The summer I was slowly rolling toward conceiving of the page you are reading today — or not exactly this page, but the full spectrum of pages that makes up this site and the many associated broadsheets THE2NDHAND has released over the past ten years — I spent the solid three months high on the sentences and paragraphs and chapters of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.* In many ways, the book reinforced for me the worth of both continuing to write creatively and the decision to go forward with the artistic community-building project and lit mag that THE2NDHAND would become six months later. IJ‘s “frivolous present”** — its clear ideational situation in the time of its writing — was made undeniably non-frivolous, the very notion of a time period’s “frivolous present” put to use in the armature of the book with its subsidized Years of… the Depend Adult Undergarment, Glad, etc. In short (and this hopefully doesn’t fatally simplify the matter), DFW beat a path for me toward ways of bringing writing to bear on the polyglot, heterogenous nature of my American life — something beyond the “beaker of acid” in the face of prevailing mass culture*** that was the lot of the great postmodernists who preceded and influenced him. His work both critiques and attempts to engage the mass culture, aimed squarely at those in his generation (X, if one needs a label) who would benefit from the engagement — recognizing prevailing bullshit for what it is and identifying tracks through and/or around it. As such, he set the bar for a host of fiction writers to follow, especially those a generation following, including many contributors to THE2NDHAND, the majority of whom are young enough to qualify as of that following generation.
When he died, Sept. 12, 2008 it’s quite possible I was rereading “Up, Simba,” his essay about the 2000 McCain campaign and presidential campaigns and their press coverage in general, which my wife had remembered and pulled out while we tried not to watch the sad spectacle of this year’s Republican National Convention****. In the wake of DFW’s death — for days, all I could really say about it was “…!” — I began to mull over what THE2NDHAND could do to serve as ongoing tribute to the man’s work, and in the course of that mulling opened Infinite Jest, starting at the beginning again and coming upon the second paragraph — “I am in here,” Hal Incandenza feels necessary to reiterate for himself/ourselves — and in that simple paragraph and its situation in the novel***** I found distilled a particularly large facet of what DFW was all about as a chronicler of the psychological and numbing dislocation of his American generation, its antipathetic nature, and by antipathetic here I refer you to the listed obsolete definition (the No. 1 definition, in any case) of “antipathy” in Webster’s, which is “opposite of feeling,” of course, which comes closer to what I mean here than apathy or antipathy‘s more common meanings do, I think.
Anyhow, the tribute concept is of a piece with our Pitchfork Battalion series of collaborations, threading together various writers’ short renditions linked by a common attribute. So, I invite anyone reading, had you an interest in DFW’s work, to write a short bit of prose (between a paragraph and a page, as goes our standard recommendations) that includes the phrase “I am in here” as tribute to DFW and send it to me at email@example.com. I’ll be archiving the pieces as they come in on this page — and starting us off, we have a great small contribution from the incomparable Doug Milam. Though I asked for prose, he sent me poetry, and fine poetry it is:
Believe me, David,
that although I do not know,
I know. It’s like pulling
Infinite Jest and feeling
its weight before you
blow the dust off
with a bang of breath.
It’s like going into a room
and shutting out
to write a fight
into a fist,
just to gnaw on it.
I am in here,
and it’s not quiet,
And I want to leave.
If you haven’t been over to McSweeney’s and discovered the great and moving tribute series from folks who knew DFW or had the opportunity to meet him, get on over there — all are doing a great job of presenting the man as he was. Which is invaluable.
*Which I’d finally picked up three years after its release in remaindered first-edition at the great Off-Square Books in Oxford, Miss., June 1999, fleeing the mindfuck of an abrupt termination from a rather thankless sort of proofreading job I dared to obliquely lampoon in a short story I wrote and a colleague got hold of — a grand lesson in the power of decent writing, I guess, therein, since the colleague read herself right into one of the less-flattering characters in the story, who had little-to-no bearing on herself, as far I knew her, anyhow, but which struck some deep chord, I have forever guessed, I could have no way of intuiting from our brief friendship — and yes to get back to where this began ultimately got me canned, and all of which was sad, yes, very sad and heartbreaking indeed.
**As a writing teacher cited in DFW’s TV & U.S. Fiction essay, “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,” in the collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again derisively refers to any time period’s pop-culture w/r/t the culture’s brand names’ use in quote-unquote serious fiction being strictly off-limits.
***DFW schooled Charlie Rose on 20th century literary history upon the release of A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again in 1997, describing postmodernists like Pynchon, Nabokov, Barth, etc.’s relationship to prevailing American culture with the acidic metaphor.
****Or I might have been reading an essay in the New York Review of Books about depression and anxiety.
*****Hal is, in the subsidized-time Year of Glad, meeting with the Deans of Academics, Athletics, etc. at an Arizona college where he’s applied (potential tennis scholarship). Of course, he’s sort of at the end of his tether at this point and suffering from a kind of debilitating anti-communicative self-consciousness/marijuana “addiction” and the impossibility of his actually communicating with the Deans is in this first chapter totally exploded to begin the book with the big-bang end, sort of, which brings to mind a line from Ellison’s Invisible Man, which sort of fits in this context: “The end is in the beginning and lies far ahead.”