The Ominous Arrival of the Pale King

So, I’m not joking about this at all: David Foster Wallace’s forthcoming posthumous novel, The Pale King (2011), which is not due out for two weeks yet, arrived early today in my mailbox. Now, if it had arrived at virtually any other moment in time I would have simply been pleased to receive something I’ve been looking forward to for quite a while, but for it arrive today, today, the day I finished the first complete draft of my (very long indeed) dissertation chapter on ole DFW, a chapter I’ve been working on for almost a year now, a subject I researched for months, and have been writing since about October. . . well . . . .

As I cannot help but be in high-gear-grad-school-dissertation-anxiety-mode, one might think the universe is trying to tell me something, and I’ve boiled down the universe’s message to the following possibilities: 1) Great job on getting that massive amount of work finished! On to the next thing (Pynchon), and oh, by the way, here’s a little (much appreciated) gift for all your trouble; or, the far more disturbing 2) Ha ha! Just when you thought you were done w/ something a 500+ pg. novel of the writer you’re working on shows up on your door to potentially confound everything you’ve been working on so diligently and single-mindedly on for so long you can’t remember what it is like to not work on DFW. Nelson’s taunts (from the ole The Simpsons) have nothing on the universe if it is indeed taunting me in this way.

All that said, 50 pp. in and it looks like #1 is the universe’s msg., though I still have 500 pp. to go, and knowing the nature of such complex entities as “universal msgs.,” I’m not hedging any bets. Stay tuned. . . .

A Brief Note on This Week’s Episode of The Event, “Face Off”

So in all likelihood, The Event (2010-11) will join Stargate Universe (2009-11) as yet another SF casualty this year, being canceled, like so many SF shows of late, before it got a chance to really even get going.[1] But this is not for a lack of sincerely trying to keep a fickle audience enthralled. The writers of The Event have explicitly commented upon the lessons they’ve learned from such shows as Lost—i.e. they will raise huge plot-point questions and answer them quickly, like in the same episode they were raised (of course leading to other questions, which will be also answered quickly). The Event, from what I’ve seen, is very much dedicated to not stringing its viewers along w/ dangling MacGuffins week after week in order to create suspense. And if this last week’s episode “Face Off” is any indication, they’re trying to do more than just that.

Unlike SGU right now, The Event is not poking along, exploring relatively unimportant character psychology and non-big-picture-type-side-plots, but rather hitting us over the head again and again w/ game-changing “events.” (Yes I will spoil them.) In this last week’s episode alone a major character died, hundreds of alien refugees were killed by the US government, the Washington Monument was destroyed, it was revealed that these aliens had been among and had been persecuted by humans for thousands of years, the alien presidential aid’s cover was blown, and the sexy femme-fatale’s past as a CIA operative was partially revealed. In other words, “Face Off” was the kind of episode we usually only get at the beginning and end of seasons: major things happening that radically effect everything. The writers of The Event are clearly attempting to draw attention to the show, stay relevant, and create weekly episodes that are not just serial little entries that may add one thing or another, but essentially don’t really advance the story very much (I’m looking at you Lost). To put it bluntly: they are trying to stay on the air. And their efforts have produced one of the best mid-season SF episodes in recent memory. This is why the show will be canceled.

For what is perhaps apparent, the Nielsen ratings don’t measure fan involvement w/ a show, they don’t measure a viewer’s annoyance over a plodding plot, nor do they measure when a show really hits on every single cylinder and produces something very rare: a midseason episode which was frankly brilliant just in terms of its televisual form (i.e. a lot of stuff happened). What they measure is the “average” viewer who probably couldn’t care less what they’re watching so long as they’re staring at the television. The achievement of this last week’s episode of The Event then will most likely be a hollow one, for what they are attempting to do (not be Lost) will be “lost” on the average viewer (and really, Lost stayed on for six seasons b/c of its ridiculous plot lines). I hope I’m proven wrong, but if history is any guide—i.e. a show gets canceled when it’s starting to get really interesting, which takes time, something The Event is attempting to jump over, and just get straight to the interesting stuff—then The Event is about to get canceled w/ a huge ax. It just got too good too fast; and that the networks cannot abide for they cannot let any show be more interesting than the commercials which air alongside it.

[1] SGU is esp. sad b/c they canceled the show after this current season had been written (and filmed, I think), so I expect their plan on a five season run will leave viewers woefully unsatisfied when this season draws to a close.

The Virtuous Feedback Loop of Influence: Barth Reading Wallace Reading Barth

So, I just realized I probably should have posted this earlier, but here is an abstract of a paper I delivered a couple weeks ago at the 2011 Duquesne Graduate Conference, “Echoes: Across Disciplines, Texts, Times.” I had the great pleasure of presenting with my good friends and colleagues Ryan Pierson, who talked about Wallace and Wittgenstein in his paper, “David Foster Wallace on Solipsism and the Private Language Argument,” and Racheal Forlow, who delivered a quite fascinating paper on Wallace and Henry James, “Mass Culture and Fiction’s Recursive Futures: James, Wallace, and One Hundred Years of American Formalism.” My abstract is below. If you’re interested in looking at the entire paper, get in touch w/ me.

“The Virtuous Feedback Loop of Influence: Barth Reading Wallace Reading Barth”

Postmodern literature has long been understood in terms of how it complicates, questions, and explodes previous modernist modes of aesthetic influence and textual reference.  Unlike Harold Bloom’s“anxiety of influence,” however, the relationship between the work of John Barth and David Foster Wallace provides an instance of intertextuality more complex than this mostly unidirectional model, tracing instead a synchronic web of recursive feedback loops in which each author is engaged in a project of explicitly rereading and repurposing the other.  This paper will present Barth’s 2001 novel, Coming Soon!!!—a self-reflexive sequel to his first novel, The Floating Opera (1956)—as a response to Wallace’s early novella “Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way” (1989), which is itself a response to Barth’s seminal short story “Lost in the Funhouse” (1967).  Through exploring how these works are everywhere engaged with specifically echoing each other, as well as heeding each writer’s conception of literary influence in their own critical essays, this intervention will question what is historically at stake for a specific American literary practice as it becomes aware of itself as postmodern.  Following this, I will argue that what the work of Barth and Wallace point toward is a rhizomatic, anti-patricidal model of literary influence and a conception of contemporaneity that acknowledges reiteration to be a fundamental aspect of its aesthetic regime.

We’ve Failed

the reading failed. we celebrated

the wrong enunciator. we hailed

yrs truly as messiah #1½. we failed.

we failed. of  course. there were those

before us. but we failed. ours was not

the line of collective flight. we failed.

we couldn’t stop once we’d started.

info-graphematics were marked by

shadetree mechanics. and still we failed.

we mark our geologic future w/ a past catastrophe.

i am nietzsche. we are failure.

i’m slouching toward trailer-park-bethlehems.