when an innovative approach to the page becomes a suspect tic (David Foster Wallace)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

I went to see "The End of the Tour," the David Foster Wallace film. I knew that, in some ways, I should not have been there. That Wallace's family vigorously opposed the film, gave no permission, did not want this famously private self to be re-enacted.

I respect that.

And. I was engaged, moved, saddened, heartened as I sat there in a packed theater watching the film. What a man, what a mind, what tender nuance was he. That bandana and those dogs. His wanting to be accurate, not shaped, not distorted by his bitter Rolling Stone interviewer, David Lipsky. His desire to live free of the self-doubt that accompanies both fame and obscurity.

This morning, in the wake of that cinematic experience, I read as much as I could about Wallace's widow, Karen Green—her art, her writing, her memoir. Having watched the film I felt it necessary to balance me out with her words.

Inside a Guardian interview, I was returned to Wallace himself, to words written to Jonathan Franzen in a 2005 email. Here Wallace is talking about the difficulty of writing past the known beats and grammar. Of continuously going out to a new edge so that one does not repeat oneself. His words brought to mind all the writers I've read who burst onto the scene with something new, refine that new over the next few books (if they are that lucky, few are), and then begin to tread the same water, return to the same tricks, become a parody of themselves, become (I have used this word a lot this summer, for I've reflected, perhaps too much, on all I've seen) a brand.

That's it, right? How do writers not become a parody of themselves? How do they avoid getting locked into their own deliberate constructions?

Wallace, who had so much to teach us, was thinking about that here:

 "Karen is killing herself rehabbing the house. I sit in the garage with the AC blasting and work very poorly and haltingly and with (some days) great reluctance and ambivalence and pain. I am tired of myself, it seems: tired of my thoughts, associations, syntax, various verbal habits that have gone from discovery to technique to tic. It's a dark time workwise, and yet a very light and lovely time in all other respects."


Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

"It's a dark time workwise, and yet a very light and lovely time in all other respects."

I find this so often: the writing is going badly, though the rest of life is good; or life is a big messy challenge but the writing glows.

And the main problem you are discussing here--the tic, the carving out of a rut--is one that every artist faces, I think. And it's difficult to voluntarily break out of territory that is familiar, where we've done well and reaped rewards, to stumble onto new land and start that trial and error all over again.

Victoria Marie Lees said...

I learn so much following and reading your blog, Beth.

Sameness. Brand. But many times, ladies, we read to discover something new; a new way to look at the trials of everyday life.

You hear that there are no new plots, no new ideas. This is what writers struggle to overcome. Sameness. Ruts. Like Wallace, and Beth, we need to break free from the sameness to see things anew. To discover a new self.

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