this totalitarian attitude with New Jersey's so-called legal "ethics" establishment. Misnomer? ("New Jersey's 'Ethical' Legal System" and "New Jersey's Office of Attorney Ethics.")
I am also more determined than ever to see these matters brought before a federal tribunal.
You have made my argument for me, Mr. Ziff, and you may be too stupid to understand this fact. ("John McGill, Esq., the OAE, and New Jersey Corruption.")
A version of the essay that appears below was posted December 1, 2005. I was recently prevented by computer criminals from editing the text. I will try to retype and publish the entire work once again.
David Foster Wallace is the "bookstore guy."
You remember the used-book store near the main campus of your school? You remember the weird guy who worked in the store and had, like, five Master's degrees, and was writing a dissertation for, maybe, ten years?
Everybody thought that, if he ever finishes his manuscript, "he'll win the Nobel prize."
You'd roll into that bookstore with a question or two right before your big test in physics, seventeenth century philosophy, or the poetry of Elizabethan England:
"Hey, what's up man?"
David would look at you with complete disdain. His hair was always messed up; he never shaved or actually sported a full beard, just permanent, cool, alienated, socially-aware stubble.
We all envy that stubble. That's what is called "designer stubble." Politically active, artsy-fartsy women are really into that look. Big time.
There were always thousands of books around the local book store guy, plus plenty of dust, and if you searched through the books on the shelves you might find a sandwich from the eighties, a sock, or something even more disgusting.
After David abused you as a "brain-dead-typical-product-of-this-decadent society" he would explain your entire course that you had slept through and you would wiz the test.
"Hey, thanks man."
David would merely grunt a response. He would look at you, shake his head at the "Decline and Fall of Western Civilization and Rise of Mongoloid Imbeciles," then go back to shelving books.
This is a collection of essays by Mr. Foster Wallace. I like anybody with a compound name. The essays deal with various "allegedly" fun things, like literary theory and the Illinois State Fair, not to mention television.
I am familiar with David's interest in analytical philosophy and have absorbed his arguments on "free will" as well as his critique of Richard Taylor's brand of fatalism. ("Robert Brandom's 'Reason in Philosophy.'")
Foster Wallace is essentially correct in his debate with Professor Taylor, but his greatest philosophical talent (or even genius) is for Continental thought which he would have regarded, perhaps, as not philosophy at all, but only as a form of literary theory or criticism.
He would have been wrong to think in such terms and far more mistaken to pursue graduate study at Harvard University rather than at any school where both traditions were readily available. David's decision concerning graduate study at Harvard and some others that followed may have had more to do with paternal issues than academic ones.
David's discussion of television's complex cultural and political as well as metaphysical role in American lives, for example, is one of the best that I have ever read on this vexed topic in postmodernist theory. ("'Westworld': A review of the television series.")
Television in what have been called "advanced capitalist societies" creates social realities.
We must now "live" the fictions appearing on our small screens and, eventually, on our laptops or (heaven help us) our phones and tablets as well as other devices:
"How can we be made so willingly to acquiesce to [sic.] the delusion that the people on TV don't know they're being watched, to the fantasy that we're somehow transcending privacy and feeding on unself-conscious human activity?"
David's answer to the question he posed illustrates his brilliance:
"There might be lots of reasons why these unrealities are so swallowable, but a big one is that the performers behind the glass are -- varying degrees of thespian talent nothwistanding -- absolute geniuses [emphasis in original] at seeming unwatched. Make no mistake -- seeming unwatched in front of a TV camera is an art. Take a look at how non-professionals act when a TV camera is pointed at them: they often spaz out, or else they go all stiff, frozen with self-consciousness. Even PR people and politicians are, in terms of being on camera, rank amateurs. And we love to laugh at how stiff and fake non-pros appear on television." (Fun Thing, p. 25.)
With the new ubiquity of surveillance technology we are all becoming adept at appearing before cameras. We play "roles" all the time. Even criminals are "mugging" for the NYPD cameras the "role" of criminal as seen on TV shows. What remains at issue in our televised "reality" is what isn't a performance or whether the cameras can ever be shut-down or turned-off.
David's prose style is poised, campus cafeteria dense, and unafraid of intelligence or humor.
David is not concerned with whether you will miss the jokes. He will not go out of his way to ensure that stupid readers "get" the message in his writings.
If you fail to appreciate a reference to Wittgenstein or the contents of a footnote it is entirely your loss.
Unlike most American novelists David Foster Wallace possessed an excellent formal mind. His gift for theory was misplaced in terms of a determined focus on logical conundrums and deployment of analytical techniques to examine very complex and narrow questions in epistemology and metaphysics.
I am sure that David would have found his way to cultural theory and politics along with such American phenomena as designer feminism and the Donald J. Trump presidency. His examination of such topics would have been enriched by a profound knowledge of the Western philosophical tradition. His literary and theoretical interests would probably fuse into a single "sensibility."
What appears as coldness in his literary manner is only a kind of caution (or reserve) about being emotionally needy or anything less than dismissive of the reader's affection as distinct from his or her respect or admiration.
Of course, like the rest of us -- especially any writer -- David was in desperate need of authentic communication with others in a society that seeks to outlaw such communication, as I can attest from personal experience, as well as to forbid what E.M. Foster instructed us to achieve above all else -- "connections" across the literary divide. ("What you will ..." and "Magician's Choice.")
Learning of David's suicide in 2008 was shocking and horrifying, but not entirely unexpected.
David's sadness is palpable in his prose -- along with his immediate removal to a nose-bleed level of abstraction in discussion -- like Muhammad Ali leaning back to avoid Joe Frazier's left hook -- an abstraction that was bound to produce disorientation or outright collapse if sustained for too long a period of time.
Think about why anyone writes and/or publishes a text. The sometimes desperate need to be UNDERSTOOD and appreciated -- or liked despite all disagreements -- has to be one literary motive for every author.
This is not a wish to be understood by all readers, however, but only by those kindred spirits who will feel with us: "The books are for you." A great writer once said this to me. ("An Evening With Gore Vidal.")
The desire to "connect" is a motivation that lies under the surface of all literature, I believe, including Shakespeare's poetry. It is also found among the great philosophers who wish not merely to explain things to us, but to explain themselves and their opinions, their thinking, perceptions, valuing on the assumption that these responses to life will be similar to the reader's feelings, understandings, and judgments. This includes analytical philosophers. ("Is clarity enough?" and "A Philosophical Investigation of Ludwig Wittgenstein.")
How someone as terminally weird as Wittgenstein imagined that the rest of us, even the "semi-weird" (any writer), were like him is beyond me. ("Magician's Choice" and "Shakespeare's Black Prince.")
The distance between writer and reader narrows as one absorbs more of David's work. After the first essay you are willing to accept the author's intellect. He no longer has to hit you with the footnotes or the high-brow stuff, nor the icy academic chest-thumping combined with displays of astonishing brilliance.
I am impressed, David, you can relax. Relaxing must have been difficult for David Foster Wallace.
I suspect that these displays were also about his father. David was invited to read Plato at age fourteen by a father he adored who was a philosophy professor and who noted David's dazzling talent even then. The young man was obviously expressing his love by way of a shared intellectual interest in a manner that is culturally sanctioned for male persons in our society.
Possibly by attending his father's alma mater David was (among other things) discharging a debt that he felt burdened him from childhood. David may have felt he had to make up for some loss on the part of his father and family. The novelist-philosopher seemed to believe that he had to prove something to those guys from Andover and Yale, St. Paul's and Harvard.
David, genius is always without strain. Genius is what you had from day one; those Ivy league guys (usually) only have bank accounts.
I felt some of this tension in filmed interviews and conversations with David's contemporary and potential rival for America's literary affections -- Jonathan Franzen. A Charlie Rose interview featuring the two writers was marred by a sudden and bizarre hostility on the part of David that clearly puzzled Franzen who chose to ignore it as I would. Jonathan Franzen, as a Harvard man, obviously represented something that was not entirely pleasant to David who, nevertheless, clearly liked the actual person sitting next to him. ("Jonathan Franzen Wants to be Alone.")
This raises the much-discussed question of exactly which of these two men is the better writer -- the all-time heavyweight champion in Norman Mailer's terms for a generation of readers -- Jonathan Franzen or David Foster Wallace?
The only answer to this sort of question that makes sense to me focuses on the needs of the reader: If I want to chat about Kant's Critique of Pure Reason I may drop by my mental bookstore and college cafeteria to say hello to David and shoot the breeze. If I have a question about Nabokov or Updike, Melville or Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton or Henry James, I may give Jonathan a call at his East Side apartment in the sky that is (probably) shared with a super-model, or so Mr. Franzen claims.
To be more specific and not duck the issue I believe that Foster Wallace is better with abstractions; Franzen seems to be more rooted in literature. Neither David (Norman Mailer with nicer manners) nor Jonathan (Gore Vidal with less glamour, but a much more conventional and boring sex life) will ever be an investment banker even if both men would make good lawyers. ("Law and Literature.")
These are the authors anointed by the media as the American writers of my generation. Not surprisingly both are male, white, tall enough, middle class, from the vicinity of the buckle of the Bible belt, liberal products of good schools who bathe regularly and pay all of their taxes. Perhaps.
This dual coronation is not their fault. They are good writers and highly moral persons. Being named Hemingway (David) and Fitzgerald (Jonathan) for an entire generation must be awkward for them because it is an invitation for the attacks of the politically-correct-multi-gendered-metro-sexuals of all races and ethnicities outraged at their exclusion. ("Nihilists in Disneyworld.")
David's "coverage" of his trip to the local State Fair for Harper's magazine extends the boundaries of the personal essay. The man is a fearless and intrepid reporter. Iraq? No, David will first visit the Illinois State Fair. If David were to cover the war in Iraq -- or any of the numerous covert and overt American military adventures since then -- he would find the one person reading, say, Norman Mailer's The Prisoner of Sex or the more recent Lolita in Tehran as the bombs fall in order to interview that person.
I suggest we all chip in and buy David one of those cool hats from the forties with a "press" tag in the brim.
David's essay on the Illinois State Fair is very funny in a deadpan way even if this seems unlikely.
I will comment on one essay that is an engaging tour through literary theory from the late fifties to the new century by way of an examination of Professor Hix's Morte d'Author.
Academics are fond of cute titles for books that allow readers aware of Thomas Mallory and King Arthur as well as Foucault and the controversy concerning the "death of the author" to feel "special" as they shell out twenty-five dollars for this opus. David is able to do in one paragraph what most of us would find difficult to accomplish in a full essay:
"Hix himself is a good weaver; [This book] is a tight piece of work. Its first half is a critical overview of some of the major positions on authorial vital signs. Not only is there Hobbes and Frye on what an author is, there's Foucault and Nehamas on just how to recognize what an author is, and Barthes v. William Gass on whether to even bother trying to find an author. There are also brief critical summaries of Derrida, Cutler, Stecker, Booth, and Burke. Hix's discussion isn't comprehensive, quite: Heidegger and Hegel are scarcely mentioned, Husserl (a major influence on Derrida) [and on twentieth century thought] is absent, as are such important contemporary figures in the debate as Stanley Cavell (whose Must We Mean What We Say? is at least as important to Hix's subject as Booth's Rhetoric of Fiction), Paul de Man, Edward Said, Gayatari Spivak. And Hix's analysis of the players he does cover suffers from the scholarly anality that's so common to published dissertations, an obsession with the jots and titles of making excruciatingly clear what he's saying [and] where he's going. Wearying t-crossings like 'I will isolate three of his claims in particular, disagreeing with two of them and agreeing with the other,' and microprecise critiques like 'Wimsatt and Beardsley's error may be hidden behind the passive voice; Cain's hidden behind the present tense,' make the reader wish Hix's editor had helped him delete gestures that seem directed at thesis committees rather than paying customers." (Fun Thing, pp. 141-142.) ("Michel Foucault and the Authorship Question" and "Jacques Derrida's Philosophy as Jazz.")
David is good at making high-brow issues accessible to readers who are not theoretically-minded. He also demonstrates that these discussions are fun and will always matter to people who care about their culture and times. He is at ease with complex ideas, comfortable in his voice (this is not easy), challenging while respecting your intelligence as a reader.
All of this brings me back to David's discussion of television and a concluding insight:
"It will take a while, but I am going to prove to you that the nexus where television and fiction converse and consort is self-conscious irony. Irony is, of course, a turf fictionalists have long worked with zeal. And irony is important for understanding TV because 'TV,' now that it's powerful enough to move from acronym to way of life, revolves off just the sorts of absurd contradictions irony's all about exposing. It is ironic that television is a synthetic homogenizing force that derives much of its power from diversity and various affirmations thereof. It is ironic that an extremely canny and unattractive self-consciousness [personal confession?] is necessary to create TV performers' illusion of unconscious appeal. That products presented as helping you express individuality can afford to be advertised on television only because they sell to enormous numbers of people. And so on." (Fun Thing, p. 35, emphasis in original.)
The struggle with irony in his life and work as one of the greatest writers of the late twentieth century and beyond for David Foster Wallace -- someone I urge Latinos to read! -- led to paradoxes of identity that are a general feature of our postmodernist culture in America, for some more than others, and that may have finally been too much for him.
Anyone may succumb to this struggle to achieve (or create) an authentic identity in life and not only in one's work (except for those, like Mr. Trump who are unaware of it), at any time, since the odds against "success" in self-becoming for each of us are already overwhelming and they are getting worse by the day.
It is more difficult to be "oneself" when no cameras are pointed at us, no awards are given to us, no diplomas with our names are received, but when we are required to be at peace with ever more fragile and menaced "selves" staggering towards the grave.
Thank you, David, for fighting the good fight and for your magnificent literary-philosophical achievement.