Week 1

Spring Forward

04.26.11 | | 2 Comments

I won’t be breaking any news here–meteorological, agricultural, or metaphorical–in saying that spring is a time of rebirth. I know that. I also know that choosing such a potentially trite and banal subject like The Seasons to begin a blog post about one of the greatest writers of our time might be grounds for, as Wallace probably would have put it himself, literary (or perhaps even actual) defenestration. But god help us, that’s just what I intend to do. Hey, I’m breaking my blogging cherry here; it was bound to be awkward and messy anyhow.

So, spring. Poets rave about it; baseball fans revel in it, and here we are at its wet and sluggish onset, beginning to read together the last novel that we’re ever going to see from one David Foster Wallace: The Pale King, his posthumous and unfinished curtain call. To me, there’s something beautiful and hopeful about reading this book at this time of year. It seems to accentuate the newness of the material while taking some of the sting out of the dread of the finality of page 538. I will discuss the actual book in a second–at least the first eighty-five pages or so that I’ve read hitherto–I promise. But first, let me tell you a little about how I got here. A forward of sorts.

Infinite Summer in 2009 was my first exposure to DFW, and I only caught the tail end of that. Compared to most of my Infinite Summer NYC buddies (we still meet every week, by the way), I’m one of the newer kids on our postmodern literary block. They have so much patience with me.

I came to serious literature in general, and Infinite Jest in particular, in kind of a time of need. The last few years of my life had been filled with upheaval followed by what I’m choosing to look at as a necessary vernal reinvention–a personal spring. The upheaval was from my leaving the music business. The music business has, if you ask just about anyone involved in it, pretty much shit the bed in recent years. Recording budgets have plummeted, recording studios have gone out of business, and recording engineers (like myself) have a hard time finding work. And when work is found, good luck trying to get paid. So I’ve moved over to television, where I am now a fairly unimportant and non-creative cog at one of the networks.

Music, you see, was my life’s early calling. I worked side by side with some of the biggest artists of this era. I was granted an up-close view while being an important part of the music’s creation; I even created a little myself. It was thrilling. I would mix a song that I knew I would hear on the radio, often several times a day. With the music-making, there came international travel, entourages, all-night recording and mix sessions, and of course, celebrities all the time. I have seen bags of pot the size of which would have caused Jerry Garcia to raise an eyebrow. I have seen people wearing, over their twenty dollar tee shirts, sets of chains of gold and platinum that cost literally as much as a middle-class home. I have heard Jennifer Lopez make a joke about the size of her own posterior. I have critiqued a mix I was working on while listening to it with the artist in their just-flown-in-from-New-York powder-blue Bentley at a Miami mansion-turned-studio. I have had a gun pointed at me by a now-deceased rap superstar as a “joke”. I can tell you that Mariah’s dog has its own fan club. I know that P.Diddy’s dog, Honey Combs, was a member of a doggie-gym and sometimes defecated on the studio floor during recording sessions. I have seen Tony Bennett draw amazing portraits of people in only a few minutes. I have heard a popular R&B girls group talk about their favorite kinds of porn. I have seen Foxy Brown whip out a pocket-sized Karma Sutra and point out which positions she enjoys. I have recorded in NYC, Toronto, Miami, and London and I miss most of it pretty much most of the time. And although I still would have loved it had it been just the music-making by itself, I would be lying if I told you that the opulence wasn’t also a big and magical part of it.

But so the middle of the business began to crumble, and a move to television began to look like the wise and responsible thing to do.

I know what it must sound like to complain about landing on my feet in television at a major network with a good job, but that doesn’t change the fact that giving up my first love–my first calling–had left me restless and unfulfilled. And so I found comfort and fulfillment in literature. I had always been a reader of popular fiction, but the search for writing with meaning and importance and skill led me to Infinite Jest. I started reading it in 2009, and serendipitously, found out that not only was there the Infinite Summer movement on the Internet, but that there was a chapter meeting weekly right in New York City. It was started by Amanda French, the person who put this blog together. I finished reading the book with the group, and gained a lot more insight to it than if had I just gone at it alone. After we finished Infinite Jest, we decided to continue the weekly meet-ups, reading other great and difficult books. And we wrote. And we drank. And we discussed writing while we drank when we were supposed to be writing. And pretty soon I have these great new friends who have opened their homes to me and whose children have befriended mine and who have inspired me to write and who never even knew me in the music business. All because I decided to read a book. And while music may yet play a role in my life in the future, I’m finding that I’m actually much more excited about this new love of mine: writing. I know if it had not been for Infinite Jest and Infinite Summer and Amanda French and all of my Infinite Summer NYC friends (who are now my Pale Spring NYC friends), that I might still be waiting for that first spring day.

Now, to the book, the first week’s selection:

Section 1 gives us a more mature sounding Wallace with a more patient prose, except that there is more than enough of that hyper-description that you’re sure you’re reading a DFW novel. Someone, Pietsch, I think, has called it a love-letter to the Midwest. I think that’s a good description. I’ve read this two-page chapter quite a few times already.

Then in section 2, we’re suddenly thousands of feet above those flannel plains, in an airplane and because of DFW’s writing prowess, we’re also in the head of Claude Sylvanshine, the self described “dithering ninny”. This entire section is a stream of consciousness that at first reminded me of Erdedy’s drug binge in Infinite Jest, but after reading it a second time, I now see how much more cleverly crafted it is. I can tell, for instance, that although C.S. is a little afraid to fly, it’s a much more pedestrian level phobia–maybe just more of an unease. You see that the real issue here is the character’s self doubt and feelings of inadequacy playing to his anxiety regarding his upcoming accounting exam. Throw in some accounting jargon (which I’m sure is all on point) and also a little comedy relief (“The woman’s claw on the steel armrest between them was a horrible sight that he declined to attend to.”) and you have a circular stream of consciousness narrative that’s vintage Wallace. And as you realize that these thoughts aren’t just random hops from subject to subject–that one thought leads to another inter-connectedly–and then understand that he’s worked in some metaphor in many of these thoughts (Daren has already nailed this in the first post), you are only just getting to the beginnings of Wallace’s brilliance because then you realize that the plane is beginning to land, not so much by the author telling you per se, but by the way that C.S.’s thoughts begin to speed up, almost like the cars going from an underwater crawl to real, close-up speed as in the text. You can totally feel the tense moments of a landing.

My favorite section so far would be 8, the trailer park section. I’ve mentioned this on Goodreads: the high prose describing ugly things in a really beautiful way, the detached writing style, the grim and surreal setting (ashes raining down and two dogs throbbing in the heat), and finally the lack of direct dialog so as not to break the spell of all of it totally reminds me of McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.

But there’s so much more in just this first week’s selection that you can tell the rest of the book is going to spark a lot of discussion. I’m looking forward to every bit of it.