Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Eternal Sunshine

Just returned from fourteen consecutive hours of plane travel. Flew from Valdez to Anchorage to Chicago to DC with about three connection mistakes at each stop. Had the distinct feeling we were going to land sometime in October 1947 -- I stopped counting the hours-gained/hours-lost. After hitting Seattle, and the above two Alaskan outposts, and doing the show thrice in three days at three different remote venues ... I think my metabolism has vanished into some frequent flyer wormhole along with my emotional baggage, which usually arrives two weeks late anyway.

Absorbed most of David Foster Wallace's book of essays A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again and I think I've found my new favorite American writer under 40. One choice sampling:

So then how have irony, irreverence, and rebellion come to be not liberating but enfeebling in the culture today's avant-garde tries to write about? One clue's to be found in the fact that irony is still around, bigger than ever after 30 long years as the dominant mode of hip expression. It's not a rhetorical mode that wears well. As Hyde (whom I pretty obviously like) puts it, "Irony has only emergency use. Carried over time, it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage." This is because irony, entertaining as it is, serves an almost exclusively negative function. It's critical and destructive, a ground-clearing. Surely this is the way our postmodern fathers saw it. But irony's singularly unuseful when it comes to constructing anything to replace the hypocricies it debunks.

That, from his essay "E Unibus Pluram," puts it better than any Neil Postman parable I've read. Postman's good, but I gotta thank Wallace for pointing out, once and for all, that "poststructuralist is what you call a deconstructionist who doesn't want to be called a deconstructionist." Anyway, these well-wrought vivisections of po-mo stupidity go down well as you careen across the continent in an airplane, trying to suppress comparisons to the airplane sequence in Fight Club -- the last hurrah of pre-9/11 American sophistry (which, to the relief of conservatives everywhere, has been faithfully resurrected as a sign that we're winning the War on Reality).

So I was standing at the Designated Smoker Area at Anchorage International Airport, watching the midnight sun before I had to hop on my Chicago flight, chatting with trusted side-kick Jimmy Flannagan, when two stoned frat-boys from Miami walked up to bum a light from us. I'm gonna try to capture the experience here because, as usual, I couldn't resist lying to them. Incidentally, I don't know why anyone tells the truth to anyone at airports. After being stripped down to my body hair by security and given the shiatsu pat-down for the umpteenth time to verify my identity, I really don't feel like being honest with anyone else in airports. Besides, the two Miami frat boys -- which, for the sake of avoiding libel, I will call "Crawford" and "Fuckwit" -- didn't really deserve it.

(Jimmy and Karl stand watching the midnight sun in all its glory when Fuckwit and Crawford approach. Fuckwit has a plastic visor on his head that says "cockwear.com")

FUCKWIT: Dude, you got a light?

ME: Sure man.

FUCKWIT: You local?

JIMMY: Naw, we're from DC.

FUCKWIT: Where?

ME: Washington.

FUCKWIT: Seattle?

ME: DC?

FUCKWIT: Huh?

ME: Washington, DC.

FUCKWIT: Oh.

ME: Makes sense when you put them together, I guess.

FUCKWIT: Huh?

ME: Spring Break!!

FUCKWIT: What you doing here?

ME: We're working on a bill.

FUCKWIT: What?

ME: ANWAR. The pipeline thing?

(Pause.)

FUCKWIT: Oh. Yeah, that. You're working on it?

ME: Well, if you count chaining yourself to endangered trees so the bulldozers can't get through "working," then yeah. We are.

FUCKWIT: Shit.

CRAWFORD: You know where the women are?

ME: There are two of them, as near as I can tell. They're both downtown. And taken.

FUCKWIT: (genuine terror) Shit.

ME: I know. We're heading out right now.

CRAWFORD: Anything to do here?

ME: Well, there's the midnight sun going on right now. That's pretty cool, huh?

FUCKWIT: What, that?

(Fuckwit points to the sun.)

ME: Yeah. The sun. It's midnight. Isn't that cool?

FUCKWIT: (checking his watch) Yeah. You're right. It is about night-time back in Miami right now! Look at the sun!

ME: Well, now, technically that doesn't count, see. It's night many places right now. Including here.

CRAWFORD: You know where the Sheraton Hotel is?

JIMMY: Um, downtown?

FUCKWIT: There it is!

(Fuckwit points to a building about twenty miles off in the distance. Needless to say, there's nothing about the silhouette of Sheraton Hotels that is at all distinctive enough to prove him right.)

CRAWFORD: Where?

FUCKWIT: There!

CRAWFORD: Naw, I think that's something else.

FUCKWIT: I'll bet you fifty bucks that's the Sheraton!

CRAWFORD: I'm not betting you nothing.

FUCKWIT: Let's go find out, bitch.

ME: You know, any cab driver could probably --

CRAWFORD: (to Fuckwit) Dude. Why don't you let me do the thinking okay? I'll do enough for both of us.

FUCKWIT: Okay.

CRAWFORD: Check out this fly-fishing pole I stole from that guy on the plane!

FUCKWIT: Dude!

(Fuckwit and Crawford vanish into the concourse. Jimmy safely bursts out laughing.)

Valdez was wonderful. On about three different levels. More soon.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting negative paragraph quoted on irony. (wasn't sure from the brief exerpt if he was trashing irony as a writing tool or as our culture's knee-jerk response to everything)

Someone a few weeks ago posted you were soon to tread the boards as Hamlet (Mr. Irony himself!)...which brings up an interesting question as to when, why or even IF irony has ceased to be a valid hole a hero(ine) can jump through to discover or build a new world view. As I peruse the literary titles on the shelf, it seems that situational irony, the irony of a gesture, and, yes, even the occasional snarky ironic one-liner figure prominently in sone of the most profound journeys of our greatest fictional heroes. So is it merely the overuse of irony in the last 30 years...or the inability of contemporary writers to follow through with the next building block that really troubles Mr. Wallace (and you?)

Seems irony gets a bad rep if used as an end in itself rather than as part of a larger mosaic. But irony as a form of revelation - and revelation as a first step in discovery - well, that seems perfectly "useful."

(Clueless as to why I feel compelled to play devil's advocate on your dime -- except for the joy of the joust. If this is getting annoying, just say so and Trillum will vamoose. promise.)

arcticactor said...

Wallace's larger analysis centers more on how "televisual" culture has impacted literary culture. To start, he explains how irony -- as a wholesale commodity -- is the lynchpin of televisual discourse. It's frighteningly easy to assemble because the juxtaposition of image and sound is as effortless as the keystrokes at an editor's working station (as someone who "daylights" as a film editor, I agree). Irony in literature requires, first, the assembly of two referent ideas/images/thoughts. But contemporary authors are getting better at manufacturing irony out of common household objects (or sometimes out of thin air) -- to the point where even Don DeLillo is worshipped and emulated instead of read and listened to.

Nothing wrong with irony at all. But, as you put it, it is functionally useless as an end in itself. If sarcasm can be counted as some brand of watered-down, Discount Irony, then we're getting it from all sides -- like a spigot in the living room. The larger question, in my mind, is: Why does irony (and exclusively irony-fed channels like television) provide such an innoculating force-field against any outside critique of its perpetrators? E.g. Bush's candid announcement of his own corruption on television is construed as a perfect sign that he's virtuous beyond measure.

Viz. Hamlet -- here's a guy doing battle with irony-made-manifest. Seems the greatest joy of the story, thematically-speaking, is the tango between the protagonist and the author. I don't agree with many of Bloom's points in "Poem Unlimited," but as someone who's submerged in research for that project, I get gobs of inspiration from the idea that the character almost outpaces his creator in the apprehension of irony. Best part is, Hamlet isn't content with the irony of his existence: he's trying to get beyond it or, failing that, see what it's good for besides a few delicious speeches on the subject.

And hey! Keep posting. You keep me thinking and it's a pleasure to be thoroughly wrong in your company. I promise that "Doubt" critique is coming up soon ... can't wait for the shit I might get from that one.

LuckySpinster said...

sometimes irony really pisses me off. of coure, that does not prevent me from using it freely to my own ends.

i think you should post a reading list in your sidebar.

Anonymous said...

Household objects as ironic? – My imported Black&Decker Toaster, suspicious that I have had relations with mature, but sexy Cuisinart, shoots Pepperidge Farm whole wheat bread slices at alarming velocity, impaling me. As FBI makes chalk-line drawing of dead body (surrounded by incriminating crumbs), said “Toaster of Death” leaps from kitchen counter and careens out kitchen window…but IRONICALLY, since free-fall pulls electric plug out of socket, there is no juice to flee Denmark and “Toaster of Death” plunges to demise on concrete battlements of patio…his last dying words, “It is I, Ham-Omlette, the Danish Toaster … the rest is silence.”

Trillum obviously should not respond when sipping chardonnay on a Saturday night!

Well, Wallace sounds interesting….dammit, I see my Barnes & Noble charges escalating once again due to arcticactor. Love Bloom on all things literary…(watchit disagreeing with him, though, or we’ll end in a mud-wrestling match!)....”thoroughly wrong in your company” --- oh, PuhLEASE! I’ve yet to win a jousting match with you…BUT that’s not going to keep the girl from trying (as long as I'm not vanquished from your blog)!

Love the idea of Hamlet and Shakespeare in a “Full Nelson,” but just when you think Hamlet has got the best of his author he delivers … “There is a divinity that shapes our ends…” and a part of you just weeps for his courage and surrender…and then you realize that the “divine intervention” Shakespeare concocted to reveal this heart-wrenching revelation was PIRATES…yeah,man….PIRATES!

Irony’s force field? Well, pard’ner, I need to think on that one…have some ideas, actually, but it’s too late to pull them together coherently. Later.

Amy said...

I find the constant "back and forth" action between you and Trillium intellectually stimulating, so keep up the posts!..here is a random find for your viewing pleasure...tres disturbing...AND interactive! http://www.vansowerwine.com.nyud.net:8090/movies/play_with_mesml.mov