Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

Dear CF,

I started the evening rereading “Brief Interviews” and felt convicted and abased, recognizing in myself too much of what the Depressed Person says. And you, dear friend, are the beleaguered Support System with whom I (i.e. the depressed person) try constantly to really truly literally “share,” to whom I reach out for a glimmer of connectedness, for whom I try to Be There. To see myself thusly has only exacerbated my isolation-feelings, my anguish, my sense of injury, my feelings of abandonment. I’m nothing but a cracked bundle of need, a pail of neuroses. I think my three therapists would agree.

In that story the therapist dies “without leaving any sort of note or cassette or encouraging final words for any of the persons and/or clients in his life.”

For a moment I fantasized about DFW being my fourth therapist and indulged the ghoulish question that first struck me when I heard about his suicide:

Did he leave a note?

At any rate he left a cassette, and you found it. You’re right. It may be eleven years old, but Charlie Rose’s interview of David Foster Wallace covers 80% of what we’ve talked about, minus the sex. And I mean that literally–every time women appear, it’s a negative for him. He’s unhappy or exasperated with their role in his artistic world, and the feeling seems mutual.

On Unforgiven:

What’s interesting is that I don’t know a single female who likes the film. Females think ‘Western?’ It stinks. And if you can get them to watch it, it’s not a western at all. It’s a moral drama. It’s Henry James, basically. It’s very odd.”

Charlie gets worked up about this, agrees, and adds that this is the greatest rift his girlfriend and he have ever had about a movie.

(And there’s Henry James, king of the tragedy of manners, large as life. In a Western, no less–the one genre he might be least expected to appear in. I may have to watch Unforgiven after all.)

Wallace is even less happy with feminists who interpret the length of his books as having to do the length of his dick. I don’t blame him. First, it’s not true. Secondly, it’s not surprising that he prickles. The stakes of that sort of criticism are higher for him than they are for most. Returning for a moment to the irony of our generation constituting a Demographic, nothing would be quite so humiliating, for the culminating practitioner of a particular brand of artistic self-awareness, than to be found guilty of a truly unconscious influence.

But the dick’s not totally off the table. The Chronicle published an article on “intellectual crushes”–the brainy attraction a student feels to a certain kind of teacher. If anything, it’s the organ responsible for this feeling, the “intellectual dick,” that is the Firecracker’s great preoccupation (and Wallace is one, make no mistake). The writers he mentions—Delillo, Barthelme, Barth, Pynchon—were all well-hung in this department, and are all regular recipients of the male Firecracker’s admiration and energy. This isn’t penis envy, which Freud reserved for girls, and which it is evident, I think, that I suffer from. But it’s close.

Wallace says Lynch’s obsession is “The unbelievably grotesque existing in a kind of union with the unbelievably banal.” This truly brilliant take on Lynch gestures, I think, at what appeals to the cerebral Male. Let’s drag Henry’s brother William into this and call the Firecracker’s fierce (and not unjustified) admiration for Lynch, Barth et al. what it is, at least in part: a drive. Earlier than sex, but post-pre-Oedipal. It’s tribal and does not easily admit women–let’s be frank, it works better without them. It’s the universal desire to get lost in the funhouse and wee vigorously into the Po-Mo Stream of Consciousness (sponsored, alas, by the Depend Adult Undergarment).

Urinal cakes, mirrors, death diapers and the sublime, all in a tidy package.
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Are we Ali Baba or the Thieves?

Dear CF,

Intimate terms with the object. This helps. Maybe this is what distinguishes the explorers of yore—Lewis and Clark, Columbus, Ponce de Leon et al.—from the new ones. They (we?) don’t really want to bring back potatoes and spices and the Hottentot Venus. Quite the contrary—it’s more about hoarding. This is a different impulse, a quest for private communion. Except that “communion” might be the wrong word, since there’s nothing common about it, and the worst outcome is really that the beloved object will become mainstream. At best, we’re like Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. We might share with those who know enough to know that there is a code.

I get the impulse to ferociously protect one’s private bond with something. In my case, though, it’s almost a defensive move, because I’m wounded when someone I show it to doesn’t like it. What puzzles me about the Firecrackers is that the object with which they’re intimate is lessened when someone whose opinion they don’t respect does. According to your lover analogy, this would be something like harlotry. Loverly jealousy?

I think you’re dead right about the demographic problem: is it that “communion” has become distasteful because we understand advertising too well? Is it that, in liking the same thing as someone we don’t like, we watch marketing boxes converge, so that we’re all in the same target audience? Is it that we want to “go off the grid” like Freegans do, to cheat The Demographic the way our parents fought The Man?

Obvious point about nonconformist conformity: Our parents became The Man, and it’s the tragedy of a lifetime when we’re catapulted out of our rugged individualism and pegged squarely into a round demographic hole.

It reminds me of John Marcher in Henry James’ “Beast in the Jungle.” Do you know this story? He goes through his whole life hubristic, complacent, a ruminant dilettante filled with an almost religious certainty that something remarkable is going to happen to him. His life will be defined by an Event, what James’ father called a “Vastation.” Marcher subjects May Bartram, the woman in love with him, to a lifetime of audiencehood. She’s his chief witness, the only person to whom he confessed his secret belief, and she honors him by believing it, and she waits with him her whole life.

He’s a believer in Destiny, in Greatness, in the fact that he has been uniquely Marked. His tragedy—the revelation, at the end—is that nothing ever happens to him. The whole Greek tragedy he built himself has no oracle. There’s no destiny, there’s no Event, there’s just a long life unpunctuated by anything except empty nouns, somethings, successive clauses, unseized opportunities.

God. “Pocketful of Miracles” it is. I need them.