20 Dec 2013

A Supposedly Fun Thing

I have just finished reading David Foster Wallace's "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never do Again" essay for the second time, the first being in 2008 when I heard of his death and was curious about his body of work, him being so well praised on the eulogies and carrying the mystique of having written a huge novel ("Infinite Jest" has over 1000 pages) and be defined as genius by so many people.

It is hard to believe just how well somebody can write, painting with words a mental picture encompassing light...
Its overhead lighting is luxury lighting, some kind of blue-intensive Eurofluorescence that's run through a diffusion filter so it's diagnostically acute without being brutal.
...color...
And then in the late A.M. the isolate clouds overhead start moving toward one another, and in the early P.M. they begin very slowly interlocking like jigsaw pieces, and by evening the puzzle will be solved and the sky will be the color of old dimes.
...sound...
I have jumped a dozen times at the shattering, flatulence-of-the-gods sound of a cruise ship's horn
...vision...
he is staring into whatever special distance people in areas of mass public stasis stare into.
...and emotion...
I felt despair. The word's oversused and banalified now, *despair*, but it's a serious word, and I'm using it seriously. For me it denotes a simple admixture - a weird yerning for death combined with a crushing sense of my own smallness and futility that represents a fear of death. It's maybe closer to what people call dread or angst. But it's not these things, quite. It's more like anting to die in order to escape the unbereable feeling of becoming aware that I'm small and weak and selfish and going without any doubt at all to die. 

...so well that it makes you wonder what kind of wicked muse could whisper such combination of sentences upon one's ears, for this has got to be a mystical superpower, and maybe the deadly kriptonite that came along with it - severe depression - is another evidence for it.

This essay is about a Luxury Cruise that he was paid to go for a magazine, and unfortunately I can only imagine the face that said publication's editor must have made after reading the end result. It is picturesque, funny, at moments shallow as the foamy part of the ocean that meets the sand but truthfully deep as the middle of the Atlantic where he was.

As it is common in this man's writing, he doesn't really goes to the seriously meaningful bits straight away but slowly progresses with a lot of humor in and around events, persons and situations while a sensation that a cunning human perception is digesting and bringing slowly to the forefront of your attention deep issues about our own selves as individuals and a collective, on all levels:

I have heard upscale adult U.S. citizens ask the Guest Relations Desk whether snorkeling necessitates getting wet, whether the skeetshooting will be held outside, whether the crew sleeps on board, and what time the Midnight Buffet is.

Part of this overall despair of this Luxury Cruise is that no matter what I do I cannot escape my own essential and newly unpleasant Americanness. This despair reaches its peak in port, at the rail, looking down at what I can't help being one of. Whether up here or down there, I am an American tourist, and am thus ex officio large, fleshy, red, loud, coarse, condescending, self-absorbed, spoiled, appearance-conscious, ashamed, despairing, and greedy: the world's only known species of bovine carnivore.

So in a seemingly innocent review of a cruise you find yourself dealing with very deep truths about what we do to ourselves, how we try to control aspects of our lives and of others:

An ad that pretends to be art is - at absolute best - like somebody who smiles warmly at you only because he wants something from you. This is dishonest, but what's sinister is the cumulative effect that such dishonesty has on us: since it offers a perfect facsimile or simulacrum of goodwill without goodwill's real spirit, it messes with our heads and eventually start upping our defenses even in cases of genuine smiles and real art and true goodwill.

This time when I finished - maybe because I'm older and have a different outlook on things - this grave sensation of profound wisdom lurking amidst well crafted prose bubbled up on my consciousness that maybe this "Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" is not only a cruise, but life itself:


Notwithstanding, we're maybe now in the position to appreciate the lie at the dark heart of Celebrity's brochure. For this - the promise to sate the part of me that always and only WANTS - is the central fantasy the brochure is selling. The thing to notice is that the real fantasy here isn't that this promise will be kept, but that such promise is keepable at all. This is a big one, this lie*.
(*) - It may well be the Big One, come to think of it
But the Infantile part of me is insatiable - in fact its whole essence or dasein or whatever lies in its a priori insatiability. In response to any environment of extraordinary gratification and pampering, the Insatiable Infant part of me will simply adjust its desires upward until it once again levels out at its homeostasis of terrible dissatisfaction.

Not only it happens instinctively but we are also raised and educated to do that: become comfortable with what we have, regardless of how good it is from the perspective of what we had yesterday, but on our way to get used to this new level of having and be sad tomorrow.

It should be a fun thing and it is for a moment, but the key to the maintenance of this happiness of today might be as well forget what has been and keep reminding yourself that this is it, this is the now we have, the blessings we have and never, ever get used to it.