Ezra Klein and Too Little Fun

Ezra Klein over at A Supposedly Fun Blog had this to say of this week’s milestone:

But my enjoyment of the book is not outpacing my growing frustration with it. I ignore most of the footnotes. If you want to know why I ignore most of the footnotes, check out footnote 216. Yeah, fuck you too, David.

I guess what I would ask is what happens when you run across a word whose precise definition you don’t know (in any book). Do you just skip over it or figure that the context will iron it out? I know I often skip and figure. Good readers (and I’m not claiming to be one — see the comment just prior) will stop and look up the word. When you see an unfamiliar word (e.g. “Coatlicue”) that has an end note saying “No clue” (e.g. note 216), you are being told pretty clearly to go look the word up. I guess the note could say “Hey, you might want to look this up” rather than the more whimsical “No clue,” but then a reader like Ezra would be pissed that Wallace didn’t just include the word’s definition in the note (but he’d be pissed if Wallace did include it because it’d be too much extra information that he (= Klein) doesn’t care about because he’s got TPS reports to file or whatever). The note isn’t a fuck you. It’s an invitation to go outside the boundaries of the text to bring some deeper understanding back into the text. It’s a chance to learn something.

I’m not going to get in as big a funk over this as I did over Avery’s post of a couple of weeks ago. Klein doesn’t have time to commit himself to reading the book, and that’s understandable. I don’t really have the time, frankly (I’m missing lots of Cubs baseball games to read and write about the book). I do wish that naysayers like Klein (who has been disposed to dislike the book from the beginning) and Avery would own some agency (ie, that they have other priorities they rate higher than reading IJ) rather than couching their difficulty with the book in terms of some sort of agency on Wallace’s part (ie, he’s wasting their time and antagonizing them). It’s a little silly. It’s like going to the gym and being frustrated that you have to lift the weights to see any benefit. Sometimes you have to do more than just show up to reap any reward.

Infinite Spam

I sort of hate to write a post about this (I’m feeling like maybe I’m a little too prolific), but my comments on wordpress.com blogs seem to get automatically flagged as spam for some reason (even, in some cases, on this very blog; maybe I am too prolific after all). So writing a post is an end-run around that and a way to weigh in via trackback on a post over at A Supposedly Fun Blog that sucked my comment into a spam black hole.

The post in question makes note of the misspelling of “roulants” as “rollents”  in references to the Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents. It turns out that there are all sorts of French language errors in the book. In the post, Matthew speculates that this error is another attempt to disorient the reader. I don’t know how charitable it is to suggest that Wallace wanted to disorient anybody. Lay a bunch of information on them to force active reading, sure. But disorientation seems like such a malicious thing, and I don’t think there’s malice in Wallace’s work.

My vanished reply to his post went as follows:

Some suggest that the bad French is intentional, chalked up in some cases to the fact that much of it comes to us via term papers, etc., written by teenagers with dubious French language acumen. In long note 304 (in which we read about the origins of the AFR), we’re also led to question the authority or lucidity of the person who has written the paper Struck is cribbing from. So it could be a mistake, but given how squishy authority and lucidity in that note are, it could also very well be intentional.