Thursday, 02 July 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...
And the Award for Missing the Point goes to… . . . Brent Bozell, of the ironically named “Media Research Center,” who refuted Oliver Stone’s comment that “Nixon always said Reagan was a dumb son of a bitch” by quoting a number of prominent figures in Reagan’s administration who thought Reagan was really smart: I turned to Frank Donatelli, the White House Political Director under President Reagan from 1987 through 1989 . . . Richard Allen, Reagan’s National Security Advisor . . . [and] Gary Bauer[, the] Domestic Policy Advisor under the Gipper for two years[.] All of them agreed that real “dumb son of a bitch” was Stone, who—according Bozell in a letter addressed to Stone—is an historian because he once claimed to be: Some producer [of Comedy Central's Politically Incorrect] really thought in extremes when they pitted Oliver Stone and Brent Bozell for one episode. I have to say that you were gracious, charming, engaging, and we enjoyed ourselves—except for that moment when I chastised you for claiming you’re an historian. You bristled and denied ever claming that moniker. I cited the source, an interview in some West Coast paper (I can’t recall which one now). Even though Bozell can’t remember the name of the paper, he somehow managed to re-read the article later and [i]t turns out that you were right (in the article) and I was wrong. So Bozell was wrong, Stone never claimed to be an historian, but that doesn’t mean Bozell wasn’t also right: You are an historian whether you believe it or not. You make films about history and historical figures. You record history, and that makes you an historian. Now that Bozell, through the cunning use of italics, has transformed Stone into an historian, he can finally slam him good and proper: Being an historian is not the problem. It’s that you’re a lousy historian. In short, Stone isn’t what he never claimed to be, but is what Bozell says he is, and a lousy one at that. The evidence: “Nixon always said Reagan was a dumb son of a bitch,” you said, and the audience laughed, and you smiled and decided to take that statement further by agreeing with it. So you said, “You know, I think that he was,” and the audience now cheered and hooted and applauded. See what I mean when I say you’re a lousy historian? There are two claims being made here: one, that Nixon thought Reagan was a dumb son of a bitch; two, that Oliver Stone thinks Reagan was a dumb son of a bitch. Unfortunately for Bozell, Nixon illegally taped every conversation he ever had, and when we consult his conversations with Henry Kissenger on the morning of November 17, 1971 [620a.mp3], we learn that while Nixon didn’t use those exact words—about Reagan, at least, since we know he used that particular phrase about everyone from the Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, to the Director of the Secret Service, James Rowley, to one of his own White House aides, Tom Charles Huston—he...

Become a Fan

Recent Comments