No Pulitzer for DFW’s The Pale King. . . or Anything Else

So again, I somehow missed some DFW news (or non-news), but DFW’s The Pale King was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, the other two being Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams and Karen Russell’s Swamplandia. As Ann Patchet wrote in an op-ed for the New York Time, “And the Winner Isn’t. . . ,”:

With book coverage in the media split evenly between Fifty Shades of Grey and The Hunger Games, wouldn’t it have been something to have people talking about The Pale King, David Foster Wallace’s posthumous masterwork about a toiling tax collector (and this year’s third Pulitzer finalist)? Wallace is not going to have another shot at a win, which makes the fact that no one could make up their minds as to whether or not he deserved it all the more heartbreaking. (The Times also had a few people weigh in on who should have won the award.)

In my mind, however, the decision by the Pulitzer board makes a kind of sense. Admittedly, I haven’t read Johnson or Russell’s books yet, but if we just allow for the moment that The Pale King was the best U.S. novel of 2011, then the lack of an award speaks volumes. The Pale King is fantastic, but it obviously unfinished, and as such, I would have a hard time giving it any kind of award. (I guess I’m of the mindset that awards should be given for complete, fully realized works. My weird conservatism I guess.) Giving no award, however, is a kind of implicit acknowledgment of The Pale King’s value–i.e. in a year when one of the best novels was unfinished, and clearly had quite a ways to go toward completion, perhaps no one should win. In other words, I don’t think The Pale King is award-worthy, but in a year when an unfinished DFW novel is “more worthy” than a host of other texts, no one should get it. This isn’t a travesty, or the Pulitzer dropping the ball, or them doing harm to the ailing literary establishment, or not doing their part to encourage reading, etc. (and of course they did give out many other awards). Rather, it is a quiet statement that acknowledges DFW by not acknowledging him. And perhaps for such an unpublished, posthumous novel, no matter how deserving it or the rest of his writing may have been for a gaggle of awards (I need hardly mention Infinite Jest was roundly snubbed come award-time), the decision displays a kind of quiet poetic justice. (I also have to imagine he would have appreciated this sort of thing.) In a time when we are all too ready to quickly level hyperbolic and unfounded judgments and critiques against anything and everything, when loudly voiced opinion seems to be the only discourse with any traction in the public sphere, choosing not to judge, refraining from a decision, being mindful that doing nothing is preferable to doing something just for the sake of doing it, in short, preferring not to. . . perhaps the Pulitzer went to the only person that could win it in a year that saw the publication of one of the most important writers of the late 20th-c.’s final, posthumous, unfinished work: no one else.

Post-Semester Links

Here’s a couple things I’ve found interesting recently that I forgot to post amidst the work of the semester.

From The Atlantic, Taylor Clark covers Braid designer Jonathan Blow in “The Most Dangerous Gamer.”

An excellent long review of DFW’s The Pale King that I missed from last year: John Jeremiah Sullivan’s “Too Much Information,” in GQ.

Pictures from the secret town of Oak Ridge.

15 writer’s bedrooms. This is Faulkner’s:

And Žižek on The Wire.

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.

An Excerpt from The Pale King

In commemoration of tax day tomorrow (The Pale King‘s official release date) and in light of the oh-so-wonderful government budget-slashing going on everywhere, I thought I’d provide this nice little excerpt from Wallace’s The Pale King (a conversation set in 1980):

“Let’s get back to how a Bush or Reagan would triple the [IR]Service budget for a second? Is this good for us on a District level? What are the implications for a Peoria or a Creve Coeur?”

“Of course the marvelous double irony of the Reduce Government candidate is that he’s financed by the coporations that are the backs governmnent tends to be most oppressively on the back of. Corporations, as DeWitt pointed out, whose beady little brains are lit by nothing but net profit and expansion, and who we deep-down expect government to keep in check because we’re not equipped to resist their consumerist seductions by the strength of our own character, and whose appeal to the faux rebel is the modern rhetoric that’s going to get Bush-Reagan elected in the first place, and who are going to benefit enormously from the laissez-faire deregulation Bush-Reagan will enable the electorate to believe will be undertaken in their own populist interests–in other words we’ll have for a president a symbolic Rebel against his own power whose election was underwritten by inhuman soulless profit-machines whose takeover of American civic and spiritual life will convince Americans that rebellion against the soulless inhumanity of corporate life will consist in buying products from corporations that do the best job of representing corporate life as empty and soulless. We’ll have a tyranny of conformist nonconformity presided over by a symbolic outsider whose very election depended on our deep conviction that his persona is utter bullshit. A rule of image, which because it’s so empty makes everyone terrified–they’re small and going to die, after all–”

“Christ, the death thing again.”

“–and whose terror of not really ever even existing makes them that much more susceptible to the ontological siren song of the corporate buy-to-stand-out-and-so-exist gestalt” (David Foster Wallace, The Pale King [New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2011], 149).

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. . . .