O Captain! My Captain!
I just find myself dazed, from time to time, with pieces of information that stay with me forever. The “problem” is that they are either deeply sad or very intriguing. Never funny things, or rarely.
For example, I recently read on brainpickings.org that David Foster Wallace, while corresponding with Brian Garner, used ocapmycap@ as his email address. It is related to Walt Whitman’s poem O Captain! My Captain ! on the death of Abraham Lincoln.
You may know it better from the film Dead Poets Society, as Robin Williams asked his students to call him O Captain, my Captain!
What hit me is that both Robin Williams and David Foster Wallace killed themselves. Of course, there is no relation between them and the poem but, it is just one of those sad and strange things, all together, that stayed with me after reading it.
But, this is not the tone I want for my newsletter and, definitely, David Foster Wallace should not be remembered for this. As his wife, the artist Karen Green said, his death "turned him into a celebrity writer dude which would have made him wince, the good part of him'".
I like his personal story, probably more than his other stories! (Maybe you will think that this is not a compliment for a writer but he was one of a kind).
I read 20+ of his interviews (gathered in the below book) and I cannot recommend it enough.
I also leave some of his thoughts here, secretly hoping to « influence » you to read it/his writings1:
US viewers relationship with TV is essentially puerile and dependent, as are all relationships based on seduction.(...)
We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with characters’ pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside. It might be just that simple. But now realize that TV and popular film and most kinds of “low” art- which just means art whose primary aim is to make money- is lucrative precisely because it recognizes that audiences prefer 100 percent pleasure to reality that tends to be 49 percent pleasure and 51 percent pain. whereas “serious” art, which is not primarily about getting money out of you, is more apt to make you uncomfortable, or to force you to work hard to access its pleasures, the same way that in real life true pleasure is usually a by-product of hard work and discomfort. So, it’s hard for an art audience, especially a young one that’s been raised to expect art to be 100 percent pleasurable and to make that pleasure effortless, to read and appreciate serious fiction”
The project that’s worth trying is to do stuff that has some of the richness and challenge and emotional and intellectual difficulty of avant-garde literary stuff, stuff that makes the reader confront things rather than ignore them, but to do them in such a way that it’s also pleasurable to read. The reader feels like someone is talking to him rather than striking a number of poses.
For me, it worked quite well to start with his interviews, and then move to his non fictional essays. If time (and baby allows :)) I will start his novels for which he is such an acclaimed author. (Infinite Jest and The broom of the system, only to name 2 that are on my list).
I just finished- Consider the lobster and other essays (caption below). Some of them are actually the long versions, before editors cut, of the articles he published in various magazines.
I absolutely loved:
his review of John Updike book “Toward the End if time”. The essay is called “ Certainly the end of something’’. You can guess the direction of his essay :) I just quote something here:
“Toward the End of Time” concerns an extremely erudite, successful, narcissistic, and sex-obsessed retired guy who is keeping a one-year journal in which he explores the apocalyptic prospect of his own death. Toward the End of Time is also, of the let’s say two dozen Updike books I’ve read, far and away the worst, a novel so clunky and self-indulgent that it’s hard to believe the author let it be published in this kind of shape.
I enjoyed “Consider the lobster” about the morality of consuming lobsters. It was an article written for Gourmet magazine, in which he covered the 2003 edition of Maine Lobster Festival. The most important question that he asks is “Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?”. Being a vegan myself, of course it resonated with me!
If the above is not convincing, in the same book you can also find an essay about his experience as a correspondent at AVN awards ( AVN aka Adult Video News awards). Top of the top of the porn industry…lol
I am currently reading “A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again’’.
In the title essay, he is writing about his experience on a Caribbean luxury cruise ship. It’s funny because I see the cruise ships here (including Celebrity Cruise line, like the one he is writing about) and I was thinking actually embarking on one. But, after finishing reading his essay, for sure it will be
a supposedly fun thing I will probably never do!!! haha
get used to reading the footnotes. When it comes to DFW, reading the footnotes is a must. Often is where the magic happens!!!