Sunday, 28 June 2009

Infinite Summer: Morbid? Culturally Imperial? Morbidly Culturally Imperial? Am I alone in finding the whole idea of Infinite Summer a little morbid? The renewed interest in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is an obvious Good Thing—a first step toward popular as well as academic canonization—but having lived through the recent Michael Jackson Media Event, I can’t help but wonder whether the desire to read Wallace’s novel is akin downloading Thriller because Some Important Someone died. Do I sound like I’m thwacking some straw man with shovel? Because I’m not: I have a confession to make. I don’t even like David Foster Wallace. And I don’t mean that I found Infinite Jest too lengthy on the first run-through. I mean his accessible stuff. His tales from cruise ships and lobster festivals and tennis matches and radio studios . . . So why am I here? The short answer is that David Foster Wallace died. That’s Ezra Klein, writing at A Supposedly Fun Blog. I’m not complaining because famous bloggers (Matthew Yglesias and Julian Sanchez among them) are horning in on my territory—although I will note that the first thing I ever published online was a mediocre seminar paper titled “Demand and the Appearance of Freedom: The Role of Corporate Media in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest,” but only just to note it—nor, despite the above, am I really even complaining that Klein’s interest was piqued by Foster Wallace’s suicide, as a more charitable excerpt shows his interest to be far less morbid: The slightly longer answer is that David Foster Wallace died and I cared. That was, to me, a surprise. Lots of people die. Just the other day, Ed McMahon died. It hardly registered. But Wallace was different. I read everything I could about his final days. I posted a memoriam on my site. I watched readings on YouTube. It affected me. I don’t know if it’s because he was a young writer who was felled by the violent bubble and froth of his own mind and that a small part of me relates to that. I don’t know if it’s because he was, in some way, unique to my generation, and as such, one of my own. In the end, what’s interesting about the 25-year-old Klein’s post about the 46-year-old Foster Wallace’s novel is the notion that someone who was 18 years old when the Clash first performed in America and someone who was 18 years old the year Joe Strummer died can be said to belong to the same generation. How does that work? I’m tempted to blame it on the Internet: Once you could identify someone’s taste by the cut of their concert tee—London Calling vs. Combat Rock, The Clash vs. Operation Ivy, Operation Ivy vs. Rancid, &c.—now that all these these bands (mostly) belong to the past tense, they’re part of that enormous cultural pool from which more recent generations sample freely. For example, someone Klein’s age will never experience the pain of the endless, fruitless search for something like the first Clash album...

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