Isn’t it postmodern? Don’t you think?

Four-year-old Butter loves to sit on my lap and pretend to read books. Any books. His favorite are texts he’s already memorize (I’m looking at you, Frog and Toad), but he’ll fake read anything he can get his hands on.

Tonight, he opened a text on embodiment and ethics that I’m zipping through in case it helps my paper for this week’s conference, and ran his finger along this line:

“Or, as Judith Butler suggests, partly following Foucault, gender is that embodied entity constituted through a ‘stylised repetition of acts’ the significance of which is social rather than natural” (Butler 1990: 140).

And he read it thusly: “Once upon a time, there was a little girl. And the girl…The End.”

So, clearly: full ride to Rutgers’ Women’s Studies Department.

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Ode to early 90s lit crit and football

Cup of hot tea, four piles of journal articles fanned around me, pocket full of tape flags, and this on a foggy October’s Sunday morning:

“A grunting, crunching ballet of repressed homoeroticism, football, Ms. Steeply, on my view. The exaggerated breadth of the shoulders, the masked eradication of facial personality, the emphasis on contact-vs.-avoidance-of-contact. The gains in terms of penetration and resistance. The tight pants that accentuate the gluteals and hamstrings and what look for all the world like codpieces. The gradual slow shift of venue to ‘artificial surface,’ ‘artificial turf.’ Don’t the pants; fronts look fitted with codpieces? And have a look at these men whacking each other’s asses after a play. It is like Swinburne sat down on his soul’s darkest night and designed an organized sport. And pay no attention to Orin’s defense of football as a ritualized substitute for armed conflict. Armed conflict is plenty ritualized on its own, and since we have real armed conflict (take a spin through Boston’s Roxbury and Mattapan districts some evening) there is no need or purpose for a substitute. Football is pure homophobically repressed nancy-ism, and do not let O. tell you different.”
–Infinite Jest p.1047

It’s like straight out of a pop culture and critical theory class in 1992, except they tended to deconstruct wrestling more often. Good, good times.
Happy American homoeroticism day, football fans.

David Foster Wallace

In grad school, the professors wouldn’t let me write my thesis on Infinite Jest because none of them had read it, and when they saw that it topped 1100 pages (I don’t have my copy to give you precise numbers, I just moved and don’t have anything in the fridge and need to go shopping but can’t get past a long day of running around after a toddler with a heart heavy from the pain of DFW’s death thudding around in my stomach, and am not in the best mood, so bear with me on estimates) of densely packed text and endnotes sheer rambling genius, they balked at the workload reading both his novel and my thesis would bring to their carefully balanced lives.

I resented their laziness. Then I changed topics and vowed one day to write an erudite lit-crit analysis of the text. Especially because Wallace excelled at but distrusted literary criticism. But shite happened and I haven’t gotten around to it.

I blogged about a month ago that I felt disconnected from the world when I realized Kurt Vonnegut Jr. had been dead for three days before I knew. It was as though my sadness didn’t count any more because I had missed the window.

This time, the world rotated twice before I knew DFW died. The announcement rocked me to the core but didn’t change my day. And that, itself, saddens me because it means my life is so shifted off its base that the shockingly early death of one of my top five creative inspirations doesn’t even rate a schedule change. The rest of my week, though, shuddered and sputtered as the implications of his death sunk in.

And I don’t know what to say. I’ve known for two days and I don’t know what to say. (Updating this weeks later, I’m still not done processing my grief.) His writing changed me. I saw him speak once (thanks MPB and SBB) and his speaking did not change me. The creepy cult curiously smarmy cadre of followers did not change me. I was rarely tempted to quit my job and run off to Pomona to be his student, because I didn’t feel any need to be connected with him personally. I didn’t want to be taught by him or to talk with him or to write for him. I wanted to read his work.

And now there won’t be more.

I may be silly to feel his death as a weighty presence in my life. The man himself had no presence in my life. His characters, their actions, their idiosyncrasies, their seismically surreal lives had a transient presence in my life. But all I have to do is recall the cover of his weighty novel and I can again touch the intellectual dance of reading it. I can feel my hunger for more as I read myself bleary-eyed for the entire summer of 1997 (I was busy in the summer of 1996. I didn’t pick up IJ because of the grant. I picked it up because I wanted a book that would ensure nobody would talk to me on BART, a la The Accidental Tourist. But I loved it intensely then, and would love to reread it now.) I can feel my connection and revulsion and confusion at Wallace’s characters every time someone says his name.

And I want more. I’m angry and disappointed that there won’t be more.

I loved his lobster piece for Gourmet magazine. I love that he took the job, puzzled at the pop cultural status that brought him such tangential work, and I loved his rambling thoroughness. I loved that he came to the conclusion that it’s just not okay to boil creatures alive.

I haven’t read the obits. I don’t even know how he died. (I found out later and wrote a horrible post on this blog, of which I am embarrassed but which I will not erase.) I don’t care how he died. This is not a Jeff Buckley story or a Kurt Cobain story or a River Phoenix story. I wish I knew what kind of story this is. All I know is that the woot from Sept. 16 made me feel all too keenly that nobody will take DFW’s place.

And now all I can think is, I hope all you bastard literary canon snobs will read his work, because you missed the boat the first time. When I write my PhD dissertation on his work and one of you lazy self preserving pricks says you haven’t read it, I will produce all the contemporary fiction on the shelves and say, “well, it’s better than and worse than and different than this….And it’s all we have left.”

The Macarthur grant bit always forces the genius label. I don’t know that he was genius. I just know I really love reading his writing. I don’t even know that I love his writing itself. I love the experience of reading it. And that is the ultimate compliment for an author. I don’t even love your work, man. I just love what it does to my head.

We’re all going to miss you, and our minds are poorer now that yours is silent. I hope, at least, that the pain is gone.