Like: TREME Episode 3 “Right Place, Wrong Time” … and the effects Malcolm Gladwell framework from “The Tipping Point”

April 28, 2010

On the plane to New Orleans this past week I finally got around to reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point.” I’ve been meaning to read it for years and so when I saw the paperback in the airport bookstore I bought it as an impulse purchase. This moment I consider to be a bit serendipitous.  It ended up providing a fascinating sociological framework with which to approach my visit to N’awlins.  For those who haven’t read it (like me, last week) the basic conceit of the book is that little, seemingly trivial details can push huge trends and epidemics in the community wildly in one direction or another.  Of course it’s a lot more nuanced than that, but this specifically applies to the idea that context and environments play a huge role in terms of our actual behaviors, far more than we previously believed. One example he explores in great detail is the dramatic turnaround of crime prevention in New York City largely being a matter of physically cleaning up trash and graffiti on the subway. The idea: an environment that accepts simple lawlessness and petty crimes will therefore accept/encourage harsher crimes. So they changed the physical environment and crime plummeted. Context rules.

But what about more specific community traits? For example, Fist-Fighting in Boston is a largely tolerated cultural; two knuckleheads would beat each other up, the cops would show up and ask who started it, and then they’d go to the can for a night and be released. No one would sue anyone else. This happened all the time. The first thing I noticed when I moved to Los Angeles is “where are all the dudes fighting each other in front of bars?” There weren’t any. And if they did, someone for sure was getting sued. Same laws. Same country. It’s just that one place is more culturally tolerant of a behavior and the other is not. But Los Angeles is a city five times the size of Boston and bars are everywhere, so how does this happen? Maybe it’s the kind of people who live here. Maybe it’s the nice weather putting everyone in a better mood. Maybe it’s because people are wearing less clothes. Maybe it’s because people are afraid that the other person is gang affiliated or something and maybe carrying a gun (the violence situation south of the 10, and east of the 5 is far different after all). Either way, I’ve seen hundreds of fist fights in four years in Boston and none in five years in Los Angeles. The difference is the environment, and therefore the context. And context rules.

So what if the difference is about positive behavior? What if a city had a context of joy and indomitable spirit? Would the context of that that spirit really hold sway over the city’s constituents? Over the tourists? Can the overwhelming joy and kindness of a city be as contagious as Gladwell argues? My conclusion was yes. After all, context rules.

By the way, that city is New Orleans. I spent the last four days there and, prompted by the Gladwell read, I spent the entire time being fascinated by the context/environment. Every single person I met was relentless positive, affable, and engaging. Not just the cab drivers, bartenders, hotel managers and assorted folks whose jobs it was to be cheerful and welcoming. And not just the citizens of New Orleans, who always seemed to manage to say a friendly hello as they walked to work, or strike up a conversation as they stood in the doorways to beat the sweltering sun. But what contagiousness argues for best, is to look at your fellow visitors. What mood do the Tourists and the Party Folks take upon their visit? By all accounts, they were likewise celebratory, kind, affectionate. People who you couldn’t imagine dancing on the street would do just that. One wonders how so much (relative) good behavior happens with so much alcohol involved, but it’s a function of the environment. People are there to drink, enjoy music, and have a great time. It’s a kind of debauchery that lacks the animosity that seems to characterize much youthful partying these days (think woodstock 99, etc).  Especially after the storm, where it seems the desire to embrace and reignite the things that make New Orleans special have become priority #1. The environment is now one of healing and pride. And it’s frickin’ contagious.

After all, Context Rules.

So upon arriving home, I watched TREME episode 3, with a sense of… is there a word for “immediate nostalgia?” So as far as cinematics goes, here’s the good and the bad…

Good:

-Wendell Pierce plays the best drunk ever. This is inarguable.

-The episode struck me as funnier than the previous two.

-Khandi Alexander is poised to win some serious awards. Maybe? She’s putting on a clinic.

-I remembered that John Goodman can do subtlety. We’re always wrapped up in his usual gravitas and Walter Sobcheckian-yelling that we forget just how acute he can be too. The scene on the porch between him and Zahn is priceless, “Just piano lessons.”

-Melissa Leo, high marks all around. She’s perfectly cast.

-Zahn. Not as manic as the first episode. A bit more manic then the second. But still finding balance and had some real nice moments. Even his doucheyness is starting to be charming, which seems to be the point. He mostly works as a great foil for Kim Dickens.

Bad:

-Meanwhile, Sonny is the douchiest douche in douchetown. How are we supposed to feel about him again? Are we supposed to like this guy? Because he’s giving hipsters and even badder name. Drinking his girlfriend’s birthday present because she got a surprise big-deal-gig and just happened to be busy for a little bit? And Sonny got to go to the gig too?! What is he, fucking five? Shut up Sonny you whiny little brat. For the record, I find most complaints of hipsterism and/or emo to be inane, simplistic, and often just plain irrelevant, but dear lord Sonny. Come on man. You’re actually justifying all of those diminutions. And yet, because this is David Simon, I will wait patiently. Maybe we’re suppose to hate this douchebag in the long run. My guess though is that his seemingly pretentious stories of saving people in his boat (the ones that people can’t seem corroborate) will actually end up being true. And really he’s just working out his shit or some other backstory. I dunno.

-His girlfriend Annie is far more tolerable, except she makes a face when playing fiddle that looks like she’s passing stones.

-There’s a fine line in film/tv between something that feels real and something that feels forced. This seems obvious, but authenticity is such a rarity in entertainment that we’ve learned to embrace the ridiculous as an alternative. Meanwhile, Simon’s shows (Homicide, The Corner, The Wire) have built a reputation on being authentic above all else. So in regards to the scene in episode 3 where the cops suddenly go ape-shit on Antoine for, like, no reason… well, it immediately set off my bullshit detector. Which is odd, because I’ve seen that exact same kind of horror go down in real life multiple times. But if it is something that’s painfully real, what’s the problem? The problem is the “how” of course. Since DO THE RIGHT THING(1), we’ve seen the no-reason-police-beating many, many times in our cinematic experience, and many of these immitations are often done for contrived/imitative/knee-jerk reasons. Unfortunately, we can’t help but bring all those negative connotations with it. This scene in episode 3, however, builds up beautifully; Antoine drunkenly sings with Annie and Sonny as the police car slides carefully into the backround. They finish their song. He starts to drunkenly walk forward. You slowly feel it coming. It’s perfect film-making. Then the second his horn taps the cop car, the police are instantly on top of him and within a second are beating the shit out of him, spewing the kind of dialogue we see in “evil cop” movies. Even the style of the scene changes, as it ultra-edited and with multiple angles to accentuate the violence.(2) You sense the filmmakers wanted to show how quickly things can turn and how impacting real police violence can be, but in doing so they’ve created a scene that achieves in the exact antithesis of what it was achieving when it started. In this culture of stylistic violence you need to be doubly careful. Even the shaky cam has a action-movie connotation now. You need the same kind of unblinking de-stylization that made the action of The Wire so heartbreaking.

Anywho it’s just something to look out for in future episodes, as it’s the crux of what makes a David Simon show work.

And I swear I’m going to have have another “It’s not just who but when” post up this week, it’s almost done.

(1) – It goes back further of course, but the scene of Radio Raheem remains the last major touchstone for a lot of us.

(2) – In comparison to the normal Simon standards, not, like, Michael Bay.


Love: Where The Wild Things Are (PART 1)

October 16, 2009

(Note: in an effort to get this up I’m not going to edit so I apologize for the stream of conscious approach)

Where The Wild Things Are was my favorite book of childhood. I wasn’t exactly sure why it was at the time. It just was. I would read it constantly. Draw pictures of the Wild Things. Make up my own Wild Things. All that sort of stuff. I was one of those hyper-imaginative kids that would sort of make you worry in some ways. At first glance WTWTA doesn’t seem to be about too much. Boy gets in trouble. Sent to bed without supper. Imagines a place with fantastical where he gets to be troublesome. Eventually returns. Gets supper. Really that’s it and it would seem obvious that it’s some sort of ode or bit of comforting tale to kids when they get in trouble. But the open ended-ness of the stark narrative really has allowed the psychological subtext to be debated for years and years. Is it about troubled kids? Is it about the recess of imagination? Inclinations to violence? Is it simply an analgous tale to Maurice Sendak’s own feelings toward his homosexuality? Really, it’s gone a million ways.

And with that it’s amazing that the best analysis I’ve ever seen at getting to the heart of Where The Things Are, came in the form of the new featue film from Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers.

I could write an 100 page paper on the analysis of child psychology in this movie. This not hyperbole. It’s is a stunningly complex film. So much so that I need to see it again to really tinker and figure some stuff out. This is not exactly the simple plot of the book, but a fully fleshed out child with a fully fleshed out (and still slightly ambiguous) child mentality. And in exploring his life at home, then his life with the Wild Things, a lot of grand themes take presedence: anger, jelousy, delirium, school, sybling detachment, divorce, existentialism, and many more.

The opening section of the film deals his life at home. We get bits and pieces of everything, a sort of key to understanding the rest of the movie if you will. I’m not going to get into details, because the subtle way the movie reveals these details is such a joy; a kind of forgotten way of filmmaking. It’s all detail oriented stuff, with bits of dialogue off to the side, an image through a doorway, a few hand-made items. Max (oh yeah, that’s the main kid) absorbs his environment and things seep into him quietly. It’s remarkably well-observed stuff here. Everything is impossibly pronounced yet never feels in your face or didactic.

And then all sense of being definitely didactic goes out the window when Max acts out, and runs away to escape to his island where the wild things are. The sequence takes up close to the rest of the running time and not only is it amazing from a technical filmmaking perspective, but it’s one of the most surprinsingly complex and nuanced bit of storytelling I’ve ever seen. It pretty much abandons a technical narrative for an emotional one. Max meets the Wild Things and becomes their king. He interacts with his new friends on a very child-like and visceral manner. Really it seems to be postulating that The Wild Things are not just the inclination to be troublesome, but representations of all the kinds of emotions and fears that lead to being troublesome. It’s freaking brilliant about it too. There’s no obvious one to one. One character isn’t his mother. One isn’t his dad. One isn’t fear. One isn’t anger. They’re all of those things in different ways. His main friend Carol (Holy Shit James Gandolfini. Just amazing work here) who seems to personify a kind of strained masculinity and terror. He is both Max’s absentee father and Max’s id. They’re tumultous relationship seems to be the core of Max’s wrestling with is own anger and maturity, but if so it is only one half of the coin. The other half is realized by the two female Wild Things which represent different aspects of his mother and sister. First in Judith, the stern and dissasociated Wild Thing (another spectacular voice performance, this time from a morbidly funny Catherine O’Hara) who constantly seems to be at odds with Max; and also with the most affecting Wild Thing, KW, whose quiet resignation, humanity, warmth, and emotional weary simply radiates of her and illustrates Max longing for a reconnection with these two central women of his family. Lauren Ambrose doesn’t even get a paranthetical aside for this performance.  Fully realized. Textured. Heart Breaking. Seriouly, why don’t we nominate voice actors again?  It’s that good.

So is  Max’s journey to where the wild things are a dream? His imagination? Both? Does it matter? Either way the movie certainly seems to be adopting dream-logic for the sequence. Believe it or not, the film that WTWTA most closely resembles is Mullholand Drive of all things. An odd choice for a “kids movie” one would think, but it’s completely analogous: a reality and a dream complimenting each other, fragmenting already stark dichotomies to tell a whole picture of a person and complete a pyschology.

I don’t blame a lot of people for not liking it. When I say “they just didn’t get it” it’s not some holier than thou statement, but more an acknowledgement that it’s really difficult to get. I certainly didn’t get all of it. At least not yet (once again, I need to see this again). I just know I haven’t seen something this ambitious in a long time. It was as formally and thematically ambitious as There Will Be Blood, and like that movie it deserves to be credited not only for it’s ambition, but for it’s amazement at how well it succeeds. I have to let it settle in as I just saw the thing last night, and I’m not really prone to over-doing something after having just seen it… but right now there are two films from this decade which take the cake for not only being flawless films, but cinematically and emotionally ambitious, while reaching some kind of deep seeded and complex truth. The first Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind  and other is Where The Wild Things Are. And I’m not even that crazy about Spike Jonze’s other movies.

And lastly, is the movie for kids? A lot of it will sure go over their heads. But that’s fine. In a way that’s what makes the film exactly for them. Kids are much better at sensing emotional truth than we ever give them credit for and I am positive they will see this movie and connect to Max’s life.


Like: Miranda July

July 21, 2009

I know I’ve been on a huge “like” streak, but who cares? Life’s better if it’s a love train.

I’ve just started reading “‘No One Belongs Here More Than You.’ stories by Miranda July” And I’m loving it.

Truthfully, I feel a bit of a novice when it comes to July’s work. I saw ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW back when it came out and had a very strange experience. I had no idea what I was walking into and it was one of those films that grows with you, especially in the days after you see it and have time to digest. This is mostly due to the fact that it is just so vividly different. Sure, the film is technically linear nor is it really abstract or anything. But it’s a kind of floating, ambivalent narrative. You could use filmy type descriptions and fall back on phrases like ” it’s starkly beautiful” or something like that, but that’s not what makes it relevant or even good.  This film is emotionally adventurous. Characters just have moments where they’re floating through each others lives. And it goes into unexpected places. The sexuality can be sudden, abrupt, juvenile. Emotional reactions can be completely disarming. Every character is just a bit off. They have these moments and we feel like we fall into their brain, and we follow their logic or desire just a few steps past the well reasoned response and into a territory just a step beyond. It’s fascinating. The film seems like a grouping of short stories, but it’s also not; it’s a cohesive movie that just happens to be about brief moments with these people.

It makes sense that Miranda July is first and foremost, a performance artist. The main stake of performance art is cause and effect (AKA reactions). Thus all her art, writing, and even her film operate on a kind of momentary appropriation. Scenes and inclinations follow the will of the moment. It’s like all her characters possess varying kinds of monomania that rear their ugly, or perhaps beautiful head. Tonally, it’s absorbing.

The other neat realization is that this behavior of “following a momentary logic to it’s end” is one of the central definitions of being crazy. And thus I feel like much of her work is a series of explorations of what happens when someone desires and thoughts cross an accepted social norm.

Miranda even appears to be the perfect vehicle for this entire world she explores: there’s a slightness to her, a plain and natural beauty, but also a child-like cuteness displayed by her stark, wide eyes. They contain the perfect mix of innocence and an intrinsic sadness; she seems like the perennial adolescent.

I can’t wait to read some more.


Like: Infinite Jest (Part I)

July 20, 2009

So the problem with reading Infinite Jest, a 1000+ page stab at the great American novel by David Foster Wallace, is that when you finish reading it you feel like you’re finally ready to actually read it… and thus want to start over.

It is a wickedly cruel joke on the part of DFW, and on par for a book that features many of these kinds cyclical meta truths both within the reality/plot of the characters and also for you, the reader. There’s a logical reason for this desire, mostly being that the beginning of the book is rather cryptic and features some of the characters at the end of their journeys and the end of the book is where you get much of the no-nonsense factual realities that much of the book is just HINTING at… so yeah… you want to go back.

I’m also not really sure where to even begin with this monster. So this will only be PART I of my take on the book. PART II will come when I’ve had more time to ruminate.  So let’s go stream of consciousness counting:

I loved it for one. Two, it’s dense. Three, the language is beyond anyone but my mom, who knows the meaning of pretty much every word. So I was looking up lots of words, and sometimes too lazy to do so. Four, there’s a lot of Pynchon influence, particularly Gravity’s Rainbow. Five, it’s at times deeply funny. Six, it takes place in Boston, so that’s neat. Seven, it’s odd that for a novel written between 93-95, he accurately predicts the entire future of television, movies, and video gaming that is going on today, including HDTV and digital equipment (the only mistake he makes in these “predictions” is format, saying that digital media would be on cartridges instead of the discs). Seven, it is often profoundly sad. Eight, not to get into literary semantics, but it’s interesting to see him try to break out of the malaise of late modern conceits of both overtly-fractured form and irony. He doesn’t REALLY do it. Part of him can’t do it maybe, but you get the sense he wants to transcend it.  Nine, it is important to transcend it because it is slightly bullshitty after all. Nine, but he understands the problems with culture wanting this kind of bullshitty detachment because they feel anything with real values is in itself, bullshit.

Okay, time out. I have to explain that shit better.

DFW once wrote in an article about television and modern culture where he explained, to paraphrase [We have gone from a culture that upheld the sanctity of good values to a culture that instead appreciates the rejection of bogus values] Which in my mind, is highly problematic. Sure the reasons, were perhaps valid. It was meant to undermine legitimately corrupt authority. To stem the tide of conformity. To make those outside of conventionality, acceptable. Heck, even Ayn Rand’s philosophy started off as a principled opposition to the dangers of communism. Point being, there was a point to the rejection of the bogus values.

But the problem is our society eventually came to uphold this behavior/pathology as THE great truth.  Believing in anything traditional is considered passe. Hell, I’d go one more and say our society considers believing in things as not only naive, but harmful. They’re idiots who have flocked up to join the masses. And lo and behold, this creates a negative society (well duh). As a result, we can’t really do anything. It amounts to great minds, or even mediocre minds sitting around being self-assured in their own superiority rather than actually doing anything. Sure any system has its deep, inherent flaws, but the absence of a system IS NOT a system. And yet we have a whole part of society, often our best and brightest minds, who abstain from systemic input because that means they would be going against “the rejection of bogus values.” DFW saw this as a big problem and wanted to do something about it.

Then again, Infinite Jest isn’t really about this subject. If you had to be literal, it’s about addictions, film, family, and tennis. But it is also certainly about the modern emotional numbness we can develop in a world that values negativity. A culture who has lived in this cherishing of bogus values for far too long, and renders the big things in life: love, joy, delirium, hate, anger, lust, and desire, all the more difficult to attain… or honor properly… or even just deal with.  And the characters of the novel don’t really have an answer. There’s some stuff there one supposes (perhaps with what happens to Gately and Joelle). DFW talked at length about how he wanted to find an answer to the deadly malaise. To deconstruct and reconstruct the big truths, love, etc. To somehow take love, and build it logically so that those who adore the rejection of the bogus can actually take heed. And be happy. I dunno.

Guess we have to wait until The Pale King to see if he had an idea of what to do… But knowing what happened during the writing of that piece… one imagines not.


Like: Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince

July 15, 2009

So yeah, I like the Harry Potter books. They’re good. They’re fun. J.K. creates a heck of a world, and best of all she is the perfect kind of amateur writer whose natural style rarely gets in the way of the clarity of her intentions, nor the narrative. Just good, good stuff.

The movies are a slightly different story. I really do hate the first two movies, with the special kind of hate reserved for the things that are so infinitely lazy and inane. Those films are glorified line readings with special effects. Thanks Chris Columbus for your complete lack of effort! One things a direct of cinema would understanding of telling a cinematic story, you know, cimenmatically. Perhaps I’m being harsh. They were servicable most likely, but admittedly the best thing that came out of them was that they were impeccably casted with a stable of A+ british actors and appropriate young kids who were signed up for the long haul.

Things were suddenly righted in the third film when cinema god Alfonso Cuaron, took over and injected the entire thing with a sense of fun and imagination (I realize that’s a generic statement, but it is also an accurate one). It could have been a truly great film had it not made a couple of weird choices that subverted the real essence of some key moments, but none the less it was wonderful to see the world actually come to life, even throw in a few surprises. Next, Mike Newell came along for the forth filmand had a nice solid entry. It was probably the most “traditional” kind of movie, whatever the hell that means, but it helps that the story lends itself to blockbusterish-like tone.

Then some guy named David Yates came in to direct the fifth one. I had never heard of him. He had pretty much just done some BBC tv and that’s it. But after I sat and watched the film I realized that I really liked Mr. Yates. He took a somewhat rambling and unfocused book (it’s great and all, but come on) and turned it into the fastest paced, shortest, and probably most focused film to date (perhaps even a little too rushed to be honest). The young actors, probably just getting more comfortable with age, seemed to have settled into adopting naturalism; their scenes were far less stagey. And the action finally had a kind of weight to it, best personified in the truly thrilling Dumbledore/Voldy fight. But none the less I considered his entry to be visually exciting, more interesting, yet still somehow workman-like. And in a first, since Columbus, Yates was hired back to direct the 6th film.

And now, I’m thrilled he was.

Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince, is by far the best film of the entire series. It’s a somber film. An layered film. A film that always opts to tell the story through cinematic language when possible. And most of all, the film breathes beautifully. It doen’t feel like a single other film in the series. It feels heavy. Scenes air out and emotions get to run. The film just feels lived in. The young actors seem to be challenged by Yates to step up and do some real adult acting (and some real fun innuendo comes into play as a result).  Seriously, every single actor gets a chance to show depth: Malfoy gets to do reluctance and despair. Hermione gets to feel wounded. Ron gets to do pride, arrogance, and even a nifty little love sap. Harry gets to show unabashed self-confidence (unnatural of course), and even deal with responsibility of maturity. And Dumbledore gets to deal with finality; as Dumbledore, and his subsequent relationship with Harry, is undoubtedly the core of the film. Yates knows this. And he shows it from the start with a wonderful cinematic blurb of an opening (a sort of papparazzo fallout of the fifth film’s battle). Not to get spoilery, but HBP is really a film/book about Dumbledore saying goodbye to Harry, taking him as his confidant, partner, and ultimately successor of sorts. And here, what could be so heavy handed, is told completely with ever look, glance, and cinematic cue.

Even with that strong core, the film truly belongs to Jim Broadbent. Dear god, does he get a chance to shine in this. I’m pretty sure the entire Slughorn role was left completely in tact (or at least it sure felt like it). He does so many things with what could have been a bit of a throwaway role. But he and Yates craft something exceptional here. Not just for a Potter movie, but for any movie. Slughorn gets to show such range: buffoonery, intelligence, pride, terror, emotional paralization, sadness, and deep, inescapable shame. But rather than morph to singular essences of those traits within the moment, he exhibits them from THE singular essence of one character. It is true acting. Embodiying three demensions. His eyes, in every thing he seems to do, simply seem to ache with vulnerability, and therefore humanity. I honestly think it’s one of my favorite performances of the year.

The whole film is just works brilliantly, and it almost feels, dare I say it? High brow. Yikes… but despite all this, there will be Potterites will hate it.

Oh yes, the movie diverts from the book, um… a lot. This irks some people. I do not understand thi.. I mean I get it in the techncial sense, but I go to the movies so I can see something different, something new. Going to simply see a visual word-for-word recreation is nothing more than an exercize in unhealthy internalization, if not mild egocentrism. In some ways I think the HBP is… gulp… better than the book. I’m not so naive as realize that there is a way in which all books are inherently better than their movie counterparts, in that movies naturally lack the depth and scope that comes from the novel format, but movies can exist as something separate and just as good in their own way. So often, book-to-film adaptations try to capture that sense of scope by keeping every single detail. This was the main fault of the first two movies. What HBP instead opts for is by going for the same depth, emotions, and scope by supplanting singular detail (plot or otherwise) with tone, character tension, or even a clever adlib or gesture. Every one of these divergent choices is just immpecable: the simplization of the quidditch tryouts, the added burrow scene, the removal of most of the flashbacks, some added dialogue, the new placement of an infamous kiss, you name it.  These bits and plot changes reek of excitement, effieciency and, to use a word so many times it becomes redundant, depth.

So… I’m on board with David Yates, who has made an incredible movie that mostly deals with human interplay, but just so happens to be a summer tentpole. I can’t remember the last time a popcorn movie had this much weight (hint: it’s not a popcorn movie in the slightest). At first I thought the idea of splitting the last movie into two was a deplorable idea, still technically do. But Yates just entered that special territory, where I’ll be down with anything he does because his work is simply a joy to watch.

In case you couldn’t tell I really liked this movie… Actually, I would have probably liked it even if I hated Harry Potter.


Like: The Geek Heirarchy

March 5, 2009

Warning. Do not try to read this. Click on link below.

geekchartbig

THE GEEK HEIRARCHY CLICK HERE FOR BIG VERSION YOU CAN ACTUALLY READ

What is the most wonderful thing about the Geek heirarchy? It’s unflagging accuracy. There isn’t a single thing I can find wrong with it in the way of discourse. It’s a wonderful achievement in the annals of fanboy and geek semantics. It also belittles your potential interests! Either way. Just great stuff.

It’s also completely hilarious.

Props go to K. for alerting me to this many moons ago.

and remember, we’re official: www.stuffilikeandstuffidontlike.com YAY!


Love: David Foster Wallace

January 23, 2009

David Foster Wallace is my favorite writer.

I say this with a number of addendum: I discovered DFW criminally late in the proceedings. Why no one turned me onto him in the annals of my education is inexorably beyond me (1). I had heard his name throw around a bit with the popular, yet celebrated modern authors, but sorely lacked any real exposure or criticism. It was not until his recent, sudden, and moderately unexpected suicide in which the articles  about his talents were everywhere that I took any notice. I made a mental note to look into his work and subsequently put one under my stack of books I’m reading on the bedside table.  It was not until I came across a link in a Bill “Sports Guy” Simmons column (2) that I sat there with real honest to goodness DFW text.

It was called “Roger Federer as Religious Experience” I was immediately blown away. In an age of prose full of sweeping grandeur, broad/declarative strokes, snark, irony, and cheating conclusions, here was an honest to god observer. He went on to characterize Federer from the most basic sense, as if the reader has never heard of tennis before.  He supported every declaratory statement; non-fiction as arguement or logic. He approached Federerer from a purely scientific level, analyzing just how astounding his hand-eye coordination skills were on human level.  I went on to devour his non-fiction in a thoroughly rapturous nature: Host a non-judgemental/let-their-actions-speak-louder-than-your-opinion piece on conservative talk radio (and if opinions are drawn, they are logically presented and supported),  Consider the Lobster a piece for gourmet magazine that surprisingly surveys the ethics/hysteria of animal food consumption, and The Weasel Twelve Monkeys and The Shrub a fascinating piece after this recent election where we can look upon the political non-chalance of the late 90s, and the subsequent fall of Mccain, or the post-obama American resurgence. They’re all amazing pieces, full of cunning insight dry sense of humor. I was witnessing the perfect observer.

His essays, meanwhile,  remove a bit of the objectivity and delve into well-reasoned humor and guile.  He tries to convince you Kafka is funny. He commentary on Sept 11 as it unfolds and does so from what will later be redined “middle america” in the Bush era. I was nearly moved to tears by his complete and total evisceration of John Updike. Why? Because I hated Updike for years. Me being rather inarticulate in comparison had failed to really grasp why I felt as such, but I certianly knew he was terribly uninteresting which is odd for a such a good writer dealing with an interesting subject. With DFW, it was all clarified before me;  I was estatitc.

As for his fiction, I find myself currently immersed in Infinite Jest, his stab at the Great American Novel and I’m just as moved by his fiction as I am his non-fiction.

Of course, people can look at his writing and make immediate assumptions: a) too complicated. If “brevity is the soul of wit” he must be a dunce cause DFW can take his time with the best of them. The vast array of footnotes and endnotes are daunting and anybody who likes them must be pretentious! Nothing could be more innaccurate. His use of “notes” are often pitch perfect in their capacity to add depth of commentary. Perhaps we’re so use to reading parentheticals (3) that we consider having to look somewhere else for the added little bit to be a pain in the ass. DFW is also incredibly wordy… as in he uses big words. Nothing is more daunting to American readership because we don’t like when things go over our heads. I know I don’t. But I certianly respect it. I’ve looked up more words in reading DFW than I have ever in my life. And if once again, this is all just a matter of laziness and we don’t like looking up words, then I simply try my best to reason it out. It’s an incredible exercize and one we should do more. Not liking DFW for these reasons is understandable, but in my estimation, a self-lie. There are plenty of reasons not to like a writer. Diffuculty is not acceptible.

Especailly because he’s so damn logical. His work is like mathamatic proofs. Which brings us to the the second to last thing you should know about David Foster Wallace: he is a genuis. As in he got the famous “genuis grant” and has IQ off the fucking charts. As much as “genius” is thrown around now (4) he is definitely one of them. If there was a single writer I could pick who qualifies, it’s him. What’s more than all of that is that he outright inspires me.  He is so dedicated to the legitimacy of his words it makes me less haphazard. He clearly finds a simlar delight in analysis, only he rarely falls into callousness (5). Plus his work helps me with my very shitty punctuation. I had been using semicolons not just wrongly, but pretentiously for years. But the inspiration is the key. Why? I have haven’t been really inspired by a writer since high school (6). I had basically moved to strictly on-topic docu-non-fiction and massive research projects. Now I’m back… And I feel forever indebted to DFW. It’s what informs the superlative “favorite author” in such a short amount of time. His impact is that profound when compared to what has preceeded (7).

The very last thing you should know about DFW is that he killed himself.  It’s just so dreadfully unimportant in the larger scheme. He battled clincal depression for years and for most of his life was on meds. But it does not really reflect on his capacity/legacy/influence/importance as a writer. Sure there are flashes of relevence here and there (8), to deny it would be folly, but there could not be a less important characteristic on display. One could even make an uninformed assumption that his meds helped maintain his even tone. I worry because an artists death often overhangs the nature of their work, often for worse.

But once again, that shouldn’t matter. What matters are the things I have taken away from DFW in such a short amount of time. One thing more than all the others:

This is water. This is water.

David Foster Wallace, you will me more than missed.

Endnotes:

1. Maybe it’s because no one reads.

2. I know.

3. which I use too much… see

4. my favorite overuse of genius being for NFL offensive coordinators*

5. I’m not so lucky.

6. I went my entire collegiate career NOT being inspired by a writer… I was an English minor mind you… yeah… consider it a drought.

7. Unlike my favorite filmmaker, who seems to change yearly/weekly.

8. Specifically, his various comments on suicide(s) over the years.

*which may sound like I don’t think football coaches can be geniuses and I hate it. I love football and do think some coaches are DEFINITE football geniuses. I’m simply commenting on the eagerness of media types to laude that title upon young coordinators without much support or understanding of qualifiers themselves.