JUDY KRAVIS

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Monday, 27 February 2017

At the beginning of Pop Quiz 9, last section of Octet, in David Foster Wallace's Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, his frighteningly extensive language turns abruptly on the reader.
How exactly the cycle's short pieces are supposed to work is hard to describe. Maybe say they're supposed to compose a certain sort of 'interrogation' of the person reading them, somehow—i.e. palpitations, feelers, into the interstices of something, etc... though what that 'something' is remains maddeningly hard to pin down, even just for yourself as you're working on the pieces.
There we are, readers, with all our interstices suddenly exposed. It's uncomfortable and pleasurable. His excesses are never far from pain. His writerly frenzy is almost sacrificial: he could torture for ever the least rustle of human life. He's writing but also doing something else less clear, something exhaustive. His words will never say it all, but they might insinuate themselves into the reader's equilibrium. There's no redemption unless we readers are redemptive, not just chewing on David Foster Wallace's frenzy but meeting it with a freshly minted frenzy of our own.

You have to read him while holding your breath, in order to stay clear, until after you stop reading, of this interrogation he's holding. How much of this can you, the reader, bear at one sitting? I like to imagine being on a train with only this book to read, maybe a stopped train on a branch line in the middle of Ireland for half a day or more, and how I'd stay with all the footnotes, which, as with Oliver Sacks, sometimes occupy more pages than the text itself, unspool all the possibilities to emerge eventually at my destination a fully interrogated, fully exposed human being.

In fact I am at home, a somewhat exposed human being listening to Shostakovich and watching a stormy sunset, reading David Foster Wallace, badly. As he fears he wrote, badly. Pop Quiz 9 doubts what any of the Pop Quizzes have managed to communicate.
At any rate it's not going to make you look wise or secure or accomplished or any of the things readers usually want to pretend they believe the literary artist who wrote what they're reading is when they sit down to try and escape the insoluble flux of themselves and enter a world of prearranged meaning. Rather it's going to make you look fundamentally lost and confused and frightened about whether to trust even your fundamental intuitions about urgency and sameness and whether other people deep inside experience things in anything like the same way you do.
Like a thirteen year-old on the high diving board for the first time.

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