Apr 28, 2011

Pale King's dull stretches

I don't know who the "we" is in NPR's John Powers' statement "some parts [of David Foster Wallace's The Pale King] are so dull we assume that, had he lived, he surely would have cut or improved them," but I'm not sure that's right.

Given how much of the book is about boredom and tedium, how central that is and how that seems tightly connected to what Wallace was doing, and how that dullness was, in a sense, for him, the location of exactly the question he was trying to pose and answer about how one ought best to live in this world we inhabit, it seems possible, actually, that, had he lived and actually finished this novel, the boring bits would have been substantially expanded.

"The entire ball game, in terms of both the exam and life, was what you gave attention to vs. what you willed yourself to not" (12).

"The idea's that a wiggler, a rote examiner, is sitting poring over 1040s and attachments and cross-filed W-2s and 1099s and like that. The setting is very bare and minimalistic -- there's nothing to look at except this wiggler, who doesn't move except for every so often turning a page or making a note on his pad .... He sits longer and longer until the audience gets more and more bored and restless, and finally they start leaving, first just a few and then the whole audience, whispering to each other how boring and terrible the play is. Then, once the audience have all left, the real actiion of the play can start" (106).

"As for myself, I had trouble just paying attention, and the things I can remember now seem mostly pointless" (157).