Admittedly, this one’s well at the margins of anything one might call the mainstream, but something about its cancerous vibe struck a chord for us. (cf. our earlier entries on Family Guy) Turns out that a novelist who was last popular some twenty-odd years ago was reading the new biography of David Foster Wallace, another writer who came of age in that generation. Apparently, novelist Brett Easton Ellis felt the bio to be a locus of all he despised about the now-deceased Wallace, his work, and his readers. Being a modern guy, he also felt he couldn’t contain his loathing to a mere think-piece for Newsweek, but had to broadcast it over one of our hip, happening social networks, Twitter. (How about an all-rant site called Farter, where posts are called Poots?)
A taste: “OMG is the solemnity of the David Foster Wallace myth on a purely literary level borderline sickening…”; “the most tedious, overrated, tortured, pretentious writer of my generation…”; “Anyone who finds David Foster Wallace a literary genius has got to be included in the Literary Doucebag-Fools Pantheon…”; “I find the halo of sentimentality surrounding him embarrassing.” Quite enough, thanks.
First, we’d like to point out that words like “overrated” (a word you often hear chanted at sporting events) and “pretentious” have dogged Wallace’s work since the time Ellis was outselling him ten to one, and that what they come down to is crotchets of taste. One likes the Ramones, the other likes King Crimson, and amazingly some people can actually make room for both in their pantheon, depending on how the mood strikes. But one can never win an argument about taste. A friend of ours will drink no fizzy soda but Diet Coke, is not fooled by substitutes, and will not be dissuaded by her friends on a long cross-country car trip. (Coke Zero really is awful, though.)
We, of course, are avid readers of Wallace, and if you need an excuse to quit reading us, click away (for years now we’ve been reading what horrible humans we are, what limited intellects we have, for appreciating the work of DFW). Yet we are not blind adherents who can’t recognize the variance in quality between, or even within, his works, and we’ve never thought to tell anyone who didn’t “get” Wallace that they were blind or stupid. We do sometimes feel like Professor Frink, when he’s demonstrating atomic properties to third-graders with one of those toy ball-rolling machines; he won’t let Ralph play with it because, “I’m enjoying it on so many more levels than you.” We’re also pretty sure that if an Ellis work has ever had more than two levels, we missed them.
The sad thing, though, is Ellis’ need to attack “the myth,” which no artist from Shakespeare to Led Zeppelin should ever be held responsible for. Especially in our media age, these memes or “infotainment orbs” generate themselves whether the artist participates or not; as Neal Gabler notes in Life: The Movie, even trying to be off the myth-making grid (Pynchon) only makes you ‘the author who is never seen, except with a bag over his head on The Simpsons. But Ellis then has to go that extra mile (why else would he have gotten noticed by a Salon writer and been able to send his contempt all the way down to mere Postmanisms?), and assert, in that Zeus-like tone that characterizes so much communication on the InterWeb, that anyone who thinks Wallace was great is a) a douche (frat-boy as literati), and b) a fool (meaning he or she is dumber—has worse taste/doesn’t live in New York/has to actually buy books—than Brett Easton Ellis).
It simply isn’t enough to have enemies and hate them; one must despise everyone who may have been reached, in what those readers consider to be a profound way, via a work of art. It’s our belief that the new intensity of this felt compulsion to verbally destroy, and to do so instantly, thoughtlessly, and with no desire except to provoke a response (Here we are!), is merely an aftereffect of our disembodied digital landscape. One has to talk as loudly and vilely as possible now in order to be heard over the howling wind of a billion cells, souls, dogs barking.
We wish to thank Prachi Gupta of Salon for following Ellis’ bile with a sort of ghost answer, from which we have stolen this: “Look, if the contemporary condition is hopelessly shitty, insipid, materialistic, emotionally retarded, sadomasochistic, and stupid, then I (or any writer) can get away with slapping together stories with characters who are stupid, vapid, emotionally retarded, which is easy, because these sorts of characters require no development … Look man, we’d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness.” (DFW, from an interview with Larry McCaffrey)
Hard to think of less douchey words spoken in the last twenty-odd years.
Quotes sourced from Prachi Gupta of Salon.com: