Infinite Summer

Formed in the summer of 2009 to read David Foster Wallace's masterwork "Infinite Jest".
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 Post subject: Re: Mostly Male Perspectives: Why?
PostPosted: Thu Jul 23, 2009 7:03 pm 
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I love that this is a thread, and not that there needs to be a "flaw" to this book that is wildly ambitious and achieves so so much (I am reminded nearly every day as I read through for the second time), but it is yes more than a little clear that a male perspective dominates here*. Hal/Orin/Mario/Don Gately even M Pemulis seem so alive to me in a way that the women do not. Avril, Madame Psychosis, Kate Gompert don't quite live for me, except through a mostly male vision (all are described repeatedly in sexual/physical terms--which is likely not how they see themselves--and one particular descriptive comparison of Avril as a no longer ripe fruit to Joelle the ripe fruit had me cringing. Which I rarely do, or at least not in that way. But I did. Sorry).

I don't see it as a huge problem, but you know, it is a limit. And I think it's interesting that Brief Interviews With Hideous Men seems to take up this limit and push it to another level entirely. As in, the audience is a woman. Explicitly. The Object/Subject thing is explored in more depth. If you haven't read that, I HIGHLY recommend reading it after you've finished IJ. It was (I think?) his next book, and it seems to me a clear, complicated and sometimes scary progression (in terms of sexual/gender politics) beyond what he's doing here.



*It's funny, I once tried to posit DFW the incarnation of V Woolf's "androgynous writer" which she theorized about in A Room of One's Own. Because I feel like there is an openness there--but when it comes to IJ, it just doesn't work.


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 Post subject: Re: Mostly Male Perspectives: Why?
PostPosted: Sat Jul 25, 2009 9:47 am 
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I agree, repat ... the fidelity and candor with which Wallace dissected male perspectives were so off-the-charts--isn't that enough? It is for me.

He was so resolutely observant and so truthful that the personal stuff he wrote about is just bursting with genius, whereas his views on being a woman, or on, say, childrearing, you know ... things he hadn't experienced firsthand, are more like simmering with genius rather than supernova-exploding with it.

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 Post subject: Re: Mostly Male Perspectives: Why?
PostPosted: Sat Jul 25, 2009 6:28 pm 
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I was disappointed that there don't seem to be any female Crocodiles in AA, the Crocodile types that DFW describes appear to have a gruffly nurturing quality that I can see made the less seasoned AA's feel safe. It's interesting that that nurturing cannot be found in old, seasoned women in DFW's AA. It's hard to even picture this in real life. A sort of picture of defeminizing haggardness comes to mind when you think of a female addict or alcoholic who is an old hand at recovery, rather than a faceful of "character". I'm not so sure why it has to be this way, it's a reflection of the differences in what we value in each specific gender. Maybe someone here sees things differently or has been in an AA where there are females who are the equivalent of the Crocs in IJ?


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 Post subject: Re: Mostly Male Perspectives: Why?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 31, 2009 3:09 pm 
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It also seems to me that it's mostly guys who read DFW, who are on the list-serve and message boards/blogs, who constitute the emerging serious scholars and, generally, love the guy. I'm fascinated by this.

Any thoughts on his great and disproportionate appeal to men?


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 Post subject: Re: Mostly Male Perspectives: Why?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 31, 2009 4:13 pm 
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thisiswater wrote:
It also seems to me that it's mostly guys who read DFW, who are on the list-serve and message boards/blogs, who constitute the emerging serious scholars and, generally, love the guy. I'm fascinated by this.

Any thoughts on his great and disproportionate appeal to men?


I'm not a man. I'm reading the book with two friends, one male and one female. We started out with three females and one male. I've been to the NYC group twice and both times the women outnumbered the men. So maybe New York is an anomaly.


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 Post subject: Re: Mostly Male Perspectives: Why?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 31, 2009 6:39 pm 
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dioramaorama wrote:
thisiswater wrote:
It also seems to me that it's mostly guys who read DFW, who are on the list-serve and message boards/blogs, who constitute the emerging serious scholars and, generally, love the guy. I'm fascinated by this.

Any thoughts on his great and disproportionate appeal to men?


I'm not a man. I'm reading the book with two friends, one male and one female. We started out with three females and one male. I've been to the NYC group twice and both times the women outnumbered the men. So maybe New York is an anomaly.


And I'm not a man!

The thing is though, I agree. When I first heard of DFW maybe at the height of the initial IJ hypemachine moment, I was in NYC, and like everyone/anyone I knew reading IJ was a guy. A guy who had majored in English and was a huge Pynchon fan. I wasn't a Pynchon fan, though I had majored in English (Faulkner/Woolf) but I'm allergic to hype...so I didn't read it right away. But then a year or two or later I read The Depressed Person, and then some Brief Interview stuff (in Paris Review) and I was like, shit. This is something else. His ability to discuss/give voice to ideas about depression/mental illness/the treatment of depression (women, after all, disproportionately swell the ranks of psych patients)--not to mention his take on male/female relations--well, yeah.

But then in grad school I gathered that his biggest fans were men, fanboys, and a lot of them loved him for maybe different reasons than I did. But by that time, many women had come to love him, too. Women of my generation (born in the seventies) anyway. Though I now have older women colleagues who even teach his stuff. I think his concern for a female perspective--limitations notwithstanding--is enormous and powerful. Hence, Kate Gompert. And The Depressed Person.

(I think Michiko Kakutani using the word "misogynist" in a review didn't help, either. Though I think she was wrong.)

I guess my point (I lost it somewhere, sorry) is that his fan base is probably spread out among men and women. Though the initial fan base was certainly male-dominated. (And all of this is purely anecdotal/speculative, you'll forgive me ;)

(I don't know: is the Sylvia Plath/Virginia Woolf fan base female-dominated? I'd guess so. Is it that basic, on some level? Voice, gender-identification, etc.)


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 Post subject: Re: Mostly Male Perspectives: Why?
PostPosted: Thu Aug 06, 2009 8:08 pm 
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Quote:
(I don't know: is the Sylvia Plath/Virginia Woolf fan base female-dominated? I'd guess so. Is it that basic, on some level? Voice, gender-identification, etc.)


Definitely! I'm older and remember the Plath/Woolf mania when I was in college - all female. Can any of us remember a single male of "adored" either of these writers.

That's another topic but I hope DFW's work doesn't fall prey to the kind of worshipful romanticism Plath's and Woolf's did *because* of their respective suicides.

I'm a woman too and I fell hard for DFW when I was a new mother feeling totally brain dead. DFW brought my brain back to life when I was really one big animal body! I needed the balance. And the reprieve.


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 Post subject: Re: Mostly Male Perspectives: Why?
PostPosted: Thu Aug 06, 2009 10:32 pm 
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Okay I'll jump in to the tangential goings-on and quote the all-female band Bikini Kill from the 90's:
"The Sylvia Plath story is told to girls who write/They want us to think that to be a girl poet/Means you have to die" The writer of these lyrics would have been in high school and college about ten years after me. When I was in high school, in the mid-70's in the Boston area, I was encouraged, I suppose as a student who was writing poetry myself, to look into Ann Sexton and Sylvia Plath. Why, because they were women poets, Massachusetts poets, or because they were poets that killed themselves. I can't help thinking the draw for the female teacher and for lots of people at the time was that they were women who killed themselves. Apparently, this wasn't unique to my high school.

I can't imagine that this would happen with a male high school student, that a teacher would recommend DFW to him because he was a suicide. Even if he had been a phenomenon back when I went to school.


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 Post subject: Re: Mostly Male Perspectives: Why?
PostPosted: Fri Aug 07, 2009 5:49 pm 
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thisiswater wrote:
That's another topic but I hope DFW's work doesn't fall prey to the kind of worshipful romanticism Plath's and Woolf's did *because* of their respective suicides.

I'm a woman too and I fell hard for DFW when I was a new mother feeling totally brain dead. DFW brought my brain back to life when I was really one big animal body! I needed the balance. And the reprieve.



I'm pretty sure it has already happened, the "worshipful romanticism"--isn't that part of the reason this whole IS thing is happening? Why there was a surge in sales, etc? Yes, another topic. Sigh.

And yeah, I re-read a lot of DFW after I had a baby. I think he was deeply concerned with the maternal, whether or not he could accurately give voice to it as a perspective. Adn yes--the ignition of brain power...I know what you mean.


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 Post subject: Re: Mostly Male Perspectives: Why?
PostPosted: Fri Aug 07, 2009 5:59 pm 
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OneBigParty wrote:
Okay I'll jump in to the tangential goings-on and quote the all-female band Bikini Kill from the 90's:
"The Sylvia Plath story is told to girls who write/They want us to think that to be a girl poet/Means you have to die" The writer of these lyrics would have been in high school and college about ten years after me. When I was in high school, in the mid-70's in the Boston area, I was encouraged, I suppose as a student who was writing poetry myself, to look into Ann Sexton and Sylvia Plath. Why, because they were women poets, Massachusetts poets, or because they were poets that killed themselves. I can't help thinking the draw for the female teacher and for lots of people at the time was that they were women who killed themselves. Apparently, this wasn't unique to my high school.

I can't imagine that this would happen with a male high school student, that a teacher would recommend DFW to him because he was a suicide. Even if he had been a phenomenon back when I went to school.


Thanks for the Bikini Kill quote. It's so complicated because at the same time, Sylvia Plath (and once in a while Sexton) was an amazing poet/writer/thinker. And definitely worth reading. But that she became a model of female resistance is, um, problematic. And then, among my students now, The Bell Jar gave way to Girl, Interrupted. Girls still love this stuff, for all sorts of reasons. I mean, let's face it, on some level a suicide is a kind of manifest scream of resistance to all that should be resisted & protested. Susan Sontag has this:

Quote:
The culture-heroes of our liberal bourgeois civilization are anti-liberal and anti-bourgeois; they are writers who are repetitive, obsessive, and impolite, who impress by force—not simply by their tone of personal authority and by their intellectual ardor, but by the sense of acute personal and intellectual extremity. The bigots, the hysterics, the destroyers of the self—these are the writers who bear witness to the fearful polite time in which we live...Ours is an age which consciously pursues health, and yet only believes in the reality of sickness. The truths we respect are those born of affliction. We measure truth in terms of the cost to the writers in suffering...Each of our truths must have a martyr.


I re-read this earlier this summer, from her essay on Simone Weil, and couldn't help but think of DFW.


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