my blog post series about things from first principles
[...] DFW's writing reflects an attitude that is lovely: a touching, and for the most part well-founded, belief that you can explain anything with words if you work hard enough and show your readers sufficient respect. [...]
As an explanation for milder allergic reactions--and, having proselytized DFW's writing to many friends over the years, I've seen a few--some readers posit (often vaguely and fretfully) that there is some archness or smart-assery in DFW's literary style. This, to me anyway, is an unsupportable conclusion, given the obvious love that DFW brings to what he's writing about, and his explicitly stated opposition to irony-as-lifestyle in his essay E Unibus Pluram. Why do people see it when it's not there? It's something to do with the fact that his conspicuous verbal talent and wordplay create a nagging sense among some readers that there's a joke here that they're not getting or that they are somehow being made fools of by an agile knave. Which DFW was not.
So in reading Everything and More, cleverness or verbal pyrotechnics or archness are not the emotional tone that comes through to me, but a kind of open-soulness and desire to connect that were touching before, and heartbreaking after, David Foster Wallace succumbed, at the age of 46 to a cruel and incurable disease. Because of this we will not have the opportunity to enjoy and profit from many other explanations that it was in his power to supply on diverse topics, lofty and mundane, and so we must content ourselves with what he did leave behind--an impossibility given the pleasure and the insight he gave us in Everything and More, and his obvious ability to have provided much more, had fortune treated him with as much consideration as he did his readers.
something that i'd like to capture in my from-first-principles posts!
also, the "in his power" could be a sly reference to his undergraduate thesis in philosophy :D
[...] Calculus was realizing that something you had previously understood to be true in only a silly, facile way really had deep roots furled out underneath it that proved its worth and fireworks that shot up out of it too, newer and more complicated and more beautiful than what you had known before. And the roots and the fireworks talked to one another across the night air in a lyrical, sensible language. And assuming you did things as they were meant to be done, everything worked out perfectly. [...]
[...] The farther one descends among the lower schools the more, naturally enough, does one find teachers' and pupils' doubts of their own knowledge vanishing, and superficial culture mounting sky-high around a few precepts that have been drilled into people's minds for centuries, precepts which, though they have lost nothing of their eternal truth, remain eternally invisible in this fog of confusion.
[...] It might be that one of the really significant problems of today's culture involves finding ways for educated people to talk meaningfully with each other across the divides of radical specialization. [...] a particular kind of genius that's not really part of their specific area of expertise as such areas are usually defined and taught. There's not really even a good univocal word for this kind of genius--which might be significant. Maybe there should be a word; maybe being able to communicate with people outside one's area of expertise should be taught, and talked about, and considered as a requirement for genuine expertise. . . [...]
[...] The more philosophers I read, the clearer it seemed that each of them could carry their views back to first principles which were incompatible with the first principles of their opponents, and that none of them ever got to that fabled place 'beyond hypotheses'. There seemed to be nothing like a neutral standpoint from which these alternative first principles could be evaluated. But if there were no such standpoint, then the whole idea of 'rational certainty', and the whole Socratic-Platonic idea of replacing passion by reason, seemed not to make much sense.