Finished Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace over the weekend. I was happy to be back in Wallacia again. One thought I’ve been turning over in my mind is Wallace’s tone & style of writing. I had mentioned to friends before that the coldness & formality of his writing is a strange curiosity. I’m wondering now if it has do to with the fact that Wallace doesn’t really seem to like talking about himself.
Reading Infinite Jest or Oblivion or Consider the Lobster does give you some measure of insight about the author. All of those works are about the thoughts & feelings that occupy Wallace. But, he rarely lets his guard slip & allows much of his personal perspective through. Essentially, Wallace seems more comfortable with the words “I think” than “I feel.”
There’s one passage in Infinite Jest that comes back to me. One of the AA members (I think it’s Ken E.) is trying to describe to another (Kate G.) a nightmarish figure that haunts him, something that seems to be the root of his unhappiness & addiction. The entire exchange is written in laughably stylized speech, almost to the point that it undermines what Ken is trying to get across.
I think this style is purposeful, given that Wallace is aware of the limitations of one’s own perception. The cold formal language he uses almost seems to reinforce the impenetrability of a person’s awareness. Piece after piece, he goes back to how rooted people are in their own needs & viewpoints without ever really betraying himself or doing his damnedest to point out his own bias. I do think Wallace is trying to practice what he preaches, but he’s not a saint. I think some measure of fear must go into his writer’s balancing act as well. But that’s just my opinion.
On a closing note, I will say that the copy of Consider the Lobster I have has all of Wallace’s bio rendered in present tense. (Wallace is the author of, He is the recipient of, etc.) Those words made me a little wistful & made me think how that would probably change when the book went into its next printing.