Reverence and All That

12 12 2009

This is exciting: a brand-new excerpt from the forthcoming posthumous final novel by David Foster Wallace, The Pale King. At first I couldn’t understand how this excerpt held together on its own as a short story, how the first reminiscence concerning the cement mixer related to his thoughts on religion and to the final reminiscence about the war movie he watched with his dad. Then I figured it out and was thrilled. My feeling is that the key to understanding the story is seeing how it relates to the life and example of Jesus, and particularly how we relate to it as belated readers trying to “understand” what he did. Anyhow, on the basis of this excerpt and “Good People” which ran in the New Yorker a couple of years ago, we are in for a huge treat when David’s final work finally arrives in April 2011. It looks like David really made some progress toward if not actually reached his goal of expressing his most deeply felt convictions and emotions in a more direct way. In fact, this latest excerpt reminds me a bit of late Salinger (I’m thinking Seymour: An Introduction particularly), with its slightly rambling narrator clumsily but earnestly relaying his deeply felt sentiments by way of elliptical and then, suddenly, powerfully enlightening reminiscences.

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2 responses

28 12 2009
dave

I also really enjoyed “All That,” and I thought the links to Salinger were striking. All the stuff about being “ecstatic” is very reminiscent of Seymour. The father in Wallace’s story observes that the son “might suffer from a type of benign psychosis called ‘antiparanoia,’ in which I seemed to believe that I was the object of an intricate universal conspiracy to make me so happy I could hardly stand it.” That’s right out of “Raise High the Roof Beam”: “If I’m anything by a clinical name, I’m a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy” (88). Also, the voice in this piece reminds me a lot of Seymour’s in “Hapworth.”

28 12 2009
desario71

Oh wow! Thanks for pointing out that explicit connection to Salinger. I am a self-diagnosed Salingerholic, having enjoyed “The Catcher” as a kid and then having more recently been turned on and very impressed by his under-appreciated later work, so it’s exciting to note the similarities between him and Wallace in terms of their interest in metaphysical grace manifested in the everyday, humdrum human world. And Wallace seems to have also adapted/adopted a Salingeresque use of symbols and memories.

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