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…

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