Always outnumbered. Generally overdresssed.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Not Voodoo's Heroes of Prose: David Foster Wallace

Yeah, sorry about last week. Student lifestyle innit? I don't know if you've spent any time in the British Library (let's face it, I don't know a damn thing about you) but it is an incredible place. I think you know you're a nerd at heart when you get butterflies in your stomach just walking into the Humanities Reading Room.

And when I said that the next Hero of Prose would be a less obvious one, that was a massive lie.

Even casual readers of this blog will know I am a huge fan of David Foster Wallace. The name of this blog, comes from his story Mr Squishy:

One of the first things a Field Researcher accepts is that the product is never going to have as important a place in a TFG's minds as it did in the Client's. Advertising is not voodoo. The Client could ultimately hope only to create the impression of a connection or resonance between the brand and what was important to consumers. And what was important to consumers was, always and invariably, themselves.

A friend gave me his book of short stories, Oblivion, in 2004. A book that would literally change my life, leading inadvertently to my giving up drinking, entertaining the prospect of not being miserable and almost certainly saving my own personal map. As well as being a provider of revelatory experiences DFW had one of the most engaging written styles in modern literature. One good thing that emerged from his suicide in September 2008 was that the coverage it generated contained some significant insights into the way that he wrote. In fact, if you imagine someone with an IQ close to 200 writing extremely fast and with a biro you will get the idea.

There is also this amusing primer which began circulating on the internet last year - to my mind, it only covers the style he developed for Infinite Jest, and actually towards the end of his life, he was moving towards something if not spare, then very much sadder.

I don't feel at all qualified to write about his writing. But here are a few things that I have tried to copy.

Just ending sentences where the hell you want in the interest of producing a realistic cadence:

I mean, it has to be something about me if you can't trust me after all these weeks or stand even just a little normal ebb and flow with always thinking I'm getting ready to leave. I don't know what but there must be.

Punctuating third person narration with spoken idiom, just being confident that the reader will read intelligently in the voice that you offer them, and just letting it come out:

The Advanced Basics chairperson looks like a perfect cross between pictures of Dick Cavett and Truman Capote except this guy's also like totally, almost flamboyantly bald, and to top it off he's wearing a bright-black country-western shirt with baroque curlicues of white Nodie-piping across the chest and shoulders, and a string tie, plus sharp-toed boots of some sort of weirdly imbricate reptile skin, and overall he's riveting to look at, grotesque in that riveting way that flaunts its grotesquerie.

Getting up ahead of the reader:

I know this part is boring and probably boring you, by the way, but it gets a lot more interesting when I get to the part where I kill myself and discover what happens immediately after a person dies.

The night before he died I was actually watching his Charlie Rose interview on YouTube, which doesn't seem to be there any more. I did keep meaning to write to him to say that he'd made a massive difference to me, but had somehow never got round to it. Sad really.

Sad too, but I think this going to be my last post here after all. I will be posting on the other blog, but my other commitments aren't leaving me with the juice to write this one too, and it's mainly just making me feel awful.

So thanks very much for reading, it's been lovely.


silent reader said...

so where is this other blog?

Ben said...

See you on the other side, Jack.

(That's from Midnight Run, by the way.)

El Mariachi said...

That's a real shame. One of my favourite blogs, this.

Where is this new blog then?

EJR said...

oh, yes, that is a shame.
i really enjoyed reading.
aye - where's the new blog?

Scamp said...

Shit the bed; another good man down. All the best.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear its the end. Hope you're good.


Gordon Comstock said...

Here's the new one.

NatePortnoy said...

Here's Charlie Rose and DFW:

starts @36:40

BadBeard said...

Fare thee well GC.

Pauly said...

All things must pass, alas. Thank you getting an oily art director fired up about words.

Anonymous said...

Hello from Russia!
Can I quote a post "No teme" in your blog with the link to you?

Gordon Comstock said...

Knock yourself out.