TITLE: I Did the Reading, and Watched the Video AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: February 25, 2012 3:04 PM DESC: ----- BODY: David Foster Wallace, 2006 It seems that I've been running across David Foster Wallace everywhere for the last few months. I am currently reading his collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. I picked it up for a tennis-turned-philosophy essay titled, improbably, "Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness". (You know I am a tennis fan.) On the way to reading that piece, I got hooked on the essay about filmmaker David Lynch. I am not a fan of Wallace's fiction, but his literary non-fiction arrests me. This morning, I am listening to a lengthy uncut interview with Wallace from 2003, courtesy of fogus. In it, Wallace comes across just as he does in his written work: smart, well-read, and deeply thoughtful. He also seems so remarkably pleasant -- not the sort of thing I usually think of as a default trait in celebrities. His pleasantness feels very familiar to me as a fellow Midwesterner. The video also offers occasional haunting images, both his mannerisms but especially his eyes. His obvious discomfort makes me uncomfortable as I watch. It occurs to me that I feel this way only because I know how his life ended, but I don't think that's true. The interview contains many thought-provoking responses and interchanges. One particular phrase will stay with me for a while. Wallace mentions the fondness Americans have for the freedom to choice, the freedom to satisfy our desires. He reminds us that inherent in such freedom is a grave risk: a "peculiar kind of slavery", in which we feel we must satisfy our desires, we must act on our impulses. Where is the freedom in that prison? There is also a simple line that appealed to the teacher in me: "It takes skill and education to get good enough at reading or listening to be able to derive pleasure from it." This is one of the challenges that faces teachers everywhere. Many things require skill and education -- and time -- in order for students to be able to derive satisfaction and even pleasure from them. Computer programming is one. I recommend this interview to anyone interested in modern culture, especially American culture. As I listened, I was reminded of this exchange from a short blog entry by Seth Godin from last year:
A guy asked his friend, the writer David Foster Wallace, "Say, Dave, how'd y'get t'be so dang smart?" His answer: "I did the reading."
Wallace clearly did the reading. ~~~~ PHOTOGRAPH: David Foster Wallace at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, January 2006. Source: Wikimedia Commons. -----