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167

His Capital Flush

Despairing Over Work and Value in Oblivion

4
terms
7
notes

Severs, J. (2017). His Capital Flush. In Severs, J. David Foster Wallace's Balancing Books: Fictions of Value. Columbia University Press, pp. 167-197

167

Why does work often feel futile in a postmodern and neoliberal society? Why do even many highly rewarding jobs seem dehumanizing and attenuating amid superabundant wealth and leisure? Philip Mirowski argues, "Not only does neoliberalism deconstruct any special status for human labor, but"--in terms resonstant with my readings throughout--"it lays waste to older distinctions between production and consumption rooted in the labor theory of value, and reduces the human being to an arbitrary bundle of 'investments,' skill sets, temporary alliances." These are some of the areas of a fully ascendant neoliberal culture that Wallace probes in Oblivion. "Probably all jobs are ... filled wth horrible boredom and despair and quiet little bits of fulfillment that are very hard to tell anybody else about," Wallace said in an interview about Oblivion in 2004 (CW 129). As he read the post-9/11 American economy, Wallace was willing to extrapolate his own work conditions into another of his hoped-for universalisms, the notion that all jobs led to the despair that increasingly characterized the position in the office of literary art he had decided to take in 1985.

—p.167 by Jeffrey Severs 3 years, 4 months ago

Why does work often feel futile in a postmodern and neoliberal society? Why do even many highly rewarding jobs seem dehumanizing and attenuating amid superabundant wealth and leisure? Philip Mirowski argues, "Not only does neoliberalism deconstruct any special status for human labor, but"--in terms resonstant with my readings throughout--"it lays waste to older distinctions between production and consumption rooted in the labor theory of value, and reduces the human being to an arbitrary bundle of 'investments,' skill sets, temporary alliances." These are some of the areas of a fully ascendant neoliberal culture that Wallace probes in Oblivion. "Probably all jobs are ... filled wth horrible boredom and despair and quiet little bits of fulfillment that are very hard to tell anybody else about," Wallace said in an interview about Oblivion in 2004 (CW 129). As he read the post-9/11 American economy, Wallace was willing to extrapolate his own work conditions into another of his hoped-for universalisms, the notion that all jobs led to the despair that increasingly characterized the position in the office of literary art he had decided to take in 1985.

—p.167 by Jeffrey Severs 3 years, 4 months ago
168

[...] Wallace did not sign the story initially, using the pseudonym Eliabeth Klemm, his new attempt to write as a "NOBODY". [...]

The pen name DFW used for the original McSweeney's publication of Mister Squishy (and possibly other works too). Hilarious because anyone who reads Mister Squishy knows right away who the actual author must be

—p.168 by Jeffrey Severs 3 years, 4 months ago

[...] Wallace did not sign the story initially, using the pseudonym Eliabeth Klemm, his new attempt to write as a "NOBODY". [...]

The pen name DFW used for the original McSweeney's publication of Mister Squishy (and possibly other works too). Hilarious because anyone who reads Mister Squishy knows right away who the actual author must be

—p.168 by Jeffrey Severs 3 years, 4 months ago
169

Oblivion signals that Wallace, while still holding work to be sacred, has largely given up his faith in the powers of the Protestant call to work that echoed throughout his writing up through Infinite Jest. Less prominent in Oblivion and after is the writer who allegorizes work in terms of Lenore's swichboard and foot-pounds, while newly emergent are dull, long-term workplaces, rended in detail and at length: advertising agencies, insurance offices, demographic systems. Jobs themselves now spread out to form characters' mental ground, and work no longer really works for one's well-being. As Walter Kirn writes in his review of Oblivion, "Often the jobs we do end up doing us." If, in Infinite Jest's Hegelian code, transcendence potentially lay in absorpotion, in Oblivion all is distraction; no one really forgets himself, except perhaps the narrator of "Smithy" (to his peril). [...]

—p.169 by Jeffrey Severs 3 years, 4 months ago

Oblivion signals that Wallace, while still holding work to be sacred, has largely given up his faith in the powers of the Protestant call to work that echoed throughout his writing up through Infinite Jest. Less prominent in Oblivion and after is the writer who allegorizes work in terms of Lenore's swichboard and foot-pounds, while newly emergent are dull, long-term workplaces, rended in detail and at length: advertising agencies, insurance offices, demographic systems. Jobs themselves now spread out to form characters' mental ground, and work no longer really works for one's well-being. As Walter Kirn writes in his review of Oblivion, "Often the jobs we do end up doing us." If, in Infinite Jest's Hegelian code, transcendence potentially lay in absorpotion, in Oblivion all is distraction; no one really forgets himself, except perhaps the narrator of "Smithy" (to his peril). [...]

—p.169 by Jeffrey Severs 3 years, 4 months ago
171

[...] human decision can no longer disentangle itself from computing's complexity. Wallace seems to have been led to this point by Tor Nørretranders's The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size, a book he heavily annotated and source of an idea central to his style in the last two books of fiction: "Every singe second," Nørretranders writes, "every one of us discards millions of bits [of sensory information] in order to arrive at the special state known as onsciousness."

—p.171 by Jeffrey Severs 3 years, 4 months ago

[...] human decision can no longer disentangle itself from computing's complexity. Wallace seems to have been led to this point by Tor Nørretranders's The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size, a book he heavily annotated and source of an idea central to his style in the last two books of fiction: "Every singe second," Nørretranders writes, "every one of us discards millions of bits [of sensory information] in order to arrive at the special state known as onsciousness."

—p.171 by Jeffrey Severs 3 years, 4 months ago

(noun) a judicial decision or sentence / (noun) a decree in bankruptcy / (verb) to settle judicially / (verb) to act as judge

172

as a term of adjudication, "'value' sidesteps some of the metaphysics that makes pure aesthetics such a headache"

—p.172 by Jeffrey Severs
confirm
3 years, 4 months ago

as a term of adjudication, "'value' sidesteps some of the metaphysics that makes pure aesthetics such a headache"

—p.172 by Jeffrey Severs
confirm
3 years, 4 months ago

term derived from heraldry; means "placed into abyss"

174

As with other mise-en-abyme endings (like that of "Octet")

on Good Old Neon

—p.174 by Jeffrey Severs
notable
3 years, 4 months ago

As with other mise-en-abyme endings (like that of "Octet")

on Good Old Neon

—p.174 by Jeffrey Severs
notable
3 years, 4 months ago
176

[...] An extension of Wallace's indictments in "E Unibus Pluram" and his Updike essay of the 1960s' "brave new individualism" (CL 54), "Smithy" laments the passing of a 1950s family-values-driven Lassie episode (a clear analogue for the enframed windows tale) and a future of destroyed communal bonds in the Vietna War, deadly for some of the students. [...] the unraveling of the U.S. Constitution in the insertions of "KILL THEM ALL" by the psychotic Richard Johnson (named for the U.S. presidents from 1963 to 1973, leaders of the Vietnam War) (O 91). [...]

—p.176 by Jeffrey Severs 3 years, 4 months ago

[...] An extension of Wallace's indictments in "E Unibus Pluram" and his Updike essay of the 1960s' "brave new individualism" (CL 54), "Smithy" laments the passing of a 1950s family-values-driven Lassie episode (a clear analogue for the enframed windows tale) and a future of destroyed communal bonds in the Vietna War, deadly for some of the students. [...] the unraveling of the U.S. Constitution in the insertions of "KILL THEM ALL" by the psychotic Richard Johnson (named for the U.S. presidents from 1963 to 1973, leaders of the Vietnam War) (O 91). [...]

—p.176 by Jeffrey Severs 3 years, 4 months ago
181

[...] His chronic "nightmare" from childhood is not a recurrence of the classroom scene but an anticipatory vision of the insurance-office desk order that awaits him--a room the size of a soccer field, "utterly silent" and with "a large clock on each wall," counting out an unbearable time (O 103). This insurance office is not just a workplace but an existential landscape, complete with a bygone sense of ethical duty.

—p.181 by Jeffrey Severs 3 years, 4 months ago

[...] His chronic "nightmare" from childhood is not a recurrence of the classroom scene but an anticipatory vision of the insurance-office desk order that awaits him--a room the size of a soccer field, "utterly silent" and with "a large clock on each wall," counting out an unbearable time (O 103). This insurance office is not just a workplace but an existential landscape, complete with a bygone sense of ethical duty.

—p.181 by Jeffrey Severs 3 years, 4 months ago
185

[...] Another of Wallace's handwritten drafts of "Oblivion" even begins with a sentence referring to Dryden and Prudential Insurance's 1875 origins--as though Wallace considered maing the perversion of the insurance company's mission more explicit in the story [...] In a tale of suburban New Jersey luxury built on Demographic Medicine, Wallace also implicitly links the transformation of Prudential from a civically proud insurance company into a financialized moneymaker with the concomitant decline of Newark [...] into one of the U.S.'s poorest cities.

the story about sleeping (Hope and Randy) is apparently also an indictment of insurance companies ... the book Randy brings into the sleep clinic is Kurt Eichenwald's Serpent on the Rock, which exposes 1980s securities fraud at a subsidiary of Prudential-Bache

—p.185 by Jeffrey Severs 3 years, 4 months ago

[...] Another of Wallace's handwritten drafts of "Oblivion" even begins with a sentence referring to Dryden and Prudential Insurance's 1875 origins--as though Wallace considered maing the perversion of the insurance company's mission more explicit in the story [...] In a tale of suburban New Jersey luxury built on Demographic Medicine, Wallace also implicitly links the transformation of Prudential from a civically proud insurance company into a financialized moneymaker with the concomitant decline of Newark [...] into one of the U.S.'s poorest cities.

the story about sleeping (Hope and Randy) is apparently also an indictment of insurance companies ... the book Randy brings into the sleep clinic is Kurt Eichenwald's Serpent on the Rock, which exposes 1980s securities fraud at a subsidiary of Prudential-Bache

—p.185 by Jeffrey Severs 3 years, 4 months ago

(noun) prostitute / (noun) a native or inhabitant of Paphos / (adjective) of or relating to illicit love; wanton / (adjective) of or relating to Paphos or its people

186

While "paphian" primarily pertains to illicit love in general, a secondary meaning is prostitute.

originally found in a quote from Oblivion (sleep clinic story)

—p.186 by Jeffrey Severs
notable
3 years, 4 months ago

While "paphian" primarily pertains to illicit love in general, a secondary meaning is prostitute.

originally found in a quote from Oblivion (sleep clinic story)

—p.186 by Jeffrey Severs
notable
3 years, 4 months ago

(verb) depict or describe in painting or words; suffuse or highlight (something) with a bright color or light

187

Perhaps Wallace's ECT experiences are limned in the story's EEG leads and wires

—p.187 by Jeffrey Severs
notable
3 years, 4 months ago

Perhaps Wallace's ECT experiences are limned in the story's EEG leads and wires

—p.187 by Jeffrey Severs
notable
3 years, 4 months ago