Here it is: I’m scared of this book.
I’ve heard it’s going to clobber me with its heft, it’s going to belittle what pitiful intelligence I thought I had with its towering erudition, it’s going to reduce my pathetic reading ability to the bitter taste of ash and failure by the ferocious power of its subtle complexity I could only pray to ever understand. I’m duly afraid, and I’m glad to read I’m not alone in feeling this way.
DFW is like the ultimate litmus test: have you heard of him? Have you read him? Have you channeled his inimitable writing style to demonstrate the power of post-post-modern American literature? All I knew about the book before I cracked the spine was that it was about tennis and drug addiction, and that Wallace was by all accounts a genius. “How is that going to propel me through ten pounds of pages?” I asked myself, quivering in apprehension. So when I came upon this group of reader/writers that is “part book club, part Fight Club” I was beyond excited. I wanted in! I wanted to take this obese book down to a dirty parking garage and beat it until it begged for mercy! I wanted to make soap out of its flesh, I wanted to leave it out on my dilapidated porch for a week in silence, just to show it who’s boss.
So imagine my surprise, then, when I start reading and it’s not bad. It’s not so opaque as to be incomprehensible, only opaque enough to be, you know, interesting. It’s funny. Sure, I’ve highlighted some parts. Dictionary.com may become my home page. But it’s…wow. It’s good. It’s readable. Is it possible that I might even like it?
I’m not even a tenth of the way finished yet, so I’m still a little scared. But I think now that if I do cry while reading, it won’t be because of my own literary incompetence. It will be because of – who would have guessed? – the power of Wallace’s prose. Even in my limited journey I have learned that all the elitist graduate students were right about one thing: Wallace was a genius, and there is no one else who can write quite like him.
We have to break some rules, though, if we’re all going to get through this without ending up like some Brad Pitt mind-trick: we have to talk about it. We have to talk about the Fight Club.
Don’t let them fool you. If there’s one thing elitist grad students excel at, it’s not actually having read major works of fiction about which they have complex and fast-held opinions. After a while, the start crossing lines that cannot be uncrossed. They come to the point where they have spent more time researching the multitude of theories and interpretations than it would have taken to read the work in the first place. Some time later they realize they have read nearly 75% of the book via quoted passages in journal articles, mailing lists, message board postings, and threatening letters from opponents. About this time they reach a point where if they stand to lose more from actually reading the book than from maintaining the illusion that they have. After all, what if they discover they were wrong all along and that the myriad of curses they rained down upon those of the Other View were all for naught? All options now left to them are insufferable. They can choose to embrace their newfound beliefs and betray the confidence of everyone they have been fighting alongside in the trenches only to find that their former-enemies, new-compatriots trust them even less than their former-compatriots, new enemies, and their only option is to wander alone in constant fear from attack from every side. Conversely, they can choose to maintain the status quo and fight wholeheartedly for their now less-than-halfheartedly held beliefs; persecuting those who they are now akin to, thus living in constant fear of being exposed as the self-hating hypocrite they have become. And so they find themselves having to choose one or the other agonizing path knowing that the consequences of total desertion of the battle would be so unthinkable as to be dismissed out of hand. So they choose and end up with the knowledge that ignorance can be a basic necessity of life.