Summer Reading

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HarpingOn

School’s out. Hooray. 

I’ve got a summer off. No scheduled tours, performances, competitions or festivals, leaving me lots of time to pay attention to you, my devoted readers, as well as to the upkeep of my new coffee grinder. To compensate for my lack of musical commitments, last week I decided to embark on the pilgrimage cum rite of passage that seems to have recalibrated the standards of literary severity. That’s right, I bought my first copy of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.

I was intrigued to get hold of the book not just because of its titanic status, but because of the story itself, a chronicle an overachieving WASP-y American family. Last year, I had enjoyed reading Salinger’s Franny and Zooey after seeing Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums, and was interested to see what a later author would have to offer on the issue not just of screwed up nature of American values, but their intersection with natural talent, even genius. In three days I managed to read 100 pages or so (more than most people, thank you very much). It was fatiguing. Reading a novel about the misery of the American condition to want to succeed and be individual is really thought provoking, I’ll admit, but the sheer negativity of American new intellectualism embodied in authors like DFW can also render a certain pessimism in humanity, as the attempts to illustrate perception upon perception ad nauseam turn into a philosophical diarrhoea, painful and unstoppable. I’m telling myself that Infinite Jest will be a summer long project, allowing space for the author’s genius(?) to profoundly sink in.

Sitting at JOE, Wallace’s verbosity caused me to look up from my book and look around me with increasing frequency (we’re talking every few sentences or so). Sat between two Apple-wielding millennial types, I couldn’t help but peek over at the computer screens. “Mindy’s MacBook Air” was being used to design a menu for yet one more freaking cupcake shop in lower Manhattan. Apparently Mindy’s “edge” in her enterprise will be the types of sprinkles a customer can get on their cupcake, allowing for the customization of 400 insipid and empty calories for only $7. 

I couldn’t see the name of the guy on my right, but he seemed deep in thought, hunching over a special program for free-writing/stream of consciousness composition. I wouldn’t have taken concerted notice of his work really had it not been for this app, a sleek black and white program which filled your entire screen and moved with your arrows or as you typed. It all seemed very elegant until he started typing. I’ll spare you the gory details, except to say that I spent 5 minutes watching someone compose a storyboard for a porno. Each line of text depicted a scene, beginning at the moment where Jeff and Catherine (presumably the film’s protagonists) enter Catherine’s apartment to undertaking a myriad of masturbatory, fellatory, cunnilinguistic and copulatory ventures in quick and efficient succession. What was most impressive about this process was the sheer speed at which this guy seemed to come up with the ideas, totally comfortable and proficient in inventing a sex scene.

That was until he ran out of ideas. These 5 minutes of inspiration seemed to grind to a halt, as at the point when the hero and heroine made it into bed and started intercourse, the author seemed to have nothing more to say. He proceeded to go about some menial tasks, including checking his Facebook, looking at online bank statements and even editing some other scripts, including one about two randy lesbians in a Louisiana swamp (I never knew mud could be so kinky). I returned to DFW, reading about how a young tennis champ’s addiction to marijuana in rather excruciating medical detail, until porn-man reopened his free-writing application. I got a little excited. What would Jeff and Catherine do next?!?

Pan of East Austin, TX, out bedroom window

Really? After a few cat videos and some revisions to the script of “Big Busty Baton Rouge Blondes,” that’s all you could come up with? You decided to remind the audience of the geographic context of Jeff and Catherine’s shenanigans?

The total lack of irony of the situation felt like a situation in one of DFW’s essays or short stories: the most infuriating thing about life sometimes is the extent to which things are often exactly as you would expect, and that the exceptional is so rarified that it’s perhaps not worth considering. The Village continues to gentrify with each idiotic specialty shop, and some guy is getting paid exorbitant amounts of money to describe and illustrate humanity’s most frequent pastime. Do I really need to read Wallace to understand what he’s getting at? I might as well pay attention to the election

Maybe I’ll get through another hundred pages next week… It’s going to be a long summer. 

P.S., I know I’ve failed to mention anything about music. Sorry. I’ll try and up my game.

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