The Howling Fantods

David Foster Wallace News and Resources Since March 97

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The Insufficient Impracticality of David Foster Wallace

Brutish & Short have posted a review/overview, of All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly, The Insufficient Impracticality of David Foster Wallace. The book contains a chapter about DFW, David Foster Wallace's Nihilism (which you can preview via
Part two and part three added.
From the review:
[...] To get a handle on the modern experience of doubt, and to strengthen their claim that this is a serious problem, the authors turn to David Foster Wallace (“greatest writer of his generation”) and Elizabeth Gilbert (reigning “chick lit queen”). They chose these two for three principal reasons:
  1. Both writers’ work has obviously resonated within the culture;
  2. Both have openly reckoned with the existential doubt Dreyfus and Kelly are concerned with; and
  3. Both claim to understand the writer’s task as showing the way out from our current entropic darkness to the light of a renewed sense of meaning.
On #3, it’s quite clear that in this task, Wallace, at least, failed spectacularly. The authors’ gambit though, is that we can learn something from the way that he failed. This is a risky line of inquiry, considering where it took “perhaps the greatest mind [of his generation] altogether.” A reader might reasonably ask themselves if they want to join the authors in this investigation. Why did I answer in the affirmative? Because of the humility and capacity for delight I mentioned above—wherever Wallace’s trail took him, Dreyfus survived.
So where did Wallace take him? As the authors understand him, Wallace sees the problem as being not only that we don’t know how to live meaningful lives, but that we can’t even focus long enough to really grasp the question. We’re distracted by the specter of a happiness resulting from “perfect entertainment.” We’re drawn to pursue this happiness, but while we might recognize that the pursuit “eviscerates” us, the promise of perfection is impossible to resist. Sounds like the addict, no?
Assuming he’s right, and we’re all hopelessly addicted to the pursuit of this perfect distraction, being eviscerated is a given, and is therefore what we have to learn to deal with. But what does this evisceration look like? Crippling anxiety from which the only refuge is a torturous boring world of senseless, relentless banality (boring especially in contrast to the imagined utopia of the perfect distraction). So how do we deal with the choice between crippling anxiety and tortuous boredom? [...]
Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 March 2011 02:10