The Pale King approacheth

It took me a while to read the reviews of the soon-to-be-released David Foster Wallace novel The Pale King. I think I am the only academic who has cried at the two conferences I’ve attended where Wallace papers were presented. I might be the only contemporary literature scholar who is not eagerly anticipating the arrival of his final novel.

And I’ve been saying that since Michael Pietsch announced that Little Brown would be publishing whatever he could agglomerate of Wallace’s final, incomplete work. (Quick note: I am of the school that Pietsch and Green knew and loved Wallace and his work well enough to know whether they had enough to publish and honor the art and artist. I find it ludicrous that some people are alleging that this novel is about cashing in or commodifying Wallace’s death. Those people should, with no respect due, shut their pie holes.)

But I digress (so you don’t remember I’m the one crying when someone reviews a book I haven’t read yet. Ahem.)

I feel like an ass admitting that I cry every time someone mentions the upcoming book. I feel like a dolt blogging about it. But such is my asinine doltishness. See also my asinine doltish posts on parenting, scholarship, flotsam, and jetsam.

I read one sentence into the Esquire review of The Pale King and burst into tears. After two more tries (a couple of days apart) I actually made it through the glowing, bowing, scraping, and genuflecting review.

Now I might actually read the book. Who can turn down a text that Publisher’s Weekly calls “one hell of a document and a valiant tribute to the late Wallace, being, as it is, a transfixing and hyper-literate descent into relentless, inescapable despair and soul-negating boredom”? Not me. Already transfixed by boredom and relentless despair. To have that frustration and what’s-it-all-for anxiety narrated by my favorite author?

Sign. Me. Up.

Alsup alleges, in his Esquire review, that The Pale King might keep you up at night because “because D.F.W. writes sentences and sometimes whole pages that make you feel like you can’t breathe.” That is true, sir. That’s why I absolutely devour Infinite Jest each time I read it. That’s why I still wince at the pain of knowing David Foster Wallace isn’t writing any more. And I wince a bit with fear that The Pale King will be as uneven and good-but-uninspired as I found Oblivion.

If I read this novel, I need it to be earth shifting. I need it to top Infinite Jest. I need it to be a gift befitting DFW.

And that’s an unreasonable request, especially for an unfinished work.

That, probably, more than the sadness that lingers about his death, is why I don’t want to read The Pale King.

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IJ quotes of the day 44

“Gately shrugs at the Nucks like he’s got no choice but to be here” (611).

Oh, Don. Of all the mythological pathos. Really? For Lenz? I haven’t read a character in a long time that I actually believed was a damned fine human being.

While we’re at it, in the damned fine human being category, I need to address what I feel is the book’s most important (spoiler-line-limited) line. Sorry to all the Infinite Summer participants who’ve seen this from me on the forum. But in light of the novel’s purpose for locating a post-postmodernism in the heart of something anti-ironic and genuine and human and painfully real, and in light of This is Water and the Kenyon commencement, 592 strikes me as intensely important.

“The older Mario gets, the more confused he gets about the fact that everyone at E.T.A. over the age of about Kent Blott finds stuff that’s really real uncomfortable and they get embarrassed. it’s like there’s some rule that real stuff can only get mentioned if everybody rolls their eyes or laughs in a way that isn’t happy” (592).

Between Gately’s honesty about hitting his knees every night to beg the ceiling for something because he can’t believe in anything but the ritual and Mario’s transcendental human beauty, I am even more moved by this novel the second time than I was the first. Because the drugs and the Entertainment and the tennis and the horrible demappings are all secondary to the intensely important project of moving beyond poststructuralist dehumanizing Lacanian Derridean postmodern posing into art that is, at its core, a beating heart.

Writers’ deaths are the new nihilism

It seems the steady cadence of writers’ bodies dropping into their coffins is the most recent lash strike with which layers of the modern world structures—the steady sense of self and reliability of at least a few things our culture used to believe in—are falling to a postmodern erosion, a whittling away in which there is no new path or understanding revealed.

Writers are leaving us, and there is no clear sense of what will be next, what will happen to our art, words, and lives. This is reality; this is postmodern nihilism. And this is what Cornel West calls the “lived experience of coping with a life of horrifying meaninglessness, hopelessness, and (most important) lovelessness.”

Goodbye, Vonnegut. Goodbye Updike. And, postmodern reality help us, goodbye David Foster Wallace.

At the risk of sounding modernist, what comes next? I know Updike’s death today isn’t eschatological (I didn’t even like his books), but still…

(For tonight, I foresee a healthy dose of Counting Crows and Ben Folds. Morose, surreal, and evocative beauty soothes in just such a situation.)