Category Archives: David Foster Wallace archive

#PhDTidBits David Foster Wallace Archive Visit No.4

Reviewing the notes taken during a second visit to the David Foster Wallace Archive at UT Austin in 2015, as I prepare for a fourth visit to The Harry Ransom Center.

An eerie finding: Wallace’s handwritten notes in the margins of Morris Berman’s Coming to Our Senses point to the logic that suggests, as Herbert Marcuse does, that intellectualism is the antithesis of fascism. And to back this up, Berman’s book cites the amount of PhDs amongst the Nazi hierarchy. Who knew?

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.02.01 Some Thoughts Whilst Conducting Research at the David Foster Wallace Archive (2016) Whilst Also Coping with a Beach-balling Apple Mac (which is more than just a tad annoying)

Re my last. Here’s a quote from Michael Lewis’ article in Vanity Fair on his book’s surprise success as a film, The Big Short:

"The Big Short" New York Premiere - Outside Arrivals

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 23: Actor Brad Pitt, writer Michael Lewis, actor Ryan Gosling, chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures Brad Grey and actor Steve Carell attend the “The Big Short” New York premiere at Ziegfeld Theater on November 23, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)

The behavior of our money people is still treated as a subject for specialists. This is a huge cultural mistake. High finance touches—ruins—the lives of ordinary people in a way that, say, baseball does not, unless you are a Cubs fan. And yet, ordinary people, even those who have been most violated, are never left with a clear sense of how they’ve been touched or by whom. Wall Street, like a clever pervert, is often suspected but seldom understood and never convicted.

It is my hope that Adam McKay’s The Big Short might actually help change this situation. The very material I would have thought would frighten away a movie director McKay embraces. He lucidly explains credit-default swaps and collateralized debt obligations! He captures the essence of the behavior that led to the recent financial catastrophe, and of the main characters of my book—in ways that I suspect will haunt their real-life loved ones. The Big Short is just a movie, but it’s also an invitation, to a huge popular audience, to have a smart and interesting discussion about the place of money and finance in all our lives.

It is an invitation – to keep your wallet/purse open a touch longer so that you can be relieved of just a little bit more money, assuming that you have any to spare following the financial crisis. Are we all now having interesting discussions as Lewis imagines we are? Or is that metaphorical dick blocking our mouths?

Advertisement: “Your misery, sponsored by Heineken.”


.02 Some Thoughts Whilst Conducting Research at the David Foster Wallace Archive (2016) Whilst Also Coping with a Beach-balling Apple Mac (which is more than just a tad annoying)

Here’s a question: How is it that a film like The Big Short can be made without there being a huge backlash of the really-miffed sort from the general viewing public who are presumably paying to be entertained, but who in the very recent past have had their lives affected in the most profound way by the very events that this film depicts? I sat stupefied through the whole thing, wondering if this was the Hollywood equivalent of having someone (here comes a Wallace reference – well, being at the archive and all it feels like the right thing to do) waggle his or her dick (making sure to be inclusive here, as it may be a real or synthetic dick for our purposes) in my face (dick waggling thought courtesy of Brief Interviews, “Signifying Nothing”). I mean, it felt, whilst watching, as if a whole bunch of Hollywood execs, and maybe even Pitt and Carell, et al, and even the author guy, Michael Lewis, had clubbed together to combine their not inconsiderable might in order to produce a huge metaphorical dick with which to smear, repeatedly, across the faces of the viewing public, mine included.

"The Big Short" New York Premiere - Outside Arrivals

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 23: Actor Brad Pitt, writer Michael Lewis, actor Ryan Gosling, chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures Brad Grey and actor Steve Carell attend the “The Big Short” New York premiere at Ziegfeld Theater on November 23, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)

And this is entertainment? Being given an explanation of the events that led to the greatest financial meltdown of all time, in a really dumbed-down way just so that we actually understand it, which in itself relies on humour and irony so that we won’t mind being talked down to, and that we might even laugh along at the film’s laughing at us, ironically? Events that have brought about so much pain and misery to millions of people across the globe – we’re supposed to be entertained by this (whilst raising huge sums of money for the actors, producers, distributors, etc., through the process of paying to watch the film)? It makes me wonder what it would take to raise the masses from their slumber, if films such as The Big Short can be made, and can then go on to be a “box office hit,” a vehicle of popular culture filmmaking that taunts its intended audience with a kind of “look-at-you-you-dumb-shits” (pause that doesn’t work with conventional punctuation because I’ve taken liberties with hyphen usage here) “we-even-have-to-explain-your-miserable-lives-to-you-in-the-simplest-of-terms-because-you’ll-pay-to-watch-the-story-of-how-your-lives-got-to-be-so-miserable-whilst-we-rub-our-giant-metaphorical-dick-in-your-face” way. I, for one, want a refund, and although I didn’t exactly pay for the movie (it was provided as a form of “free” entertainment because I’d paid for something else), I will be writing to the film company and demanding that they refund me the cost, whatever that may be.


.01 Some Thoughts Whilst Conducting Research at the David Foster Wallace Archive (2016) Whilst Also Coping with a Beach-balling Apple Mac (which is more than just a tad annoying)

And this one is weirdly topical and very fresh as it discusses an article that is actually quite recent, rather than discussing something that was put out months ago.

The interview with President Obama in The Atlantic begins:

“Friday, August 30, 2013, the day the feckless Barack Obama brought to a premature end America’s reign as the world’s sole indispensable superpower—or, alternatively, the day the sagacious Barack Obama peered into the Middle Eastern abyss and stepped back from the consuming void”

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Feckless is an odd word with which to describe any American leader, given their access to power, both real and imagined. The article continues in an odd tone, in that it is hard to figure out its purpose – just what is the article supposed to make us think of Obama and his time in office? As above, where we have to contend with the deliberate paradox set up by the journalist of whether Obama is feckless or sagacious (because he really can’t be both), the article continues to tread a line somewhere in the middle of viewing Obama as a Spockian genius or as just a complete dick-wad.

Perhaps this is, in part, Obama’s own doing, where his awareness of his own image and of how he will be perceived by future generations, a very real aspect of Obama’s narcissism that comes out in every interview, somehow limits his appeal in the here and now – he’s all about the future, so how the f*** can you judge him today, stupid? Maybe it will take decades to figure out his legacy, but depending on what happens next in American politics, it might not seem all that important after all.


Some Thoughts Whilst Conducting Research at the David Foster Wallace Archive (2016) Whilst Also Coping with a Beach-balling Apple Mac (which is more than just a tad annoying)

The recent Tom Hardy vehicle, Legend, involves an interesting choice where its treatment of Frances Shea’s character is concerned. It seems that the filmmakers really needed a rape scene to be added to the film, because there can be no other possible explanation for its inclusion given that it appeared to jar with the narrative both before and after the point at which it was added, and so, slumped on the floor in her pantyhose, whilst under the influence of a Prozac-like substance to assist with her mental health problems, Frances Shea is raped by her husband, Reggie Kray. Now, we don’t actually see this happen, but we’re treated to familiar tropes that indicate that what is about to happen is a rape: the partially clothed Frances is dragged by her feet so that her legs are open whilst violent blows are issued to ensure compliance, as the camera pans away in order to save us from this terrible act – it’s such a commonplace act in mainstream movies that we don’t really need to see it.

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We could give the filmmakers the benefit of doubt by considering that at this time in the UK, and a lot of other places, that rape within marriage was not indeed a crime, as it was exempted from being so with a special “marital rape exemption” order, and that the filmmakers are making some sort of political commentary on the use of rape in film – but I suspect that that would be too generous. Rather than making a valid comment on the perverseness of the Law at this time, the filmmakers merely seem to be following type, by playing along with the dominant rape culture that likes to see a bit of rape reference in its films. Funnily enough, for anyone wishing to explore the matter further, The Guardian has a piece that not only contradicts the filmmakers’ depiction of Frances’ rape by suggesting that Frances was never subjected to physical violence at the hands of Reggie, and that a major source of antipathy between the married couple was Reggie’s attempt at raping Frances’ brother, Frank. However, attempting to rape your wife’s brother really doesn’t sit well with current rape culture, and so, presumably, the filmmakers thought they’d just stick with what they know best.


Build-up period to David Foster Wallace archive visit #3 .01

Trying to post anything at the moment is like attempting to wade through treacle, as my Mac is constantly beach-balling for no apparent reason – the swine started playing up the very day I upgraded OS to El Capitan, and has never been the same since. I’m in the middle of upgrading its RAM, and have been through endless screen freezes, Safe Boots, Recovery Boots, and have stripped back all unnecessary apps and stuff, emptying the trash along the way.

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I should be plotting a chapter on Brief Interviews with Hideous Men for my PhD thesis, but how do you do that when all drafts are stuck inside the machine that’s not working properly? And no, I don’t have access to another computer. And yes, I do back up regularly.

So, for light relief I go into my phone to check what’s going down on Goodreads. @EmWatson’s #OurSharedShelf has chosen Caitlin Moran’s book, How to be a Woman, as its April read, and Emma Watson has posted some links. One of which is an article written by Moran in Esquire, titled: “12 Things About Being A Woman That Women Won’t Tell You: Except this woman (Caitlin Moran), who will.” In an attempt at cheering myself following the beach-balling hassle, I find reading the article in Russell Brand’s voice brings a touch of light relief to my situation – Moran’s and Brand’s laid-back-street-prose-style being quite similar in many respects.

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Moran’s point 6 of 12 is Fear, reproduced here in its entirety because it’s quite short:

We’re scared. We don’t want to mention it, because it’s kind of a bummer, chat-wise, and we’d really like to talk about stuff that makes us happy, like look at our daughters — and we can’t help but think, “Which one of us? And when?” We walk down the street at night with our keys clutched between our fingers, as a weapon. We move in packs — because it’s safer. We talk to each other for hours on the phone — to share knowledge. But we don’t want to go on about it to you, because that would be morbid. We just feel anxious. We’re scared. Given the figures, we can’t sometimes help but feel we’re just… waiting for the bad thing to come. Because that would be a realistic thing to think, and we like to be prepared. Awfully, horribly, fearfully prepared.

Note the absence of the word that this fear is based upon: rape. Rape is alluded to, but never mentioned. It is mentioned elsewhere in the article, but here it is not. This is an interesting approach in that it makes Moran’s point 6 seem unnecessarily passive in tone – “waiting for the bad thing to come.” Is that an accurate view of all women? I’ll hazard a guess and say it’s not, for there are women who take more of an aggressive stance where rape is concerned. In spite of how it is written, point 6 motions towards a feeling that “rape culture” is really and truly embedded in contemporary Western culture (for anyone who’s interested, Laurie Penny discusses rape discourse and rape culture in the New Statesman).

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Anecdotally, every woman I’ve ever met and with whom I’ve discussed the topic of rape has expressed that they have to consider their actions and/or dress on a daily basis. And when you’re doing that, and so are your friends, and so is your mother, and so on, it’s appropriate for fear to become the primary emotion, which strikes me as extremely unhealthy.


Build-up period to David Foster Wallace archive visit #3

The end of March marks the beginning of another period of research at the Harry Ransom Center, Austin, working on the David Foster Wallace archive. As the research becomes more focused, the archive materials are whittled down to the stuff that’s really important in terms of relevance to my thesis. What this means is that with each visit, the frantic searching that went on during the very first visit becomes calmer, more structured, which is all good and well as far as the PhD goes, but something’s been lost along the way.

James Joyce, allegedly (but that’s not what’s been lost):

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For example, the delight and surprise in finding unexpected bits and pieces seems is likely to occur less. Like pulling out a notebook with FBI evidence tape across its covers, leaving me wondering as to the authenticity of the tape (quite naive like that) and even entering into an email discussion with someone who had requested that the FBI release all data it held on Wallace in the interests of full public disclosure (or something like that). Anyhoo, is something like that ever going to pique my interest again, I wonder?


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