Just Once I’d Like To Write A Paragraph This Well
I’m late the the David Foster Wallace party.
If you’re not aware of him, the New York Times used words like “whose prodigiously observant, exuberantly plotted, grammatically and etymologically challenging, philosophically probing and culturally hyper-contemporary novels, stories and essays made him an heir to modern virtuosos…” and “He wrote long books, complete with reflective and often hilariously self-conscious footnotes, and he wrote long sentences, with the playfulness of a master punctuater and the inventiveness of a genius grammarian” to describe him.
His critics usually said that he was self-righteous or a show-off or that he was only experimenting (hinting that his greatness was merely an accident). But they rarely questioned his talent.
His suicide last September at the age of 46 was mourned by the big wigs in literary circles. Not that I know big wigs in literary circles, but rather I read pop magazines by poser literary big wigs (re: Rolling Stone) who tell me such things. Since he had highbrows who adored him, well, that is one of the reasons I’d delayed reading his work. Usually, when those in those circles rave, I often find those authors “inaccessible.” That’s a nice way to say I don’t get ’em.
Anyway, I picked up a copy of his essays because I’ve heard that the best way to make an author’s fiction more accessible is to read their non-fiction (you can get a good sample from articles published in Harper’s Magazine here). You know, read the writer talking about things you may relate to and you can usually pick up on the writer. So, I did.
Here was the first paragraph of the first essay :
“When I left my boxed township of Illinois farmland to attend my dad’s alma mater in the lurid jutting Berkshires of western Massachusetts, I all of a sudden developed a jones for mathmatics. I’m starting to see why this was so. College math evokes and catharts a Midwesterner’s sickness for home. I’d grown up inside vectors, lines and lines athwart lines, grids–and, on the scale of horizons, broad curing lines of geographic force, the weird topographical drain-swirl of a whole lot of ice-ironed land that sits and spins atop plates. The area behind and below these broad curves at the seam of the land and sky I could plot by eye way before I came to know infinitesimals as easements, an integral as schema. Math at a hilly Eastern school was like waking up; it dismantled memory and put it in light. Calculus was, quite literally, child’s play.”
You have got…
What I wouldn’t give to be able to write like that. Just once. Simply to see what it’s like.