Oblivion: Stories By David Foster Wallace

In the stories that make up Oblivion, David Foster Wallace joins the rawest, most naked humanity with the infinite involutions of self-consciousness—a combination that is dazzlingly, uniquely his. These are worlds undreamt-of by any other mind. Only David Foster Wallace could convey a father's desperate loneliness by way of his son's daydreaming through a teacher's homicidal breakdown (The Soul Is Not a Smithy). Or could explore the deepest and most hilarious aspects of creativity by delineating the office politics surrounding a magazine profile of an artist who produces miniature sculptures in an anatomically inconceivable way (The Suffering Channel). Or capture the ache of love's breakdown in the painfully polite apologies of a man who believes his wife is hallucinating the sound of his snoring (Oblivion). Each of these stories is a complete world, as fully imagined as most entire novels, at once preposterously surreal and painfully immediate. Oblivion is an arresting and hilarious creation from a writer whose best work challenges and reinvents the art of fiction (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Mister squishy --
The soul is not a smithy --
Incarnations of burned children --
Another pioneer --
Good old neon --
Philosophy and the mirror of nature --
Oblivion --
The suffering channel Oblivion: Stories


read & download µ eBook or Kindle ePUB ✓ David Foster Wallace

Caution:- Long review ahead.

I finally understand what the word 'tedium' means. Interestingly enough I have neither associated this particular term with books making use of the much revered and equally feared stream-of-consciousness as a narrative device nor with hefty tomes worth more than 1000 pages.

But getting through even 1 page of DFW's writing requires a Herculean effort on the reader's part. Wallace commands your undivided attention and let's say if you are demanding the luxury of a split second of thinking something unrelated in the middle of a page and then coming back to that same point in a page, resuming reading and achieving your former state of involvement with the story right away, you couldn't be asking for more.

Wallace's writing doesn't allow you breaks or breathers. His style is a modified form of stream of consciousness, one can say, where the endless stream of interior monologue combines with minutiae of character descriptions, frequent and abrupt digressions and everything else imaginable in excruciating detail. And once you lose the elusive thread connecting all the dots, you are doomed.

But even then, reading him is such a whole lot of fun. It's a challenging exercize where all your mental faculties are working at their full potential and strained to the extreme lest they miss out on that one crucial sentence amidst a sea of unnecessary details, that helps you understand what the narrative is about or what Wallace really wants you to know.

Mister Squishy

My first reactions to Mister Squishy bordered on impatient irritation:-

Dude, stop showing off! I get that you are some kind of genius to be able to document everything with such painstaking precision.
What in the world is this about anyway?
Lord please make this story end already.

That I happened to be reading this way past midnight, also fuelled my annoyance to a certain degree. But it's a good thing I plowed on stubbornly refusing to let Wallace get the better of me and put me to sleep.
And finally it all clicked together.
I began to see the point in plodding through a mind-boggling volume of corporate jargon and specifics of everything starting from variations in one particular character's sexual fantasies to the alignment of cakes kept on a tray in a conference room.

Mister Squishy is a less-than-flattering commentary on corporate America and accurately highlights the mind-numbing boredom that entails a white-collar, corporate job in the most indirect manner possible. It has an undercurrent of Wallace's typical dry humour running throughout which aids the reader in tiding over some of the ceaseless monotony of the detailing of the most trivial things.
I give this 3/5.

The Soul Is Not A Smithy

This is a pure gem of a short story. But then again you have to wait patiently to peel off all the layering of digressions to get to the core of the story. A young primary school student day-dreams in panels, each one of them described in vivid details, and remains oblivious to a major crisis unfolding before his very eyes in his Civics class. But in retrospect what seems to affect him the most is not the memory of this one terrifying incident (of his teacher's supposed demonic possession) but the tragedy of surviving the day-to-day ennui of adult life.
I am probably not explaining this well but this short story seemed more like an exercize in story-telling than anything else since its metafictive qualities are way too obvious to be ignored.


I have just one bone to pick with this though - Sanjay Rabindranath is not a correct Indian name. Rabindranath is a name and not a surname(as per my knowledge). And I'm a little disappointed with Wallace for creating another stereotypical Indian character, albeit an unimportant one. (Not EVERY Indian boy is a nerd with glasses who likes nothing better than studying. Humph!)

Incarnations of Burned Children

This story came as a pleasant shock. It displays Wallace's incredible range as a writer. It is lyrical, agonizing, has some of his most exquisite prose (sans the insane detailing and abhorrent barrage of tough sounding words) and deals with a theme like parenthood which is so not your typical Wallace subject.
This is hands down my favorite story of the lot and worth being read and re-read.


Another Pioneer

A wonderful parable rife with symbolism and allusions to human foibles, but half concealed behind a mountain of Latin phrases and incomprehensible words which put my Kindle dictionary to shame.
I am going to make a list of the words here just to give the prospective reader an idea -


.....and so on

(oh look even GR spellcheck thinks these words do not exist)


Good Old Neon

A semi (or wholly?) autobiographical story which reminded me of Wallace's suicide again and again. I loved the protagonist's voice (even though he is kind of a douche, really) and not even once did his ramblings bother me here, which goes to show how deftly Wallace handled the narration.
The ending left me spell-bound.



A brilliant short story revolving around the dynamics of human relationships which appear to be normal on the surface but reveal complexities just beneath it and inter-familial troubles. But again this contains a generous sprinkling of unheard of words which are precisely there to make you feel a little stupid. But I almost did not mind.
This one has a bit of a cliched ending.


The Suffering Channel

By far the longest short story of the lot and this could also qualify as a novella. From what I could glean from this, it appears to be DFW's attempt at parodying the inner workings of media houses and revealing that thin line separating 'actual' news from pure bullshit being relayed under the pseudonym of news. Also you can take the word 'shit' literally here.
(Don't get what I mean? Read the damn book.)


(I have left out reviewing one story here because that did not make much of an impression on me.)

After finishing this book, I am experiencing a mad urge to laugh loudly at the burst of pride I felt for my own vocabulary at one point of time.
Reading DFW is a tiresome experience but it is also immensely rewarding and I simply cannot wait to learn more from him now.

P.S.:- A big thank you to Garima for linking me to DFW's now stuff-of-legends Kenyon commencement address. A reading of that speech full of amazing new insights helped dispel some of the negative sentiments I seemed to have developed in the earlier stage of my acquaintance with Wallace's writing. 329 What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant.
- David Foster Wallace, Oblivion

Let me get my biases out in the open. I love DFW. I have to be careful somedays to not fall-down and worship his novels. Wallace's nonfiction talent also hits me as evidence that the universe is not even slightly fair. But, I've always been just a little unsettled (and occasionally freaked out) by his short stories. 'Oblivion', like his earlier story collections ('Brief Interviews with Hideous Men' and 'Girl with Curious Hair') is one of those tortured works of fiction that both attract and repel me at the same time. It is a little spooky how some of the stories (Mister Squishy and Oblivion) anticipate his last unfinished novel 'The Pale King' while Good Old Neon was hard to listen even though it has been almost four years since his suicide. Anyway, these stories are quirky, stylized, experimental, and brilliant in their beauty and their suffering. 329 Lo que está claro es que los libros de David Foster Wallace, o te gustan o no te gustan. Personalmente, prefiero cuando le da más importancia al fondo de la historia, que a la forma de contarla. Cuando no me gusta es cuando experimenta. En este sentido, 'Extinción' es el libro que más me ha gustado por ahora de DFW.

La característica más destacable de la escritura de DFW no es su calidad literaria, que la tiene y mucha, ni las historias que cuenta, que son magníficas, todo un prodigio de imaginación, agudeza y erudición; lo que destaca por encima de todo es su visión del mundo, su inteligencia a la hora de abrirnos los ojos a la realidad que nos rodea. Su ojo, su mente, es como un bisturí con el cual disecciona todo lo que cae bajo su punto de observación. DFW narra como si tuviera un zoom, está contándote una historia, para a continuación pasar a otro sub-tema, y a continuación a otro sub-sub-tema, todo ello con la máxima minuciosidad. No se trata de historias dentro de historias, como hace Paul Auster. Lo que desea hacer DFW es contarnos la historia abarcando todos los puntos de vista y con todos los detalles posibles, utilizando para ello estadísticas, Historia, matemáticas, física, etc., pero siempre con unas dosis de observación extraordinarias. Creo que DFW sacaría un buen relato hasta del prospecto de un medicamento.

Esta manera de narrar tan singular puede dejarte exhausto en algunos momentos (desde luego, no se trata de una lectura de metro), pero merece la pena no rendirse y seguir leyendo porque al acabar de leer el relato te das cuenta de la profundidad de DFW como escritor y persona. Su prosa puede parecer aséptica hasta cierto punto, sobre todo cuando entra en algunos detalles, pero es sólo una sensación superficial. A un nivel más profundo llegas a conocer tan íntimamente a los personajes que deseas seguir acompañándolos en sus tribulaciones.

Otro detalle a destacar de las historias de DFW es que no tienen ni principio ni final. Al término de sus relatos, da la impresión de que prodría seguir y seguir ad infinitum. DFW quería abarcar la vida entera de los personajes. Quizá me guste DFW como también me gusta la música minimalista, con la que pienso tiene similitudes. Una composición de Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Wim Mertens o Michael Nyman, tiene la misma estructura que un relato de DFW. Empieza con fuerza, no posee aparentemente melodía y termina abruptamente, pero te mantiene en un estado hipnótico durante unos minutos. La prosa de DFW es igual, con esos párrafos interminables, al estilo de Marcel Proust o Thomas Bernhard, que te mantienen pegado a sus páginas, hasta que de repente se acaban, casi como si fuesen una partitura porque poseen una musicalidad propia.

Estos son los ocho relatos contenidos en 'Extinción':

- Seños Blandito. (***) Un Grupo de Discusión está realizando unos test para el lanzamiento de un nuevo producto, un pastelido de nombre ¡Delitos! Se trata de una terrible crítica a los medios publicitarios. El relato más duro de leer del libro, con el que hay que armarse de paciencia porque cuando llevas leídas unas páginas, todo encaja.

- El alma no es una forja. (*****) El protagonista nos cuenta el trauma que sufrieron tanto él como sus compañeros en la clase de Educación Cívica cuando eran niños, al mismo tiempo que recuerda las fantasías que se inventaba en clase, y cómo trata de entender la vida que llevó su padre durante esos años. Un relato maravilloso, una obra maestra. Sólo por este cuento merece la pena leer este libro.

- Encarnaciones de niños quemados. (****) En apenas tres páginas, el autor nos muestra un hecho puntual y trascendente en la vida de una familia.

- Otro pionero. (****) El protagonista recuerda una historia que le contó un amigo de un amigo que iba en un vuelo y que escuchó por casualidad. Se trata de una fábula sobre un niño que nació en una tribu paleolítica capaz de responder cualquier pregunta.

- El neón de siempre. (*****) El protagonista nos quiere explicar como todo su vida es un fraude. Otra muestra de la genialidad de DFW.

- La filosofía y el espejo de la naturaleza. (***) La madre del protagonista, el cual acaba de salir de prisión, está en juicios con unos cirujanos plásticos que le destrozaron la cara. Relato de humor negro con muy mala leche.

- Extinción. (****) Historia de un matrimonio, contada desde el punto de vista del marido, que pasa por un mal momento debido a los supuestos ronquidos de él. Gran relato, cuyo final me dejó francamente perturbado.

- El canal del sufrimiento. (***) Skip Atwater anda tras un personaje que podría darle el siguiente artículo en la revista para la que trabaja. Se trata de un escultor que realiza unas figuritas bastante curiosas. Otra crítica feroz, esta vez a la prensa amarillista y de cotilleo, pero también al mundo del arte, porque ¿quién tiene la potestad para decidir lo que es o no es arte? No cabe duda de que el sentido del humor de DFW era un poco especial. 329 Oh boy. Oh man, do I have a lot to say about this here book. I can't even begin to tackle it as a whole entity, so I'm going to do a review of each story, unless I get tired and have to smoosh.

Also: I am the kind of person who listens to all my music on shuffle, which means I clearly have no respect for the artist's conception of a complete work. Consequently I read these stories totally out of order, and will review them the same way.

The Suffering Channel and Mister Squishy
I think these are examples of DFW at nearly his best. They're certainly typifications of what I think of when I think of him. These long twisty stories with a fairly simple (though unique) plot, constellated with exhaustively depicted characters—to the point, sometimes, that it seems like the sort of pre-writing exercise you're taught to do in a creative writing class, where you jot down every single thing you can think of about your characters, from their appearance to their education to their mannerisms to their innermost fears and desires. Of course, those exercises are typically meant to be reference points only, a tool to help the writer really know his characters, so that they can be rendered more real on the page. But pff, DFW doesn't—didn't, oh god, pain in my heart—follow rules like that. Another rule he doesn't follow? The normal flow and rhythm of a story. Even pomo or trickerish authors tend to do things like group similar ideas or moments into the same paragraph, but not DFW. No, his stories (or his stories of the type exemplified by these two) have dense paragraphs that cover everything at once, with the interior monologue of one character tripping over a physical description of another character which is then pushed up next to the action the first was contemplating making a few pages ago. I want to make a metaphor about balls (ha), like juggling, but it's not like juggling, it's more like shuffling, like each part of the story is one suit in a deck, and he just swishes them all together so that everything is on top of something else, and you have to, um, count fucking cards or something, or anyway work really hard to keep each running narrative in your head so you know whom he means each time he says she because, following the logical sentence structure, it does not refer to the person it ought to refer to. Gosh, did I manage to make that sentence as confusing as the thing I'm trying to explain? Maybe I should have said that DFW at his best claws his way into your brain and makes you think and write and sometimes even talk like him, which is amazing and thrilling and a little bit awful.

I should also have said that The Suffering Channel is a brilliant excuse to have a whole slew of different characters have long, involved conversations about shit and shitting and playing with shit and caring for shit and preserving shit and making art out of shit—all while maintaining his aura of brilliance and scholarly aplomb. And I know there's nothing new under the sun etc etc, but I would bet a large amount of money that no one ever, in the history of the world, has used the phrase intracunnilingual flatus vignette before. These two stories each get high B+, and for a lesser author would be the top of his achievements. (See The Soul Is Not a Smithy and Good Old Neon for why DFW, of course, can do even better.)

Incarnations of Burned Children
As MJ promised in the comments below, this story is fist-chewingly great. And devastating. In fact, this might be DFW at his best, but that's hard to claim, since it's so unlike what he usually does. It's short, it's too the point, it's sharply poetic, it's emotionally raw, it's essentially free of character description or background or intellectualizing. It's a short sharp stunning burst of beautiful horror.

Another Pioneer
This story was too much on the over-intellectualization. It's kind of what you'd expect from DFW telling you a fable, I guess, reinterpreted through his ridiculous brain and spat out by a weird narrator, shot through with obtuse Latin phrases and rendered much less moving by being made so so writerly. Stories like this are why the haters hate DFW.

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature and Oblivion
These stories can suck a dick. Lest you think I am just a mindless DFW fluffer, I want to stress that he can absolutely be just insufferable at times, which is why I always give his books the too smart for their own good tag. Oblivion in particular just made me furious, written as it is in this incredibly stilted style, with all kinds of words put in unnecessarily quotation marks, as if the narrator were some kind of alien or moron who had never been in polite society. Which he wasn't. It was just a story about a dude who was having weird trouble with his wife, a story that should, in fact, have been a really interesting and engaging, involving sleep studies and intra-familial weirdness and strange manifestations of psychological trouble between long-married people after their kids leave home and the many, many layers of thought and self-doubt and self-assurance we use to fool ourselves and those we love. But he just fucking buried it all under this stupid conceit where everything was overexplained and mummified by weird constructions and stilted language and it was just awful. Ditto for Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Fail.

The Soul Is Not a Smithy
Spectacular. Hands down the best story in the book, and the reason why DFW is a consummate motherfucking genius.

***I'm still not done with this review, dammit. I have obvs a lot more to say about that one, and I haven't even gotten to the utterly wrecking Good Old Neon. Why can't I just spend my entire life writing book reviews? Can someone pay me a million dollars for that please?? 329 I don’t think collections serve Foster Wallace well: it seems to me his stories would read better as stand-alones on some thoroughly modern internet webshite, with accompanying artwork or explanatory hyperlinks, rather than modishly festering on some fading acid paper alongside all the other fuddy-duddies. (PS Abacus, your paper is cheap and lousy). Case in point is ‘Mister Squishy,’ which seems to cry out for its own accompanying glossary, appended addenda and so on, but sits uneasily on the page in all its hypermodern dazzle. Nevertheless, the gang’s all here, from the disquieting hometown horror of ‘The Soul is Not a Smithy’ to the absolutely staggeringly wonderful exploration of a mind locked in a recursive self-critical philosophy, ‘Good Old Neon,’ to the blithering incomprehension of ‘Another Pioneer’ which I did not understand AT ALL.

‘The Suffering Channel’ is a brilliant novella about a pretentious style mag based in the World Trade Centre a few months before impact, and explores the peddling of suffering and faecal matter under the guise of an acceptable counterculture. Like the other pieces in this collection, it mimics the language and tone of its world with beyond pedantic perfection, without losing the detached overlord tone that keeps Wallace’s style distinctive. It is telling that the sentence that made me quiver the most was the unexpectedly direct insertion, on a one-word line of dialogue, of the simple statement: “She had ten weeks to live.” Oh God, I think my bones done froze themselves. How does he DO that?

The other pieces here are excellent, including the dramatic rush of ‘Incarnations of Burned Children’ which is a story it seems about narrative perspective, the short and endearingly odd ‘Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature,’ and the title piece is a bamboozling voice experiment using a form of dreamlike language where the narrator is perpetually indecisive about word choice, and where words and their meanings are continually being challenged by infernal quote marks. The end result almost seems like a slightly canny self-parody or coyly embedded meta-comment, but who knows? It’s a difficult story to get through (along with the opening piece) but perseverance will be rewarded.

This collection will frustrate you and tantalise you in equal measure, but don’t worry: you’ll feel it in your nerve endings.

μολις τελειωσα την ιστορια παλιο καλο νεον, μακραν η καλυτερη ως τωρα...τι βασανισμενο μυαλο αυτος ο ανθρωπος , ωστοσο μονο τετοια μυαλα και ψυχες ξερουν να γραφουν τετοιες ιστοριες...υποκλινομαι.. 329 From my favorite story, Good Old Neon:

What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant.

Oblivion is not as consistently solid as his first short stories collection Girl With Curious Hair, but hands down is amazing nonetheless.

Only slight complaint: The very first story is a bit difficult as it's loaded with corporate marketing, PR and advertising jargon, but it still unfolds eventually as being brilliant nonetheless. According to an interview Wallace spent quite a long time writing that one. My complaint is that it was not the best decision to place this story as the first in the collection. I have to wonder how many people were put off by it and then didn't get to the rest of the stories which are wonderful, top-notch DFW.

Incarnations of Burned Children is a mere 2.5 pages long but an example of perfectly condensed intensity.

The Soul Is Not A Smithy is tremendously suspenseful and melancholy. Also contains some of the most emotionally pointed descriptions of the mind of a young child playing mental games with themselves due to elementary school-daze boredom.

And the finale, The Suffering Channel, is a wonderful example of the well-balanced surrealism, and the emotional and moral realism that is brought out when playing with the twin forces of sadness and hilarity that Wallace is widely celebrated for. It involves a man who shits perfect sculptures and the glossy magazine journalist who must cover the story and spin it appropriately.

My second favorite story is Another Pioneer. It's just great. That's all I'll say about it for now. 329 TL;DR: NEARTIKULIUOTAI BANDAU PAPASAKOTI, KAD LABAI PATIKO

Turbūt viena iš pačių keisčiausių ir gal net sudėtingiausių skaitytų grožinių knygų. Aš irgi iš tų, kurios ir kurie lentynoj eksponuoja dar nepradėtą bet jau tuoj tuoj Infinite Jest, bet vis tiek pirmai pažinčiai su DFW sulaukiau LT varianto, ir dar palyginti trumpesnio. Nu ir pažintis! Be galo sudėtinga. Bet ir be galo rewarding. Ir verta skaityti - 2, 3, 4 kartą. Nežinau, ar labai maloni, bet labai labai verta. Ar bent visiškai mano.

Knygą sudaro 8 apsakymai, paties įvairiausio ilgio ir tematikos: nuo 6 puslapių vaizdelio Nudegusių vaikų įsikūnijimai iki 111 psl. satyros Kančių kanalas. Galbūt viskas pas DFW yra satyra: ar tai būtų ilgas ir kankinantis rinkos tyrimų fokus grupės susirinkimo aprašymas su 50 sąmonės srautų, tyrimo vadovo praeities ir ateities vizijomis ir tarsi tarp kitko įsiterpiančiais cheminių eksperimentų, kaip įšvirkšti nuodus į šokoladuką, kurio rinkos tyrimai dabar ir vyksta, aprašymais. Ar tai būtų ilgas ilgas kankinantis ir net į wtf peržengiantis pasakojimas apie masinės žiniasklaidos priemonę (žurnalas + teliko kanalas + lygtai dar laikraštis, tokia tipo LRT arba Laisvės TV), kur nurautas žurnalistas bando prastumti straipsnį apie žmogų, kuris šika forminiais šūdais (plg namukas ir pan), maždaug pristatyti jį kaip šiuolaikinį menininką. Jis bando, ima intervus, aiškinasi, ar tikrai natūraliai taip išeina; paraleliai redakcijoje vyksta intrigos ir visokių redaktorių ir praktikančių tarpusavio drakės... o redakcija yra viename iš bokštų dvynių per kelis aukštus. O straipsnis numatytas rugsėjo 10-ai, ir metai, žinoma, 2001. Užuominų tik tiek, o tu staiga skaitydama/s suvoki, kad visa ta 100 psl ilgio epopėja, visos šnekos apie meno sampratos kaitą, ar galime šitaip rizikuoti, kas bus su reputacija, visas pasiryžimas rizikuoti arba ne gyvuos vos 1 dieną ir sudegs liepsnose (o dar tai ir paskutinis rinkinio apsakymas). Tada kaip šaltu vandeniu perlieja.

Galėčiau rašinėt paklodes apie kiekvieną apsakymą: jie žiauriai kankinantys, žiauriai sudėtingi, bet ir paprastai su kokiu nors dar labiau kankinančiu twistu. Literatūrine prasme jie - meistrysčių meistrystė: kaip jis kaitalioja perspektyvas, pasakotojų balsus, šokinėja nuo fantazijų plotmės į administracinę kalbą (grynai teorinę-abstrakčią plotmę, nes juk administracinė kalba neturi realumo, realių kalbėtojų) ir į tikrą, apsakymo dabarties plotmę. Kaip personažas sėdi bare, kur vyksta remontai, tada pasakoja apie praeitį, praeities fantazijas apie galimą ateitį ir jas vis pertraukia grąžto, dunksinčių plokščių ir pan. remonto garsai, primenantys mums, kad jis juk bare, mes niekur neišsikraustėm paskui jo mintis į kažkokias klinikas ar kitas vietas.

DFW neslepia, kad tą kankinantį pojūtį kuria beveik matematiškai. Pvz, vaikas per pamokas įsivaizduoja vieną už kitą kruvinesnes istorijas, nesupranti, kaip taip yra, - kol gale nepaaiškėja, kad jis prieš akis matė, netgi tuo pat metu mato išprotėjant mokytoją, atvykstant saugumo pajėgas ir.. kaip ir viskas aišku, kas toliau nutinka, ir DFW to neplėtoja, tu tiesiog supranti, kad tie kraujai jo vaizduotėje - ne iš niekur. O paraleliai, šalia viso šito - pasakotojo prisiminimai apie tėvą, jo nuobodų viso gyvenimo darbą kontoroje, jo mirtį, šiurpas vaikystėje jam grįžtant namo, košmarai apie jį ir save šalia jo. Visą tą vaikystės nejaukumą DFW pripliusuoja prie klasėje sėdinčio vaiko atskirties ir galiausiai ir vaikui suteikia volasiško žmogaus pavidalą: kiekvienas jo žmogus yra visiškai atskiras, savo uždaram burbule, įkalintas savo galvoj tarp savo kankinančių, neramių ir nenutylančių pasaulių. Jo apsakymuose išties netyla kalba, kiekvieno žmogaus galvoj skamba minimum po 1, bet dažniau po keletą srautų, ir tas skambėjimas žiauriai varginantis skaityti, bet tuo pat metu - labai tikras, labai artimas, skaitai ir suvoki, kad taip ir yra, kad ir tau nuolat galvoje plaukiantys srautai uždaro tave į kažkokį burbulą, ir kuo jų daugiau, tuo labiau jie įkalina.

DFW kalba įspūdinga, nežinau - dar tikiuos sužinoti! - kaip visa tas skamba angliškai, negaliu su fanų entuziazmu komentuoti vertimo - bet man Ignas Beitsas vertas visų nusilenkimų ir paties atiduodamos DFW pagarbos, matyt, jie kažkuriam lygmeny (nežinau, ar noriu žinoti, kokiam) labai gerai komunikuoja.

Čia pririnkau tos kalbos pavyzdžių (biški ilgoki, bet norėjosi nurašinėti VISKĄ, tai to pavyko išvengti):

- nuobodusis

Šmitas, liovęsis abejingai žaisti Nuvalomuoju Žymekliu, nes kai kurių vyrų akys ėmė jį sekti jo rankose ir jam pasirodė, kad tai blaško dėmesį, tarė dabar pabandysiąs skelti jiems standartinę kalbą apie tai, kodėl po viso to laiko ir pastangų, kuriuos pavieniui skyrė Individualių Atsakymų Anketoms, jis paprašys jų pradėti viską iš naujo ir kolektyviškai apžvelgti įvairius GADS paketo klausimus ir skales. Jis mokėjo atsikratymo Nuvalomuoju Žymekliu triuką: l. nerūpestingai padėdavo jį į magnetinės lentos apačion įleistą lovelį ir smarkiai sprigtelėdamas rašiklio galą paleisdavo jį per visą lovelio ilgį, tačiau taip, kad rašiklis sustotų prie pat galo, neišlėkęs lauk, kamštelio kraštu kone tobulai susilygindamas su lovelio briauna; šį triuką demonstruodavo TDG maždaug 70 % atvejų ir pademonstravo dabar. Triukas atrodydavo dar nerūpestingiau įspūdingesnis, jei Šmitas atlikdavo jį kalbėdamas; tiek jo žodžiams, tiek pačiam triukui tai suteikdavo nerūpestingumo atspalvį, o tas tik sustiprindavo efektą. (p. 31)

- techninis
Teris Šmitas Diskusijų Grupės vyrams iš atminties bendrais bruožais piešė nedidelį sūkurėlį, arba priešpriešinę bangą, tvane, kurį demorinkodarininkai vadino MVD, - tokie sūkurėliai buvo vadinami Antitendencijomis, kartais Šešėlinėmis Rinkomis. Korporacinių užkandžių srityje, neva aiškino Šmitas, yra du pagrindiniai būdai, kaip naujam gaminiui pozicionuotis JAV rinkoje, kur sveikata, sportas, sveika mityba ir lydintys mėgavimosi-vs.-disciplinos konfliktai yra įgiję metastazių statusą. Šešėlinis užkandis paprasčiausiai stengėsi apibrėžti save kaip priešpriešą visa apimančiai tendencijai, smerkiančiai DTL riebalus, rafinuotuosius angliavandenius, transriebalus, t. y. visą dalykų, kuriuos tam tikri pogrupiai vadino įvairiais tuščių kalorijų, saldumynų, šlamštmaisčio vardais, vartojimą, kitaip tariant, kaip priešpriešą visai nuostabiai surežisuotai sveikos mitybos, sporto ir streso valdymo manijai, patenkančiai į demografinę Sveikos Gyvensenos kategoriją. (p. 46)

- ironiškasis
Ir štai pirminiai Miego specialisto pateikti rezultatai, arba diagnozė, buvo, vienu žodžiu tariant, pribloškiantys, arba visiškai netikėti. Visais penkiais ar šešiais atvejais, kai speciali prie-blandos vaizdo aparatūra užfiksavo, kaip Houp ūmai sėdasi ir puola mane kaltinti knarkimu ir kaip, matyt, mažiausiai dviem iš šių užfiksuotų atvejų aš garsiai atkertu, kad dar net nemiegu ir dėl to logiškai negaliu būti tokiais dalykais kaltinamas, Miego specialistas - jam parodyti pateiktį padėjo lazerinis jaunatviškai griežtos laborantės žymiklis ir nuotolinio jos įtaiso gebėjimas sustabdyti, arba užlaikyti, Monitoriaus vaizdą, idant stalas atkreiptų dėmesį į tam tikrą E. E. G. laiko intervalą, - užtvirtino arba patikino ipse dixit, kad aš iš tiesų, medicininiu požiūriu, - nepaisant mano įsitikinimo ar suvokimo, jog esu visiškai sąmoningas, - objektyviai žiūrint, miegojau, paniręs į Antrąjį arba Trečiąjį iš keturių gerai žinomų miego lygmenų, arba stadijų, kuriuos Somnologas dar kartą bendrais bruožais pristatė ir paaiškino. (p. 280)

- lyriškasis
Gerai, jau artėjam prie mano žadėtosios vietos, kurion vedžiau per visą nuobodžią santrauką, vedančią prie šios vietos, kurios taip tikėjaisi. T. y. ką reiškia numirti, kas tada įvyksta. Teisingai? Štai ką visi nori sužinoti. Ir tu irgi - patikėk. Ar nuspręsi tai padaryti, ar ne, ar kokiu nors tavo įsivaizduojamu būdu pamėginsiu kaip nors tave atkalbėti, ar ne. Visų pirma, viskas visiškai kitaip, nei visi mano. Iš tiesų jau žinai, kaip ten yra. Sužinojai, kaip skiriasi visų vidinių blyksnių mastas ir greitis, ir ta mažytė, nevisavertė viso to dalelytė, kurią gali parodyti ir kitiems. Lyg tavo viduje būtų didžiulis kambarys, kuriame kartkartėmis telpa visas visatos turinys, bet dalelės, patenkančios į išorę, turi kažkaip prasisprausti pro tokią mažą rakto skylutę po rankena, kokios būna senesnėse duryse. Lyg visi bandytume įžiūrėt vienas kitą pro tas mažytes rakto skylutes.
Bet durys turi rankeną, gali jas atsidaryti. Bet ne taip, kaip manai. Tačiau kas būtų, jei jas atvertume? Trumpam susimąstyk: kas, jei paskui, kai miršta tai, ką įsivaizduoji esant savimi, visi be galo tiršti ir kiekvieną gyvenimo akimirką besimainantys įvairialypiai pasauliai tavo viduj kažkaip visiškai atsivertų ir taptų išreiškiami, nes kas, jeigu paskui kiekviena akimirka savaime virsta begaline laiko jūra ar trukme, ar tėkme, per kurią juos galima išreikšti ar perteikti, o tam net nereikalinga struktūruota kalba, gali, kaip sakoma, tiesiog atidaryti duris ir atsidurti bet kieno kito kambaryje su visomis savo daugialypėmis formomis ir idėjomis, ir niuansais? Nes, paklausyk, laiko jau nebedaug, čia Lili Kašas truputį leidžiasi nuokalnėn, šlaitai ima statėti ir vos gali įžiūrėti nebešviečiančios iškabos kontūrus ant seniai užsidariusio pakelės kiosko - tai paskutinis ženklas prieš tiltą, tad klausykis: kaip manai, kas toks esi? Milijonai ir trilijonai minčių, prisiminimų, sugretinimų - net ir beprotiškų, tokių kaip šis, galvoji sau, - kurie blyksteli galvoje ir pranyksta? Bendra jų suma ar liekana? Tavo praeitis? Ar žinai, kiek laiko praėjo nuo to, kai pasakiau, jog esu apsimetėlis? Ar pameni, kaip pažiūrėjai į RESPICEM laikrodį, kabantį ant užpakalinio vaizdo veidrodėlio ir rodantį 21.17? Į ką konkrečiai dabar žiūri? Sutapimas? O kas, jei laiko nepraėjo nė kiek? Tiesa ta, kad visa tai jau girdėjai. Kad yra šitaip. Kad štai iš kur tavo viduje randasi vietos visatoms, visiems tiems savin nukreiptiems sąryšių fraktalams ir skirtingų balsų simfonijoms, begalybėms, kurių niekada negalėsi atverti kitam. Ir manai, kad dėl tos mažos dalelytės, matomos kitiems žmonėms, tampi apsimetėliu? Aišku, esi apsimetėlis, aišku, tai, ką mato žmonės, niekada nesi tu. Ir, aišku, tu tai žinai, aišku, atsirenki, kurią dalį parodyti, jei jau matyti tiktai dalis. Kas gi darytų kitaip? Tai vadinama laisva valia, Šerlokai. Bet sykiu dėl to šitaip gera imti ir pravirkti kitų akivaizdoje arba juoktis, arba kalbėt kalbomis, arba giedoti bengališkai - tai jau nebe kalba, nereikia jos grūsti pro jokią skylutę.
Tad verk, kiek tik nori, niekam aš nesakysiu.
Tačiau nebūtumei apsimetėlis, jei apsigalvotum. Būtų liūdna, jei darytum tai iš kokios nors įsivaizduojamos pareigos. (p. 216-218)
329 Na, turiu prisipažinti, kad Wallace'o knyga buvo šių metų laukiamiausia tiek tarp Raros leidyklos, tiek tarp visų kitų vertinių. Namų bibliotekoje turiu iš man dar neįveikiamą Infinity Jest, Pale King ir apsakymų rinkinį - Consider the Lobster. Bet turiu prisipažinti, kad ir kaip mėginčiau save įtikinti anglų kalbos mokėjimu - šie kūriniai man vis dar nepasiekiami originalo kalba.... Ir todėl lenkiu galvą prieš Igną Beitsą ir kalbos redaktorę Rimą Bertašavičiūtę.
Laukdamas vertimo, peržiūrėjau begalę Youtube paskelbtų inverviu su rašytoju, taip pat, kritikų ir jo leidėjų prisiminimus - žodžiu, ruošiau save neįprasto rašytojo debiutui lietuvių kalba.
Pirmas pirmo apsakymo įspūdis - kas per velniava? Autorius tikrai turi - tiksliau turėjo, savitą braižą, naudoja daug trumpinimų/abreviatūrų, todėl jeigu nesupranti autoriaus trumpinių logikos, gali likti nesupratęs teksto.... Tikrai teko nevieną kartą grįžti į pastraipos pradžią (o pastraipos buvo ir kelių puslapių apimties), kad suprasti ką autorius norėjo pasakyti. O dar nuolatinis šokinėjimas nuo vienos pasakojimo linijos iki kitos - vau:-). Reikia susitaikyti, kad specifinėse temose autorius naudojo daug specifinės terminologijos, ir kartais meistriškai žongliruoja skaitytojo neišprūsimu....
Mano išvada - rimtas kūrinys, reikalaujantis ypatingo susikaupimo ir nuotaikos, tikrai ne prieš miegą ar po sunkios darbo savaitės.
Ir pabaigai - apsakymas Nudegusių vaikų įsikūnijimai - sugraudino ir giliai sukrėtė....
Ir dar - jeigu kuris nors vertėjas ir leidėjas išdrįs išversti kitus Wallace kūrinius, tuomet aš tikrai pripažinsiu, kad jau susiformavo nedidelė, bet ištikimas rimtos literatūros gurmanų sekta.... 329 For we die every day; oblivion thrives
Not on dry thighbones but on blood-ripe lives,
And our best yesterdays are now foul piles
Of crumpled names, phone numbers and foxed files.

- from Nabokov's Pale Fire


Read this for the third time recently. It wasn't pleasant. Not to say the stories were affecting; it was just tedious. Part stories, part phonebook. Nuts!

It's asking more of a book than most people would, that it holds up on a third reading. Certainly parts of Mr Squishy, The Soul Is Not A Smithy and Oblivion are still great—but they seem to start so far from where the stories are going (if the story is going anywhere at all), that it's very hard to work out what it's about even when it becomes apparent later on, because earlier scenes have given a different impression. It's so important to set the scene from page one, as at least Good Old Neon and Pretentious Titles of Inflammable Infants achieve (Weakest line in the book in the latter though: If you've never wept and want to, have a child. Oh boo hoo hoo, 1) Who's never wept? 2) How the fuck would you know, ahaha.)

I often write stories that don't actually start until chapter three. It takes me the longest time to notice because I have such a difficult time divorcing what the story became from what my original vision for it was—I'm gonna say that's what's going on here. In need of further editing for sure.


Okay! So here’s some music to listen to while you read this review :)

But it’s not really a review, as always.
I have this picture in my head of what a review would constitute, and it’s not this.
Also, in the interest of improving my own writing, all “I think”s are removed from the below (…I think) but are obvs implied.

Anyways, The Field’s music is repetitious, precise, and quite boring to listen to at first, near repulsively so maybe. But if you trust in it and lend it your ears, you can enter a kind of lucid trance. This principle is one DFW was aware of, the humanity within expanded repetitious blandness. Chekhovian grey language; stories told ”the way one person relates to another the most important things in his life, slowly and yet without a break, in a slightly subdued voice. In Oblivion we find the universal fury of Notes from Underground, the omnipresent tedium of A Boring Story, but thrown under a steamroller, exclamation points removed, freshened up for a modern American audience. “The poet’s job is not to tell you what happened, but what happens: not what did take place, but the kind of thing that always does take place.”

But why sit and read such sad bullshit? That’s what I thought when I first picked this up last summer. And to be fair, I hadn’t been in the white collar working world for very long, but now I am all-too accustomed to days of meetings and people that leave you near mesmerised by how bored the days would make you if you weren’t so mesmerised by how boring they are! Have you ever stared at someone’s stupid face and thought, ‘Of all the many things we could be doing with our time, you chose to use it for this, so relentlessly so that I now feel paralysed’, but it’s kinda funny, too, because, oh my god, how is this happening? How are such levels of boredom possible?

So I left this book last summer confused, then I came back after reading a bit and looked at the puzzle with new eyes, and now I can tell you why we should sit and read such sad bullshit.

The reason horror films are enjoyed by teens is it's the worst thing they can think of: monsters under beds; violent unlikely death. High class literature + cinema+ art shows maturer folk that real horror is a life of pointless tedium, the grind of which will kill you before you meet the grave. It could happen to anyone after any significant degree of pure meaninglessness, which life is all too happy to provide. What will drive you mad is not a life in which so much tedium occurs, as this is near inevitable: what will drive you mad is if nobody talks about it but you know everyone knows it. That’s why books like this exist. Books that make you slap the pages with the back of your hand and say, out loud, alone: ‘Yes! Thank you!’

On top of that, there is this lucid trance idea I mentioned: the sheer volume of details Wallace could find in an “empty” room, how he could use those details to tell you what they revealed about the people associated with it, reveals to the reader the tools they need to cope with people and scenarios apparently devoid of content.

I devour all art related to this whole tedium schtick because I fear it so much and am so increasingly immersed in it in life. Simulated reality is the best we get to make us feel better by telling us Even if your worst fears are real, you'll see it's not so bad before, or if, it happens one day (comfort disturbed) or it will shock you awake again (disturb comfortable). It keeps everything in flux. If I understand the principle of the book Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (a title of a story within this book), it is similar to when Kundera said that the novelist's job is to show the reader that life is a question (can't find exact quote). It's been a big learning of mine that a writer's job is not necessarily to tell readers something they didn't already know. The hackiest writers will think they need to teach you something as if there was anything about human nature left to teach (is there?) when astute observations will do. The best writers show the reader things they already knew in a new way, as Wallace consistently does by recognising his job as refreshing the power of aphorisms and discouraging cynicism about their cliched nature by doing everything in his power to convince you they're more than bromides. Like a teenager watching the Evil Dead remake (pretty damn good!), we observe the horrors we are presented with through literature as if they are a reality.

DFW is a decidedly American writer, and these stories are as much an indictment of American culture as explorations of universal human truths.

Is Oblivion easy to read? If you push through the wall of repulsion, yes, it is: it becomes its own addiction. But I didn’t manage the first time and had to toss it aside, thinking it without value, as there is a stark difference in Wallace’s writing from this book onwards. There are NO jokes: I’ll stand my ground on that. There are few big words. There are many details and even sparser plots as he pushes closer to a truer representation of life. And I think there is debt to be paid by that other favourite writer of mine whom I mention nearly every review now: Charlie Kaufman, whose masterpiece I won’t write the name of another fucking time evokes a similar first-time repulsion, and contains a therapist whose shoes are so tight they hurt her, just as all of DFW’s therapists make cages or circles with their hands, or have eating disorders or repressed sexualities. Therapists who need to therapise themselves (this is SO true of some therapists I know- jeezo! I wouldn’t trust them to operate heavy machinery any time of day.)

I went to a therapist once but she was super pregnant so I didn’t want to tell her sad stuff in case the baby heard me- how unfair would that be? (True, I likely would have found some other excuse!) It’s exactly the same as me moving to Oslo now, and all the people in work who have lived there before are like “Oslo’s not that great” and I’m all “Dude, would you tell me something nice about this place since I’m committed to going there?” That’s what that therapist’s baby would have said to me RE: life if he/she could even communicate, you know? So disadvantaged. And also, as I so convincingly played the part of well-together chap, therapist gave me clean bill (I’m about as okay as people generally get now btw)

Shame Beckett isn’t alive any more to look at your form and go ‘You’re on earth: there’s no cure for that.’ Maybe I’m being flippant and I’m about to digress some, but that’s always seemed to be a taboo about therapy or anti-depressants or any mental health issue, is that the things mental health problems get you hung up on are typically the helplessness in the face of the unknowable universal questions about whether or not there is any meaning to life, living in the face of knowing you’re going to die and so on, and that was apparent to me that one time I went to a therapist as I get the impression it was for Wallace (it certainly is for his characters) is that notion of ‘Well, how much of my worries do you really expect to alleviate, here? Exactly what of what I worry about can anyone prevent from being true, and how much are you really able to interpret what I’m telling you any more than I can anyway?’ That’s the permanent sour taste in the mouths of many people who seek psychiatric help I imagine, is, well, you stopped me thinking about it, but for how long? Therapists love to therapise, but do they do it well? The psychology-adjacent folk I know throw mental health conditions at the day-to-day people in my anecdotes like a game of Jeopardy: “So my boss is not a very talkative guy-“ “WHAT IS ASPERGER’S FOR 500 LEO” (I’ve never seen Jeopardy also doubt Asperger's counts as a mental health condition... somehow I feel you'll get what I'm going for, though!) Like, when I was an ESL teacher, I was like, you guys could do this with a book: you don’t need me. But what students needed in that case was more the routine of a person checking up on them to force them to study, as I imagine therapists can be a breathing space for people, like, yes, you are here because you want something fixed, so let’s spend some time reflecting on it. But I was cheap, though: that’s the difference… I don’t think it’s gonna make you sad to think that there’s some things about life you’re never gonna be okay with; rather, expecting to be okay with them despite any indication you should is what will lead to bigger disappointment, a paradox of acknowledging disappointment in order to feel more satisfied.

The best art (ie. therapy) says the following: look at this; I don't know the answer, but you're not alone. That’s all I need from it. But I need it a lot and in as many forms as are available! Ebert quote: “An honest bookstore would post the following sign above its 'self-help' section: 'For true self-help, please visit our philosophy, literature, history and science sections, find yourself a good book, read it, and think about it.”

Some notes on the stories (well, two of them):

First story: Mr Squishy. Teaches you how to read it and rewards your attention with badass corporate slamming. You leave it feeling like you have the tools to defeat boredom (and the rest of the stories!) Again, first time I tried this, I wasn't ready.

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Overlapping thoughts as in The Pale King section 2. (TPK was really a bunch more short stories, and the best Oblivion-like story is the novella in the middle, which could well have been part of this set.)

Some conclusions:

Generally: none of these stories will leave you satisfied. It’s the Hamlet-esque yawn-that-won’t-yawn-properly feeling you’ll be left with instead, which you will accept with reluctance because of its verisimilitude. These are stories about facets of the human condition that are inextricable no matter our efforts. The incapturability of all thought, inability to recognise which thoughts are important etc. A life that feels blown open, without Coupland-esque Safety net-ism. You're on your own and there's no guarantee you'll spend your years well. This fear being true of anyone, advertisers are really honing in on it to promise you individualism via capitalism, a fantasy they know you will always nurture because you need it to survive. In all the ways that really matter, it doesn't appear that we're individual in the slightest. How could we possibly be? There have been 100 billion of us: our ideas are not that great. You'll notice as I say this that this isn't the medium at all for it: art is. All the toughest things are best said through art. Otherwise it sounds didactic and reductive and is met with a kind of “yeah, I know” as it isn’t a fully expanded argument, and this is big hard truths we’re talking here: Oblivion, The Pale King, Something Happened, the stories of Chekhov, Oblomov apparently (cheers Tracy!) Wonderboy (whatever that is- I looked up the Norsk copy of Oblivion and it was compared this Norsk novel), Notes from Underground, Wilder's The Apartment…

It is Wallace's opinion that the soul is not a smithy; that there is no Proustian fountain of youth obtainable by having new eyes, as what our eyes see of the exterior is but a pinhole, and those other eyes we desire are but pinholes in our pinhole, and so we lack so much companionship almost by the definition of being human, a Heisenbergian uncertainty principle of love. Mummy can't keep you safe and she never could. And in the face of that, you are so, so brave. And in the face of that, use your fucking pinhole! And in the face of that, fuck it; let's dance. To what? If you followed my instruction, you're listening to it right now! In life we are alone, but today, we dance as one!!

Additional unstitchable thoughts:

DFW loved cinema. Said to Charlie Rose he wouldn’t be happy writing a screenplay because someone could come in and change it. But as the Brief Interviews film showed, Wallace’s power is in the written word (this should be self-evident: man can that guy write!) Enjoy here what I imagine would be a single line of DFW screenplay dialogue from a 5-hour film about a man and his wife having a conversation about how many times he takes his boat out, and how much this disturbs them both, also their toddler’s eyebrows are constantly raised for some reason.

Pop culture is catching up to the importance of the universal incurables eg. through Wallace-fan-and-also-genius Tina Fey, whose latest series Kimmy Schmidt is pointedly dark beneath the glaze of jokes.

My cultural tastes summed up in one pic:
(Pic of Oblivion and a Burger King meal. Pretend it uploaded properly) 329