1. On one of the early pages of Infinite Jest, Wallace uses the old-fashioned word “twitter”.32 This of course triggered a number of jokes in the forums (and on Twitter, of course) that DFW had even predicted social networking. Ha ha.
Except today I’m not so sure he didn’t.
2. There is an almost unbearable (for the author) amount of time between the day the manuscript is “finished” and the day it is published. I’m not sure when Wallace handed in the complete manuscript to Little Brown, but with a book as big as Infinite Jest–both in terms of heft and hype–you could easily expect a couple of birthdays to pass through the edits and the copyedits and the sales efforts and the marketing push. This period can be pretty anxious for writers, and one of the fears that can obsess a novelist during this time is that some part of his book he thinks particularly clever or original is going to be preempted by a similar plot or character or conceit in another book, film, or TV show. Or real life, even. When you spend years working on the same project everything about it, no matter how innovative, begins to feel obvious and banal to you. If you hear an author pull out that old cliché about worrying he’ll be “exposed as a fraud” it’s a good bet somebody interviewed him after he could no longer make changes to a manuscript but before his novel had actually been published.
3. I was reading the Madame Psychosis section and this bit caused me to stop for a sec:
There’s no telling what’ll be up on a given night. If there’s one even remotely consistent theme it’s maybe film and film-cartridges. Early and (mostly Italian) neorealist and (mostly German) expressionist celluloid film. Never New Wave. Thumbs-up on Peterson/Broughton and Dali/ Buñuel and -down on Deren/Hammid. Passionate about Antonioni’s slower stuff and some Russian guy named Tarkovsky. Sometimes Ozu and Bresson. Odd affection for the hoary dramaturgy of one Sir Herbert Tree. Bizarre Kaelesque admiration for goremeisters Peckinpah, De Palma, Tarantino. Positively poisonous on the subject of Fellini’s 8 1/2. Exceptionally conversant w/r/t avant-garde celluloid and avant- and apres-garde digital cartridges, anti-confluential cinema, Brutalism, Found Drama, etc.
I thought, rather casually, “How did Tarantino get in there?”
Not because he doesn’t belong. In 2009 (or in the Y.D.A.U.) you would nod at that reference without giving it a thought. But when Pulp Fiction came out in the fall of 1994, Infinite Jest was less than 18 months away from publication, and the manuscript had to have been more or less complete. Before the sensation of that film, Tarantino was certainly on many lists of young directors to watch, but he wasn’t on anybody’s auteur radar yet.
So I’m assuming Tarantino’s name was probably a late addition to the manuscript. Probably no more meaningful than Wallace wanting his references to be as updated as possible. 33
4. I’m not exactly sure what Wallace thought of Tarantino, but shortly after the publication of Infinite Jest, Wallace wrote a profile of film director David Lynch. 34 I remember reading it at the time (and especially DFW’s hilarious rant about his personal dislike for the actor Balthazar Getty) because I’m a big Lynch fan. In it Wallace talks about the unacknowledged debt Tarantino owes to Lynch.
Tarantino has made as much of a career out of ripping off Lynch as he has out of converting French New Wave film into commercially palatable U.S. paste….In a way, what Tarantino has done with the French New Wave and with Lynch is what Pat Boone did with rhythm and blues: He’s found (ingeniously) a way to take what is ragged and distinctive and menacing about their work and homogenize it, churn it until it’s smooth and cool and hygienic enough for mass consumption. Reservoir Dogs, for example, with its comically banal lunch chatter, creepily otiose code names, and intrusive soundtrack of campy pop from decades past, is a Lynch movie made commercial, i.e., fast, linear, and with what was idiosyncratically surreal now made fashionably (i.e., “hiply”) surreal….Or consider the granddaddy of in-your-ribs Blue Velvet references: the scene in Reservoir Dogs in which Michael Madsen, dancing to a cheesy ’70s Top 40 tune, cuts off a hostage’s ear-I mean, think about it.]
So maybe he didn’t like him much. Actually, beyond these comments I don’t know what DFW thought of Tarantino, but the general critical rap against QT–that the excessive violence in his films celebrates nihilism and that the infinitely reflexive references to other movies, while fun, tend to elevate the trivial–would seem to be right in the crosshairs of Infinite Jest. The following is Wallace speaking about IJ in an interview with Bookworm’s Michael Silverblatt, also from 1996:
“So far it seems as if people think it really is sort of a book about drug addiction and recovery and, you know, intentional fallacies notwithstanding, what was really going on in my head was something more general like what you were talking about before, that there is a kind — that some of the sadness that it seems to me kind of infuses the culture right now has to do with this loss of purpose or organizing principles, something you’re willing to give yourself away to, basically. And that the addictive impulse, which is very much kind of in the cultural air right now, is interesting and powerful only because it’s a kind of obvious distortion of kind of a religious impulse or an impulse to be part of something bigger. And, you know, the stuff at the academy is kind of weird because, yeah, it’s very high-tech and it’s very “become technically better so you can achieve x, y, and z,” but also the guy who essentially runs the academy now is a fascist, and, whether it comes out or not, he’s really the only one there who to me is saying anything that’s even remotely non-horrifying, except it is horrifying because he’s a fascist. And part of the whole — part of the stuff that was rattling around in my head when I was doing this is that it seems to me that one of the scary things about sort of the nihilism of contemporary culture is that we’re really setting ourselves up for fascism. Because as we empty more and more kind of values, motivating principles, spiritual principles, almost, out of the culture, we’re creating a hunger that eventually is going to drive us to the sort of state where we may accept fascism just because — you know, the nice thing about fascists is they’ll tell you what to think, they’ll tell you what to do–they’ll tell you what’s important.”
I happen to love Tarantino, so I could be part of the problem. Which brings me to
5. The front page of this morning’s35 Chicago Trib business section is almost entirely dedicated to the story of Dave Carroll, who wrote a song about how a United Airlines baggage handler broke the neck of his guitar. Carroll posted a video on YouTube and thanks to Twitter and Facebook almost 3 million people have watched it in just a couple weeks and now United is donating a few grand in his name to charity. Certainly I’m happy for the dude. The song is pretty catchy and yay for the little guy striking a blow to humongous indifferent corporations. But airlines break shit all the time.36 One of them lost my kid’s car seat over the Fourth. This can’t be the most important business story of the day. And it’s not just this story because if I were writing this next Tuesday it would be some other online obsession of the week sprawled all over Page One and I would have already forgotten about this guy’s guitar. More and more news reporting seems to be increasingly Twitter- and Facebook-based. I’m not talking about protesters Tweeting from Iran, which is actually newsworthy, but it’s Ashton vs. CNNBRK, and an Australian TV network says Jeff Goldblum is dead because somebody tweeted it and oh my Demi got fooled by that rumor too, and look this homely British person is a surprisingly good singer, and in yet another section of today’s actual paper–the actual newsy news section even–there’s a story about lifestreamers (or lifecasters) as well as a woman who spends seven hours a day on social networking sites, a woman so addicted to social networking that she wants to Twitter as she walks down the aisle at her wedding and the more we Twitter the more the actual news is about how much we’re all Twittering, and when I think about how much time we (me too) spend on this stuff and how much of the shared experience of our culture is just completely disposable and pointless it really does make me sad and at just that moment I’m reading this book and I also come across that interview and what he says strikes me as just so true it makes my stomach hurt.
6. I don’t mean this to be an anti social networking rant. It’s not these particular tools that are to blame. If anything they are newfangled thermometers that are helping to measure our fever. I’m grateful that Facebook allows me to stay in touch with people who were once very important in my life and who would otherwise be completely absent. And I find Twitter to be incredibly useful. I was captivated with it during the Iranian protests and had great fun a few months ago using Twitter to follow the Edgar Awards37 in real time. Even this project would not be anything like what it is without Facebook and Twitter especially, and if I understand the success of Infinite Summer correctly it is about the desire of a group of people to have a shared, cultural experience that is actually kind of meaningful. There really is a void there and because we fill it too often with shit that is just disposable and endlessly self-referential and auto-deleting the maw constantly needs feeding.
The problem is not the seductive addiction of social networks or the laziness of the news media but the deepening cultural void Wallace identified 13 years ago. And right now I’m grateful that this particular book feels big enough to temporarily fill the hole.
At least until August 21 when Inglorious Basterds comes out.