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.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Ride on time!

GC submitted his column for Nursery School Assistant Magazine on time this morning, including two uses of the phrase 'queening stool'. The new blog is up at a secret address. And this afternoon he's hanging with Paul Smith at the Design Museum. Pretty sweet Friday.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Planners are evil

Taxi receipt, looks fairly innocuous, £15 probably rounded up from £12 on a I'll-do-you-a-receipt-then-shall-I-nudge-nudge-basis. But look, there's some gibberish on there. Turn it over and you're confronted with this:

Obviously this is a warning-as-advert par excellence. Presumably the best thing about having an affair is the thrill, the sheer un-wisdom of it. That once, just once, you're prepared to give in to a libidinal urge in the face of all that accreted responsibility and prove that yeah, underneath it all you're really young and alive after all.

So in this case a warning of the dangers, for those looking for danger is the best possible advert.

Plus 'having an affair' sounds just much more fun than 'working on or ending a marriage' doesn't it? A Cornetto is not an alternative to a back hand slap across the face.

As the product of what was once quaintly called 'a broken home', now known as a normal family, GC feels somewhat conflicted about this. On the one hand I've got the whole libertarian argument a la Hegarty that says if they sell it, we sell it. But on the other is the straight-forward commonsensical aversion to the promotion of something that's bound to cause more misery, in a world already superabundant in misery.

And don't say, well, by allowing people to select an appropriate partner to have an affair with MetroEncounters are preventing the pain and misery caused by people beginning affairs with the wrong people, because that is so much sophistry. You might as well offer humane murder training for those considering doing a murder. ('Not everyone is suited to murdering, but if you would like to quietly smother your partner to death...')

I'm not sure I'd work on it, but I'd like to meet the planner who did. As would several thousand angry, angry spouses within the radius of the M25 I expect.