Even harder to admit is how depressed I was. As the social stigma of depression dwindles, the aesthetic stigma increases. It’s not just that depression has become fashionable to the point of banality. It’s the sense that we live in a reductively binary culture: you’re either healthy or you’re sick, you either function or you don’t. And if that ﬂattening of the ﬁeld of possibilities is precisely what’s depressing you, you’re inclined to resist participating in the ﬂattening by calling yourself depressed. You decide that it’s the world that’s sick, and that the resistance of refusing to function in such a world is healthy. You embrace what clinicians call “depressive realism.” It’s what the chorus in Oedipus Rex sings: “Alas, ye generations of men, how mere a shadow do I count your life! Where, where is the mortal who wins more of happiness than just the seeming, and, after the semblance, a falling away?” You are, after all, just protoplasm, and some day you’ll be dead. The invitation to leave your depression behind, whether through medication or therapy or effort of will, seems like an invitation to turn your back on all your dark insights into the corruption and infantilism and self-delusion of the brave new McWorld. And these insights are the sole legacy of the social novelist who desires to represent the world not simply in its detail but in its essence, to shine light on the morally blind eye of the virtual whirlwind, and who believes that human beings deserve better than the future of attractively priced electronic panderings that is even now being conspired for them. Instead of saying I am depressed, you want to say I am right.
[...] Not long ago, one of my former undergraduate workshop students came to visit, and I took him on a walk in my neighborhood. Jeff is a skilled, ambitious young person, gaga over Pynchon's critique of technology and capitalism, and teetering between pursuing a Ph.D in English and trying his hand at fiction. On our walk I ranted at him. I said that I too had once been seduced by critical theory's promise of a life unco-opted by the System, but that after my initial seduction I came to see that university tenure itself--the half-million-dollar TIAA-CREF account in your name, the state-of-the-art computer supplied to you at a university discount by the Apple Corporation for the composition of your "subversive" monographs--is the means by which the System co-opts the critical theorist. I said that fiction is refuge, not agency.
Then we passed a delicious trash pile, and I pulled from it a paint- and plaster-spattered wooden chair with a broken seat and found a scrap of two-by-four to knock the bigger clumps of plaster off. It was grubby work. Jeff said: "This is what my life will be like if I write fiction?"
Life goes on. You're empty, sad, probably the least appreciated creative virtuoso in the industry; well and but life just goes on, emptily, sadly, with always direction but never center. The hubless wheels spins ever faster, no? Yes. Admen approach challenges thus: concede what's hopelessly true, what you can't make folks ever want to not be so; concede; then take your creative arm and hammer a big soaked wedge, hard as can be, into whatever's open to interpretation. Interpret, argue, sing, whisper, work the wedge down into the pulp, where the real red juices be, where folks feel alone, fear their genitals, embrace their own shadows, want so badly it's a great subsonic groan, a lambent static only the trained adman's sticky ear can trap, retain, digest. Interpretation, he's fond of telling DeHaven, is persuasion's driveway. Persuasion is desire
nice passage, esp the beginning (inspiration for MC?)
D.L. is utterly silent throughout this exchange, watching the odometer begin slowly to lose its magic. There is a reason for her silence that is in a way parallel to the historical U.S. conflict in Vietnam. For her, Vietnam does not exist except as complicatedly cancelled letters and hissingly connected phone calls, a completely flat-eyed father whom she first met on a tarmac at nine. Who had a hook. Who dropped at automobile backfires (Datsuns never backfire--too little power), who gazed dully and accepting at the mosquito feeding at his one big bicep. Who's long gone, now. Who left a note.
hauntingly magical paragraph
What writers have is a license and also the freedom to sit--to sit, clench their fists, and make themselves be excruciatingly aware of the stuff that we're mostly aware of only on a certain level. And that if the writer does his job right, what he basically does is remind the reader of how smart the reader is. Is to wake the reader up to stuff that the reader's been aware of all the time. And it's not a question of the writer having more capacity than the average person. [...] It's that the writer is willing I think to cut off, cut himself off from certain stuff, and develop ... and just, and think real hard. Which not everybody has the luxury to do.
But I gotta tell you, I just think to look across the room and automatically assume that somebody else is less aware than me, or that somehow their interior life is less rich, and complicated, and acutely perceived than mine, makes me not as good a writer. Because that means I'm going to be performing for a faceless audience, instead of trying to have a conversation with a person.
so agree with this
"Sad" became the tocsin ringing through the piece, sadness as the consequence of too much plenty: sad waiters, sad cruise ship-goers taking pointless videos of other sad people pointing video cameras at them from their own cruise ships, and sad, senseless attempts by Americans to amuse themselves in the absence of any larger spiritual idea. "Choose with care," Marathe warns in Infinite Jest. "You are what you love. No?" Walace's cruise ship piece was about the price of failing to choose well.
On the cruise ship piece
[...] In Philo, educating yourself was something you had to do in spite of school, not because of it -- which is basically why so many of my high school peers are still there in Philo even now, selling one another insurance, drinking supermarket liquor, watching television, awaiting the formality of their first cardiac. [...]
the build-up of this sentence is fantastic and just shatters me
For the next twenty minutes, the three of us boarded and re-boarded the dismal merry-go-round, ensuring that our ride tickets weren't going to waste. I stared at the merry-go-round's chevroned metal floor and radiated shame, mentally vomiting back the treat they'd tried to give me. My mother, ever the dutiful traveler, took pictures of my father and me on our uncomfortably small horses, but beneath her forcible cheer she was angry at me, because she knew she was the one I was getting even with, because of our fight about clothes. My father, his fingers loosely grasping a horse-impaling metal pole, gazed into the distance with a look of resignation that summarized his life. I don't see how either of them bore it. I'd been their late, happy child, and now there was nothing I wanted more than to get away from them. My mother seemed to me hideously comformist and hopelessly obsessed with money and appearances; my father seemed to me allergic to every kind of fun. I didn't want the things they wanted. I didn't value what they valued. And were were all equally sorry to be riding the merry-go-round, and we were all equally at a loss to explain what had happened to us.
while at Disney World with his parents and feeling embarrassed to be seen with them (and in his mother-chosen clothes) as well as alienated from all the other teens. so sad
[...] take a second or two to do some creative visualization and imagine the moment between John McCain’s first getting offered early release and his turning it down. Try to imagine it was you. Imagine how loudly your most basic, primal self-interest would cry out to you in that moment, and all the ways you could rationalize accepting the offer: What difference would one less POW make? Plus maybe it’d give the other POWs hope and keep them going, and I mean 100 pounds and expected to die and surely the Code of Conduct doesn’t apply to you if you need a doctor or else you’re going to die, plus if you could stay alive by getting out you could make a promise to God to do nothing but Total Good from now on and make the world better and so your accepting would be better for the world than your refusing, and maybe if Dad wasn’t worried about the Vietnamese retaliating against you here in prison he could prosecute the war more aggressively and end it sooner and actually save lives so yes maybe you could actually save lives if you took the offer and got out versus what real purpose gets served by you staying here in a box and getting beaten to death, and by the way oh Jesus imagine it a real doctor and real surgery with painkillers and clean sheets and a chance to heal and not be in agony and to see your kids again, your wife, to smell your wife’s hair. . . . Can you hear it? What would be happening inside your head? Would you have refused the offer? Could you have? You can’t know for sure. None of us can. It’s hard even to imagine the levels of pain and fear and want in that moment, much less to know how we’d react. None of us can know.
But, see, we do know how this man reacted. That he chose to spend four more years there, mostly in a dark box, alone, tapping messages on the walls to the others, rather than violate a Code. Maybe he was nuts. But the point is that with McCain it feels like we know, for a proven fact, that he is capable of devotion to something other, more, than his own self-interest. So that when he says the line in speeches now you can feel like maybe it’s not just more candidate bullshit, that with this guy it’s maybe the truth. Or maybe both the truth and bullshit — the man does want your vote, after all.
But if you, like poor old Rolling Stone, have come to a point on the Trail where you’ve started fearing your own cynicism almost as much as you fear your own credulity and the salesmen who feed on it, you may find your thoughts returning again and again to a certain dark and box-sized cell in a certain Hilton half a world and three careers away, to the torture and fear and offer of release and a certain Young Voter named McCain’s refusal to violate a Code. There were no techs’ cameras in that box, no aides or consultants, no paradoxes or gray areas; nothing to sell. There was just one guy and whatever in his character sustained him. This is a huge deal. In your mind, that Hoa Lo box becomes sort of a special dressing room with a star on the door, the private place behind the stage where one imagines “the real John McCain” still lives. And but now the paradox here is that this box that makes McCain “real” is, by definition, locked. Impenetrable. Nobody gets in or out. This is huge, too; you should keep it in mind. It is why, however many behind-the-scenes pencils get put on the case, a “profile” of John McCain is going to be just that: one side, exterior, split and diffracted by so many lenses there’s way more than one man to see. Salesman or leader or neither or both, the final paradox — the really tiny central one, way down deep inside all the other campaign puzzles’ spinning boxes and squares that layer McCain — is that whether he’s truly “for real” now depends less on what is in his heart than on what might be in yours. Try to stay awake.