Toward a Hyperarchival Realism (2.0): Some Occasional Notes on the Pale King

Times they are a changing. The spring is struggling like Sisyphus to get here once and for all in the ‘burgh; one class on American Literature is ending, and my first foray into Introduction to Critical Reading [1]is beginning; one dissertation chapter’s first draft is complete, and Pynchon is officially on the docket now [2]; but in the middle of all this, and slightly unexpectedly, along comes—like a thief in the night (i.e. early), an unexpected (boredom) drug left Moses-like on my doorstep, and a cruel, cruel joke from the dissertation gods—David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King.

And oh has it come. Even the print rags are on fire about it (though surely nothing like DFW’s compatriot’s most recent novel Freedom). I haven’t even had the stomach to check out The Howling Fantods to see where they might be pointing me w/r/t Wallace’s posthumous novel. I guess I just didn’t think it would be such a big-deal release as it has proven to be; I mean, even my mom is practically cutting out newspaper articles and sending them to me. And the public attention to Wallace is, frankly, only exacerbating my weird working-relationship w/ him. I.e., I feel kinda done for a while, happy to get on to the next thing; and of course, waiting on my doorstep in the end is this novel. My students are reading it (either explicitly or clandestinely). David James Keaton, for chrissakes, sent me a text about it. [3] In other words, it feels like something to be written about. [4]

But I honestly would prefer not to. And this isn’t just because Tom McCarthy ended his recent review of the novel, “The Last Audit,” w/ a reference to the scrivener. Really, I kinda just don’t want to say anything about it right now. Everyone else who’s saying stuff is saying it pretty well. I think everyone agrees w/ the basic fact that, well, yes, this is an unfinished novel. There are moments that are intensely boring to read (I guess on purpose). And that it truly is one of the great tragedies of our time to lose such a gifted writer so young.

In terms of giving it a “critical” reception at this time, I suppose it just simply seems a bit early. I mean, the novel isn’t even fresh up out’ve the ground yet (or something).[5] That and I’m just exhausted, and basically need some DFW-breathing-room. So instead I’d like to offer a couple occasional notes that glanced across my brain which could potentially be pursued as moving toward a definition of my term “hyperarchival realism”:

—the novel is hyperarchival realism. W/o a doubt. Any discussion of this novel has to start from this point and perhaps take that as a given.

—What does this mean?

—§25 (pp. 310-313) is a particularly brutal/obvious/hammer-over-the-head-type example of this.

—Claude Sylvanshine, able to recall or forsee seemingly unimportant facts about people—he is a “fact psychic”—and how that allows Wallace to emphasize the value of certain information; being able to sort through massive amounts of data for the relevant facts is a certain kind of ethical/quasi-spiritual ontology. (See pp. 330-333.)

–Two important lengthy quotes from the substitute Jesuit teacher:

“‘In today’s world, boundaries are fixed, and most significant facts have been generated. Gentleman, the heroic frontier now lies in the ordering and deployment of those facts. Classification, organization, presentation. To put it another way, the pie has been made—the contest is now in the slicing.’”

“I think part of what was so galvanizing was the substitute’s diagnosis of the world and reality as already essentially penetrated and formed, the real world’s constituent info generated, and that now a meaningful choice lay in herding, corralling, and organizing that torrential flow of info. This rang true to me, though on a level that I don’t think I even was fully aware existed within me.”[6]

—Wallace is talking about in each of these moments is what Charles Stross calls Economy 2.0.

—Drinion is either a zen-tax-man, or a machine. I’m going for machine. Big fat posthuman tax-machine. Donna Harraway and the whole nine yards.

–It is important that in Infinite Jest, when Hal is attempting to communicate but is really just making sub-animalistic noises–he says, “‘I believe, with Hegel, that transcendence is absorption.”

—and perhaps last, this novel would have been really good if Wallace had finished it.


[1] My major intellectual struggle right now: how and why would/should I teach N.’s The Birth of Tragedy.

[2] Which also means I’ll be renaming any space/home/desk/library/cathedral of learning I may be inhabiting anytime soon The White Visitation Research Facility for Neglected Sciences.

[3] Though dude, I could totally do w/o the random nude photo the other day. dude.

[4] Even if I hesitate to, b/c, of course, there might be more dissertation here. . . .

[5] This is of course also to suggest that something like a “DFW cottage industry” has sprung up around his untimely demise, and though I cannot help but to participate in it (and tell myself I was going to be writing about him now long before 2008), it is also something I would like to avoid in a self-serving fashion if possible (which, of course, put in Wallace’s terms we all now know how such a statement would occasion perhaps a quite-lengthy aside regarding the fact that acknowledging one’s own self-serving nature did not in fact reflect/deflect the additional fact that even such a statement is capable of being eminently self-serving, etc., so will not put it in such terms), so will attempt to.

[6] David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2011), 232, 240.

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