Loads of Learned Lumber

Friday, August 3, 2012

David Foster Wallace, _The Pale King_

STRUCK BY THIS is in the "Notes and Asides" section Michael Pietsch appended to the text:

Drinion is happy. Ability to pay attention. It turns out that bliss--a second-by-second joy + gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious--lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredome. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (tax returns, televised golf), and, in waves, a boredom like you've never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it's like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Constant bliss in every atom.

Shane Drinion is the Asperger's-ish character who listens so intently to the story of how Meredith Rand met her husband, becomes so rapt in it, that he levitates an inch or two. His intuitions about other people's behavior and communication are so faint and unhelpful, his interpretations of what people say to him so starkly literal, that he has to pay rigorous attention to every nuance of even an idle conversation in a bar if he is to hold up his end. All of Meredith's other co-workers, we are told, have learned to avoid her, as once she gets on the topic of herself and her circumstances, she is monomaniacally boring. But Drinion--paradoxically enabled by his disability--breaks through to bliss.

Is Drinion Wallace's Prince Myshkin?  Hold it, Mario Incandenza is already Wallace's Myshkin.

The Pale King, as was already the case for some of the stories in Oblivion, asks that you the reader become a Myshkin--to so fully enter into the meandering, repetitive, endlessly-self-interrupting monologue of "Irrelevant" Chris Fogle (chapter 22) that you step into its color. "David Wallace" the character gripes about Chris Fogle's inability to self-edit, but then launches into his own even more meandering, repetitive, microscopically detailed account of the entrances, exits, and grindingly slow right-of-way delays involved in getting from Self-Storage Parkway to the Peoria REC parking lot. There is no way to make this interesting--unless you break it down atom by atom, micro-second by sweaty, sun-in-the-eyes micro-second as Wallace (the author) does--then it deliquesces into a kind of nirvana.  As for the ennui-inducing Ms. Rand and her involuted tale of the tragedy of prettiness, Wallace had me levitating right along with Drinion.

What a loss.  But I am grateful, grateful, grateful to have this much of what he left unfinished.

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