Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Lobsters: Considered!

Consider The Lobster and Other Essays
By: David Foster Wallace
Abandoned: Feb 3rd, 2008

I've never walked out on a movie. Many's the time I've taken a chance at a film festival and seen some really, really risible crap, but I've always stuck it out to the credits. I've paid my money and I've got my seat and these people went to the trouble of making a movie, I can grit my teeth and see it through to the end. Besides, it builds character.

Similarly, I almost never give up on a book. There's a few times where I've gotten a few chapters in, asked "is this really for me?" seen that there's more than a thousand pages to go and put the book down, and a rare few other times when I've abandoned a book mid-way through, through no fault of its own, just my own wandering, waning interest, or having something irresistible pre-empt it. Rare indeed is the occasion that I've had to take a book out to a crowded restaurant, and between the main course and dessert lean in and say "listen, we need to talk, I think we both know this relationship isn't going anywhere. It's not you, it's me, I'm going through some stuff right now, and I need some time to sort my head out, you know?", then leave via the bathroom window.

And so, it saddens me to tell you that, in the parlance of The Facebooks, I am "no longer in a relationship" with D.F.W's Consider The Lobster. If you're reading this, Consider The Lobster, then I want you to know, really, truly, it's not you, it's me.

I got through the first 300 pages of this 350-odd page book. A lot of it is really really good, Wallace has a giant brain and an awful lot to say. Up, Simba, about John McCain's 2000 campaign for the Republican nomination is fascinating, particularly in light of the 2008 presidential campaign where so much of McCain's touted independence and unwillingness to compromise his principles seems to have evaporated. Authority and American Usage, a review of a usage dictionary, with it's eyeball-whiplash multi-page footnoted parenthetical footnotes made me care about prescriptivism. The eponymous essay Consider The Lobster asks some Pollan-grade questions about our habits and mores surrounding the consumption of animals.

What broke me was the book's final essay. Whereas I got through the bulk of the collection in about 2 weeks, I'm 3 weeks in to Host and only about half way through, due to the fact that I can only read about 2 pages at a time. The on-line edition, linked above, has notes in the text as hyperlinks (and some of those notes themselves have hyperlinks to new notes, and it's turtles all they way down). In the print edition, the notes are rendered as boxes with arrows pointing to their referents inline in the text, making it practically impossible to read. Perhaps with this format, D.F.W. was making light of his reputation for exegesis, or perhaps he was trying to imitate back-forward-back-sideways style of Internet reading, but the fact remains: an unreadable essay will go unread, and this is substance subjugated to style.

So, Consider The Lobster, I've met someone new, but we can still be friends, right? Sure we can, I'll totally call you. Ok, ttfn.

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