DFW, Bellow, Pessoa, etc. [EndJan2011, post no.200]

In reading, a lonely quiet concert is given to our minds; all our mental faculties will be present in this symphonic exaltation.  ~ Stéphane Mallarmé


[download this blog post as pdf here EndJan2011_DFW_Bllrd_Pessoa]

I’m reading early David Foster Wallace and the overpowering genius is on full, evident display: scintillating set-pieces that weave and climax like a mountain covered in a wheat field, diamond-cut dialogue and language games that let you play along for the recursive hell of it. I am meaning “Broom of the System”, which he, to the best of my sources, wrote around the age of 23 or 24, being blessed with a disgusting amount of talent. With a certain dismay I think back to what I used to write back then [and of course even now]. I suppose everybody cannot be as childish and ludic as my hapless self. Thank the Great Ohio Desert.

The scene of exorbese Norman Bombardini eating nine steaks is almost too good to bear – he wants to gorge himself until his adipose mass fills out the entire universe, with certain small cosmic corners reserved for esteemed, significant others. And the first dialogue between Lenore S. B. and her incompetent psychiatrist is a semantic snake that eats its tail to the n-th degree.

What stands out is that even back then in his salad days, it seems to me, he had a severe dislike of cynicism. Which must be quite a hard stance to maintain in face of all the omnipresent college hipsterism. How to survive the insecurities of adolescence and young adulthood without irony as the rhetorical tool of first and last resort?

• • •

Irony/Cynicism bringing me to the next bulletpointed[1] issue. I have begun reading Ballard’s “The Drowned World” and will shortly plunge into Updike’s “Rabbit, Run” [or maybe not?]. I have never really had any interest in Updike. Partly, I’ll admit, because of the soul-bludgeoning cover art of the German translations and the breathless enthusiasm of Swiss literary types. And partly because the titles of his novels are maddeningly not just bland or boring but effectively anti-interesting. You just do not put “Rabbit” in the title and certainly not in four titles.

BUT as it is the year of the Rabbit and as my sister has a Penguin Modern Classics copy the cover of which is only half horrific, I think it will be OK. At any rate, DF Wallace once pointed to Ballard and Updike as two of the most sentence-for-sentence scintillating exponents of a literary cynicism, which caters to the unchallenging and intellectually lazy conviction that people, 51% plus, are: hedonistic, bad, egocentric. And that the most you&I can do is to ironically nudge one another in the ribs’ about it because there is no sexy or hipness in mulling some of the starkly simple truths of life. In fact just considering that there might be such “truths”, that there might be a few perennial things that can exist outside of quotation marks, is profoundly unhip and to be made urbane, blasé fun of. The test I thus have for myself is if whether or not I can resist a double dose of cynicism through a simultaneous reading of Ballard’s “The Drowned World” as well as Updike’s “Rabbit, Run”.


“Eh…what’s up, doc?”

To give an honest account though, I have to admit that this will be balanced or counter-acted by occasional dollops of Pessoa. On the surface, Pessoa or at least his heteronym Soares’ book “The Books of Disquiet” is all sadness and melancholy and resentment towards one specific of the countless human conditions: the hyper-sensitive, emotionally starved, literary productive, orphaned outsider. One easily falls into the trap of thinking that reading Pessoa is an exercise in sadness. Yet the aesthetics of his prose, the conscientious attention to minute sensual details [both inner and outer], his attachment to his colleagues [the people at his office in Rua dos Douadores] and the far reach of his imagination [he returns again and again to South Sea islands, Pirates, Flywheels] make it clear, at least in my mind, that Pessoa was actually a hopeful person. He did die an alcoholic and unknown but despite his tragic lot he created this nocturnal oeuvre. It is evidence that he must have known something more: the absolution not of history but of future readers.

[1] I like bullet points and I like PowerPoint. It can if used correctly, spice up otherwise under-stimulating presentations. However, the sad thing about PP is that it almost always deteriorates into a sad excuse for an actual presentation: insane, florid slides that cannot possibly be understood and the text of which is faithfully recited as though the audience was presumed illiterate. It is slightly entertaining how often people will claim they are really good at PowerPoint but as soon as you lay eyes on the first slide you immediately know that they meant to say that they copy-pasted images that, for whatever obtuse & ultra-subjective reason, they consider cool…a collage of nice pix.


About tmabona

writer, reader [bolano, DW, bellow, deLillo], runner, badmintoneer
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