At first I wasn’t going to do this, to write a blog post that I’d publish later, although several ideas were floating in my head waiting to be expressed. I didn’t feel like doing it without the promise of immediate gratification. Not that my blog offers any real immediate gratification. It’s not like anyone jumps on my comments right away to yell First! I could go to my AdSense statistics to see if I’ve gotten any hits, but usually they don’t start showing up til the next day. But the motivation just wasn’t there, and I shut down my computer and went back to my book until Trent started writing his post.
He’s writing about a Raymond Carver story I think. We named our son for Raymond Carver. I didn’t really know his work until afterward, I guess I just trusted Trent’s taste. I was thinking day before yesterday when I dipped into some Carver stories at Trent’s aunt’s house that Carver writes the way I would like to write. He paints his characters harshly but with sympathy. They’re not likable people, they’re often people you wouldn’t even want inside your home perhaps, but they’re accessible and forgivable. And the stories have a spiritual center, They’re sad and dark but not empty. Most short stories are depressing I find, at least if you sit and read a whole bunch of them, inevitably I find myself depressed after a couple hours. I think it’s the sense of futility that often imbues them—there’s no big movement or change in the characters, probably because they’re too short for such a change to be meaningful—and so the snapshot of a life in motion is often just a picture of life in all its big empty meaninglessness. Somehow Carver manages to avoid that, although he writes about drunks and death and the hapless violence of domestic life. It is strange though, to contrast those stories with my son’s joyful personality. He is such a happy baby. It thrills me and fills me with wonder that two such serious, reserved people could produce such joy. And I was thinking the other day about the fact that we created his happiness from nothing. From our bodies came his moment of pure joy, and what more could anyone ask to do in this life?
Of course, one could ask for a lot more, and one does. I read a small section of Infinite Jest tonight, because my husband, who is reading the book despite much grief from me, said it was a brilliant passage, and, since I incessantly criticize DFW without ever having read him, I decided to succumb to the feeling of encumbency and read at least this passage, which Trent said was only six pages. After getting through two, I asked him whether I could stop reading if I hated it. He said to read at least to the middle of the next page, and I did. It was a passage about depression, written in DFW’s signature (or what I understand to be his signature) pretentious, overly-intellectualized style.
We enter a spiritual puberty where we snap to the fact that the great transcendent horror is loneliness, excluded encagement in the self.… We are shown how to fashion masks of ennui and jaded irony at a young age where the face is fictile enough to assume the shape of whatever it wears. And then it’s stuck there, the weary cynicism that saves us from gooey sentiment and unsophisticated naivete.… Hal, who’s empty but not dumb, theorizes privately that what passes for hip cynical transcendence is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human (at least as he conceptualizes it) is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic, is to be in some basic interior way forever infantile, some sort of not-quite-right looking in fact dragging itself anaclitically around the map, with big wet eyes and froggy-soft skin, huge skull, gooey drool.I think DFW writes without sympathy, and that’s what turns me off. I certainly identify with this idea of a love affair with jaded ennui—ennui was my favorite word for a while in high school—and certainly, the naïve sincerity of a certain segment of a population fills me with a kind of disgust. And “encagement in the self” as he puts it is one of my central obsessions. But I guess I don’t see the point of writing about that without trying to understand it, and to me that understanding doesn’t come without sympathy. Not just empathy but sympathy. So maybe I’m being unfair, having read all of three pages, and maybe you have to read the whole thing to see the character development and the story and maybe that’s where the sympathy and the understanding and the emotional depth comes in. But I can’t help thinking, with the smugness of the living, that DFW killed himself because he didn’t have sympathy. If you can’t forgive other people their failings, you probably can’t forgive yourself.
DFW’s suicide is what I started out to write about before I got sidetracked with that little rant. Specifically this passage:
… the standard take on Dr. J. O. Incandenza’s suicide attributes his putting his head in the microwave to this kind of anhedonia. This is maybe because anhedonia’s often associated with the crises that afflict extremely goal-oriented people who reach a certain age having achieved all or more than all than they’d hoped for. The what-does-it-all-mean type of crisis of middle-aged Americans…. the presumption that he’d achieved all his goals and found that the achievement didn’t confer meaning or joy on his existence …I guess it’s sort of obvious—and in fact it’s an explanation that the narrator rejects as overly simplistic in this passage—but it suddenly struck me in reading this that my reaction to DFW’s suicide: how could he kill himself when he was adored by millions? misses the obvious—that continuing to experience the bone-aching depression that he’d experienced before achieving the massive success he’d been striving for after achieving it must have been a shattering disappointment.
Which brings me to my point: what would happen if I got there myself? Would I be gutted by disillusion? I guess I’d still prefer to find out.
Trent put a hula hoop around me while I was writing this and I told him to leave it there—my magic circle. This isolation, me and the page, is something I’ve been thinking about lately. With all the writing that goes on these days—the renaissance of the written word stimulated by the internet and its ravenous hunger for content—I think there is still a place for the novel that one person slaves over for years without exposing it to the world until it’s been laboriously honed and shaped and polished. Not that this blog post is laborious—in fact the whole goal of my blog is not to be polish; to allow myself to be spontaneous and thereby, hopefully, to write, instead of being paralyzed by lofty aspirations. Which means that now I’ve written this post in a word document, I have to save and close it, and keep myself from reading it until tomorrow.