Monthly Archives: February 2014

#12 The David Foster Wallace Archive – final entry typed in real-time at The Harry Ransom Center at University of Texas at Austin

sign we’ve reached the end…

sign that we live in a better world(?)…

sign of a sculptor with the ability to make jj look like a dieting himmler…

a very productive visit conducting research on Wallace’s archive. this is the final blog deviation for a while, meaning there will be reasonably long spells between posts (as per usual). thank you to all who’ve liked and shared the posts over the last two weeks. i shall endeavour to keep liking and sharing you(rs). and for anyone who has not yet visited the archive but has a burning desire to do so, make like the character in austenland and sell whatever bourgeoise items you may have in your possession, because they won’t nourish your soul (but literature just might), and get on with living your life, because one never knows now does one now does one now does one…

in fact you could make it your very own austinland (see what i did there?)

quick note about austin, tx: the people are ace (bit of an 80s idiom there, sorry), the stuff you’ll find/come across is as diverse as anywhere (more so even), the access to great food is astonishing – this from a guy who struggled being a vegetarian in new york, paris, florida, spain in general, brussels, malta (omg – dire – there goes my teenage girl idiom). the food here is on a par with that experienced in indonesia, and that was good. so, from the unofficial tourist board of austin, tx, ciao…

#11 The Wallace Archive (A Research Visit amidst Personal Musings) – a temporary break with blog convention (well this one) as I conduct research at The Harry Ransom Center, Austin, TX

s.i.g.n. (acronym)…

sign that being an electrical socket is not all that easy after all (look at their tortured little faces). and the lower socket appears to have weight issues…

Day Eleven:

picture the scene. alarm goes off at 5:30am – sister has to be on campus to prepare for a class by 7:30am. hit snooze, then hit it again. sister shouts through, “campus not open ’til 10 – go back to sleep.” ok. lying there thinking – wish i could go back to sleep. sister shouts again at 9:45am, “are you getting up?” yes, yes i am. protein shake, coffee, and off we go.

deposit some snickerdoodle cookies at the ransom center reception (2nd floor), with the caveat that eating them is not obligatory and that they can trash them if they wish – i mean, a brit cooking snickerdoodles for texans – the impudence. assured that said cookies will indeed be enjoyed by the library reading room team, i saunter in and take my usual seat. one day last week someone else sat in the seat for a half day session, but other than that my behind has been parked in the same exact chair the whole time in the reading room – changing seating position willy-nilly, on some sort of ad-hoc, devil-may-care, reckless descent into the hell of spontaneity is not my idea of fun.

that being said, i get on with the matter at hand. today is the day where i am forced to laugh the most whilst picking my way through the torturously small handwriting that is inscribed on pads, loose leaf, journals, etc. although much of what wallace wrote about was disturbing, unsettling, lonely, and a whole host of other adjectives that i need not list, there is so much humour in his works. today’s particular treat was reading the pieces about stecyk in the pale king. on my scribbled notes of yellow paper, in my scrawliest handwriting i’ve actually written: ‘stecyk (just plain funny!). i have two more full days of research left. tomorrow should see me complete my list of containers/boxes, and so the last day is a kind of bonus day where i can revisit materials and take sharper pictures (did them on the ipad for the first day and a half and the quality is awful – iphone much better). i may even throw a couple of wildcards in there – wallace’s own annotated books from his personal library.

talking of humour, the funniest moment of the day came whilst wistfully staring out of a window facing the courtyard out front of the ransom center. a young guy was walking a diagonal line across the courtyard when something fell out of a tree from a great height right in front of him, almost hitting him i might add. it looked like a branch or something, but no sooner had it hit the ground than the thing went scuttling off from the scene. said guy kind of did a swerve thing without really slowing his stride, and maintained an almost androidish calm – no hysterics, no jumping, gasping, or any other stuff one might expect. the thing turned out to be a squirrel. looks like it chose the wrong branch to bear down with its weight. so there you go. that’s a first for me, but now we know that squirrels can, and do, fall out of trees. who knew? and after scuttling away (under one of the heavy set concrete benches dotted around the areas of segregated florae) it actually behaved in a way that if you’d been watching it, as i was, you’d have thought it was embarrassed about what had just happened – more embarrassed than the terminator it almost fell atop of.

oh, and the ziploc bag of cookies – almost all gone as i headed on out of there…

#10 The Wallace Archive (A Research Visit amidst Personal Musings) – a temporary break with blog convention (well this one) as I conduct research at The Harry Ransom Center, Austin, TX

sign your name across my heart… (q. terence trent d’arby (sp.))

sign of expanding horizons…

Day Ten:

(faster ever run over 3.14 miles y/day – just forgot to mention on #9)

back to business at the archive. a new person at the reception desk this morning. whilst printing out my blue slip and getting a locker key for my belongings, three-letter gendered pronoun must have clocked that all my requests for materials are from wallace’s archive, and proceeds to offer me some advice in a very nice ‘you may already know this, but…’ manner. now, what three-letter gendered pronoun tells me about is most interesting – mainly to broaden my scope and take in the connected archives from the likes of wallace’s agent, editor, publishing house(s). and guess what – three-letter gendered pronoun knows three-letter gendered pronoun’s stuff because what i end up concentrating on for the rest of the day is very helpful indeed. letters to and fro his agent and editor, rationales for certain subject matters, characters, plot development, all fascinating, and all stuff that i would probably have missed out on had i not had that chance encounter with said three-letter gendered pronoun. the reason for my using ‘three-letter gendered pronoun’ is that i’m not convinced that woman/girl does this person justice. at what age do you become a woman/girl? and here we are talking about a highly educated person, with excellent inter-personal skills to boot, who is way younger than i. so there’s the quandary – woman sounds offensive, but so does girl. what to do?

no stopping for chai latte until nearer the end of the day – sister collecting me a little earlier as she has a video call to make to a client. bitterly cold outside the ransom. head straight for cvs on guadalupe for emergency bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) – cookie disaster last night is preying on my mind and will not rest until it is resolved (baking powder used as no baking soda in the pantry at my sister’s, and cookies came out the texture of biscotti – devastated). 99c seems like a bargain, so i trot next door to medici for the chai. strike up a conversation with a couple of two-letter gendered pronouns (same issue as before) who work there – serious beard envy going on in my head as I’m talking with them. amazingly serious examples of well looked-after facial hair. am v impressed.

early arrival back home, start on dinner, a yotam ottolenghi recipe for black pepper tofu – delicious. recipe states 5tbsp of coarsely crushed black peppercorns to be added, but I’ve never managed more than 2tbsp – and that burns, what with the 4 hot green peppers in there (recipe calls for 8 – maybe i’m too soft). finish the meal with a kulfi from out of the freezer and then it’s cookie time. dough prepared and rested for 40 minutes in the refrigerator. shaped into walnut sized balls. rolled in cinnamon and sugar. baked for 13 minutes. come out perfect. can rest tonight.

#9 The Wallace Archive (A Research Visit amidst Personal Musings) – a temporary break with blog convention (well this one) as I conduct research at The Harry Ransom Center, Austin, TX (Weekend Format)

sunday: still informal, still casual…


moms and dads say aww…

old europe parked in a lot…

back to nature…

a perfect way to endeth a sunny, all-american weekend…

normal service resumes in the am…

#8 The Wallace Archive (A Research Visit amidst Personal Musings) – a temporary break with blog convention (well this one) as I conduct research at The Harry Ransom Center, Austin, TX (Weekend Format)

well, this post and tomorrow’s post will be somewhat informal – casual even.

i saw a huge flag…

buffy and i played ball (she swam)…

my sister and buffy walking back to the car (post-swim (buffy, not my sister))

#7 The Wallace Archive (A Research Visit amidst Personal Musings) – a temporary break with blog convention (well this one) as I conduct research at The Harry Ransom Center, Austin, TX

sign language…

Day Seven:

i’ll keep this one light and short given the length and depth of yesterday’s post. being back at a level of fitness that i’m happy with at the moment, a five-mile run seems in order today. it is pretty nippy, 26 fahrenheit apparently – i work in celcius so have no idea what that converts to, but it’s a minus – and so i take a pair of gloves from my sister to run in. they are white and used for applying body lotions and smell coconutty, and wearing them reminds me of al jolson. i have the redbox dvd of the family in my hand as i’ll pass the gas station where said dvd should be returned at about the 1 and 1/2 mile mark. setting off down a country road towards the harris branch parkway, with a viciously cold wind hitting me head on and focusing particularly on my left ear, which feels like it might just drop off – wish i’d taken the hat my sister offered when she offered the gloves. hit the redbox at 1.72 miles, clocking a slowish speed, but then again the wind was strong all the way.

manage to do the same route i got lost on the other day and did it in a quicker, but not massively so, time. shower, stretch, and work on my funding proposal which is due a couple of days after i return. sorting and sifting through the stuff i’ve seen so far at the archive. the re-reading of the broom of the system is going better than ever. it’s not my favourite text of wallace’s, but after reaching part two again i’m enjoying it far more than on my first read through, where i found it laborious and quite frustrating – most unlike other experiences i’ve had reading wallace’s corpus. finding that i’m getting the wittgenstein references far better than on the first read, due to the fact that i have been hammering away at the tractatus and philosophical investigations in connection with my research into brief interviews with hideous men.

highlight of my day: running past a farmer’s field with a turkey vulture on top of a post, about head height and not that far away from me, whilst listening to @petedoherty (‘s) babyshambles’ east of eden, as said turkey vulture eyeballs me, looking not the least bit worried, but then again, why would it?

see, light and short…

oh, and an important caveat that should have accompanied the first post in this series, but which didn’t, but which does now…

this document charts, informally, matthewsimonalexander’s visit to conduct research on the david foster wallace archive at the harry ransom center, university of texas at austin. it also sketches personal moments captured along the way. all, some, or none of it may be true, whatever that means.

Bonus pic:

the answer is blowin’ in the wind…

#6 The Wallace Archive (A Research Visit amidst Personal Musings) – a temporary break with blog convention (well this one) as I conduct research at The Harry Ransom Center, Austin, TX

a sign that i can instagram…

Day Six:

and it’s cold again. trust a brit to keep making a fuss about the weather. in the reading room i pick up from where i’d left off the night before, and after feeling buoyed by what i’d been reading in ‘big red son,’ the next six containers have very little to offer me – but that’s not to say that they are not interesting. my left eye was partially blood-shot this morning when i woke up.

the scope of wallace’s intellect comes into sharp focus today, not that i wasn’t aware of how remarkable a talent he was, as i jump from containers covering his fiction to containers where he is reviewing books about math (or maths – depending on your preference), to a container where he is offering a feminist critique of a work of fiction, to in-depth reporting about what appears to be amateur tennis – and then i hit upon several containers to do with accounting and the studies he made in accounting as a way of researching the pale king. i’ll pause here for a moment. now, it occurs to me from just glancing at the containers and their contents that we’re in a very different world here, i mean, notebook upon notebook and test paper upon test paper, and personal scrawlings on what appear to be legal pads, and articles on finance and accounting printed from the internet, and sums and formulas and revisions to sums and formulas. and invariably i groan as I’m faced with stuff that i have no interest in whatsoever – dry, soulless, depressing, archaic (but only if one views the present monetary system as archaic, something i’d happily argue if anyone were interested, which most people tend not to be, speaking from experience, eyes glazing over when you first mention the old ‘money as fallacy’ line, which i’m inclined to think sounds pretty interesting, and something worth at least five minutes of someone’s time, i mean, five minutes to discuss the origins of our (Western-postindustrial?) monetary system, a system where everything costs something (but where, in fact, everything need not cost ‘something’ if you actually stop to think about it), water, electricity, rocket/arugula, an egg, maize, paper, silence, a piece of rock, a house, a bean, a ferrari, you get the picture; a system that monetarizes every imaginable thing you can think of (and please don’t say – “the internet, that’s free, that’s a great liberating force that spits in the eye of your dumb-ass theory” – not that i’m hubristic enough to actually think of this as a theory – because let’s say for example that you don’t ‘pay’ for an internet connection, let’s say you piggy-back on someone else’s connection, with or without their consent, and let’s assume that you find everything you want without ever having to input your credit card details, so on the face of it i’m talking nonsense, no? what about the hardware that you use, the bits and pieces of planned obsolescence – are they lying around on the ground? and what about the silent assault on your psyche, in monetary terms, where the day before you’ve typed in a search term or been looking for something in particular, then when you next go online there are all manner of banners and pop-ups that refer to what is was you were doing the day before? and what happens when you can no longer trust in yourself to commit the time and effort to actually finding out a piece of information without ‘googling’ it (and remember the piece from a few days ago where ‘infantilisation’ and ‘google’ kind of went hand in hand)? when you are walking around (skip ahead a few years/decades) with little inclination to actually do anything for yourself, in terms of thinking, what cost the endless hours online, where companies are paying money to let you use ‘free’ wifi in order to find out as much about you as possible, where you walk, where you pause when you pass a shop window that catches your eye, where you spend the bulk of your time, and then finally, how they can turn all that information into you reaching into your purse/wallet for that card). i mean, does a chicken turn round and hold its wing out to the farmer after laying an egg? does the bird pay taxes on its worm consumption? does an ear of corn cost $€¥£ (specify your own amounts here – use other denominations if you wish) when it’s a seed, or when it germinates, or when it’s an infant plant busy in the midst of furious cell differentiation, or when it’s ripened, or when it’s been left to rot in the field for whatever reason – is the cost stable – how so – what are the influencing factors – humans, you say – so does everything cost money – or is that something we fail to problematise as a mode of thought? how is it that if inflation works how it is meant to work that we still have ‘everything for a dollar/pound’ shops and can still purchase things for a cent/penny (and i’m talking currencies that have not faced devaluation like the old italian lira of the late 80s, or the old Greek currency circa 1980 (sorry, can’t remember name – thinking drachma but don’t want to say it for fear of sounding stupid)? whatever!

and then after all the accounting stuff there’s a container that has an envelope inside, with a PO Box address on it, and the stuff inside the container, which used to be in the envelope, which was delivered to said PO Box, addressed to our mr wallace, well this stuff is bizarre with a capital b. i’m talking oedipa maas, the whole tristero, thurn and taxis, muted horn, w.a.s.t.e., type-conspiracy-kinda-stuff-that’s-kinda-cool-but-also-freakishly-weird-and-troublesome-when-you-think-about-it. recently, i drew a muted horn symbol on a post box, just for fun.

mlk boulevard, freezing cold, literally, home to sister’s house, walk buffy, absolutely horrible walk with freezing wind whipping my face for most of it. watch in cold blood original (60s film? – just to let you know that i am italicising all film/book titles, but this american typewriter font just looks the same when i do – maybe i should use underscore instead – just about to do, by the way). sense the capote theme? good film, very interesting. makes me think about some of the stuff i’m reading at the moment about how rhetoric is used in the present day. take for instance ‘rape’ as rhetoric. now, i’m fully aware how delicate an issue this is, but bear with me and keep in mind that i’m talking here about the rhetoric, not the actual real-life act of. just how many films/tv shows do you watch where rape is deployed in some form or other? look at that, a rhetorical question to start us off! okay, since departing britain i sat on a plane for around 10 hours (mentioned previously, remember – sitting next to jason bourne guy?) and got to watch (silently, via other passengers’ screens) iron man 3. nothing you could straight out say fits with our discussion of rhetoric, but i’d stop and consider pepper pots’ torture scene where iron man is tied up and guy pearce’s character is ‘injecting’ her with the stuff that’ll make her invincible, allegedly, but also highly volatile in a chemical compound sense. iron man looks tortured as the ‘weak’ woman is treated as an object. okay, maybe just my vivid and hyper-sensitive imagination. then there’s jennifer aniston’s performance in the miller’s film. she’s a sexy stripper/erotic dancer type (not convinced). now, remember i don’t have a complete sense of contextualisation here because i couldn’t here what was going on, but, Jenny does a sexy (?) dance thing (forced to, or not, i do not know) for what look like drug dealers, mean looking drug dealers. there appears to be an element of threat because no sooner does she finish than a kind of rumpus/ruckus ensues, with the millers high-tailing it out of there. so, could we at least agree that with a near naked woman dancing in the way she does for some dubious characters, whom she is more than happy to inflict violence upon before fleeing their presence, that there is at least the tiniest hint of sexual violence that is being alluded to – albeit in a light-hearted comedy setting? then the blind side. not much here, i’ll admit, but cast your minds back to bullock searching for her adopted son (football player guy). she confronts some guys on the street. watch their faces and mannerisms. she’s a piece of meat to them. she’s an object, a sexual object at that – note the language. it’s subtle, i’ll grant you, but it’s there. then watch her reaction as she returns to her car before setting off. she is aware of what that encounter was – affluent white woman in poor, black neighbourhood (piling on the stereotypes for added effect are the film-makers here), just a few chance remarks away from the threat of sexual violence. come on, bear with me if you are particularly sceptical about my approach.

the following night it’s thor as a racing driver. different type of rhetoric here. woman as sexual object, tick! woman facing the threat of sexual violence, no! then the don jon film. same as the driving one, i suspect, but contains plenty of porn images, but these seem to be here as a way of opening the debate on the use of porn, and the whole film seems intelligent in its questioning of contemporary lifestyles/relationships/issues.

capote is the next film. nothing much to report other than a brief moment where one of the clutter killers admits that he deterred his partner in crime from sexually violating the family’s 16(?) year old daughter after their bungled attempts at robbery. the night after is the in cold blood film i mentioned a few paragraphs back. now here’s where we get to the crux of the matter. young girl lies on her bed after hearing her father, mother, and brother being shot. felon 1 enters her room and touches her in an aggressively sexual manner. this is the 1950s. we have some context about the girl. she’s 16ish. she’s into horses. she loves her family. she’s portrayed as very innocent through her language/actions. she’s a virgin, for what it’s worth. he will rape her given the chance. the only thing that prevents this from happening are felon 2’s sensibilities – but then he shoots her dead.

the next night we watch de niro and pfeiffer in the family. pfeiffer must be raped before being killed, according to the laws of mafia life, with regard to betrayal/ratting. she isn’t, but there’s the whole lying on the ground while the fat, ugly, sweating hitman unzips his trousers and moves towards her. then there’s the daughter, 16 or 17, beautiful in the conventional sense, recently ‘given’ her virginity to the man she loves, being chased down the street by an old, wrinkly, but nevertheless deadly hitman, after issuing the profanity ‘f*** me,’ to which the hitman says, ‘thank you,’ before beginning the chase. it is made explicit that if he catches her he will indeed rape her before he kills her, otherwise he’d pick up any number of weapons that the mafiosi brought with them to the scene and just gun her down from afar.

then we go to the cinema, ipic at the domain, to watch american hustle. nothing overt here, but there are two subtle moments, one involving amy adams and the other involving jennifer lawrence. both of the moments i’m thinking of position these two women (there must only be three women with major roles in the entire film – notice the lack of women in films in general and the roles they are confined to, in general, that is) in scenes where it is implied that the man, if he so chooses to, will take the woman by force, sexually.

what else? taken, where the good girl/virgin is saved (and only because of her virginity) whilst her best friend/the whore who has not preserved her virginity (like a jam?) (whore is not my term, by the way) is forced into sexual slavery and then is killed by overdose. the original girl with a dragon tattoo – obligatory, and sick as you like, rape scene. evil dead – rape by tree root if my memory serves me correctly (jesus, i can only have been around 10 years old watching this – sick, older brothers of my friends making us watch it. what does that say about a person?). once upon a time in america with a young de niro – rapes the woman he ‘loves’ and idolises in a car. sigourney weaver (sp.) suffers an alien-rape and gives birth (did i remember that right?) irreversible, an unforgiving and protracted rape scene. kill bill – thurman paralysed on the hospital bed, being licked. you get the picture, and if you don’t you really should pay more attention.

so anyway, what does any of this mean? it means that there is a rhetoric that is used in all forms of popular culture, and has been for quite some time, where a woman is made to question every decision/action before embarking on such actions, or indeed coming to such decisions. you’ve heard it/seen it. the woman who jogs and who has to consider which route to take for safety. the woman who is walking home alone, possibly in the dark and possibly in a deserted location. the woman who drives home and runs out of petrol/gas. the woman who has to make the split-second decision to take the taxi/cab or see it taken by someone else – get into a cab driven by goodness knows who, or walk the streets alone. i’ve personally heard such things from high-ranking business persons, university professors, armed forces personnel, dainty women, not so dainty women, old women, young women, conventionally pretty women, not so conventionally pretty women, heavy women, not so heavy women. so, what’s my point, i hear you ask? well, harking back to an episode of newsnight, bbc2 in britain, shown on or around the 30th june 2013, paxman interviews a woman mp and a journalist. the mp has received twitter abuse and is aware of the misogyny that exists on sights such as reddit. twitter abuse here means tweets threatening her with rape. the journalist once tweeted something about the dress she wore in a session at the house of commons – something cleavage related. she wants something done about the culture of misogyny, and threats of rape, sexual abuse that are prominent in 2013 (there are those who believe a woman should be raped for suggesting that jane eyre be put on the new £10 note – honestly, those threats are real). he dismisses her claims by stating that man has an intrinsic fear of castration, “but you don’t hear us calling for castration to be an item of debate” (this is not an actual quote, i’m working from memory, but that’s pretty close to what he said). the woman gave a forceful reply, then a bit of back and forth before paxman closes the piece with an amused look on his face. my question would be: how many men have ever walked down the street with the fear of castration at the forefront of their minds? and without spelling it out any further, that is what i mean by the rhetoric of rape, and its dominance in this Western-postindustrialised society (and most probably other societies too).

well, that was a long one…

#5 The Wallace Archive (A Research Visit amidst Personal Musings) – a temporary break with blog convention (well this one) as I conduct research at The Harry Ransom Center, Austin, TX


sign on the dotted line…

Day Five:
no run today. not hungry for anything solid. buffy runs towards me as i open my bedroom door, but then quickly turns tail as her food bowl sounds with the pitter patter of breakfast biscuits. how disappointing to be shunned in the a.m., however, once she’s finished we wrestle with a rope she’s picked out of the back yard, but i chastise her for not pulling hard enough – she’s a big dog, 90lbs apparently, but i get more resistance from milly back home (and she’s not much more than 15lbs i’m guessing). dressed, car, drive (sister drives).
dropped off on mlk once more and this time i walk via the alley way that cuts off mlk down the side of the longhorns for christ church. heading up the stairs at the ransom, having just walked past many busts, with one particular bust of james joyce that stands out for its acute ugliness, it is time to repeat the morning ritual: collect a locker key, stow my bag away, fold my coat and deposit that too, returning to the reception desk with just my ipad, iphone, and yellow note-taking paper, ready to accept the slip that confirms that i am authorised to be in the reading room. now, all manner of regulations have been adhered to, and i’m not even in the room yet. it is to be admired the way this particular section of the harry ransom center runs itself, or let me put it another way – it is to be admired the way the people who work at the center run it so very well and with what looks like, but is certainly not, the minimum amount of effort.
blue slip in hand, i approach the desk where these slips are to be handed in and am greeted by my first name. a nice touch. the boxes that were pulled yesterday are still available and i carry one over to the table where you can place a box before extracting one container (file) at a time to work with at a desk of your choice. now this place is kitted out like a 1920s bank – heavy wooden tables, chairs with solid arms, table lights at eye-level, high ceiling, and thick-pile carpet beneath your feet. and then, in the relative quiet of the room, you are alone with your thoughts and the materials you have selected to look at. and how the time flies. some containers do not interest me much in terms of my research interests, but then again some provide unexpected pleasures.
the methodology adopted for the research visit is to follow a list written out prior to leaving home. there are certain moments across the corpus that stand out as being worthy of close attention, but what exactly did i imagine i would find amongst the archive? at this stage it is frightening to think that there may not be any kind of revelation, and would i know it if i happened upon it? what becomes evident very soon is the amount of work that has gone into wallace’s writing. not that i imagined a writer’s life to be any sort of picnic, but the amount of manuscripts that go back and forth between the author and copy editor, and the negotiations that take place between a writer who has a complete vision of how a work should be seen by the public and the editorial team who cannot possess that same vision and who have magazines/books to sell, has to be seen to be believed.
before i know it, it’s time for fresh air and lunch. i did indeed head back for a chai latte – with the coffee bar’s free wifi proving an added bonus for checking emails and stuff. then it’s back to ploughing through container after container (got through 20 containers on day one). some containers hold as little as a sheet of paper. others carry countless manuscripts and documents. i must admit that i only felt like i was getting somewhere at the very end of day one at the archive (day four of the blog), just as the lights in the room flashed to tell researchers that all materials must be returned to their boxes as that’s the end of the day. having picked up where i’d left off the day before, with the containers being mainly made up of handwritten notes, in painfully small writing, i mean a written line of writing that is barely bigger than the line it’s written on (at times), the progress for day two is good. most of what i find interesting from a research perspective comes from infinite jest and big red son, and the minor link between big red son and adult world. by the end of day two i have worked my way through 10 more containers. i leave to meet my sister on mlk boulevard and for the first time am able to walk through campus without need of a scarf.
on the way home in the car she tells me an anecdote she’s heard about two adverts causing somewhat of a scandal during the superbowl. haven’t seen them so can’t comment. we watch philip seymour hoffman (sp.) in capote, a favourite of my sister’s. reading and thinking is a tiring business, can’t stop yawning…

#4 The Wallace Archive (A Research Visit amidst Personal Musings) – a temporary break with blog convention (well this one) as I conduct research at The Harry Ransom Center, Austin, TX


sign of a limited imagination (on my part – maybe i’ll instagram it for a bit of variety?)…

Day Four:
waking naturally at 6:30am is somewhat of a surprise as lately it’s been hard to get out of bed without my partner switching the lights on at home and me taking around 20-30 minutes to ‘come round,’ as it were. although it would be half-past midday for me back home so maybe i shouldn’t be too congratulatory (of myself – you know, self-congratulatory) just yet. faced with the prospect of running in the evening, following a full day of sitting on my ass looking at manuscripts, it seems a better idea to just get up, stretch, warm up, and do the run prior to heading downtown. my first steps outside reveal that the cold has not gone away, so after a few more stretches i hit the ‘run’ button on the running app and head off for what i’m expecting to be a 3 mile run.
the politeness of drivers who actually stop to let me cross the road, when i’m quite content to run round the back of their cars to save them the inconvenience, is pleasantly surprising, and in stark contrast to the attitude of (most, maybe not all) drivers back home. for their troubles they get a left-handed wave meant to convey both ‘thanks’ and ‘hey/hi’ simultaneously, and also a left-handed thumbs up to cement the feeling of appreciation and to give them an extra boost to the start of their day – whether they might need one or not. my run is good for the first half mile or so and i have to remind myself not to kick in too soon, even though this is a shorter run than the one the other day.
today’s route is pre-planned following guidance from my sister that will avoid another episode of getting lost – and i have not the time to deal with such things as i have things to do and paper to see. heading down a concrete path away from roads, i am running next to what look like farmer’s fields on one side and the back yards of houses on the other. three particularly grumpy dogs seem majorly pissed at my passing their metal fence boundary, and given the chance i fully expect that they’d happily sink their salivating jaws into my delicate flesh. as it happens, they can do nothing more than bark and growl wildly, and i resolve to run back past them on the way back to my sister’s house – i even tease them a little with some cute petting sounds.
the only thing of interest that stands out between my first pass of their fence and the second, is a scene that looks like someone has discarded carrots by the side of the road, and also by the side of a discarded xmas tree. the carrots turn out to be oranges and they’ve fallen from a tree (orange tree, of course). the dogs are waiting for me on my return (another dog further up doesn’t like the look of me either and has called ahead) and one has shoved its head through the metal railings, though that is really of little use to it, and even makes it look just plain dumb rather than the mean and menacing effect i assume it’s going for. i ignore them completely as this feels like a really fast run (for me). 3.18 miles in just under 28 minutes, averaging 8:something per mile – my fastest ever run over that or any distance. yay.
showered, vegan protein shake downed, coffee slurped, croissant demolished, and dressed in a manner that makes me look french, apparently, according to my sister – and many other people i might add as it seems a familiar comment when wearing what i’m wearing, and i am ready to be transplanted downtown on mlk boulevard. meandering through the campus grounds towards the ransom center is much like it was on Sunday, due to the weather, apart from the activity that accompanies the many students who are heading to class. i get to watch an orientation video, quite enjoyable, and then nice person after nice person help me find my way around the systems that are in place at the center.
just to bring the tone down for a few moments, it strikes me as somewhat selfish to be doing what i’m doing, kind of picking over the things that i would not be picking over unless a person’s life had ended. and it’s a weird feeling, because i won’t pretend that i’m not excited as hell to be at the archive, but someone had to die to make that possible – and that’s a sobering and uncomfortable thought to process. to use an example with which to compare my conflicting thoughts on the issue, that probably won’t make much sense to anyone as it has no obvious connection, i liken the whole thing to the misappropriation of the poor that is at the heart of the stage and film versions of les miserables (and obviously i’m not suggesting wallace was poor, i mean only to convey a sense of the misappropriation that i’m getting right now). so anyway, the story of revolution in france is a bloody one, agreed, and the poorest suffered the most, no-brainer, yet it has been misappropriated by the middle-classes and upwards as a glorious, riotous show/film which one can sing along to and enjoy and make merry – and you kind of have to ask yourself – just what is there to make merry about in this particular (or any) revolution (i happened to watch the recent film at the cinema and the majority of the audience clapped long and hard throughout the end credits – directed at whom were the claps, and to express what sentiment?)? so, just what is there to be excited about when faced with the prospect of reading materials that would have been considered to be extremely intimate to the person who wrote them? that’s about as mawkish as i’ll allow myself to get, but it’s a point worth holding onto.
i’ll start again on day five… bummed myself out there… sorry…
but just to balance out the unexpected mawkishness, a barista in a coffee bar on guadalupe gave me a chai latte free of charge because someone had ordered it and not collected it and ‘did i want it as it will only go to waste.’ so i accepted it as i’d finished my coffee and it was a pleasant surprise – so much so, i’ll probably forego the coffee tomorrow and order one of those instead. a positive human connection…

#3 The Wallace Archive (A Research Visit amidst Personal Musings) – a break with blog convention (well this one) as I conduct research at The Harry Ransom Center, Austin, TX


sign of the times…

Day Three:
i spend most of the morning lazing around as it’s so cold outside that the thought of heading out is less than appealing. another round of video chat with my family reassures me that they are doing okay without me, as i realise that my absence puts a whole lot of pressure onto my partner as she is exceptionally busy at the moment with both work and studies. they all look great and like they are getting along just fine. my partner is an amazing person.
my sister suggests that we head downtown to the harry ransom center so that i can get my bearings for the following day – what will be my first day visiting and researching the archive. buffy comes along for the ride and we park the car just off mlk boulevard and brazos, and head on up past the glanton. the ut campus is quiet, it being sunday, and the wind is making the walk bitterly cold and reminiscent of being at home, although it feels colder here than it has been at home for quite some time – so that’s a bummer. we pause for pictures just outside the ransom center and then my sister takes me onto guadalupe to show me ‘the drag.’
on the way headed back to the car we walk by the clock tower, the turtle pond memorial garden, and then round and back down by the side of the glanton to complete what is effectively a circuit of the campus. driving home we stop for groceries for this week’s dishes of shakshuka and tofu in black pepper sauce – both yotam ottolenghi recipes, and for cream of tartar for snickerdoodle cookies. we take a failed detour in an attempt at finding the formula one track that has been built just outside austin, inspired by last night’s movie, but we’ve taken the wrong exit off the freeway and we’re about 15 miles away and to be honest we can’t be bothered so we just go home.
the joseph gordon-levitt film, don jon, was a freebie with last night’s film, so the afternoon is spent watching that. i’d never even heard of it but my sister tells me that he wrote, produced and directed the film. i ask what type of film it is, what is it about? pornography, she says. ok. it’s strange to see him bulked up and playing a more masculine role than usual, and johansson (don’t know if that spelling’s correct – other possible errors now flagged as sp. to save us all some time) is particularly good in her role. the film raises some interesting questions on the dynamics of heterosexual relationships, and on the influence of pornography, and on the dysfunctionality of family life, and on the teachings of the catholic church, and on relationships between heterosexual men, and on the institution of marriage, and on relationships in general… it’s a very good film, and julianne moore’s appearance adds another layer of interest.
buffy and i take an after dinner walk round the block, me dressed in what looks more and more like travis bickel’s (sp.) coat each time i catch a glimpse of myself wearing it. it’s really cold out and the wind is even stronger than it was downtown. we make short work of the walk and head back for a slice of cake and to make a packed lunch for tomorrow’s visit to the archive (cheese pizza, banana, stollen, granola bar, orange, water). shower time, the broom of the system, bed…

#2 The Wallace Archive (A Research Visit amidst Personal Musings) – a temporary break with blog convention (well this one) as I conduct research at The Harry Ransom Center, Austin, TX


                                                 still a sign…

Day Two:
woke reasonably early, itching to go for a run. headed out onto the harris branch parkway, in the direction of the new gas station/redbox, and wondering if tiredness might be the reason i’m struggling to catch my breath – or whether i have just set off too fast (a common problem for me). make the two mile mark and wonder whether i’d better just head back, but decide to carry on as i seem to have hit my stride. then my stride fails me and my legs feel heavy and i wish i’d turned back sooner as i hit 3 miles and figure that i have at least a mile and a half back. being clever, i take a short cut down a path that looks like it might shave a half mile off my route, even though i have no idea where i am. after about 5 minutes of running around in a circle (i pass the same field of cute cows and realise i am lost), decide to pause and take a look at the gps map. gps map doesn’t work properly as my data roaming settings are turned off to avoid the £8 per hour charge that this would entail, but i can make out the green dot that signifies my starting point and so i figure that it shouldn’t be too hard to find my way back. the run is not a fast one, but it was enjoyable and ended up being 5.5 miles. for my warm down i take my sister’s dog out for an hour’s walk before heading to my room for a video call with my family, followed by a shower and stretches.
i have been thinking constantly about the supervisory meeting i had the day before flying out and the comments my supervisor made about the ‘flattening out’ of gender that occurs from time to time in wallace’s brief interviews with hideous men, and the ways in which gender roles, and expectations of those roles, are presented. a flattening out of gender is not a phrase i had thought of, but it perfectly expresses what i’ve been seeing in the work, and now i feel vindicated in choosing to focus on what is not an obvious area of research with regards wallace’s works. my sister and i take a ride out to the new whole foods store at the domain, taking the dog with us so she can have an extra walk, and we start a conversation about the films we’ve watched, and liked, recently. during the conversation we discuss google’s move to austin, and we talk about the vaughn/wilson film, the internship, and the infantilisation that such work ‘environments,’ with their workplace as playground/playground as workplace ethos, seem to promote. all of which is designed, primarily, to keep its workforce at said workplace for the optimum length of time. am i just too cynical?
am excited at the prospect of purchasing bananas, can’t seem to stop thinking of them. finish our grocery store shopping and head over with the dog to the domain. amazing to think how many smiles i receive from strangers because i am holding the dog’s lead, and how many people are eager to stop me and ask questions about her. buffy is 11 years old today, but still looks young, apparently. she behaves extremely well and it’s a pleasure taking her for a walk, quite unlike my own dog who is aggressive with strangers and who manages to ostracize us from the rest of the population due to her unpleasant nature with people and other animals.
on our return i mow the front lawn and dig up a vigorous climber that is interfering with next door’s garden, and that is apparently infested with fire ants. jump straight in the shower after finishing because the 23 degree heat leaves me feeling hot and sticky after the physical exertion. we watch a film following dinner, the guy who plays thor is a racing driver in the 70s. it’s better than i imagined it would be, but both it and the trailers prior to it exhibit a heavily biased aspect of the american film industry when one considers the amount of men in leading roles and also the roles that many of the women are playing in those very same films. i liked the film, the heat, with bullock and mccarthy for its antithesis to this. bullock is a great comedy actor (and great actor generally, but especially her comedy roles).
read one chapter of wallace’s the broom of the system, and am stunned once more at the book’s opening. the links are now forming more clearly when i consider how certain aspects concerning gendered roles are present across the wide body of his works. and i am amazed that wallace is still consistently read by critics as writing women in a ‘typically misogynistic way,’ or that his women have ‘no authority or agency,’ and that they are not ‘fully formed’ in the way that the men in his fiction are alleged to be. i wonder how much people choose not to read when reading his works?

#1 The Wallace Archive (A Research Visit amidst Personal Musings) – a temporary break with blog convention (well this one) as I conduct research at The Harry Ransom Center, Austin, TX

a sign...

a sign…

Day One:
an early start to my day as the cell/mobile vibrates on schedule at 4:45am GMT. a cup of tea is required following the obligatory brushing of teeth, during which I catch a rare moment with my partner as the kids are not yet awake. milly, the dog, settles down on my partner’s lap (auto spelling suggests ‘partner’s slap’ here for some reason) and stares at me the whole time – presumably reinforcing her own feelings of superiority towards me (small dog syndrome – jack russell 13 yrs of age). having packed thoroughly the night before, and having dressed prior to descending for tea in the living room, we enjoy uninterrupted chat until the taxi arrives precisely at 5:40am. i ascend the stairs to give the kids a kiss goodbye – eldest boy having told me how much he will miss me the night before, and youngest boy too young to understand, although i’ve been priming him to avoid unnecessary upset. the family wave me off as my taxi driver reverses back down the street.
 said taxi driver is enjoying a kind of rap song that has lyrics more suited to the late 80s (although from the beat and style of music it appears to be recent), when it was perhaps de rigueur to demean women by talking about their ‘asses’ and what things they’d like to do to said ‘asses.’ he sticks with it for about half a mile and presumably gets a bit self-conscious because he flicks it over to some generic radio station before asking me about my journey. i sense an awkwardness between us when i tell him that my hired taxi is taking me to catch a train to the airport, an awkwardness that soon abates when we discuss the economic upside to such a choice (£18 taxi and train versus £40-50 taxi). taxi driver leaves me outside the station, closed yet for the next 20 minutes or so, and i stretch out my calves and hamstrings in anticipation of a long, uncomfortable flight.
the first train of the day eventually deposits me at manchester airport and i see how fast i can get to T2 (signs tell me it’s a 10 minute walk, but we’ll see). walking at a fast pace along the moving floor segments, there is no danger of anyone overtaking me as i am ultra-competitive over such things and there are no serious contenders (although the well-dressed business woman behind me is remarkably swift considering her bulky luggage and heels). of course i am victorious and enter the departure hall at T2 in smug mode, before walking the length of the hall to the delta desks. standard questions answered about my luggage’s whereabouts the past 24 hours, i shuffle along to the security area minus my recently checked suitcase. scanned and observed i face little interruption and soon browse round the shops with no intention of buying before sitting with coffee and pastries, overlooking the tarmac. i speak with my partner, who has just called having reached work in record time and who now has 45 minutes to kill before she starts.
my seat is in coach and the guy in the seat next to me (he window – me aisle) reminds me of jason bourne, although of course i don’t tell him this and hardly speak to him or anyone else the whole flight. the delta cabin crew are wonderful, remarkably so given that they number five today when they should have at least three extra members with them to make a full team. they provide me with the best ever service received on any flight, and as an added bonus the vegetarian (non-dairy) meal of paneer curry, rice and spinach is delicious! last time i flew with American Airlines and they were awful – rude, aggressive, surly (although it was just prior to their liquidation so i guess the crew were pissed about work conditions). the ten hours or so to atlanta are made somewhat longer with the discovery that the seat-back entertainment system on our side of the craft does not work. i watch the screens across the aisle from me, and at one particular moment am enjoying (without sound) iron man 3, the blind side, we’re the millers (at least that’s what i think it’s called) on three separate screens simultaneously (that’s iron man 3, the blind side, and three screens worth of we’re the millers – three young guys on the central row of 3 all started their film at the same time). i wonder whether i am in the matrix.
it strikes me how few men actually wash their hands after visiting the restroom at atlanta airport, for after a restroom visit, having perched my backpack on the sink next to me, i stand and wash my hands for a good minute or so to rid myself of the germs that i imagine have set up camp on my skin, and lo and behold most of the men just walk out without acknowledging the wash facilities. and that goes for those exiting the stalls too. gross.
next leg is only a couple of hours and then it’s touchdown in austin. i have a fully functioning seat-back entertainment system this time, but cannot for the life of me figure out where to plug in my earphones. the guy sitting next to me is sleeping, so he’s not likely to want to be woken just to be asked a dumb question. the woman sitting next to him in the window seat is relentlessly stuffing her face with food, so it seems rude to interrupt her. i’m too self-conscious to stop the cabin crew as they wander past, and the old guy sitting across but just ahead of me, who actually has his headphones on and appears to be watching something on the entertainment system, is at the wrong angle for me and so it’s impossible to figure out where his earphones are plugged in.
land in austin, retrieve my checked luggage from the carousel, and head to wash my hands at the nearest restroom. flit between terminal and collection area whilst awaiting my sister’s arrival. short ride to her house with general chit-chat and catch up stuff, then it’s shower, change into scruffs and unpacking. i travel very light so that doesn’t take long, however, i do like my clothes to be hung, folded, arranged, and stored in precise locations and in very exact ways, so that takes a little longer than you’d imagine. all i can think about is sending an email home, so i pester my sister for the wifi access code, send the email, eat some food (not sure if i’m hungry or not), then go to bed and sleep. apparently i snore. who knew?

%d bloggers like this: