David Foster Wallace

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vic-k
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Tue Nov 20, 2012 1:39 pm Post

The first publication, apparently, in the UK, of:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/no ... ure-of-fun
After reading only a few pages of Infinite Jest, and the the same with, A Fun Thing...., I just couldn't get into them. I gave them away to a friend yesterday.

As someone whose default setting is: humour or daft if y' like, I find it quite disturbing when I fail to react positively to the author's attempt at humour. I start asking myself if there's something wrong with me...or...is it possible to be, too, funny?

I was two thirds of the way through, A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole, thinking to myself, "This is hilarious...so why aren't I laughing?' Then something triggered me, and it was bellyache the rest of the way.

Has anybody else experienced this weird phenomenon, or is it really me who isn't right. :? :(
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Tue Nov 20, 2012 3:34 pm Post

Vic --

Like you, I had trouble getting into DFW, and finally gave up. Same thing with Franzen. Okay, he's a big-deal writer, and some folks appreciate him. Others don't.

A lot has to do with what each of us -- as reader -- brings to the experience. For instance, I was impressed with Norman Mailer's early work. Then, in the early Sixties, I had a chance to interview him. Thought he was one of the most obnoxious pricks I'd ever met, and never after that was able to read his stuff. (Came across a quote the other day from Ray Bradbury: "If I'd found out that Norman Mailer liked me, I'd have killed myself.")

Early Sixties was also when I was telling everyone to read Catch-22. Found an almost-perfect formula for deciding who'd like it, who wouldn't: guys with military experience thought it was funny, bitter, true; those without were bored.

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Tue Nov 20, 2012 4:38 pm Post

Don't be too hard on yourself; I'm of a different temperament when it comes to satire and humorous fiction. I never laughed once through The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, or any of the sequels. I watched Spaceballs without a chuckle. Same for Top Secret (though I was a bit young for some of that humor), Airplane, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and a long list of comedies that everyone else seems to howl through.

I think something is oddly broken in my brain.

Lest you think I'm a humorless git, my ridiculous wife and I laugh all the time at hardly anything; At random intervals she meows, and I find it both hilarious and adorable. My pets have triggered peels of laughter at their antics; I laugh at some stand-ups, but they have to be phenomenally brilliant, absurd, and take unexpected turns with their jokes. In other words, they have to be Robin Williams or Eddie Izzard.

The last humorous story I "read" was the audio book of "The Stupidest Angel," and it was the dog's ranking of humans in his life by who was most likely to provide food, and what actions would get him "baddogged" that did it for me. Still didn't laugh, but it did bring a smile. :roll:
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Tue Nov 20, 2012 9:37 pm Post

Phil, Bob,
Based on my own experience, with this thing, I really am wondering if it is possible to be, too, funny?
Yesterday I nearly wet myself laughing at the sickest thing you could imagine. I was reading:
Christopher Fowler's – Norman Wisdom And The Angel Of Death: This roughly sums it up, gleaned from: http://vaultofevil.wordpress.com/2008/0 ... -horror-4/

“I would like to say that he died in order to make the world a safer, cleaner place, but the truth is that we went for a drink together and I killed him in a sudden fit of rage because he had not heard of Joyce Grenfell. How the Woman Who Won The Hearts Of The Nation in her thrice-reprised role as Ruby Gates in the celebrated St. Trinians films could have passed by him unnoticed is still a mystery to me.”

Stanley Morrison, a Hospital Visiting Friend in the employ of Haringey Council, readies his patients for death by instructing them on the history of radio shows and Brit films from the ‘fifties and ‘sixties and those who starred in them. If that doesn’t bore them into the next word, his tampering with their intravenous drips certainly does.

One of the people he visits and bores ridged, is a motorcyclist whose body is mangled beyond help. Only his head and brain are functioning properly. Stanley gets a visit from the woman from the Council in charge of Hospital Visitors, asking him to go quickly and cheer up a badly incapacitated patient who keeps expressing a desire to die. It turns out it's the motorcyclist. You just know it has nothing to do with his physical condition. He can't stand the thought of another visit from Stanley. I just cracked up when I read it. How sick is that? :shock:
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Wed Dec 19, 2012 6:38 pm Post

Early Sixties was also when I was telling everyone to read Catch-22. Found an almost-perfect formula for deciding who'd like it, who wouldn't: guys with military experience thought it was funny, bitter, true; those without were bored.


One of my favourite books, and my only military experience is Call of Duty 2.
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Wed Dec 19, 2012 11:16 pm Post

Young Kev wrote:One of my favourite books, and my only military experience is Call of Duty 2.
That's cos y' 'aven't grown up yet!
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Thu Dec 20, 2012 12:37 am Post

Early Sixties was also when I was telling everyone to read Catch-22.


I ought to have made clear that the like/dislike split seemed to apply only in the book's early years. Later audiences have appreciated it much more widely. No idea why, unless veterans, feeling proprietary about it, inadvertently antagonized other readers.

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Thu Dec 20, 2012 4:09 pm Post

vic-k wrote: I just couldn't get into them. I gave them away to a friend yesterday.


Ah, the literary equivalent of
DAVE: Oh, dear God! That tastes disgusting! <screws face up tightly>
<Pause>
DAVE: John, try this...

vic-k wrote:As someone whose default setting is: humour or daft if y' like, I find it quite disturbing when I fail to react positively to the author's attempt at humour. I start asking myself if there's something wrong with me...or...is it possible to be, too, funny?

I think readers / consumers have different levels of sensitivity to how often they'll find the same thing funny. Catch-22 really fell into this trap for me. The sane / insane premise is explained very clearly very early on (first few pages if I recall), and then it just blathers on making the same point over and over again in a variety of different ways, making me wish the author would either come up with a second joke or maybe move on to something which resembles a plot some time soon. A few chapters in it became apparent that Heller had no such intentions and I had to abandon it. Basically he just mistook theme for plot and went for it.
I feel exactly the same way about Woody Allen movies.

vic-k wrote:I was two thirds of the way through, A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole, thinking to myself, "This is hilarious...so why aren't I laughing?' Then something triggered me, and it was bellyache the rest of the way.
Has anybody else experienced this weird phenomenon, or is it really me who isn't right. :? :(
Vic

Yup. One example was watching "The Big Lebowski". 30 minutes I watched that movie completely straight faced, and then all of a sudden a single joke broke the laugh fuse, and I laughed through the rest of the movie. You just have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy some things.
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Thu Dec 20, 2012 9:51 pm Post

pigfender wrote:You just have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy some things.
Y' could be right there, Rog...then again, I remember when Good Morning Vietnam was released. All the critics/reviewers were of one accord: Williams! Comic genius! Williams Hilarious! Williams brilliant! I considered my self a Williams fan at the time, but came away from the movie wondering what the hell they were all raving about. I had a chuckle here and there, but overall, I was disappointed. It's possible my expectations had been raised too high... Today, five minutes of Williams, and I’ve had enough. But! Having said that, I’m quite prepared to accept that it’s me that’s misfiring and not Robin.

Reading the hospital visitor story, I was literally cringing at the prospect of meeting somebody like that. Like being a Lad’s Mag fanatic, trapped in a corner of an ante-room at a Train Spotters’ Convention, having been buttonholed by one of them.

When the woman from the Council turns up and asks him to go and see the crippled motorcyclist, I went right inside that poor cripple’s head...I knew exactly what he was going through...but still I just spluttered into laughter. Even now, writing about it, it’s making me laugh.

Ironically, I’m more than capable of becoming a proselytising bore, when it comes to the therapeutic properties of humour. So we won’t go there...eh?

There has to be a learned tome somewhere, that analyses humour...AtoZ...cause and effect etc., etc.. The Phenomenology of Humour...or whatever. I’d love to get my hands on it.

Anyway...time for a glass of mulled wine. Want one?Image

Take care
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Thu Dec 20, 2012 10:26 pm Post

Oooh! Yes please!
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Thu Dec 20, 2012 10:58 pm Post

I've just Googled The Phenomenology of Humour.. there's only 6,950,000 results :shock:
Sorry I asked now :(
pigfender wrote:Oooh! Yes please!
or perhaps you'd prefer a Glühwein :D
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Fri Dec 21, 2012 7:41 am Post

One of the few things I remember from A Level French back in les années soixante-dix, was my French teacher quoting Henri Bergson: "humour is the description in terms of the absurd of the chasm between man's aspirations and his achievements".

I've just looked for the exact quotation on Google and can't find it, so presumably M. Vercambre was paraphrasing, rather than quoting.

For some reason, that has stuck in my memory for 35 years — unlike for example the finer points of the imperfect subjunctive. I'm sure you can pick the definition to bits and I don't think it covers all types of humour (puns?), but as a one-liner to ward off my having to thing about the issue more seriously, it works for me….

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Fri Dec 21, 2012 10:36 am Post

Dave,
Henri Bergson wrote:"humour is the description in terms of the absurd of the chasm between man's aspirations and his achievements"

What/who does this turkey think he is...a philosopher!?
Change chasm for The Abyss, and he's spot on

I expect you'll find it somewhere within: http://www.authorama.com/laughter-2.html

I've skimmed it, but... :shock: :?
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Fri Dec 21, 2012 11:58 am Post

When I was looking for the actual quote, I came across a number of well-written erudite and long web pages devoted to phenomenology and humour. I can't say that the attention I gave them rose to the heights of 'skimming' though, unless cmd-F "chasm" counts...

It's odd though, that a quotation like that can stick in the memory from 1975, when I'd be hard pushed to remember the names of most of my classmates.

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Thu Oct 30, 2014 7:58 pm Post

I know I'm reaching back years responding to this; but, I find DFW immensely enjoyable. I think, as PJS rightly says,
PJS wrote: A lot has to do with what each of us -- as reader -- brings to the experience.


For me, I approached Wallace from his non-fiction (as a mostly non-fiction reader and writer). His articles on David Lynch, Tennis, the history of Infinity, 9/11, and his lit crit comments within interviews provided the best foundation for moving to his fiction because, well, I gained a lot of respect for him--I knew his fiction required deep reading, so to speak.

Also, reading his influences--DeLillo, Pynchon, etc.--and his contemporaries--Saunders, Karr, Vollmann--I think it's easier to see where he's coming from.

Honestly, if one were to just watch his Charlie Rose interview and listen to his Kenyon College Commencement address (This is Water), I think you'd find that, when picking up Broom or his short stories, you'd have a lot easier time seeing the beauty in his work...